Head North for New Adventures in New Braunfels

new braunfels

Fall, schmall. We live in Texas, so rather than crisp air and colorful leaves crunching beneath our feet, fall means the weather is still warm, meaning outdoor adventures are still possible, though sometimes it’s still so muggy that air-conditioned activities are calling your name. Good news: New Braunfels offers both indoor and outdoor family-friendly activities that everyone can enjoy. Translation: the littles can have fun doing something new and so can you, all without a long car trip.

Let’s start with somewhere we enjoy any time of year: Landa Park. Spanning 51 acres nestled around the Comal River, one gaze into the park’s clear, cool water that’s fed by the Comal Springs automatically soothes my soul and gets littles excited. And it’s just 30 minutes north of San Antonio.

A view of the Comal River running alongside Landa Park.
A view of the Comal River running alongside Landa Park.

If you’re not familiar with New Braunfels, follow these driving directions to find your way into Landa. By the way, if you’ve ever been to Wurstfest, New Braunfels’ annual  10-day salute to food, beer, and the city’s German heritage, you’ll recognize your surroundings: you drive right by the fest grounds to enter Landa Park, and you’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the sparkling Comal River flowing by.

The park has terrific playgrounds and picnic tables, but our favorite spots are the gazebo, the wading pool, and the trails. That said, we rarely make a visit that doesn’t include a round of everything. This map gives you a good view of landmarks to help you find your way around the park. The park includes both paved paths and nature trails, a wading pool, and depending on the season, paddle boats, a spring-fed pool, and miniature golf. Even in winter weather (well, our version of winter weather), there’s a lot to enjoy.

Right on the water's edge, the gazebo is a great place to explore.
Right on the water’s edge, the gazebo is a great place to explore.

The playgrounds features activities good for all ages, with one area that includes things for the truly littles, like a fire engine they can climb on and smaller structures they can manage. No matter how much time we spend on the playgrounds, we always end up feeding ducks and watching for fish in the river. The wading pool is a natural area where you can wade in the river, something kids always enjoy (swim diapers required for the truly littles), and the area around gazebo is great for little explorers. They’re always amazed at how clear the water is, especially when you can see crawfish crawling along the bottom. Don’t miss walking out on the fishing pier—it’s a great view down into the water.

The water is so clear you can see straight to the bottom--and fish or other creatures!
The water is so clear you can see straight to the bottom–and fish or other creatures!
A gorgeous river view in Landa Park.
A gorgeous river view in Landa Park.

Train lovers will enjoy a tour around the park on the miniature train. The train is $3 per person, and the hours vary by season. Through the fall and winter, you’ll only be able to ride the train on weekends. And in the spring, the trip takes you through wildflowers. (Photo tip: Landa’s bluebonnets can be a great spot to take pictures without too much fuss since you can promise fun as soon as you’re done.)

Like the train, after Labor Day some of the park’s activities are closed for the season, so you won’t be able to enjoy the pools until next spring. But with day passes priced at $4 for children and $5 for adults, be sure to keep Landa’s water fun on your radar screen for next summer, as the spring-fed pool is a blast and the Olympic Pool area includes a zero-depth pool great for wannabe swimmers. Something to note: even in the heat of summer, the water in the natural pool fed by the Comal Springs is cool. No swimming in water that feels like a bathtub!

The natural wading area at Landa.
The natural wading area at Landa.

We also love the paddle boats—yes, old-school paddle boats! They’re not open year-round, so know you’ll be BEGGED to go back and ride the boats when you can. There’s also miniature golf at really reasonable rates during the spring and summer. Operational days and costs for the paddle boats and miniature golf can be found here. But if you’re interested in a cool date night idea, there’s Moonlit Date on Landa Lake, with September and October events planned where you can enjoy boxed meals and paddling under the moonlight with your main squeeze. (FYI, no littles allowed—you must be 16 to participate.)

If you’re looking for indoor fun while you’re exploring New Braunfels, McKenna Children’s Museum never disappoints. Don’t get me wrong: We love the DoSeum and everything it features. But something about McKenna always keeps us coming back. My son calls it the “old” children’s museum (whereas the DoSeum occupies the “new” museum title), but the two museums are not affiliated, much to my son’s disbelief.

McKenna is perfectly sized for littles—six and under, though don’t be surprised if older kids have fun, too. With exhibits that include hands-on building, space exploration, science and medicine, fitness, and outdoor fun (indoor camping!), kids have more than enough to keep them busy, and the bonus for moms: it’s designed so that you can see most of the museum from one central location, making it easier to keep up with everyone.

Playing astronaut in Destination Space.
Playing astronaut in Destination Space

We spend time in “Destination Space,” where you can walk through a VERY dark area that makes you feel like you’re in space (unless your child wears light-up shoes and decides to dance through to make his shoes light up even more—not that I know anything about that), and explore our way through the bank, grocery store, ranch, and campgrounds, always taking a picture with the resident Longhorn.

But our favorite activity is the “Dream Lab,” where children can get hands-on and make creatures grow, shrink, and change colors in different landscapes, all projected on a screen. Located in the “Today’s Activity” area of the museum, we often spend time with the Dream Lab and then jump into whatever building or art activity the staff is doing for the day.

Creating scenes in Dream Lab
Creating scenes in Dream Lab

We often spend the bulk of the day enjoying the museum and bring our lunch with us to enjoy at picnic tables on the patio. There’s also a café in the museum building and great spots to grab something close by, so you can take advantage of coming and going as you please. Our visits usually end in McKenna’s outdoor area, enjoying the water activities and play areas, giving me a quiet drive home, since by that time, my son is worn out.

Musical fun in the outdoor area
Musical fun in the outdoor area

By the way, on any of our New Braunfels trips, we often manage to summon energy for a stop at Naegelin’s Bakery on our way home. The oldest continuously operating bakery in Texas, their sugar cookies and other goodies are a definite treat. Fresh cookies, pastries, pies, and cakes, many of which remind me of the time we spent living in Germany, are hard to say no to.

Another New Braunfels tip: if you’re venturing that way on a Saturday, fit in a stop at the New Braunfels Farmer’s Market.

Music and fun at the farmers market.
Music and fun at the farmers market.

You can shop, enjoy great food and music, and let the littles play or enjoy a kids’ activity—there’s usually one scheduled each weekend. We sometimes stop by, grab goodies to go, and head to either Landa or McKenna to enjoy the rest of our day. Tasty treats, new adventures, and happy kiddos—not a bad way to kick off fall!

An Army brat who came to Texas for college and ultimately managed to make the Lone Star State her permanent home, Dawn became a mom “AMA” (advanced maternal age), giving her the opportunity to use a stroller vs. a walker as she navigates the world of motherhood. Her growing up way too fast native Texan loves all things Star Wars, Legos, dinosaurs and keeping his parents on their toes. When she’s not busy parenting the original strong-willed child, Dawn runs Tale to Tell Communications, a San Antonio-based PR and marketing agency. An award-winning writer, Dawn also contributes to San Antonio Woman, Rio Magazine and Texas Lifestyle Magazine. She and her family enjoy exploring all that San Antonio has to offer, going on adventures and playing tourist together as much as possible. Favorite Restaurant: Clementine Favorite Landmark: The beauty of the River Walk, especially La Villita Favorite San Antonio Tradition: Celebrating anything and everything with color, music and food


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