New Braunfels

  • Its scenic parks, natural springs and lakes, historic German settlement buildings and mild climate have been attracting tourists for generations. Now visitors to New Braunfels, Texas, are starting to take note of the surrounding Texas hill country as a nice place to stay for more than a weekend, making Comal County the fastest growing in Texas.

    Billie and Ed Miles, two former San Antonio school administrators, moved to New Braunfels in 1992 to open a B&B; as a "small retirement project." Today they run the Gruene Homestead Inn, a collection of eight restored buildings in one of the town's historic neighborhoods. "This is a very warm and open community," says Billie, attributing that openness to the region's tourism. "This is like a small town, and you don't feel like you are stuck in a senior-citizen's community."

    Another reason folks don't feel stuck is that New Braunfels is just 46 miles south of Austin and 30 miles north of San Antonio, on Interstate 35, Texas' major north-south highway. And medical care is no longer a reason for residents to go into the cities. The town's McKenna Memorial Medical Center has expanded, adding doctors and new equipment.

    On summer weekends, area rivers and springs teem with kayakers, swimmers and tubers. But tourists come year round to wander the antiques shops and museums in this architecturally intriguing community. The region was settled by German farmers in the 1840s, and many of them built tiny "Sunday houses"--weekend cottages that are not a lot bigger than a child's garden playhouse. Now the area is host to home restorers like the Mileses, as well as visitors coming to poke into craft and antiques shops and dance the Cotton-Eye Joe at the famous Gruene Dance Hall, where Garth Brooks once played. One of the attractive qualities of this historic town is that the old and the young kick up their heels side by side.