San Marcos River in Martindale

The pale green waters of the San Marcos River slip silently past my comfy spot on the shady deck. During summer, groups of kayakers would float by, but at this time of year, the only sound is the delicate percussion of distant rapids.

Soon, I’ll walk the broad, grassy slope back up to the Bavarian River Haus and start a fire in the grill. I may follow a juicy pork chop and grilled vegetables with a soak in the hot tub or a spell by the chimenea on the patio.

This cozy bed and breakfast served as home base for my weekend getaway in Martindale, a hamlet just a few miles outside of San Marcos—but effectively in a whole different world. Owners Roger and Erika Wood fell in love with the San Marcos River as students at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State), and when they went shopping for a home on the river, the one they found happened to come with a B&B. The property is less than a mile outside of Martindale, a tiny town located a few blocks off Texas 80, east of Interstate 35 between San Marcos and Luling.

Founded in 1852 on land that settler John Crayton sold to the Martindale family, the town boasted a Baptist church by 1858 and a post office—still in operation—by 1875. Much of the cottonseed and hybrid seed corn produced in Texas in the 1950s came from Martindale. Today, the town has about 1,000 residents, and while the downtown’s storefronts are mostly empty, the slow pace and a handful of interesting destinations will satisfy visitors looking for a relaxing weekend.

I started my getaway with a day of kayaking on the San Marcos River with a boat from Spencer Canoes, a canoe-manufacturing and rental shop headquartered at the Shady Grove Campground. First, I drove my car about 10 minutes south to the town of Staples, the take-out point for my river trip. The folks from Spencer then shuttled me upriver to Shady Grove and the boat. Many San Marcos-area river trips end at Shady Grove, but downstream, both the crowds and riverside development thin out.

The five-and-a-half-mile stretch from Martindale to Staples makes for a leisurely three- to four-hour trip by kayak or canoe. I pulled up on an occasional island to soak up the sun, and if I had packed a fishing pole, I could have bothered a few of the bass swimming in deeper parts of the river.

At the end of the route, I gathered up my paddle, life jacket, and seat back and drove back to Shady Grove. Spencer retrieved the boat, which I just pulled onto the shore. This reverse-shuttle set-up meant I could take my time on the river and jump in my car without waiting on anyone when I finished.

Cottonseed Cafe

I refueled with a hearty lunch at Cottonseed Café and Deli, where the seasonally inspired menu includes comfort food such as meatloaf and chicken-fried steak, along with interesting surprises—salmon patties and pork schnitzel—and a wide selection of salads and sandwiches. Be sure to save room for the fresh-baked pies and cakes. The top sellers are carrot cake and buttermilk pie, a creamy-sweet concoction with a tender and flaky homemade crust.

Across Texas 80 (also known as San Marcos Highway), a sign lured me to Native Furniture Works Emporium, a barn-like building stuffed with custom wood furniture and country-themed home furnishings. James Robertson has made furniture since 1976, and the store specializes in products crafted from local pecan trees, including polished wood dining tables that are matched with chairs upholstered in cowhides. It all had me lusting after a country home to furnish. Since I have a suburban home instead, not to mention a tiny Honda car, I satisfied myself with a couple of knickknacks, including a coffee mug adorned with a horse and some Western-themed cocktail napkins.

In summer, most visitors to the Martindale area head to Don’s Fish Camp, a sprawling, 50-acre complex located off Texas 80 down a short, unpaved road that passes corrals of goats, cows, horses, donkeys, and a Longhorn or two. There’s an actual Don, last name Nelle, who has owned the property for more than 50 years. Colorful tubes tower several stories high under open shelters, and a fleet of school buses ferries river-runners about 10 minutes by road upriver. In season, the shuttles run from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekends and start at 11 a.m. on weekdays. Don’s will even pick folks up from local accommodations or send a bus to shuttle groups from Austin or San Antonio. The float down the river takes about three hours, and returning tubers are welcome to linger at the camp, where oak and pecan trees and thatch umbrellas shade picnic tables along the shore. Don’s campground opens year-round, offering tent camping along the river—perfect for enjoying warm fall days without the crowds.

Given the hint of chill to come in the fall air, though, I opted to stay dry and save tubing for another day. So I headed just up the road to Three Dudes Winery, where a rugged wood-and-metal tasting room faces a shaded outdoor seating area and decks overlooking the river. The first Friday of each month, these decks host Dudes and Dogs, an event featuring live music, Angus-beef hot dogs topped with a secret sauerkraut recipe, and, of course, wine.

The dudes in question are Jeff Felderhoff, Terry Alford, and Ron Pontiff, friends who had developed a tradition of touring Hill Country wineries together. During one of these outings, they hit on the idea of starting their own operation. The three built much of the facility themselves, with help from friends. Three Dudes, which strives to make its wines from 100 percent Texas grapes, currently offers six varieties for tasting: chenin blanc, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, white zinfandel, a Texas white, and a Texas red. “We make wines that we enjoy drinking, and our hope is that everyone who visits us finds at least one that they would take away as one they enjoy,” says Felderhoff.

I was tempted to head the short distance into San Marcos for a Saturday night dinner and perhaps some live music, but back at the River Haus, fresh firewood waited in the chimenea and now I had a bottle of merlot to sip in the hot tub. Tomorrow, I could sleep in before enjoying continental breakfast in the biergarten swing, followed by another long communion with the San Marcos River on the River Haus deck before heading back to the city. No need to drive farther; Martindale had everything I needed for my stress-free weekend.

From the November 2014 issue

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