Tucked along the winding Guadalupe River in the Hill Country is a town that’s much bigger in legend than in size. The entire Gruene Historic District located within New Braunfels is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Though it extends only about 25 acres, it’s filled with more history, food, and lore than cities 100 times its size. Making a pilgrimage here is a rite of passage for any Texan—just don’t pronounce it “Groo-in.”
Drive down Gruene’s main street, Hunter Road, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into an idyllic small town painting with mom and pop businesses filling every storefront. Stock up on knickknacks and grab a hand-dipped ice cream cone from the Gruene General Store. Personalize your new cowboy hat at Gruene Hat Company—they’ll even set it on fire to give it char marks. Decorate your yard with oddities and tin décor from Gruene Gardens. At the end of the day, park yourself at an outdoor fire pit with a glass of Texas wine from The Grapevine.
Wurst in Gruene
The wurst is the best at this food trailer parked at the edge of the Gruene Grove beer and margarita garden. The tasty bratwurst comes nestled inside a warm pretzel bun, slathered with your choice of toppings like sautéed onions and fried jalapeños. Add their house-made sauerkraut to anything on the menu for a tangy kick.
Most folks visit this beautiful river in the summer months when it’s packed with swimmers, tubers, and sunbathers. But visit in the winter and you’ll find a much calmer river and an ample supply of trout. After stocking up on supplies and fishing tips at Gruene Outfitters, head to the water and attempt to catch a rainbow trout. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department stocks thousands of the cold-water fish in the river each winter. You’ll definitely catch a great time.
Gristmill River Restaurant and Bar
There may be no restaurant in Texas that serves a better chicken-fried steak. The building itself is a mix of metal, brick, and wood that was once the town’s cotton gin. In 1977 it was saved from near collapse and repurposed into a destination eatery packed with hundreds of patrons each weekend. Every meal should start with the house onion rings followed by Texas classics including burgers, pork ribs, and steaks. Save room for the whiskey pecan pie.
No day in Gruene is complete without stepping onto the wooden floor of the oldest dance hall in Texas, dating to 1878. Like most German towns, Gruene was anchored by a community hall used for dancing, voting, reunions, and even badger fights. In the 1970s, two young entrepreneurs turned it into one of Texas’ best dance halls. A young George Strait played here regularly when he was getting started, and country stars from Garth Brooks to Kacey Musgraves have performed on its stage. Your feet will naturally start two stepping no matter if you hear a famous band at a ticketed event or listen to a local troubadour on a weekday night.
So whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope to see you on the road.
Chet Garner is the host of The Daytripper® travel show on PBS.
To view the Gruene episode, visit thedaytripper.com.
Follow along on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @chettripper.