Greetings, Internet Stranger and welcome to the Hill Country Day Trip! Texas Hill Country is known for spawning many things: giant steer with giant horns, giant Presidents with giant ears, and giant love for a giant landscape. Basically in Texas Hill Country, the motto is go giant or go home. If you enjoy big fun, big flavor, and big personalities, you’ll love this Hill Country Day Trip.
I was dying to spend 24 hours enjoying this Hill Country Day Trip. Sadly I do not have a car and it’s not the kind of area you can really explore sans vehicle. I was lucky enough to find Gray Line San Antonio’s tour of the Texas Hill Country.
As I was the only person who booked a Hill Country day trip that day, so I got a very informative and entertaining one-on-one with my gregarious tour guide Jim. I recommend that you try the tour for yourself. If you’d rather fly solo, this itinerary will help you accomplish that as well.
Just don’t try doing this tour on foot! That way madness lies!
24 Hours: Hill Country Day Trip
Where to Stay?
The tour I took for my Hill Country Day Trip departs from San Antonio, so I’ll give my best suggestion for that city. I chose to spend my time in San Antonio at the Crockett Hotel. What better name for a hotel in San Antonio?
The location was conveniently near The Alamo, and there was breakfast included every morning. Plus, the staff was extremely helpful when I needed to catch an early morning train to Austin. (Long story.) So I recommend it wholeheartedly!
24 Hours: Hill Country Day Trip
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. It’s very frequently hot in Texas, though not always, so it’s smart to wear sandals. I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Also, don’t forget the sunscreen! The sun can get scorching! My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. You don’t want to sling a heavy bag all around the Texas White House. That’s a good way to make LBJ’s ghost ornerier than a wet chicken. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
24 Hours: Hill Country Day Trip
Morning: Lyndon B. Johnson Sights
Our Hill Country Day Trip starts with some presidential history. The Texas Hill Country’s most famous and proud native son was undoubtedly our 36th President of these United States, Mr. Lyndon Baines Johnson. Any tour of the area has to introduce you to the life and good times of Mr. All the Way. The Texas Hill Country has more than enough Johnson to satisfy the needs of my…
Approximately top 5: LBJ edition
1) LBJ’s childhood home
LBJ, as everyone called him, grew up in Johnson City, Texas. It was at his boyhood home that we made our first stop. Because LBJ’s childhood home is part of the National Parks system, it is staffed by a ranger who will show you around for free if you drop in between 9 and 4:30. Mr. Ranger (not his actual name) showed me everywhere from Johnson’s childhood bedroom to the “sleeping porch” in the back of the house. Apparently Texas summers were sometimes too hot for the family to sleep indoors.
Did you know that LBJ’s mother was a college graduate, not exactly typical for women of her time? Johnson always declared that his respect for education came from his mother.
Next, you should head to to LBJ Ranch, located in Stonewall, Texas. If you take the Gray Line tour, your driver will handle getting a permit to drive on the ranch by himself. If you go on your own, you need to get a (free) driving permit at the LBJ State Park and Historic Site Visitor Center to visit the ranch. The Visitor Center is only open between 9 and 4.
2) LBJ and lady bird’s eternal repose
Don’t miss the Cemetery where LBJ and Lady Bird are buried. You can’t get too close to the graves, but I still found it moving to stop and pay my respects. Johnson was far from a perfect president, but I believe he genuinely cared about helping the poor. That alone would distinguish him among politicians.
3) the junction school
My favorite part of the State Park was seeing the one-room schoolhouse where Johnson was educated when he was four.
There are signs all over explaining the history of the Junction School and its importance to LBJ. Johnson loved his teacher here, Miss Katie Deadrich, so much that when he signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act into law, he insisted on doing it here at the Junction School with the now elderly Miss Katie by his side.
I normally have a joke about everything, but I actually burst into tears reading that story. It’s every teacher’s dream to touch the heart of their students like that, and imagine knowing that you had had that kind of impact on the President of the United States! You go, Miss Katie!
4) Touring the Texas White House
The Texas White House is LBJ’s ranch in Stonewall. He loved it so much that even after he became president, he had Air Force One fly him back to Texas frequently. Because the President spent so much time in the Lone Star State, his ranch earned the nickname “the Texas White House”. You can even see the plane that used to fly LBJ back and forth between Texas and Washington parked in front of the Airplane Hangar.
It is known as Air Force One Half. Once you are done peering inside the plane, step inside the Airplane Hangar and purchase your ticket for a nominal fee. (If you are on the tour, your driver will do this for you.)
Then a ranger will lead you and the other guests on an edutaining tour of the home of our only president to be played by Randy Quaid, Bryan Cranston, Tom Wilkinson, and Woody Harrelson. Sadly we are not allowed to take photos inside the ranch, but I will try to make up for that with…
THREE FUN FACTS ABOUT LBJ
1) What’s the strangest thing in the ranch?
There is a pecan pie on display inside the ranch, and the ranger asked us what we thought the significance of this baked good was. I guessed it had something to do with JFK and I was right. On November 22, 1963, Lady Bird Johnson had made a pecan pie to serve to the Kennedys because they were supposed to go visit the Johnsons on their ranch after the Kennedys finished their trip to Dallas.
Of course, the trip to the ranch never took place because Kennedy was assassinated, and the pie was never served. But it is kept out at the ranch in Kennedy’s honor.
2) How did Johnson feel about himself?
On a lighter note, LBJ liked television. He had three TVs that he would play simultaneously after any of his speeches. The ranger explained that this was because there were only three channels at the time (ABC, NBC, and CBS), so this way Johnson could watch coverage of himself on all channels simultaneously.
3) Was LBJ a shy and retiring person?
The Magic 8 Ball says Doubtful. My favorite thing in the entire ranch is a pillow with the phrase, “This is my ranch and I do as I damn please” on it. Apparently it was a gift to Johnson from a neighbor who must have had a pretty good understanding of what LBJ was looking for in a present. Regular readers of this blog are welcome to give me a copy of this pillow, ASAP.
24 Hour Tip
Be careful when using the single stall bathrooms at the Texas White House. I opened the door and was presented with an eight-foot-tall Texan male who had forgotten to lock the door. Pants around his ankles, he yelled, “WELL, HOWDY!” at me, and then turned around and went about his business. I had to go through the whole guided tour of LBJ’s ranch with him about 15 minutes later. God Bless Texas.
5) lbj artifacts
There’s a few small museums on the ranch with some of LBJ’s precious treasures. Don’t miss listening to the phone recordings of various conversations LBJ had with important figures of his day. All you have to do is find the exhibit in the Airplane Hangar, pick up a phone, and listen in on the (real) taped convo.
My favorites were his conversations with Harry S. Truman, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nixon respectively. The last is hilarious because Johnson was polite, but you could tell he did not like Nixon at all and was kind of trying to get him off the phone.
The other 24 Hour Treasure is LBJ’s Aquacar, which is the blue beauty pictured above. This is a car that could literally drive in the water. That seems so Space Age and crazy to me I can’t help but love it. Why don’t we all have Aquacars? George Jetson should get on that.
24 Hours: Hill Country Day Trip
Afternoon: Small Towns of Texas Hill Country
You didn’t just take this Hill Country day trip for dead presidents, strange Texan wangs, and space cars, did you? You want to see bucolic Texas small-town life! Happy to oblige! The afternoon portion of the tour will take us to…
Approximately top 5: texas hill country small towns
Enough of Presidents, it’s time for the Germans! After your tour of the Texas White House, head straight for Fredericksburg. This is the kind of small town typically described as “quaint” and “picturesque”, with or without air quotes. It was settled by Germans around the same time that (presumably) other Germans were settling the King William District of San Antonio.
For reasons that I don’t understand and don’t care to look up, those Germans named their district after the Kaiser but these Germans named their town for Prince Frederick of Prussia. Didn’t they like the king?
Anyway, regardless of any seditious leanings these German settlers may or may not have had, they built an adorable town that is now entirely populated with cute stores and German restaurants. Your guide will give you about two hours to explore and have lunch. If you’re not on the tour, I recommend taking the same amount of time. Fredericksburg is fun, but it’s not that big.
PS. The slogan on the town’s website is “Wilkommen, y’all” and that is adorable.
2) lunch at auslander
Jim recommended that I take lunch at Auslander. This is a German restaurant at 323 E Main St. I wholeheartedly concur with his suggestion! I had, on his advice, the kasewurst, which is a spicy sausage with a little cheese inside. It was the best wurst I’ve had in some time! The sausage was accompanied by two sides.
I chose the sweet red cabbage and the warm German potato salad because they seemed the most authentic. The cozy atmosphere and the sweet-and-sour flavors of my lunch were most appetizing. I would definitely go back here the next time I am in Fredericksburg.
3) shop at rustlin rob’s
The greatest store in Fredericksburg, and quite possibly the world, is Rustlin’ Rob’s Texas Gourmet Foods on 121 East Main St. They have samples of all their foods, from jellies to salsas to flavored peanut butters, If they make it, you can have unlimited samples of it.
I regret not buying everything, but if I had to pick the single best thing I ate, I would say the raspberry jalapeno jelly. Sweet + spicy gets me every time! The next time I go back, I’m going to buy the whole store!
4) Luckenbach, Texas
Luckenbach, Texas is known as a community because it’s too small to be called a town. According to legend, it has a population of 3. In fact, Luckenbach was so small that a man named Hondo Crouch bought the whole community in 1970 for 30,000 dollars.
Now, I don’t want to sound like a New York chauvinist who thinks that bigger is necessarily better, but I am not generally in the habit of visiting towns that have a population too small to successfully play a game of bridge.
My guide reassured me that the community is famous for being featured in the Waylon Jennings/Willie Nelson ode to small town life, Luckenbach, Texas. As we listened to the song, Jim explained to me that once the town was featured in the song “Luckenbach, Texas”, it became a real popular music venue. People come from all over on the weekends just to hear the bands playing at the dance hall. But during weekdays, Luckenbach’s pretty much dead.
5) ride tumbleweed
You won’t be able to listen to music if you stop in Luckenbach on this tour because it will be too early in the day. But you will be able to meet this fine fellow.
His name is Tumbleweed, and if you are willing to give his owner about 5 dollars, you can get on top of him and have your picture taken. I was not about to say no to that! I pretty much never say no to anything that doesn’t involve being touched.
Tumbleweed’s owner asked me to give him a “Debra Winger” pose and he is lucky I am a movie geek because I feel most ladies my age sadly do not know who Debra Winger is. You don’t have to be scared of Tumbleweed. He is as gentle as a cat in a bucket.
24 Hour Treasure
Speaking of which, the greatest thing in Luckenbach is this cat in a bucket in the dance hall gift shop. I hope no one with cat allergies wants to buy one of those T-shirts…
24 Hours: Hill Country Day Trip
Evening: Sister Creek Vineyards
I have the perfect final stop for our Hill Country day trip! Texas is famous for so many things: Rangers, Walker Texas Ranger, Presidents, Tommy Lee Jones, Last Picture Shows…But it is also famous for producing tasty wines. I was so happy that part of the tour included a stop at one of these vineyards, Sister Creek.
The friendly man in charge of the wine tasting–I’m not sure exactly what his position was, so I will just call him the vintner–gave me generous tastings of three of their red wines and two of their white dessert wines. He explained that they made a Cabernet Sauvignon with a blend of three grapes, including Merlot, a Cab 4-blend that added a Syrah, and a Cab-5 blend that added a Malbec. I enjoyed being able to taste how the Cabernet became more complex and drier depending on the grapes that were used.
24 Hour Treasure
My favorite wine was the Muscat Canelli, which is a sparkling dessert wine. I’ve never had one of those before! It tasted like dessert champagne. I felt like I could drink the whole bottle and not feel any pain. The vintner said that the Muscat Canelli was dangerous that way.
24 Hour Tip
The vintner also showed me that you can mix the Muscat Canelli with red wine and it tastes like sangria. I felt like that was being a bit naughty because I know you ordinarily don’t mix wines together if you are a classy lady, and I always strive to be a classy lady, even if I am on the back of a Longhorn steer. But the concoction sure did taste good! Maybe being classy is overrated.
Further Reading: Hill Country Day Trip
Are you ready to start booking your hotel in San Antonio? Then let me give you some further reading for your Hill Country Day Trip! My favorite travel guide to San Antonio is by Moon Travel. In fact they make my favorite US travel guides because they are so detailed.
Of course, after visiting his house, you’re going to want to learn more about LBJ. The definitive biography is by Robert Caro, and it is COMPLETELY FASCINATING. Like Hamilton but fewer songs and more cussin’. However, it is also four volumes long. Start with The Path to Power and take it from there.
If you don’t have as much time, read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. The NY Times called it “the most penetrating, fascinating political biography I have ever read”, which surprised me because normally newspapers can’t read. But I’m not going to argue with The Paper of Record.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours on your Hill Country day trip. If you want to add 24 hours in San Antonio, click here. And if you’d like to add a couple of itineraries for nearby Austin, I’ve got you covered here.