Texas is most well-known for its big cities—the Cowboys and the JFK-related sites in Dallas, San Antonio’s Alamo and River Walk, the music and energy of Austin. But there’s so much to be seen and discovered in some of the smaller towns. Just a half-hour from Austin, Dripping Springs, Texas, combines some of the best outdoor activities in Texas with the food and craft beverages usually only seen in the cities. Here’s a look at what to eat and drink and some of the fun things to do in Dripping Springs.
Escape the heat at Hamilton Pool
One of the most well-known places in Dripping Springs, the lush landscape and cool waters of Hamilton Pool draw people from all over central Texas and beyond. The pool itself was formed when the dome of an underground river collapsed, giving it a unique structure with a waterfall and a grotto where you can escape from the Texas sun. If you’ve been to an open cenote in Mexico, this will feel somewhat familiar.
Located on a 234-acre nature preserve, Hamilton Pool is one of the best swimming holes in Texas. You can bring a picnic, spread out a towel on the small beach area, or just wander through the surrounding trails to check out the wildlife. The water itself can be quite cool (about 55 degrees in the spring), but that doesn’t deter most swimmers. From March through October and weekends in November and December, you’ll need to reserve a 4-hour time slot on the Travis County website. It’s best to make Hamilton Pool reservations well in advance during popular times because there are only 140 slot per day. Bring close-toed shoes or water shoes for the rugged hike from the parking lot and walking around the swimming area.
Check out a distillery
For a small town, Dripping Springs is big on craft distilleries. Undoubtedly the most notable is Deep Eddy Distillery, which is now part of a corporation but keeps its roots in Dripping Springs. A Deep Eddy distillery tour walks you through the stages of distillation from grain to the addition of real fruit juices and local honey that go into Deep Eddy vodka. If you can’t do a tour (they’re temporarily suspended while the distillery expands), definitely stop by the tasting room to try the fruity flavors and enjoy live music and the views from the patio. The tasting room is open Thursday through Sunday, and it fills up early on the weekends.
Just a few miles down the road is San Luis Spirits, the makers of Dripping Springs Vodka and Gin. San Luis distills their products in 50-gallon copper stills, infusing their Texas Orange vodka with oranges from the Rio Grand Valley and their gin with oranges and eight other botanicals, including cardamom and juniper. You can taste the products Monday through Saturday or a come for a tour on Thursday through Saturday.
Channel the hills of Tuscany at Texas Hill Country Olive Company
Across the Mediterranean, refined wines and rich olive oil go hand-in-hand. So, it makes sense that in a part of Texas known for its great Hill Country wines, there would be fabulous olive oil, too. That’s just what the Texas Hill Country Olive Company makes. This family-owned business has been growing olives in Dripping Springs for nearly 10 years.
Drawing on their Italian heritage, the owners—the Gambini and Melnick families—have developed their organic olive orchard to produce high-quality extra virgin olive oil while preserving the natural beauty of their 17 acres in central Texas. The soil conditions and land have many similarities to Italy, making growing conditions for the olives ideal. Tours are available on Fridays and Saturdays, or you can stop by to taste all the offerings in the tasting room.
Get outside at Pedernales Falls State Park
Growing up in the (very flat) Dallas area, hills and waterfalls were foreign to me. But just a few hours away, Pedernales Falls State Park has both of those as well as hiking trails, horseback riding, camping, and plenty of other outdoor activities. This picturesque park–one of the top attractions near Dripping Springs–is based around the Pedernales River whose rushing waters have carved out the bumps and crags of its ancient limestone bed over millions of years. The whole effect is dramatic with pools and waterfalls (and the occasional flood situation).
A visit here is a great way to spend a day, but if you’re short on time, plenty of the park’s sites are within easy walking distance of a parking lot. It’s that flexibility that makes Pedernales Falls State Park such a popular destination. There are trails and campsites for all abilities and interests. The popular Twin Falls Nature Trail is only a one-half mile hike, but you can also tackle the 10-mile Juniper Ridge Trail if you’re feeling intrepid.
While away the day at Jester King Brewery
Jester King is definitely one of the best craft breweries in the area, but it’s more than that, too. This authentic farmhouse brewery has transformed its huge ranch near Dripping Springs into the best adult playground anywhere around. It begins with the beer, of course—Jester King has over 60 draft options from spritzy sours to ales brewed with ingredients like honey, grapefruit, and even mesquite beans. They use a combination of spontaneous fermentation (like the famous Cantillon brewery I visited in Brussels) and other techniques like refermentation and barreling to craft an endless number of rotating offerings that are uniquely Texas. But the beer is just the beginning. There’s also cider and wine from Texas and beyond and the fabulous Stanley’s Farmhouse pizza. You can grab a little of everything and spend the afternoon playing games and hanging out at one of the picnic tables. Join in on one of the brewery tours or take a tour of the farm, too.
Try the Texas barbecue at The Salt Lick
Texas—and the greater Austin area, in particular—is known for its BBQ. At the top of the list for many BBQ fans is The Salt Lick in Driftwood. We first visited about five years ago after seeing this brisket and pulled pork heaven featured on Top Chef, and we’ve been back numerous times since. It never disappoints. With 50 years of slow-cooked history under its belt, The Salt Lick is one of the most photographed BBQ pits in Texas. This BYOB has meats cooking over an open flame, outdoor and indoor family-style seating, and the ambiance of being close to the big city but feeling a bit like middle-of-nowhere at the same time. The Salt Lick has won just about every BBQ award around for its brisket, ribs, sausage, pulled pork, and sauces and rubs. With Salt Lick Cellars next door, you can also try some of the great wines the Texas Hill Country is famous for. Grab a bottle, a bucket of beers, and pull up a picnic table for a great afternoon.
Hang out under the oaks at Duchman Family Winery
Fredericksburg doesn’t have a monopoly on amazing wines in the Hill Country. The Dripping Springs area has several great wineries to choose from. On this trip, our pick was Duchman Family Winery in Driftwood, just two miles down the road from The Salt Lick. Duchman has been producing Italian wines from all Texas grapes since 2004, making it one of the original Texas wineries in the area. Featuring varietals like Montepulciano, Vermentino, and Dolcetto, Duchman Family Winery combines grapes from the Hill Country and the cooler Texas High Plains region to make “food-friendly” fine wine. Stop in the winery for tasting but don’t miss the grounds where you can relax under the oak trees with your favorite varietal or check out one of Duchman’s special events like wine dinners or even yoga or painting classes.