We had the privilege of traveling with two of our nieces (Ages 8 and 4) and one nephew (age 7) through Texas Hill Country. We are from Pennsylvania and wanted to ensure that they would learn about the history of Texas and what makes the area unique. There are a lot of fun things for children to do in Hill Country, but true to our nature, we were focusing on an authentic experience for them. Our challenge was for them to learn and experience the culture of Texas Hill Country in 5 days. Here is how we did it…
Austin: They flew in to the Austin Airport, so our journey started at the Texas State Capitol building. The Visitor Center there gives an excellent introduction to the history of Texas, especially for kids. The kids also loved learning about all of the state symbols, such as the state bird, state flower, etc. They were then able to identify so many of these while we were driving around during their stay – the repetition cemented it in their minds (and gave them something to do in the car). We also learned a brief introduction to Texas’ history at the capitol building to set us up for the week. On the floor of the building are the different flags that represent the rulers of Texas (Spain, France, Mexico, Republic of Texas, U.S. – and the Lone Star State Flag). We talked about how their history contrasted Pennsylvania’s history as a British colony. To top off the Austin experience, we ate at a Venezuelan food truck!
Natural Bridge Caverns & Boerne: It rained off and on during the day so we did some indoor activities. First, we explored underground at Natural Bridge Caverns near New Braunfels. The cave tour was pricey, but much more exciting than I had envisioned. We went down to around 180 feet below the surface and were able to view several different large rooms with formations. We did not see any bats, but it was fun to see their habitat and some very old guano! I thought that all caves ranged in the 50s year round for temperatures, but apparently not this one – it was in the 70s with 99% humidity! We were pretty hot, and the walk was very steep and wet – a little more difficult than we had anticipated. There are other activities on their grounds, but we had too many other things to see to stick around. From the caverns, we headed to Boerne for some lunch and shopping. Hill Country is full of towns with great, thriving downtown restaurants and shops. They feature a lot of antique places, gift shops, and everything Texas of course.
San Antonio: First, we wanted to see the Missions. We started at Mission San José, which is the largest and also holds the museum. We checked out the museum and the video they play to get a knowledge base and then explored the mission. Next, we stopped at Mission Concepción. We left the other two missions out since they are farther from downtown, and we didn’t have time for all of them. The missions helped them to understand how the Spanish worked with the Indians to establish settled areas. We stopped nearby for an authentic, homemade Tex-Mex meal at Cascabel Mexican Patio of tlacoyos, nopalitos, Jamaica to drink and more. We drove through the historic King William district after lunch on our way to the River Walk. We did the boat ride and walked along the River Walk to The Alamo. By this time, they had heard of Davy Crockett at the Capitol building in Austin, and they had seen the other missions; so the kids already had some pieces of the picture in place before we hit The Alamo, where everything came together. Now they had an understanding of what happened to the Missions after the Spanish left, as well as how Texas won its independence and the role that The Alamo played. We went back to the River Walk for dinner to end our visit to San Antonio.
Gruene: This day started with heavy storms, so we spent the morning at the campground completing some worksheets and coloring sheets I had made ahead of time to review Texas history. From the Indians, to the Spanish, to the Mexicans, to the Republic of Texas, and finally to Texas’ statehood; the kids remembered most of the pieces from what we had seen, and the worksheets helped to put it all together. In the afternoon, we visited Gruene – another beautiful Texas Hill Country town settled by Germans and home of the oldest continuously running dance hall in Texas! Again, the downtown had great shops and the kids picked out several souvenirs to remind them of their time in Texas. For dinner, we ate at The Gristmill River Restaurant, the largest restaurant in Texas. The outdoor seating was lovely, with flowering vines fragrancing the air and steppe patio seating at different levels looking over the River.
Heritage Museum, Canyon Lake, Tejas Rodeo: First, we visited the Heritage Museum of Hill Country. As you know, I have a heart for these small museums run by locals; and at this one, the workers spent so much time talking to the kids and making it relevant for them. It was almost like having a personalized tour for them. They have local exhibits on Indians, the Canyon Lake Dam, and other local history; but the main feature is that they have a large area where prints from three different dinosaurs cross each other’s paths. Next, we stopped at Canyon Lake to see the dam and put our feet in the water of course! For dinner, we headed to Tejas Rodeo Steakhouse and Saloon in Bulverde. This place would be amazing on every Saturday night for their rodeos. We were there on a Thursday, which is when they have barrel racing and roping practice. We ate at the steakhouse, which featured probably the best beef I have ever eaten, and then took in the practice. We wanted to make sure the kids got a chance to see some rodeo action, and this was a great option since they wouldn’t be in Texas for a Saturday. Their grounds had great rodeo themed areas with stage coaches, horse stools, etc. It was a great way to end their trip!
And that, my friends, was our tour of Hill Country with kids in a nutshell! I will leave you with one last photo of me and my beautiful mother…
- We watched McClintock one night and an episode of Bonanza during thunderstorms – we loved these growing up and so did the kids!
- While we drove, the kids pointed out prickly pear cactus, longhorns, mockingbirds, wildflowers, Lone Star flags, and everything else we saw special to Texas. We also picked out ranches that had their brand on their gate.
- We taught them the Davy Crockett theme song from the show with Fess Parker – another one we had watched when we were young. We also somehow sidetracked to the Swamp Fox theme song, and the kids loved both.
- We really wanted to take them tubing on the Guadalupe River, but their trip coincided with terrible thunderstorms and rain (the Houston flooding storms), so it did not work out for us.
- We also took turns having the kids stay in the RV with us – they were so excited about it!