6/24/2009

Summer Road Trips : New Braunfels, Gruene, San Marcos


Guadalupe River in New Braunfels, Tx
In college days, we used to go to the New Braunfels (central Texas town, near Austin, settled by German farmers in the 1840's) area to "tube" down the Guadalupe River on hot summer days. This activity is still popular today; groups of "tubers" link together with a lazy ankle resting on one another's inflated (18 wheeler giant sized inflated ) tube, with one extra tube designated as the beer cooler holder, and down the river you go. The Guadalupe is spring fed from a source back in the hill country and water temp is a constant 68 degrees even when the air temp is 100 or higher. It is a lovely way to spend a summer's afternoon, with a slight buzz and numb cold bottom, drifting along as the current takes you, looking at the bright blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds.

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Around 1979 the first Schlitterbahn Water park was born, right on the banks of the Guadalupe River, with the original water rides, slides, and swimming pools fed out of that wonderful clear cold water diverted from the river itself. Over time the park grew to include two additional sites, a few blocks away ( now a free shuttle bus hauls barefoot wet swimmers from one to another) , with newer and improved rides. (Later additions now include S'bahn water parks in Galveston and South Padre Island. I like the original New Branfels park the best, esp the older original areas with giant oak trees and shady spring fed pools.) The most recent addition has rides with names like "Master Blaster" that are truly roller coasters with water flumes , combined. There are also man-made beaches, giant wave machines that propel thousands down man-made rivers, as well as restaurants, tiki-huts, swim up bars, souvenir shops, little kiddie playlands, picnic areas, and many other features.

Upon the recommendation of a friend of mine who has kids the same age and whose children loved going to Schlitterbahn each summer, it became, years ago, a family tradition to take my own children down there each year for a little summer road trip. We soon learned that a day at the water park requires two nights at a local hotel : one the night before, so as to get an early start that morning (when the lines for the popular rides are shortest) and to have a place to crash that night (all day in the surf and sun is too exhausting to drive back to the DFW area). Most years I just searched for a bargain hotel on one of the various travel websites, but lately, I have become a fan of the all-suites hotel chains; that way the kids can have a separate room and stay up all night watching tv and I can get the beauty rest I need. A complimentary make your own omelet-waffles-eggs and all you can eat fruit-pastry-cereal breakfast that comes with the suite makes for a great start to the day. My friend, I have two magic words for you: "Embassy Suites".

Tommy and his friend Eduardo at S'bahn New Braunfels

Typically, we arrive at the park as it opens, start at the modern end with the really cool rides, and work our way back towards the old section, ending the day lazing away the hottest part of the afternoon in the old section, where the big oak trees shade the spring-fed pools. We are worn out and leave around 5 pm ish, where we go back to the hotel, shower, and get ready for dinner.
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There are many dining choices in the area, everything from German food to BBQ to Tex-Mex, but I tend to fave the tiny little town of Gruene ( pronounced "green" - more German settlers' influence) just up the road apiece from New Braunfels. I once attended a sales meeting somewhere near here back in my regional manager for P & G days, and we all went out, ate BBQ and then went dancing at the Gruene Hall, ( the oldest dance hall in Texas) afterwards. It was a ton of fun and I have loved this little spot ever since. A few years back I discovered one of my absolute fave restaurants in the entire state, the GristMill. In spite of the inauspicious name, this is a charming place, located in an old mill ( the roof is completely missing, and the entire restaurant is al fresco, shade provided by massive oak trees) that sits along a high bluff over-looking the Guadalupe River. Food is of the steaks-CFS-seafood variety and is pretty good, with full bar, great salads, a million dollar view and tons of charm.

Two tired boys, ready to eat their weight in chicken fried steak


After dinner, there is plenty of dancing at the Gruene Hall, next door ( if you have any energy left) or a little bit of light shopping at the stores in Gruene (antiques, kitsch,Texeana, and ice cream). Leave some money, time and energy for the fabulous outlet malls in San Marcus - the best in the state, maybe the country. It's just about the perfect road trip.



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