Boerne, Texas, is a Hill Country Hideaway
Texas is good at keeping its gems hidden. It secures many of them far, far away from city limits, down long deserted roads or secluded in dusty corners, and if you want to find them, you're better off wandering in a rented Mustang convertible than following instructions on any laptop or smartphone. "There's really nothing special out that way," people will tell you. Only a fool would believe them. What they mean is, there's nothing out there except grand little towns, sleepy rivers, and some pretty phenomenal chicken-fried steak.
Boerne (pronounced BUR-nee) sits in the Texas Hill Country, surrounded by rugged limestone countryside and lush pockets of live oaks and bald cypresses. You could blink and drive right past it on your way to better-known hubs nearby. Not all treasures announce themselves with sparkle—and Texas often prefers camouflage. So make that U-turn.
Located only about half an hour from San Antonio and less than two hours from Austin, Boerne is the kind of small town that can make you feel homesick, even if it couldn't be farther from your roots. It's the perfect destination for those searching for nostalgic joys: a root beer float from an old-school sweet shop, a welcoming smile on colorful Main Street, or a spontaneous dunk into a cold river on a hot day. People here aren't afraid to make direct eye contact, punctuated with polite discourse on the weather or inquiries about your day. If you didn't grow up knowing every cashier at the grocery store or dropping off holiday cookie tins for the neighbors, you might be taken aback by all the friendliness, but you'll get over that right away. In fact, it might even rub off on you.
Most of the big action in Boerne is centered on a lively downtown district known in Texas as the Hill Country Mile, which consists of the Main Street drag lined with dozens of antiques shops and specialty stores. Unique depots such as artisan-supplied Handmade on Main and Flashback Funtiques (which specializes in cool vintage items like restored Coca-Cola machines, jukeboxes, and pinball games) spotlight the town's creative side. The owner of Flashback Funtiques has even been rumored to occasionally offer a cold Shiner to those perusing his wares, so get ready to hang out awhile. The Dienger Trading Co., housed in a 137-year-old grocery store building, is a multipronged shop with a bistro, bookstore, bakery, and boutique all under one roof. Indulge in its sinful selection of layer cakes and pies—a slice of coconut cream rakes in the most rave reviews.
If just a day trip proves insufficient—and it will—book one of the 34 rooms at The Kendall, a boutique hotel in a restored circa-1859 stagecoach stop, to be within walking distance of everything on Main Street. The in-house restaurant, Peggy's on the Green, is a local favorite for Southern-style dishes with a twist (get the chicken-fried quail and bourbon Brussels sprouts). However, before skipping town, you'll want to get a taste of Boerne's German heritage (a common historical thread throughout this region of Texas), starting with the buttery, fruit-filled kolaches; traditional pork schnitzel; and potato pancakes from Little Gretel Restaurant. Check out Cibolo Creek Brewing Co. for a contemporary take on a classic biergarten that makes a mellow hangout for those getting ready to take in the area scenery, including the stalagmite-decorated Cave Without a Name and Boerne City Lake Park, a popular spot for paddling and tubing.
Want more hidden gems? Boerne is just a short drive from other prized Hill Country towns like Fredericksburg and New Braunfels. You can find these and more of Texas' best-kept secrets by getting off the interstate, chatting up the locals, and driving the roads less traveled. And when you run out of road, get out of the car and hoof it.