Road trips hold infinite promise and possibilities, and Austinites are spoiled with many easy Texas Hill Country day trip opportunities. Blanco lies less than an hour away, offering plenty of fun to fill your day. Here is my recipe for making the absolute best of a day trip to Blanco, Texas.
Step 1: Roll Call
Assemble a crew of easy-going, intrepid friends (dogs are ideal, but optional). I cannot overemphasize the importance of this first step! Your crew can make or break your day. Things often don’t go exactly as planned on day trips. Choose people who can go with the flow, hold a solid conversation, make you laugh, share their snacks, or simply sit next to you quietly contemplating the sheer awesomeness of the day.
Step 2: Swimming Hole
Dipping into a swimming hole is essential during summertime. Blanco State Park holds its own among the abundance of natural stunners near Austin. This state park offers swimming, camping, hiking, and fishing. The Blanco River has two main sections here, each formed by a dam. The dams split the swimming areas into more open, deeper areas, and shallow areas perfect for children, dogs, or hesitant swimmers.
In the park, a right turn takes you to the campground area. The most popular swimming spot is directly across from the campground. We turned left instead, to find the area that fills up more slowly.
We waded into the cool waters near the dam, and swam and splashed around for a few hours. There are public grills and picnic tables all over the park. Dogs are welcome, but must stay on their leashes.
Our biggest challenge of the day was forcing ourselves to leave the refreshing river. Yet it was time for the next step.
101 Park Road 23, Blanco, TX – Website
Step 3: Sustenance
Swimming, hiking, and seeking adventure sure help to build an appetite. Blanco has a few options right on the main square.
Old 300 BBQ
“Come & Eat It,” beckons the sign in front of Old 300 BBQ. Slogans don’t get much more Texan than that. We loaded up on pork spare ribs, spicy sausage, turkey, and the signature brisket. Barbecue is all about the meat, but the right side dishes can elevate the experience. We indulged in mac-n-cheese, fried okra, and creamed corn.
The mac-n-cheese is velvety, a bit tart, and served with melted cheese on top. It’s a winner! The creamed corn tastes like something my East Texas grandmother would make—high praise, indeed. Black pepper, and better-left-untold quantities of butter and cream make it authentic and delicious.
The pork spare rib is tender and finger-licking tasty. Grassfed/locally-raised Akaushi brisket is only available on the weekends. It’s tender and tasted good, though it felt like our Austin brisket demigods had spoiled us for other briskets. The sausage and smoked turkey rounded out our meal nicely.
318 4th St., Blanco, Tx – Website
This cute cafe near Old 300 offers healthier options like salads and quiche, but they make a mean burger, too. My vegetarian friend skipped BBQ for a spinach and pecan pesto portobella sandwich, and enjoyed it. The bite of coffee-double chocolate cookie I had melted in my mouth. The food is good.
One note, though. If you plan on eating at Redbud Cafe, give yourself plenty of time. We had ordered and devoured nearly all of our BBQ by the time that veggie sandwich was finally ready. This isn’t unheard of in a sleepy Texas town, but heads-up to those in a hurry.
410 4th St., Blanco, TX – Website
Step 4: Cheers!
Blanco’s distilleries and breweries are doing everything right, it seems. Who are we to deny ourselves a celebratory toast to commemorate the day? Our designated drivers whisked us away to our next stop.
Ben Milam Whiskey
Ben Milam is making a splash in the burgeoning Texas spirits scene, with bourbon and rye whiskeys. The distillery is named after founder Marsha Milam’s ancestor and Texas Revolutionary hero, Ben Milam.
The whiskey here is smooth and rich. My friend tasted it and exclaimed, “It’s the Goldilocks of whiskeys: not too harsh, not too sweet, just right.”
The tasting room at the distillery is cozy and as welcoming as Milam and her right-hand man, Jordan Osborne. We lumbered in, dogs and all, grateful for the warmth of our hosts and the coolness of the AC. We ordered $5 flights, a good taste of each whiskey. Our crew was torn as to favorites—both were so good.
Opened on March 2, 2017, adorned with Texas memorabilia, the distillery has already proven itself to be a contender not only among Texas whiskey labels but also on the national scene. Ben Milam bourbon recently won a coveted Double Gold award in the 2017 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Look for upcoming whiskey tasting dinners and other developments.
Speaking with Marsha Milam, it’s clear she doesn’t do anything halfway. She has long been involved in Austin’s creative scene, supporting and promoting music and film. Now that she has shifted her focus to whiskey, it will be exciting to see this local business grow.
Note: Turn in across the street from the Blanco Best Western. The GPS may lead you on a wild goose chase.
2218 U.S. 281 N, Blanco, TX – Website
Real Ale Brewing Company
Real Ale Fireman’s 4 and Hans’ Pils have been staples of Austin hearts and coolers since 1996. Either is perfect for a lighter option on a sunny day. The brewery offers a dizzying number of choices, though. Rio Blanco Pale Ale and the seasonal Coffee Porter are popular. I especially enjoyed the Brewhouse Brown Ale and the Brewer’s Cut Elderhop Saison. They are on trend with the sour Mysterium Velum selections, too, including the “Oh man, now that’s sour!” El Guapo, and the slightly milder Lux Aeterna. It’s an acquired taste, but they aim to please.
The joint was jumping, as they say, and we were surprised to see spirit offerings on the menu as well. The Ross Collins, made with house gin, limeade, and lemonade, was a hit with our group. They also make two different whiskeys.
231 San Saba Court, Blanco, TX – Website
Lavender Fields and Other Activities
We fully envisioned ourselves frolicking through the lavender fields, but were thwarted by the warm winter. Without enough of a cold snap, apparently the season is set off course. The lavender is estimated to bloom by August, though.
We loved our day trip to Blanco and will definitely go back soon!
@theAustinot wants to know:
What is your favorite place to go in Blanco, Texas?