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Smithville, Texas
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16 small towns near Austin you need to visit

Something for everyone in the heart of Texas

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Smithville, Texas
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This post was originally published in October 2016 and has been updated.

Sure, there's no shortage of things to do in Austin, but sometimes it's fun to get away—especially, this time of year, in an air-conditioned vehicle. Luckily, Central Texas is a full of interesting small towns with distinct cultures, highlights, and histories.

Important note: A stop at a Buc-ee's is absolutely mandatory on any Texas road trip. We'll let you discover those on your own.

Are we missing any of your favorite small-town Texas destinations? Tell us in the comments, or drop us a line.

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1. Llano

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Even if it’s too hot to hike (and for you, it might not be), a trip Enchanted Rock, near the town of Llano, is a must. A rock formation caused by the Llano Uplift, when granite pushed its way to the surface around the area, Enchanted Rock is a favorite of hikers and mystical wisdom-seekers. In addition to the odd formation itself, the area has a whole “rock culture” due to the fact that there are rare earth minerals that are scattered all over the county—including “Llanite,” a kind of granite unique to the area. The charming town square has a rock shop and other quaint stores, as well as the legendary Dabbs Hotel, part of the Historic Railyard District and reputed Bonnie-and-Clyde stop (as well as home to many an Austin-instigated overnight punk rock party in the 1980s and 90s), and the LanTex Theater, a classic theater still showing current movies. Cooper's Pit Bar-B-Q is also some of the best you'll find.

2. Taylor

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Long known as the original location of Louie Mueller Barbecue, which is in perpetual contention for the coveted (and unofficial) “best barbecue in Texas” label, Taylor has of late become a mecca for some of the coolest kids of Old Austin, who have been relocating (shhh) to its remarkable Victorians and other old-timey homes in the area. Visitors will find plenty enjoy in that vein, as well, especially on its self-guided architectural walking tour, which features buildings dating back to the 1870s. Plenty of diverse restaurants, bars, and live-music spots have expanded the culinary scene, though a stop at Mueller’s in ore or less mandatory for first-timers.

3. Elgin

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Oh, Elgin. How we take you for granted. Some see you as a bedroom community, but you are so, so much more than that. Yes, you are known for your formidable sausages, but few know that just half an hour or so from Austin lies a quite picturesque, still quite operational downtown whose businesses include restaurant, general store, and unofficial city history center Elgin Local Goods and retail gems like the Owl Wine Bar & Home Goods.

4. Johnson City

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Known as the “Crossroads of the Texas Hill Country,” Johnson City claims the LBJ National Historical Park, the place President Lyndon Baines Johnson made his “Texas White House” when he was in office. He grew up in the town, which was founded by one of his uncles. For those not inclined to tour the house and grounds, the Pedernales State Park nearby offers a refreshing dip in a cool, clear river. Pecan Street Brewing and Garrison Distillery offer still more forms of entertainment. As do longhorn sightings.

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5. Fredericksburg

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Fredericksburg has long attracted visitors who appreciate its natural beauty, old-timey downtown strip, cute B&Bs, vineyards, and wineries. Lately, it has become a bit of a culinary destination as well. Along with nearby New Braunfels, it keeps alive and celebrates the heritage of German immigrants who came to Central Texas in the 1800s.

6. Luckenbach

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If you’re passing through the Hill Country, you might as well stop in Luckenbach, which is more of a country music reference and operating performance hall than a town. The town was primarily a trading post with a general store and a saloon for most of its life and was purchased by a rancher when the town’s population allegedly dwindled to 3. Country musician Jerry Jeff Walker recorded a live album there (somewhat confusingly called Viva Terlingua, after a different tiny Texas town), and it was made most famous in a song recorded by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. The concert hall is hosts regular shows, and there are reportedly jam sessions there on Sunday nights. Also: great place for selfies.

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7. Bastrop

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A trip to the Lost Pines, including the ones in Bastrop State Park, is practically mandatory for Austin residents and visitors alike. Like many towns on this list, it has a charming downtown, good local restaurants, live music, and, perhaps most awesomely, the Sherwood Forest Faire in nearby McDade. But it’s also a place where Central Texas starts transitioning to East Texas (hence the pines) with some especially marvelous outdoor exploring to be done.

8. Blanco

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Only a few miles north of San Antonio, Blanco nevertheless retains a small-town feel, partly due to its proximity to the gorgeous Blanco State Park. It’s home to the Real Ale Brewing Company as well as several lavender farms (being “The Lavender Capital of Texas” and all), horseback riding opportunities, and hiking and swimming opportunities galore.

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9. Round Top

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Known country-wide (seriously) for its annual fall and spring antiques festivals (where many of Austin's most upscale home stores scoop up plenty of goods for resale), Round Top is also a beautiful Central Texas destination and home to the longtime Shakespeare at Winedale program, a summer residential program of the University of Texas wherein participants live onsite while developing performances of the Bard's plays in a local barn.

10. Wimberley

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In addition to being home to some of the area’s best swimming spots (The Blue Hole, Jacob’s Well) and other lovely stretches of cool water, Wimberley has wine tours and tastings galore, lots of laid-back meandering through vintage, thrift, and handcraft stores, and an entrance point to the Devil’s Backbone, one of the most scenic drives in the state.

In the foreground is a body of water. The body of water is surrounded by trees.
Blue Hole/Jacob’s Well near Wimberley

11. Fayetteville

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Located almost exactly halfway between Austin and Houston, Fayetteville offers a magic triad of Texas tourism: historic buildings, antique shopping, and nearby outdoor recreation (at Fayette Lake). Be sure to check out the understated courthouse, the historic Hugo Zapp Building/Country Place Hotel, and Red & White Gallery square, which shows mostly Texas artists and the occasional movie in a restored old building that retains its original sloped wood floor.

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12. Lockhart

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Before Austin decided to get its BBQ on, Lockhart was the self-declared "Barbecue Capital of Texas," boasting three, then more (as family schisms multiplied the smoked bounty) purveyors of the preciously regarded Texas meat. But Lockhart has also long boasted some of the sweetest historic residences in the area, not to mention a town square that just says "small-town Texas," and has verily been featured in numerous movie and TV productions, from What's Eating Gilbert Grape?to Waiting for Guffman to The Leftovers. As Austin housing prices have pushed out many of its musicians, Lockhart has become a sort of satellite music capital, with many musicians moving, performing, and in some cases opening recording studios there.

13. Gonzales

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Well. If you have ever used and/or appropriated via graphic design the term "Come and Take It," you really should know about Gonzales. Created by another empresario, it was one of the first European-American settlements in Texas and was the site of the first skirmish in the Texas war for its (brief) independence, from which the "Come and Take It" and graphic accompaniment (a cannon) derives (Google it and learn lots). It's also home to Discovery Architecture, one of the area's best historic/architectural salvage outlets, and so many intact historic homes that in 2012, HGTV show This Old House named it one of its Best Old House Neighborhoods.

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14. Shiner

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Most of us have at least heard of Shiner beer, produces by the Spoetzl Brewery, which was local craft beer before that term really existed. The town is still the home of the state's oldest independent brewery, which continues to produce beer under the Shiner name, though it's now owned by San Antonio's Gambrinus Company. The town is also home to the historic Gaslight Theatre, a cigar factory, and the Wolters Museum. Let's also give props to local gas-station hangout Howard’s, which offers Shiner historical memorabilia, live music, and nine beers on tap.

15. Castroville

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First of all, Castroville was established by an empresario (Henri Castro, 1844), a word we love (it means, basically, a 19th-century developer). Further, Castro populated the town with immigrants from the Alsace region of Europe (bordering Germany and Switzerland in France) and the Grand Duchy of Baden. The local population maintained the distinctive architecture—think mostly tiny houses, but in the Alps—and, to a lesser extent, the Alsatian language and cuisine over the years. It's not exactly trapped in amber, and its Landmark Inn State Historic Site, typical of its architecture, is state-owned, inexpensive bed & breakfast, but it's uncanny how much influence from a very specific European regions remains.

A tall three levels house with a brown shingle roof and a white exterior with brown details.
The Steinbach Alsatian House
Larry D. Moore via Creative Commons

16. Goliad

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Sometimes known as “the other Alamo,” Goliad is perhaps best known of site of a massacre in Texas’ battle for independence from Mexico. These days, it has much more life-affirming activities on offering, including a look at the restored, historic Presidio La Bahia and Mission Espiritu Santo. Built in 1749, they are the only Spanish Colonial mission-fort complex still in existence in the Western Hemisphere. It also has a recently established brewery, a lively town square, and a hike-and-bike trail.

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1. Llano

Llano, TX 78643

Even if it’s too hot to hike (and for you, it might not be), a trip Enchanted Rock, near the town of Llano, is a must. A rock formation caused by the Llano Uplift, when granite pushed its way to the surface around the area, Enchanted Rock is a favorite of hikers and mystical wisdom-seekers. In addition to the odd formation itself, the area has a whole “rock culture” due to the fact that there are rare earth minerals that are scattered all over the county—including “Llanite,” a kind of granite unique to the area. The charming town square has a rock shop and other quaint stores, as well as the legendary Dabbs Hotel, part of the Historic Railyard District and reputed Bonnie-and-Clyde stop (as well as home to many an Austin-instigated overnight punk rock party in the 1980s and 90s), and the LanTex Theater, a classic theater still showing current movies. Cooper's Pit Bar-B-Q is also some of the best you'll find.

2. Taylor

Taylor, TX 76574

Long known as the original location of Louie Mueller Barbecue, which is in perpetual contention for the coveted (and unofficial) “best barbecue in Texas” label, Taylor has of late become a mecca for some of the coolest kids of Old Austin, who have been relocating (shhh) to its remarkable Victorians and other old-timey homes in the area. Visitors will find plenty enjoy in that vein, as well, especially on its self-guided architectural walking tour, which features buildings dating back to the 1870s. Plenty of diverse restaurants, bars, and live-music spots have expanded the culinary scene, though a stop at Mueller’s in ore or less mandatory for first-timers.

3. Elgin

Elgin, TX 78621

Oh, Elgin. How we take you for granted. Some see you as a bedroom community, but you are so, so much more than that. Yes, you are known for your formidable sausages, but few know that just half an hour or so from Austin lies a quite picturesque, still quite operational downtown whose businesses include restaurant, general store, and unofficial city history center Elgin Local Goods and retail gems like the Owl Wine Bar & Home Goods.

4. Johnson City

Johnson City, TX 78636

Known as the “Crossroads of the Texas Hill Country,” Johnson City claims the LBJ National Historical Park, the place President Lyndon Baines Johnson made his “Texas White House” when he was in office. He grew up in the town, which was founded by one of his uncles. For those not inclined to tour the house and grounds, the Pedernales State Park nearby offers a refreshing dip in a cool, clear river. Pecan Street Brewing and Garrison Distillery offer still more forms of entertainment. As do longhorn sightings.

5. Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg, TX 78624

Fredericksburg has long attracted visitors who appreciate its natural beauty, old-timey downtown strip, cute B&Bs, vineyards, and wineries. Lately, it has become a bit of a culinary destination as well. Along with nearby New Braunfels, it keeps alive and celebrates the heritage of German immigrants who came to Central Texas in the 1800s.

6. Luckenbach

Luckenbach, TX 78624

If you’re passing through the Hill Country, you might as well stop in Luckenbach, which is more of a country music reference and operating performance hall than a town. The town was primarily a trading post with a general store and a saloon for most of its life and was purchased by a rancher when the town’s population allegedly dwindled to 3. Country musician Jerry Jeff Walker recorded a live album there (somewhat confusingly called Viva Terlingua, after a different tiny Texas town), and it was made most famous in a song recorded by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. The concert hall is hosts regular shows, and there are reportedly jam sessions there on Sunday nights. Also: great place for selfies.

7. Bastrop

Bastrop, TX 78602

A trip to the Lost Pines, including the ones in Bastrop State Park, is practically mandatory for Austin residents and visitors alike. Like many towns on this list, it has a charming downtown, good local restaurants, live music, and, perhaps most awesomely, the Sherwood Forest Faire in nearby McDade. But it’s also a place where Central Texas starts transitioning to East Texas (hence the pines) with some especially marvelous outdoor exploring to be done.

8. Blanco

Blanco, TX 78606

Only a few miles north of San Antonio, Blanco nevertheless retains a small-town feel, partly due to its proximity to the gorgeous Blanco State Park. It’s home to the Real Ale Brewing Company as well as several lavender farms (being “The Lavender Capital of Texas” and all), horseback riding opportunities, and hiking and swimming opportunities galore.

9. Round Top

Round Top, TX 78954

Known country-wide (seriously) for its annual fall and spring antiques festivals (where many of Austin's most upscale home stores scoop up plenty of goods for resale), Round Top is also a beautiful Central Texas destination and home to the longtime Shakespeare at Winedale program, a summer residential program of the University of Texas wherein participants live onsite while developing performances of the Bard's plays in a local barn.

10. Wimberley

Wimberley, TX
In the foreground is a body of water. The body of water is surrounded by trees.
Blue Hole/Jacob’s Well near Wimberley

In addition to being home to some of the area’s best swimming spots (The Blue Hole, Jacob’s Well) and other lovely stretches of cool water, Wimberley has wine tours and tastings galore, lots of laid-back meandering through vintage, thrift, and handcraft stores, and an entrance point to the Devil’s Backbone, one of the most scenic drives in the state.

11. Fayetteville

Fayetteville, TX 78940

Located almost exactly halfway between Austin and Houston, Fayetteville offers a magic triad of Texas tourism: historic buildings, antique shopping, and nearby outdoor recreation (at Fayette Lake). Be sure to check out the understated courthouse, the historic Hugo Zapp Building/Country Place Hotel, and Red & White Gallery square, which shows mostly Texas artists and the occasional movie in a restored old building that retains its original sloped wood floor.

12. Lockhart

Lockhart, TX 78644

Before Austin decided to get its BBQ on, Lockhart was the self-declared "Barbecue Capital of Texas," boasting three, then more (as family schisms multiplied the smoked bounty) purveyors of the preciously regarded Texas meat. But Lockhart has also long boasted some of the sweetest historic residences in the area, not to mention a town square that just says "small-town Texas," and has verily been featured in numerous movie and TV productions, from What's Eating Gilbert Grape?to Waiting for Guffman to The Leftovers. As Austin housing prices have pushed out many of its musicians, Lockhart has become a sort of satellite music capital, with many musicians moving, performing, and in some cases opening recording studios there.

13. Gonzales

Gonzales, TX 78629

Well. If you have ever used and/or appropriated via graphic design the term "Come and Take It," you really should know about Gonzales. Created by another empresario, it was one of the first European-American settlements in Texas and was the site of the first skirmish in the Texas war for its (brief) independence, from which the "Come and Take It" and graphic accompaniment (a cannon) derives (Google it and learn lots). It's also home to Discovery Architecture, one of the area's best historic/architectural salvage outlets, and so many intact historic homes that in 2012, HGTV show This Old House named it one of its Best Old House Neighborhoods.

14. Shiner

Shiner, TX 77984

Most of us have at least heard of Shiner beer, produces by the Spoetzl Brewery, which was local craft beer before that term really existed. The town is still the home of the state's oldest independent brewery, which continues to produce beer under the Shiner name, though it's now owned by San Antonio's Gambrinus Company. The town is also home to the historic Gaslight Theatre, a cigar factory, and the Wolters Museum. Let's also give props to local gas-station hangout Howard’s, which offers Shiner historical memorabilia, live music, and nine beers on tap.

15. Castroville

Castroville, TX 78009
A tall three levels house with a brown shingle roof and a white exterior with brown details.
The Steinbach Alsatian House
Larry D. Moore via Creative Commons

First of all, Castroville was established by an empresario (Henri Castro, 1844), a word we love (it means, basically, a 19th-century developer). Further, Castro populated the town with immigrants from the Alsace region of Europe (bordering Germany and Switzerland in France) and the Grand Duchy of Baden. The local population maintained the distinctive architecture—think mostly tiny houses, but in the Alps—and, to a lesser extent, the Alsatian language and cuisine over the years. It's not exactly trapped in amber, and its Landmark Inn State Historic Site, typical of its architecture, is state-owned, inexpensive bed & breakfast, but it's uncanny how much influence from a very specific European regions remains.

16. Goliad

Goliad, TX 77963

Sometimes known as “the other Alamo,” Goliad is perhaps best known of site of a massacre in Texas’ battle for independence from Mexico. These days, it has much more life-affirming activities on offering, including a look at the restored, historic Presidio La Bahia and Mission Espiritu Santo. Built in 1749, they are the only Spanish Colonial mission-fort complex still in existence in the Western Hemisphere. It also has a recently established brewery, a lively town square, and a hike-and-bike trail.