Gruene is a splendid, charming, rustic-yet-upscale Historic District (of New Braunfels) in the Texas Hill Country – less than an hour south of Austin. There’s a lot to do in Gruene (pronounced: “green”) for a long weekend or a couple of days: entertainment, shopping, antiquing, wine tasting and active options for all ages in this pleasant district that is very well-kept and surrounded by large, beautiful trees and rivers.
I was in Gruene in May and the weather was right for all the outdoor activities plus hanging out in town, and it wasn’t too crowded. Fall and winter are also usually pleasant in Gruene – typically highs are in the 60s (winter).
Downtown Gruene is walkable from one establishment to another with many upscale boutiques, outdoorsy-type shops, wine tastings along with cute, tasty restaurants and bars sprinkled throughout this historic district. Bonus: to-go drinks are allowed in most of the shops. Gruene was established in the 1800s by German immigrants and some of those remnants remain and have been re-vitalized in the downtown.
Live Music in Gruene:
Live Americana and blues music happens every night at the historic and oldest music hall in Texas (1878!) – Gruene Hall – right in downtown Gruene. It’s super cool and Texas-y with wooden floors, wooden long picnic tables near the stage and an overflow area outside, under the trees, with tables as well. Dancing is encouraged in and out! It’s really a fun place to experience and to discover new, old and popular musicians. Note that not much has changed at the hall since it opened in the 1800s including any type of climate control (read: no air conditioning), so keep that in mind and dress accordingly and bring your cash as that’s all that Gruene Hall accepts.
Outdoor Activities in Gruene:
Tubing in Gruene:
Tubing is a wonderful way to spend the afternoon gliding down the cool, mostly tame Guadalupe River where the Bald Cypress trees with their expansive root system majestically frame the clear river. Many options are available depending on the river you choose (Comal vs. Guadalupe) and the length of the trip. I chose the Rockin’ R River Rides tubing company which has well-maintained tubes (open and closed bottom), professional employees, timely and clean vans for the transport back. The tubing company sells beer, canned drinks, pre-made sandwiches and snacks to purchase before your trip at reasonable prices. Bring your own cooler (and rent a tube for the cooler) – and you can make it through the sets of rapids (fun and not dangerous) with your drinks intact if you keep the cooler tube close to you.
Cave Near Gruene:
Natural Bridge Caverns are a spectacular U.S. Natural National landmark and only a short 25 minute drive outside Gruene. There is an extensive 2-mile cave with many open rooms, underground river, various beautiful stalagmites, stalactites, curtains, etc. I learned quite a bit during the Discovery Tour which was about an hour and 1/2 long. There are other types of tours available including the adventure tour where you’ll need gear for more of a “caving” experience. The entire area is beautiful! On the property there’s also a ropes courses with zip lines. Also the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch, a wildlife safari drive-through tour, is right next door.
Fly Fishing on the Guadalupe is also an option for trout, bass, carp, etc. Check out Gruene Outfitters for equipment, guides, and locations.
The Grist Mill Restaurant is another must-do. It sits high above the Guadalupe River and has outdoor (tiered patio) and indoor seating (in an 1878 cotton gin) with delicious meals at reasonable prices and a Texas-y flair. Expect to wait some time if it’s high season – perhaps go at odd hours (between lunch and dinner rush) to reduce your wait time.
The Gruene River Grill is another good option for an American menu and was highly recommended to me by a 29-year local resident (so “loved by locals”).
Cantina del Rio is a fun, funky and colorful Mexican restaurant with a tree-covered outdoor space as well as an indoor dining room. Great food and good prices and burgers for those who aren’t Mexican foodies.
The Gruene Mansion Inn has been “gently resisting change” since its opening in 1872. Each cottage has its own porch and patio with unique Victorian style rooms dating back to the Gilded Age. Some cottages have a view of the river far below. I loved the Pantry which has a simple and tasty breakfast menu and a nice, peaceful outdoor space to eat it under the mansion’s back covered patio area.