Living in a big city, I’ve always been drawn to smaller towns in Texas.
The history. The undeniable beauty. Let’s not forget the fabulous food, for it was during my first years in Texas when I discovered staples like chicken fried steak.
One small Texas town has been on my radar for quite a while, and it wasn’t until recently that I visited with my family in tow. The town? New Braunfels, Texas.
Situated right off a main corridor in the state, I-35, New Braunfels is found in between two favorite Texas destinations – San Antonio and Austin. It’s a short drive from either, and a fabulous add-on to your next visit.
This post was part of a sponsored project in conjunction with members of the Texas Travel Industry Association to feature their members. The partnership included lodging, food & beverage, and compensation for the trip. The opinions reflected are honest and based upon the individual blogger experience.
New Braunfels – A Place for Families to Play Together
New Braunfels might be a small town, but it has all you could want for a family vacation and more, whether you fly into a nearby city or opt for a family road trip.
Where to Play in New Braunfels (Shhh, a Secret)
When you think of New Braunfels, there is one sure thing to come to mind – water! From the world-famous Schlitterbahn waterpark to two rivers known for tubing on hot, summer days, there’s no doubt water should be on any New Braunfels itinerary.
That said, I’m about to let you in on a little secret. There’s so much more to New Braunfels than waterparks and river adventures. Oh yes, and I’m sharing all the hidden gems my family discovered.
Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Resort
First and foremost, a trip to New Braunfels wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Schlitterbahn’s flagship location.
The New Braunfels waterpark is found just off the banks of the Comal River and not only features 70 acres of fun, but also offers resort accommodations for its guests. With 7 different types of accommodations, your family just might not want to leave. Tip: Book the Treehaus Suite or Riverbend Cabin.
To help keep costs down for families, Schlitterbahn offers free parking (an unexpected perk), and allows guests to bring in outside food for picnics.
This is the premiere waterpark in Texas, one you don’t want to miss.
McKenna Children’s Museum
For year-round fun, head to the McKenna Children’s Museum with the kids. It’s there you’ll find both indoor and outdoor play experiences that foster learning and encourage imagination.
This is just as impressive as many children’s museums I’ve visited in large cities around the country. Yes, and right in the heart of Hill Country. While the preschoolers in your life will go wild over the exhibits and play buildings, even my 11-year old had fun.
A large open space indoors offers parents an easy way to keep an eye on their young children, and the outdoor area is completely enclosed so that little ones can’t “escape”.
Upon entering the museum, I quickly spied a true to scale Texas longhorn (of the animal type, not the collegiate kind), a black bear high atop a mountain of boulders, and bat cave reminding me of the Austin bats not too far from there.
Nursery rhymes written on the walls were changed to reflect some Texas fun, and I found ceilings with colorful fish dangling. But at the heart of the museum were the individual play areas where imaginations run wild.
We found the grocery store which I would have loved as a kid, complete with cashier lines and grocery carts. There was the bank kids could go into and play teller with money or learn how to use an ATM machine. A favorite was the clinic and emergency room, where my daughter played life-size Operation and rode in an extra large ambulance.
Perhaps my daughter’s favorite spot in the entire museum was the one and only “Space Walk” in Texas. Kids can quickly put on their NASA spacesuit, play in a makeshift rocket, then head out into space where they will attempt a space walk. The space walk is a dark mirrored room children walk through, where one is surrounded by “stars”. So much fun.
Note that they are not open on Sundays, but I loved their “Play All Day” admission policy, one where you could leave and come back later.
How would you pronounce Gruene, Texas?
Would you be surprised to find out that it is pronounced GREEN? That was part of some family fun that we had while visiting this portion of New Braunfels which used to be a town of its own, but no longer.
Gruene is a quaint part of New Braunfels filled with all sorts of history and nostalgia. You’ll want to walk by Gruene Hall, the oldest hall in the state of Texas, one where John Travolta famously shot the dance scene in the movie “Michael”. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear country music being performed in the open-air venue. It’s there where many musicians played before they were well-known, like the King of Country himself, George Strait.
Behind Gruene Hall and underneath the water tower, you’ll discover a Texas historical marker for the Gruene Cotton Gin, as this area was once a cotton producing town.
Shop for all things Texas at Gruene Haus (my favorite spot) or mosey on down to the Gruene Hat Company to find yourself the perfect cowboy hat. Looking for the perfect family souvenir? Have an old fashioned photograph taken at Old Time Photos.
Comal River and Guadalupe River
Tubing. Canoeing. Kayaking. The list is endless for all the water activities you can experience on two of the best known rivers in the state.
If your kids are a little young or not great swimmers, you’ll still want to experience the beauty of the Comal and Guadalupe rivers. The rush of the water in certain places. The calmness of it in yet others. For me, it was the color that mesmerized me. I was not expecting the green-blue hues.
TIP: There’s a spot in Gruene, down below all the restaurants, where you can walk over a historic bridge and stick your feet in the river, listen to the rushing water, or take some great family photographs.
Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch
About 20 minutes away from New Braunfels are two side by side attractions that are family favorites. The first is Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch, a drive through safari that will almost guarantee smiles, no matter your age. Ask me how I know.
Drive your car on designated roads through 450 acres of protected land in Texas Hill Country. You will meet new friends along the way, including zebras and ostriches, while learning something (be prepared to google the difference between antlers and horns). Other animals like giraffes, camels, and rhinos won’t be roaming along the same path with you, so no worries, but be fully prepared for roadblocks when it’s feeding time for the rest of the animals.
We spent about 2 hours on our drive, then enjoyed getting out for a walk around a small area where you’ll find a petting zoo, cafe, and gift shop.
New to the Wildlife Ranch is a Safari Adventure Tour. With these tickets, you will ride in a custom built Safari Rover driven by a guide. Note that these tours are only offered at certain times of the day and I highly recommend pre-ordering your tickets online as they are first-come, first-served. Note that these are not air conditioned vehicles.
Mornings are best because the animals haven’t been fed all day by guests (every car gets a free bag of feed with admission) , but we went late afternoon and still had an enjoyable time. Be watchful of your children as I saw so many parents who let their kids hang out of the vehicles, especially with certain animals that are known to bite (signs for biting zebras were spotted).
While I was a bit nervous, wondering if the horned animals would hurt the car, nothing like that happened at all, and it was so much fun that we will definitely be visiting again.
Natural Bridge Caverns
For a little more adventure right next door to the Wildlife Ranch, head to Natural Bridge Caverns, where you can head 180 feet underground for an unbelievable view of nature.
Take the popular Discover Tour and you will witness firsthand the beauty of stalagmites. This tour might not be for the entire family, as older friends and the littlest ones might find the stairs, the dark, and sometimes steep pathways difficult. For all others, be sure to wear sneakers, not flip flops.
Natural Bridge Caverns has expanded and is so much more than the underground tours these days. Adventurous ones in your family will love the Canopy Zip Line or Canopy Explorer (there’s even one specially made for toddlers and younger kids so they aren’t left out). My daughter’s favorite activity? Oh, that would easily be the gem and fossil mining.
Where to Eat in New Braunfels
While you can find many chain restaurants in New Braunfels, take advantage of the many family-friendly dining options around town.
Though you’ll need to be mindful as the Buttermilk Cafe closes at 3pm, this place is the talk of the town when it comes to breakfast. The great news is that they serve breakfast all day if you happen to sleep in one day.
Try the Grilled Banana Bread s
Gruene River Grill
Located in the Gruene historic district, Gruene River Grill is the ideal venue for lunch or dinner.
Overlooking the Guadalupe River, the restaurant is almost hidden. On nice days, opt for outdoor seating in the hopes that you will get a table with a view of the river. If not, there are separately themed dining areas, like the one with stained glass windows overlooking the river, or the room filled with law books and chandeliers. American food is on the menu along with some Texas classics like Gruene Chicken Enchiladas or Country Fried Steak.
While in Texas Hill Country, it’s imperative that German food be on the menu at some point during your trip. Krause’s Biergarten and Cafe is a unique venue in the downtown area offering several dining areas, some more family friendly than the others (I would request the small cafe room in the back with kids, avoiding the much louder biergarten).
Open for breakfast through dinner, this is the place to try classic German delicacies like pork schnitzel or a reuben sandwich. Oh, and don’t forget the warm pretzels!
2 Tarts Bakery
After dining at Krause’s Cafe, walk down a couple blocks to 2 Tarts Bakery for a treat or two.
What I adored about this bakery is that it stayed open late. The quirky cafe offered coffee, tea, and even sweet/savory breakfast items. Of course, we visited after dinner, so we were in the mood for a sweet treat. From cupcakes (this month’s specialty was the blackberry cupcake with almond buttercream) and cookies to french macarons, there is something for everyone. Try the homemade pop tarts – delicious!
Head to the oldest bakery in Texas while in downtown New Braunfels , one with more than a few traditional German treats. I’d had my heart set on visiting Naegelin’s, but we missed closing time by 30 minutes. One peek through the window and I regretted it immediately. From kolaches to strudels and cookies to coffee cake, be sure to stop by and partake during the daytime. Be warned that they are closed on Sundays.
Rhea’s Ice Cream
Stop by Rhea’s Ice Cream while walking through Gruene. Unique flavors like Big Red, Circus Animal Cookie, Avocado Coconut, and Strawberry Nutella, keep visitors coming back for more. Vegan options available.
Plan Your Next Adventure Now
For family fun in the area, there are countless other activities to enjoy. You’ll find live music, a trampoline park, and even a drive-in movie theater. There is so much to do and see that it’s time so start planning your next adventure, one that begins and ends in New Braunfels.
This post is part of the Summer Family Travel Planner created for members of the Texas Travel Industry Association. Read about the other destinations featured in the planner here: (https://texastraveltalk.com/texas-family-travel-planner-2019/).
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This post is part of the Summer Family Travel Planner created for members of the Texas Travel Industry Association. Read about the other destinations featured in the planner here.