By Joanna O’Leary
If August’s triple-digit temperatures have you feeling logy and uninspired, perhaps a visit to Old Man River is in order. The Hill Country’s meandering Guadalupe affords multiple ways to cool down naturally in the form of tubing, rafting, and swimming (in designated safe areas), plus it’s close to Schlitterbahn, the site of man-made (but equally enjoyable) aquatic entertainment.
Your best bets for a home base along the Guadalupe are New Braunfels and Gruene. Go for the former for a boisterous (and likely crowded) tourist experience, and seek out the latter for more solace and a slower pace.
The T Bar M Resort in New Braunfels is a sprawling, family-oriented resort that offers diverse accommodation options (single rooms, condos, cabins), plus athletic amenities (putting green, pool, sports center, horseshoe range) and adorable extras (outdoor movie screenings, s’mores, and complimentary ice cream). Should your plans go beyond the scope of a weekend, an extended stay at T Bar M is further facilitated by the daily complimentary breakfast and laundry facilities.
Another noteworthy place to hang your hat at the end of a long day of fluvial fun include the rustic Gruene Mansion Inn. Each of the 31 rooms are individually decorated in keeping with the Victorian architectural motif, and boast charming features such as wood-burning fireplaces, clawfoot tubs, and private porches replete with his-and-his or hers-and-hers rocking chairs.
All right, enough land-lubbin—it’s time to hit the water. Whitewater Sports provides state-of-the-art (i.e. “no rash”) single tubes, plus variations that can hold drink coolers. Customers can either jump right into the river and begin the hours-long float down the Fourth Crossing, or take advantage of Whitewater’s free shuttle to begin farther north, at the “top of the horseshoe.” Those who prefer more navigational control should try paddle-boating in Landa Lake and Comal Springs in lovely Landa Park, also the site of kid-friendly attractions such as miniature golf, a wading pool, and train rides.
What is it about engaging in full- or partial-immersion water sports that engenders such voracious hunger? Ponder the answer at Alpine Haus, where you can dine on a menu of German staples that includes five different types of schnitzel, fried brie cheese with Black Forest ham, spätzle, and red cabbage in an endearingly kitschy dining room you could swear was decorated by your grandma.
Many a visitor has sung the praises of Huisache Grill for providing a fine-dining experience in New Braunfels. Pair a glass of red, white, or bubbly from their small but sophisticated collection of wines with a starter of shrimp and green onion cakes with jalapeño tartar sauce before moving on to one of their more novel entrées. The deceptively demurely titled “Mixed Grill” is actually a massive carnivorous collaboration of beef medallions, a semi-boneless blackened quail, three skewered shrimp, and poblano bacon-wrapped chicken. A lighter, more botanical option is the “303 Seafood Salad,” Huisache’s riff on the traditional Niçoise containing grilled salmon and cocktail shrimp over salad greens, and dressed with green beans, olives, new potatoes, cucumber, roasted red peppers, and blue-cheese crumbles.
In Gruene, The Gristmill River Restaurant is located in an aesthetically endearing century-old cotton gin. Since the entrées are fine but not particularly dandy, a better meal can be created by ordering a few of the Gristmill’s more intriguing appetizers such as the “Texas Torpedoes” (four deep-fried missiles of bacon-wrapped jalapeños stuffed with cheddar, jack, and cream cheeses garnished with chipotle ranch) or the “Gruene Best Wurst” wedding kielbasa (unsmoked Polish sausage made with beef and pork and served with house-made barbecue sauce). And for a buzz-inducing sweet ending to your meal, split a piece of their famous Jack Daniel’s pecan pie studded with chocolate chunks and served à
Not yet ready to throw in the towel for the evening? Check out the Stonewall Warehouse, which hosts drag shows and other themed revelry such as karaoke, local musicians, and salsa dancing.
And though the water is really where it’s at during late summer in New Braunfels, the historical attractions (the star of which is the Conservation Plaza) can easily provide a morning or afternoon of dry fun. Spanning just under four acres, the Plaza is home to 18 buildings from days of yore, including a saloon, a turn-of-the-century garage, a one-room 19th-century schoolhouse, and a (still-working) barbershop. Architecture aficionados will appreciate the different styles of fachwerk (or half-timber beams) incorporated into the various establishments. You can also channel your inner spelunker with some subterranean exploration through the Natural Bridge Caverns, a labyrinthine series of caves discovered just over 50 years ago by college students. Go right when the caverns open to enjoy a tour by lantern through the chilly passages. It’s very cool—in all senses of the word.
Joanna O’Leary is a freelance food and travel writer based in Houston. Her exploits are chronicled on brideyoleary.com.