New Braunfels: Another Texas Hill Country Gem

New Braunfels Church

New Braunfels is best known as a popular summer playground in the beautiful Texas Hill Country. Favorite water activities, like tubing down the Guadalupe River or splashing in the cool waters of Schlitterbahn Waterpark, draw throngs of visitors during the warm summer months. The area also has a strong German heritage, evident in the many festivals, food, music and entertainment activities held throughout the year.

Schlitterbahn Blast Back
Schlitterbahn Blast Back

In fact, the motto for this idyllic Texas town is, “Life is good in New Braunfels.” Everywhere you look, you can see why. Happy families enjoying the many attractions and activities. Great food, from casual to fine dining. Wineries and breweries. Friendly people. And there are always the lovely landscapes of the Texas Hill Country.  Yes, life is good in New Braunfels.

There is so much to do, there is no way to cover it all. But here’s a taste of some of the great things to do in New Braunfels.

Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Resort

Schlitterbahn is not only the most popular water park in Texas – it has been voted the World’s Best Waterpark 19 years in a row by Amusement Today. Schlitterbahn offers miles of water rides, slides and attractions, and The Falls is the world’s longest waterpark ride. The park provides free parking and free tubes to all visitors. And, unlike most waterparks, people are welcome to bring in their own food and drinks.

You can even stay onsite at the wonderful resort on the grounds. Walk out your front door and the park is all around you. Play, float, eat, drink, relax, and swim without ever leaving the park. Now, that’s a vacation!

Schlitterbahn Slides MasterBlaster Front
Schlitterbahn Slides MasterBlaster Front

Guadalupe and the Comal Rivers

Every summer, thousands of locals and visitors hit the Guadalupe River riding canoes, kayaks, inner tubes, or some other flotation device. Whether it’s a lazy river like float on calm, clear waters, or an exhilarating thrill ride through whitewater bubbling over limestone boulders, the Guadalupe delivers. There are many outfitters conveniently located on the river in and around New Braunfels where visitors can rent all types of water gear.

A small tributary of the Guadalupe, the Comal is the shortest river in Texas. Its entire length of just 2.5 miles is contained within the city of New Braunfels. This tiny waterway cuts through the heart of Schlitterbahn, and is even incorporated into some of the winding water rides in the park. Fed by the largest natural springs in Texas, the Comal is a calm, relaxing experience. Well, except for Stinky Falls, an S shaped concrete chute that gives kids as well as adults a short thrill ride into the waiting waters of the Comal.

Gruene Historic District

Gruene was founded by Ernst Gruene in the 1840s. The German immigrant built his homestead just outside the downtown area on the Guadalupe River and set up a mill for cotton grown in the area. Business was good and prospered in the late 1800s until the 1920s and 30s, when boll weevils destroyed the cotton crop and the Depression devastated the economy. The mill was abandoned and the area was largely deserted for fifty years. Then, in 1975, Gruene District was put on the National Register of Historic Places. Older buildings were revitalized, new buildings went up, and tourists began to flock to the area.

Gruene Mansion Inn
Gruene Mansion Inn

One part of Gruene that weathered all the downturns was Gruene Hall. The oldest dance hall in Texas, it has continuously operated since 1878.  Some of the biggest names is country music, like George Strait, Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, Lyle Lovett and a host of others have played this stage. At any time of year, visitors can hear an ongoing parade of talented musicians play Gruene Hall, and dancers happily two-step across the 6,000 square feet of dance floor.

Another anchor of Gruene is the Gristmill Restaurant and Bar, located in the shell of the cotton gin that was gutted by an earlier fire. One of the most popular restaurants in the Hill Country, the Gristmill has been serving up its famous chicken fried steak, burgers, fried catfish, and fall off the bone barbecued ribs since 1977. During nice weather, sit outside under towering oaks with a view of the Guadalupe River winding its way towards downtown.

Gristmill Gruene Food
Gristmill Gruene Food

Another popular Gruene landmark is the Victorian style Gruene Mansion Inn, formerly the home of Henry Gruene. On the banks of the Guadalupe River, visitors can stay in the mansion or one of the other 31 rooms on the grounds that have been carefully refurbished in “Victorian Rustic Elegance.”  Gruene Mansion Inn is the perfect place to stay to be in the middle of all that Gruene has to offer.

Visitors also enjoy Trade Days, when dozens of woodworkers, jewelers, sculptors, painters, and other artists sell their wares. Trade Days are held the third weekend of each month, except for December, when it is held the first weekend of the month. With its strong German heritage, German festivals abound in New Braunfels, especially during the fall. Come join in on the fun at Wuerstfest and other Oktoberfest celebrations, with oompah bands playing polka music, men dressed in lederhosen, and plenty of brats and beer. Some of the excellent restaurants focusing on German cuisine include Alpine Haus Restaurant, Krause’s Café, Friesenhaus, River Hofbrau, and Uwe’s Bakery and Deli.

Wineries and Breweries

Many visitors to New Braunfels enjoy exploring some of the great little wineries and breweries in the area.  Wineries include Dry Comal Creek, Guadalupe Valley Winery, Winery on the Gruene, and Longshot Winery.

Dry Comal Creek
Dry Comal Creek

Dry Comal Creek Winery offers a friendly, scenic, relaxed atmosphere to tour and taste a variety of refreshing wines. Share a meat and cheese platter while sipping on the flavorful Black Spanish, White Port and other award-winning wines. Only six miles northwest of downtown off Highway 46, Dry Comal Creek is an oak-shaded oasis just waiting for you. On weekends you will often find live music to listen to as you relax with friends under the canopy of towering oaks.

Local breweries include New Braunfels Brewing located downtown on Mills Street, known for their sour brews. Try Funkromancer, Uber, Blondine, or PKL FKR, their most popular brew with a distinct flavor of pickle juice. Or try Guadalupe Brewing off I-35 with its great stouts and porters.

Animal World and Snake Farm

Animal World and Snake Farm, with over 500 species of animals, is a great place to get up-close and personal with all manner of critters. Snakes, lizards, hyenas, wolves, camels, and warthogs are just some of the creatures you will see. There is even a petting zoo where the little ones can mingle with sheep, goats, and pot-bellied pigs. Animal World and Snake Farm is conveniently located right off I-35 south headed towards San Antonio.

Snake Farm
Snake Farm

Canyon Lake

With 80 miles of shoreline and crystal blue water, Canyon Lake is only minutes from New Braunfels. Enjoy boating, swimming, or fishing this scenic lake. The dam at Overlook Park helps control the flow of the Guadalupe River, enabling people to enjoy deep clear waters on this recreational paradise.

Sunrise at Canyon Lake
Sunrise at Canyon Lake


McKenna Children’s Museum, with interactive exhibits and hands-on activities, is a great place to spend some time with the kids. Both entertaining and educational, children will learn valuable lessons while having a blast at McKenna Children’s Museum. Other interesting museums include the New Braunfels Railroad Museum and the Museum of Texas Handmade Furniture. Visitors can also search for lost relatives or fill out their family tree at the fascinating Sophienburg Museum.

Golf and Tennis

Golfers can play The Bandit Golf Course, an 18-hole course designed by Keith Foster. The Bandit was named a “Top 10 Public Course in Texas” by Golfweek magazine.  For tennis fans, John Newcombe Tennis Ranch and T Bar M offer great facilities with onsite lodging. They also host several popular camps throughout the year, especially during the summer months. In addition to tennis, they also offer swimming and a variety of sporting activities.

How to get there

New Braunfels is conveniently located on Interstate 35, just 9 miles north of the intersection of I-35 and I-10. Loop 337 circles the city to the west, connecting I-35 north and south. New Braunfels is about 3 hours west of Houston, 45 minutes south of Austin, and about 45 minutes northeast of San Antonio.

Head on over to this Texas Hill Country Gem, and find out for yourself why they say, “Life is good in New Braunfels.”

Gruene Hall
Gruene Hall

Scott Kendall is a freelance travel writer who has lived in The Woodlands, Texas for the last 25 years. He has travelled extensively throughout the US and has made several trips to Europe, spending much of that time in Germany and Italy. Outside of the continental US he has travelled to Guam, Alaska, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, the Bahamas and Canada. Scott has been married to a wonderful woman, Julie, for almost 30 years, and is the proud father of two great more

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