Highlights from past trips to Austin included kayaking on Lady Bird Lake in the heart of the city, savoring barbecue at long-standing local hot spots, shopping at quaint boutiques on South Congress Avenue and visiting the imposing Capitol. Here are the sites and activities around town that we found especially memorable on our most recent jaunt.
The 36th president of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, was born and raised in Texas Hill Country, on a tranquil ranch set along the Pedernales River in Johnson City, a small town 60 miles west of downtown Austin. During his administration (1963-1969), Johnson spent about a quarter of his time at his ranch, which was dubbed the “Texas White House.” The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park preserves the president’s boyhood home, a two-story white structure with green shutters, the cemetery where he and his wife are buried and the 700-acre farm, where Hereford cattle, American bison and Texas longhorns roam freely. Johnson said of his unassuming home and ranch, “All the world is welcome here,” and indeed he regularly played host to diplomats and visiting dignitaries. On our visit, we toured the president’s plane and admired the Friendship Stones, slabs of concrete where guests of the ranch, including fellow politicians and some celebrities, signed wet concrete to memorialize their visit. Johnson’s ranch house embodies the traditional 1960s American home, complete with colorful print furniture, Formica countertops, avocado-green color schemes and rotary dial phones in every room, including the baths, to ensure Johnson was readily available at any moment. The LBJ Ranch is a vivid place of historical significance with interactive displays and unique memorabilia from his time in office, making it a noteworthy destination for visitors.
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park
100 East Ladybird Lane, Johnson City. Tel. (830) 868-7128
One can find an array of kid-friendly spots in Austin, including family-owned local landmark Peter Pan Mini Golf, open since 1948, as well as a toy museum, a zoo and several swimming holes. On this trip, we booked an afternoon horseback-riding excursion with Texas Trail Rides. The meeting point for all outings is Lone Star Ranch, a 40-acre farm located 15 minutes southeast of downtown. Set in beautiful countryside, the ranch provides a tranquil getaway without having to leave the city. Texas Trail Rides organizes 90-minute daytime outings, as well as 45- and 90-minute sunset tours. When signing up, questions regarding experience, height, weight and comfort level were asked, so upon arrival, our horses were already tacked up for us. The facility is exceptionally neat and orderly. Before heading out onto the trails, first-time riders were given a quick but comprehensive tutorial, and we were introduced to our mounts. Paths traverse through Lone Star Ranch and an abutting nature preserve. The peaceful, wooded landscape we meandered through was mostly flat and the healthy horses were responsive and well behaved. As we splashed across Onion Creek, we felt far removed from the troubles of the world. Our friendly wrangler paid special attention to the children in the group, sharing stories of his time in the rodeo and checking in with them about how they were feeling. In addition to horseback riding, the ranch offers skeet shooting, archery, guided ATV tours and fishing.
Texas Trail Rides
8601 Bluff Springs Road, Austin. Tel. (512) 697-9722
An original way to escape the Texas heat is to descend into one of the state’s public caves. Located less than 90 minutes from downtown Austin in the Hill Country, Longhorn Cavern State Park is an impressive subterranean expanse with an average temperature of 68 degrees year-round. An underground river created this golden limestone cavern by erosion over several million years. Book a walking tour to admire stalagmites, dripping stalactites, chambers of natural cream-colored dolomite, soaring ceilings and passageways of calcite crystals. Discovered in the early 1800s by Comanche Indians, the cave has served unexpected purposes over the years. In the 1860s, Civil War soldiers went underground to harvest bat guano to mix with sulfur and charcoal to create gunpowder. Eventually, the cave was manually excavated by the Civilian Conservation Corps and opened as a state park in 1932. It was during this time that a 2,000-square-foot dance floor was installed, and the cavern became a popular nightclub. The intriguing history and natural beauty of Longhorn Cavern makes this a fascinating outing.
Longhorn Cavern State Park
6211 Park Road 4 South, Burnet. Tel. (512) 715-9000