Put away your snow gear and head south to discover the fascinating history and rugged natural beauty of Texas Hill Country. 

The sun rises over a ridge in Wimberley, Texas, light dropping into the valley like an egg cracked into a pan, the golden yolk spreading out over the ranch below. Peeking through the flaps of my mountaintop glamping tent, it's hard to believe I'm in Texas. But Hill Country is full of surprises. 

enchanted rock state natural area
Credit: Chase Fountain, TPWD

Just days ago, I was zipping along a flat highway when suddenly the landscape changed. Lying in front of me was a layer cake of color. Silvery-green grass blanketed a hillside like a shag carpet, clusters of cacti stuck up like snags in the thread. Red clay faded into a purple mountaintop, with the sky as vivid as a Texas bluebonnet. I'd officially entered Hill Country. 

This wedge of land north of San Antonio and east of Austin is home to some of the Lone Star State's greatest landscapes. Shrubby mesquite trees pepper rolling hills and craggy mountainsides, which give way to vast ranches with lazy lounging longhorns and blue-green rivers that carried pioneers here. Low-slung towns retain heritage and small-town hospitality while mixing in craft beverages, impressive culinary experiences and unexpected accommodations.

downtown fredericksburg
Credit: Rhiannon Taylor

"We are the Napa to California, the Finger Lakes to New York," says Jesse Barter, owner ofHill and Vine restaurant in Fredericksburg. "We are that region where people travel to relax, dine, and search for the best food and wine." And on a trip to Texas Hill Country this winter, you can do that, too—with cooler weather and fewer crowds. 

vereins kirche museum fredericksburg
Credit: Credit Fredericksburg CVB

Road Trip Day 1: Peeks Into the Past

Fredericksburg ropes the majority of Hill Country visitors. Founded by 120 German immigrants in 1846, the town retains its Deutsch soul. Kick off with a coffee and kolache (a Tex-Czech staple) at Sunday Supply, located in an 1865 "Sunday house." These small limestone homes were used by early German settlers who would come to town to shop and drink on Saturday and go to church on Sunday. Orient yourself on a trolley tour with Fredericksburg Tours. You'll learn about the pioneers who emigrated on the promise of ranch land but were left stranded on the Texas coast for weeks. Peek in the iconic, octagonal Vereins Kirche Museum or visit the Pioneer Museum to walk through a 19th-century homestead. Jump forward a century or so at the National Museum of the Pacific War. (Adm. Chester W. Nimitz was born and raised in Fredericksburg.) 

sage fredericksburg
Credit: Courtesy of Sage/Hoot Design Co

On your way out to Lyndon B. Johnson's Ranch in Stonewall, make a pit stop at Leroy's Tex Mex BBQ, combining Texas' best-known cuisines. Taco fillings include mesquite-smoked brisket, slow-roasted carnitas and locally made Opa's jalapeño sausage. Back in town, Dietz Distillery awaits with Peach Eau de Vie, an unoaked fruit brandy popular in Europe. Next door is Das Peach Haus, which began in 1969 as a roadside fruit stand and grew into Fischer & Wieser Specialty Foods that makes treats like Texas wildflower jelly and raspberry chipotle sauce. End the evening at sleek Sage Restaurant, recently opened by a couple from Columbia, Missouri. Plump Gulf prawns brighten the pasta carbonara with local wild mushrooms and truffles.

acorn treehouse
Credit: Claire Pedregon

Road Trip Day 2: Made in Fredericksburg

Start your morning slowly at one of Fredericksburg's unique accommodations. If you've ever wanted to sleep in the trees, rent the enchanting Acorn Treehouse from Honeytree. Enjoy coffee on the third-level swing bed—punctuated by the occasional moo from a nearby ranch—or take a soak in the outdoor tub. For a more traditional bed-and-breakfast, Hoffman Haus offers luxury accommodations in log cabins, historic homes and a 19th-century tobacco barn.

Head to Main Street to shop the strip. Headquarters Hats can outfit you in the Texas uniform: Lucchese boots and Stetson cowboy hats. Try out natural skin care made with tallow (rendered beef fat) at Flying Cow. Well-curated Vaudeville has stunning glassware, quirky art and high-end accessories.(While walking Main Street, look for the secret code in the cross-street names: The first letter of each street spells out "All Welcome" south of the main square Marktplatz, and "Come Back" north of it.)

Two blocks off Main Street, Hill and Vine celebrates ranchers and farmers. Part of a fourth-generation ranch family, owner Jesse Barter calls his team the Texas Food and Wine Hunters, since their mission is to seek out the state's best producers. Massive fried onion rings use Texas 1015 sweet onions while in season, Gulf Shrimp Campechana explodes with surprising flavors, and Texas Angus Ribeye is paired with local bicolor corn.

Hill Country is wine country, with more than 100 wineries. You'll find dozens along US-290 between Fredericksburg and Johnson City. Start with Lost Draw Cellars in town, then venture out to Heath Sparkling Wines (Texas' first sparkling winery), Southold (natural wines with a breathtaking ridgetop view) and Texas Wine Collective (three vineyards in one). Soak it all up with a pretzel and house-made beer jelly from nearby Altstadt Brewery.

collective hill country wimberley
Credit: Courtesy of Collective Retreats

Road Trip Day 3: Wimberley Wind-Down

Driving an hour southeast of Fredericksburg will land you in adorable Wimberley, smack dab between Austin and San Antonio. Located along the Blanco River, the town is a day-trip shopping destination for its big-city neighbors. They come for vintage Western wear at Wall Street Western, hand-knitted huipil tops from Arloom and blown-glass pieces at Wimberley Glassworks. A hibiscus margarita overlooking Cypress Creek from the deck at Creekhouse Kitchen and Bar refreshes after a long day.

Ready to Texas two-step? Gruene Hall in New Braunfels (between Wimberley and San Antonio) is Texas' oldest continuously operating dance hall, with live music every day. P.S., It's pronounced "green." Closer to Fredericksburg is Luckenbach Dance Hall, where giants like Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan have come to tap their toes in the town "where everybody is somebody."

pearl district san antonio
Credit: Nick Simonite

Road Trip Day 4: San Antonio Sights

Most Hill Country visitors fly into San Antonio. If that's you, take an extra day to explore the city. During a 35-minute Go Rio Cruise on the San Antonio River, guides will point out worthy spots along the über-touristy River Walk (like The Esquire Tavern, the oldest bar on the River Walk). To hang where the locals do, head north to the Pearl District, where Pearl Brewery once operated. In 2015, Hotel Emma opened here, energizing the area. Comprising six buildings, the hotel aims to retain the brewery's historical significance. Guests sip cocktails in massive finishing tanks at Sternewirth Tavern, chandeliers are made of bottling equipment, brewing fixtures stand in their original location in the lobby, and the Brewmeister's 1930s office remains intact.

best quality daughter san antonio
Credit: Julia Sayers Gokhale

On weekend mornings, Pearl hosts a year-round farmers market. Tents from farmers and artisans intermingle with permanent boutiques like Rancho Diaz, Feliz Modern and Dos Carolinas (selling custom guayabera shirts). Enjoy Pearl's thriving culinary scene at Carriqui, where the menu traces the path of the green jay on its migration through Texas. Slow-roasted cabrito (goat) with a Texas mole sauce is fall-apart tender and deep with flavor. Best Quality Daughter takes a modern approach to Asian American cuisine. Crispy, chewy Mochi Cheddar Hush Puppies are crave-worthy.