It used to be easy to lead off any Texas wine article by discussing its novelty. However, the collective acclaim and awards generated by the wineries within Texas Hill Country in recent years makes this an increasingly stale angle. So, let’s skip such chatter and get to the true crux of the conversation: Texas wine is damn good juice, and exploring the more than 50 wineries dotting Texas Hill Country’s 31,000 square miles of gently rolling hills and panorama-ready rock outcroppings is worth a day trip. It’s the aesthetic antithesis of the flat, repetitive landscape found in most parts of the Lone Star State, which will surprise you if you’re not prepared for such visuals.
While the town of Fredericksburg anchors Texas Hill Country, the region also sits roughly 80 miles west of Austin. Being so close to the Texas state capital and its charming weirdness is all the excuse you need to convert your wine tasting jaunt into a two-day getaway. If you only have 36 hours to spare, you’ll still have plenty of time to sip some choice Texas wines and dig into Austin’s quirky spirit.
Where to Stay
The name of this property is appropriate — the building was the former home of the local carpenters’ union. The structure’s old signage still festoons the exterior, and its industrial aesthetic of brick walls, wooden floors, concrete ceilings, and bulletin board ephemera hearken back to its former life. Its combination of eccentricity and minimalism organically appeals to the visitor who digs the city’s odd soul or the hipster who knows half the bands on the bottom line of the Austin City Limits festival poster. At the same time, the pecan tree-lined property’s South Austin location near Zilker Park’s trails and activities make it a prime space for anyone wishing to explore Austin’s outdoorsy scene. It’s also an easy walk to and from downtown, giving you a conveniently located retreat from the area at night as its main drag, Sixth Street, becomes engulfed in youthful debauchery.
Don't Miss A DropGet the latest in beer, wine, and cocktail culture sent straight to your inbox.
Even luxury lodging in Austin can carry its own air of unique coolness. Case in point: this elegant property, located north of downtown and a few blocks west of the University of Texas main campus. Named after noted early 20th century Austin socialite Ella Goodall, the property’s core is the Goodall Wooten House, a Greek Revivalist mansion that once served as Ella’s home. The historically registered building hosts nine of the property’s 47 guest rooms, including a suite that Ella used as her dressing room back in the day. The old-school grandeur that exudes from the Insta-worthy building and aesthetic touches like Victorian-inspired furniture juxtapose quite well with the property’s rotation of local modern artwork and amenities, including a cozy courtyard pool, free Wi-Fi, and fitness center. The property’s also roughly one mile from downtown Austin proper, adding a layer of convenience to accompany the chicness.
If you’re looking to get to wine country early, or if you know you won’t feel like driving back to Austin after a day of wine tasting, this retro-themed lodge located some 15 miles south of downtown Fredericksburg can provide you with a comfortable place to stay. You’ll also encounter some cool history if you do hole up for the night. Built in 1964, the L-shaped venue hosted media and guests whenever former President Lyndon B. Johnson retreated to his Stonewall-based ranch a couple miles down the road. This past is appropriately revered: The fully refurbished 12-room property features expected modern conveniences like free Wi-Fi along with elegant touches like luxury bedding and bath items, but it juxtaposes these elements with decorative touches that hearken back to its mid-’60s roots. History buffs may consider booking the Press Room — LBJ’s press corps set up shop in this corner space back in the day, and scores of historic photos capturing this point in time festoon its interior.
What to Do
There’s a lot to do within Zilker Memorial Park’s 351 acres, from canvassing its network of trails to jumping into one of its natural springs. If you’re just in town for a short spell, the best way to enjoy this locally beloved park is to check out its meticulously kept garden oasis. A labyrinth of pathways weaving through the garden’s 28 acres allow you to meander past lush clusters of themed gardens and tuck under shady coves — perfect respites if you’re met with brutal Texas temperatures. Calm streams and koi ponds further enhance the tranquility. The occasional glimpse of downtown Austin may pop through the greenery, but this creates a cool visual that doesn’t distract. If you land here at the right time, you may get the chance to attend a bonus activity like an ice cream social or a concert held on the park’s spacious, centrally located lawn.
This district just south of downtown perhaps captures the city’s cherished ethos “Keep Austin Weird” better than anywhere else. Walking the neighborhood’s main drag, South Congress Avenue (also known as SoCo), engulfs you in the quirky warmth of trendy boutiques, groovy vintage stores, independent specialty shops, and eclectic restaurants, all bound together by a palpable spirit of doing things on their own terms. You’ll also find murals splashed about the area — the legendary “Willie for President” wall portrait touting Willie Nelson for the nation’s highest office is here, and it’s photo-worthy even if you don’t dig country music. In another city, SoCo’s oddball pastiche of funk might appear a little too disjointed to make sense as a cohesive neighborhood, but it’s letter-perfect in Austin. From mid-March to mid-November, you can finish your SoCo experience by heading to the Congress Avenue Bridge at around sunset to witness a colony of bats emerge from under the bridge and fill the twilight as they seek out food.
Checking in at nearly 190,000 square feet, this massive art gallery manages to be a well-kept secret. It’s located on UT Austin’s sprawling campus, so you may not realize it’s here if you don’t already know it exists. Once you discover it, you’ll be richly rewarded with the opportunity to enjoy Central Texas’s largest art collection. The facility’s 21,000-plus pieces run the gamut from ancient Greek pottery to modern abstract works, with an emphasis on Baroque, Italian Renaissance, and modern American and Latin American pieces. There’s also plenty of room here to welcome a steady rotation of traveling exhibits covering numerous styles and themes. While the gallery’s collection of pieces is impressive, its most show-stopping work is a 2,715-square-foot limestone building called Austin. Designed by American artist Ellsworth Kelly, the streamlined structure is most notable for its patterned, colored glass windows that illuminate its sparse interior in dramatic, haunting fashion.
This unassuming and longstanding fast-food joint is an essential stop for any film buff or cult movie aficionado. The venue anchored some of the shenanigans in Richard Linklater’s Austin-centric retro stoner classic “Dazed and Confused” — for instance, Matthew McConaghy’s laid-back lecherous creep Wooderson rolls his way into the movie here amid the choppy rhythms of War’s “Low Rider.” You don’t have to order the jalapeño burger late at night to capture the far-out vibes of the locally revered ‘70s-based flick. Just seeing the mid-century modern sign and its display of mismatched colored letters will be enough to inspire fans to rattle off their favorite quotes. You can order from your car if you’re hungry, but step inside instead. If you do, you’ll see a shadow box filled with props and ephemera from the movie, including the iconic “Sole Pole” paddle. Is it weird to consider a fast-food venue a point of interest? Of course. But remember — you’re in Austin.
Where to Eat
One question may crop up during your Texas wine tasting excursion: How do these wines pair with food? This rustic-yet-elegant restaurant, located in the middle of Texas Hill Country in Fredericksburg, provides you with a convenient means to do just that. Its critically acclaimed wine list is large, eclectic, and consists entirely of Texas selections, so you’ll more than likely find a bottle or two from a winery that captured your attention earlier in the day. While the wine list may draw interest, the menu keeps the intrigue going with a smart mélange of traditional and contemporary steak, chop, and seafood dishes along with a few Texas-tinged surprises. The best example of this type of culinary twist is the bacon-wrapped grilled Texas quail. Stuffed with pulled pork, cream cheese, and candied jalapeños and served with smoked strawberry glaze, it’s Lone Star innovation on a plate.
Even if this restaurant didn’t serve killer contemporary cuisine, its stories would garner sufficient attention. Unlike the typical Texas tales and their tendency to be tall, Eberly’s stories are all legit. It’s named after an innkeeper who essentially preserved Austin as Texas’s state capital by shooting off a cannon. The property south of downtown was a former print shop that bought and installed the bar from the historic, shuttered Cedar Tavern in New York’s Greenwich Village. The restaurant could rest on the laurels that come with such talking points (not to mention other cool elements like its rooftop patio), but it instead further extends the conversation with exciting modern dishes built with global ingredients and flavor profiles — kimchi, beurre blanc, chimichurri, and gochujang all have a home here. The restaurant’s massive size also makes it a proper spot for large groups to settle in for brunch, where patrons can dig into dishes like pork belly confit with huckleberry jam and oat crumble or chicken and waffles with coconut-chili jam and tangy comeback sauce.
Southern food and fine dining are concepts that in some ways seem to be at odds with each other. After all, the former is all about comfort while the latter focuses on refinement. Yet this northern downtown Austin venue elegantly demonstrates that these seemingly disparate concepts can work together splendidly. Located in a quaint white house and featuring an interior straddling the line between comfy and chic, the venue’s very design acts as a charming portal connecting both worlds. This sets the table for an enticing exploration of progressive culinary expression that deliberately connects to Southern roots, such as blue corn hushpuppies with caramelized onion dip and trout roe, smoked beef belly with a cane syrup glaze, or braised beef cheek with tomato gravy and grits. This combination of environment and cuisine makes the spot perfect for a uniquely elegant date night or a special occasion with cherished friends. If you really want to make an impression, order the must-have biscuits — they’re off-menu but a known delicacy.
Barbecue is practically its own tourist attraction in Austin, which can cause problems if you’re doing a quick turnaround trip. Franklin Barbecue’s four-to-six-hour wait time on busy days is nearly as legendary as its brisket, and the queue for la Barbecue — the second most famous Austin BBQ spot after Franklin — may set you back over two hours. If time is of the essence, head about five miles north of downtown to this under-the-radar local favorite, located in a strip mall in the city’s Highland neighborhood. Smoked meats of all kinds abound on the menu, with some selections like brisket, pulled pork, and St. Louis pork ribs sold by the half-pound. Meat plates with a mix- and-match variety of fixins are available if you’d prefer to explore multiple expressions of smoky goodness. As an added bonus, the restaurant provides another morsel of Austin cinematic delight to pair with your Top Notch Burgers experience — the venue’s space doubled as The Emporium game parlor in “Dazed and Confused.”
Where to Drink
Austin’s drinking scene deftly fills the space between meticulousness and whimsy and is the perfect complement to Texas Hill Country’s wine tasting scene. To learn about the best places to enjoy a libation within Austin’s city limits, check out VinePair’s guide to the Best Places to Drink in Austin.