Weekend Escape: Johnson City
From history to science, fun awaits an hour from Austin
It might tout its two-stoplight downtown and laid-back charm, but don’t be fooled — there’s lots to do in little Johnson City. Located less than an hour’s drive west of Austin, Johnson City manages to capture a magic mix of history, nature, entertainment and sustenance.
Whether you’re seeking a fun family getaway or wine-centric weekend, options abound in Johnson City.
On your way out of town, stop for breakfast at Crepe Crazy, crepecrazy.com, in Dripping Springs, where a supple crepe stuffed with caramelized apples and vanilla cream will start your day off right. This restaurant, which now has an Austin outpost too, has deaf owners and a deaf staff — to order, simply point to the menu item you want.
When I was growing up in Austin, Pedernales Falls State Park (tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/pedernales-falls) was our go-to spot for hiking, camping and fishing — the thought of catching my first catfish there still brings me a thrill. Now that I have my own family, it remains my favorite area state park for a day trip because of its accessible terrain for kids of all ages. The park can get crowded on weekends and holidays, so check the website for updates and plan to go early. And don't miss the Pedernales Falls Trading Post (pedernalesfallstradingpost.com), which is near the entrance to the park and features everything from live worms to live music and draft beer.
Another favorite attraction is the Exotic Resort Zoo (zooexotics.com), where daily tours of the property’s 137 acres will introduce you to 700 animals including camels, American bison, greater kudu antelope, zebras, ostriches and kangaroos. You can even spend the night at one of the zoo's seven safari cabins, where you can fully immerse yourself in the wild while enjoying the creature comforts of home.
If you visit in spring, it’s a perfect time to drive the Johnson City Loop, where the bright wildflower mosaic of blues, reds and yellows beckons. Get more details and directions at hillcountryoutdoorguide.com/location/johnson-city-loop.
Great for kids
My family has visited a lot of children’s museums, but perhaps our favorite ever is the Science Mill (sciencemill.org), where STEM-centric learning is made fun and accessible through creative and surprising exhibits for all ages. In the course of our two-hour visit, we dug for fossils, controlled a 30-foot-tall robotic hand and watched with anticipation to see if the eggs we wrapped in materials such as bubble wrap and boxes would survive a drop from the top of the museum’s silos. (The museum is inside a feed mill built in 1880.) We also thoroughly enjoyed meeting the museum’s weirdly adorable axolotls — salamanders that can regenerate their limbs and organs perfectly, without any scarring.
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park (nps.gov/lyjo) offers a fascinating look at the life and times of our 36th president, ranging from his boyhood home, where he lived from age 5 through his high school graduation, to LBJ Ranch, where he ultimately died and was buried. Note: One of the most popular attractions at the park, the Texas White House, is closed because of structural issues, but the rest of the park is open.
Eats and drinks
Located next to the Science Mill, Lady Bird Lane Café (ladybirdlanecafe.com) offers a solid variety of soup-and-sandwich-style fare with plenty of gluten-free and vegetarian options. Recent menu items include an Italian-style grilled cheese with roasted tomatoes served with marinara sauce for dipping and the popular Silver K salad, which consists of mixed greens tossed with pecans, Gorgonzola cheese and balsamic vinaigrette.
Another Johnson City go-to is Pecan Street Brewing (pecanstreetbrewing.com), which encourages you to flip your “chill switch” inside its pet-friendly biergarten. The brewpub offers around 10 beers brewed on-site daily as well as a varied menu that includes items such as beer cheese with chips and salsa, a pork schnitzel plate served with brown gravy, and the Black Sheep, a lamb burger served with whipped feta, pepperoncini and housemade tzatziki sauce.
Johnson City is also on the Texas Hill Country Wine Trail, which means there’s no shortage of wineries. We couldn’t resist stopping for a glass at the Arc de Texas (arcdetexas.com), a wine bar and tasting room modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, where we found the staff to be affable and knowledgeable. Arc de Texas is on Lighthouse Hill Ranch (lighthousehillranch.com), a 2,000-acre ranch that also includes unique lodging options — you can sleep inside an 86-foot-tall lighthouse, for example.
Shop and see
Johnson City is home to a variety of fantastic galleries that are dedicated to showcasing Texas artists. We fell in love with one called Texcetera (texcetera.net), which is across the street from Blanco County Courthouse and features a wide variety of items, from painted gourds to jewelry to stunning, Texas-centric photography.
For general information about Johnson City and ideas for planning a trip, go to johnsoncitytx.org/947/Visitors.
ABOUT THIS SERIES
Weekend Escape is a new monthly series featuring Texas destinations that are worth a visit. View a video with this story online at austin360.com. Have an idea for a city we should visit? Email travel editor Kristin Finan at email@example.com.