We can all laugh at the stereotypical images the rest of the country conjures about Texas: everyone is on a horse wrangling cattle and has a gun strapped to their side with a ten-gallon hat high above their jangling spurs. BBQ and Tex-Mex are the only menus, and football is the only religion. Oh, and everything is bigger. Right?
It’s pretty funny to those of us who actually live here, of course.
But, earlier this year when we had first-time visitors coming from the Pacific Northwest—with all of those exciting images dancing in their rain-soaked, evergreen heads—we thought, What if we planned their trip as if all of those things were more normal than they actually are? Maybe we should give them a TEXtravaganza, if you will? What fun we had planning their Texas adventure, and it turned out to be some of the best days our family has had here in our very own state, too…and it wasn’t even our vacation! So, for your next set of Texas virgins or for those in your own crew who want a little more Texas in their lives, here’s my recap of our TEXtravaganza!
First and foremost, we tried to be mindful of how hot they were going to be. I mean, it is brutal even for us natives, so a family who rarely feels temperatures above 85 degrees would definitely need us to make some accommodations. We started every day pretty early, napped and/or got in water in the middle of the day, and then ventured out again in the evening. Planning the days this way allowed for more activities than usual, but their youngest did say at one point, “There’s not much sleeping in here in Texas.” Truth, kiddo—we’ve got too much to do!
Floating a river in some form or fashion is as much a rite of passage in Texas as buying your own cowboy boots, so we certainly couldn’t skip a few idyllic hours on the Guadalupe. Kayaking is a little faster than the old standby tube and you don’t even have to miss out on the classic, bumpy ride to the drop-off point, which we all know is part of the deal! So much of the Guadalupe is heavily shaded that it’s a potential activity for any time of day. We like the livery near Spring Branch: easy access, on a part of the river that doesn’t seem as crowded as others, and open 365 days a year.
Riding horses was at the very top of the list for our friends—a visit to Texas just couldn’t be complete without checking that box. This one was actually a little tricky for me. Because I grew up in the country and always had horses of my own, for most of my life a horseback-riding request was as simple as pie. But sadly, there are no horses living at my childhood home today, so I found myself searching for a place that would meet my fairly high and experienced expectations. I wanted the scenery to be nice; the horses to be safe, easy to ride, and well-cared for; the wrangler to be knowledgeable and fun; and the ride to not be too long (for anyone who has not ridden a horse before, an hour is plenty for your first time—your butt and thighs will thank you for keeping it short!).
There are quite a few riding options nearby, and I’m happy to report I found everything I was looking for at The Flying L Ranch Resort in Bandera. (Apparently voted the best short trail ride in the Texas Hill Country!)
We did an early morning ride and wrapped up just before it was time to head off to lunch, but if you are able to hang out for a bit, the Flying L Ranch has a lot of other activities and a water park that allows for day use even if you aren’t staying at the resort.
In addition to getting in some more pool time, we had some serious food items to check off the list. Chicken-fried steak had never been tasted before (what?? I know!), and they all still needed more BBQ. The Old Spanish Trail—better known as O.S.T. around these parts—helped out with the chicken-fried steak emergency and, after swimming and napping, the scenic drive to Driftwood’s Salt Lick was a perfect precursor to some of the state’s best BBQ. (O.S.T. tips: Don’t miss out on the John Wayne Room or the saddle bar stools. They are open seven days a week with daily specials and a buffet on Sundays, and while they don’t serve alcohol, they are happy to provide setups for BYO. Salt Lick tips: go early or late to avoid the wait, The Cellars (on site) is a great place to kill some time tasting wine before or after. The Salt Lick is open seven days a week and is cash only, BYOB.)
Second only to horse-back riding, shooting a gun was a high priority for the TEXtravaganza itinerary. More accurately, being exposed to gun safety and learning some of the best practices, as per our friends’ request. We spent a breezy morning out in the country learning the ins and outs of proper shooting protocol and, as you can see, not having any bad habits makes for some pretty good shootin’!
OK, don’t panic. We aren’t going to forget The Alamo. Or margaritas.
We headed straight downtown to spend some time at Market Square for shopping and Tex-Mex, and of course, to visit one of Texas’ most iconic landmarks.
As I think might be true for a lot of locals, I couldn’t remember the last time I visited The Alamo or wandered El Mercado, so it was a great afternoon all around. I had forgotten how reverent that space can feel when you read through the whole story and once again take in all the names of those who sacrificed there. And the museum section of the property is full of really interesting artifacts and documents, so if you haven’t been since you were a kid, you should go again! Once we were cooling off at Mi Tierra, the table delighted at “automatic” chips and salsa and fresh sopapillas, a great reminder of goodies that we take for granted on a regular basis.
All in all, our TEXtravaganza was just as much fun for us natives as it was for our company. Such a great way to take advantage of many of the things that make Texas unique. No one melted or got snake bit or sunburned, so we considered it a huge success! And yes, we all spent the next few days napping!