This week, we're going on a virtual trip to a location that is very close to my heart - my original hometown of New Braunfels, Texas! It's been quite a while since I actually lived in New Braunfels, and some may say it's time to let go... but if you knew New Braunfels, you'd know that just isn't possible. My mother and grandparents moved to New Braunfels in 1979. New Braunfels is where I attended most of 1st - 7th grade (with a little dash of San Antonio thrown in from time to time). New Braunfels is where my mom met the man I know as "dad". It's where my brother was born, and where my grandparents died. My mom and my aunt both moved away for a while, to Florida and South Carolina, respectively, but they also both returned home and it was there that they too, passed on. My greatest childhood memories are rooted in New Braunfels, and it is where I ultimately plan to retire myself. It's home, and it's where my heart remains. I am thrilled to share a small bit of it with you!
Be aware - New Braunfels is a lot different now than when I grew up there. My last two visits were focused on family matters and many years ago. I was surprised at the growth and expansion that had taken place, but the charm and beauty of this adorable little German town still remained front and center. New Braunfels is much more of a "thing" now. When I first moved away, I would tell people I was from New Braunfels and had to explain it as "a town outside of San Antonio" to clarify in short order. Now, I tell people I'm from New Braunfels, and quite often - they get it... and they love it! There's somewhere for each of us - somewhere that just finds little paths into our bones, hearts, and souls. Some call it a "happy place". This is mine. Let's get a little summary of this infectious little nook, from our friends at playinnewbraunfels.com:
Deep in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, conveniently set astride the IH-35 corridor between San Antonio and Austin, rests beautiful New Braunfels, Texas. Founded in 1845 by German settlers, New Braunfels is overflowing with old world heritage and small town Texas charm. From boundless adventures on our two beautiful rivers to wholesome entertainment at Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch & Caverns, the activities and sights are endless. We’re also home to Texas’ oldest bakery, oldest dance hall, and Wurstfest an annual 10-day salute to sausage.
When I was growing up in New Braunfels, my favorite places to go were: Polar Bear Ice Cream, The Brauntex Twin Theater, Landa Park, Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch, Gruene Hall (in the afternoons, of course), Naegelin's Bakery, the Sophienburg Museum, and naturally - tubing on the river, where our family friend had a home with direct access to the water. Some of these places are no longer around, while some have changed a bit - and even more new stops to discover have sprung up around town in recent years.
Take a look at some of the notable stops and things to do that we've uncovered in New Braunfels, Texas, with the help of our friends at Play In New Braunfels:
New Braunfels is home to Schlitterbahn, a world-class water park with 51 rivers, rides, slides, and chutes. For more natural fun and tubing opportunities, two clear, clean rivers wind through town – the Comal and the Guadalupe. The Comal River is spring fed and offers a consistent float experience with limited rapids. The headwaters spring up from the Edwards Aquifer, flowing through family-friendly Landa Park, passing Downtown New Braunfels, bordering Schlitterbahn Waterpark and eventually merging with the Guadalupe River. The Guadalupe River is fed by releases from Canyon Lake which can vary, and offers a more rugged experience. The headwaters spring up near Kerrville, flowing through the Texas Hill Country, eventually landing in Canyon Lake.
Naegelin's Bakery is a New Braunfels institution since 1868, and Texas' oldest bakery. I used to attend tap and ballet classes near the bakery and I can safely assure that there is no item here that will disappoint. You cannot visit New Braunfels without stopping in for a treat - or a dozen.
Gruene Hall, built in 1878, is Texas’ oldest continually operating and most famous dance hall. The 6,000 square foot dance hall with a high pitched tin roof still has the original layout with side flaps for open-air dancing, a bar in the front, a small lighted stage in the back and a huge outdoor garden. Advertisement signs from the 1930s and 40s still hang in the old hall and around the stage. Many famous voices have gotten their start here, or popped in for intimate surprise performances, including my dad's old classmate - George Strait.
I absolutely adore the Sophienburg Museum! As a child, I spent multiple days each week at the library, and I usually popped into the nearby museum during my visits as well. It never got old, and I was fascinated by everything here. Exhibits, rich in local artifacts, photographic images, maps, and documents, take visitors through the history and cultural heritage of New Braunfels and Comal County.
Constructed in the 1940’s and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Brauntex Performing Arts Theatre is one of the world’s few surviving examples of early twentieth-century theatre. The historic Brauntex Theatre’s neon marquee is the flagship of the growing downtown business district and thriving arts community of New Braunfels. They present programs, recitals, musicals and concerts for all ages. This theater used to play $1 movies on two screens, and I was here every single weekend with my cousin and brother, or my friends. We could come here with $5 each and catch two movies with a soda and popcorn. I always loved the retro feel of the theater - even then.
For half a century, the Snake Farm has been one of the most prominent must-see attractions in the area, and home to an extensive collection of snakes, reptiles and other exotic mammals. I remember passing the Snake Farm all the time on the route from my parents' house in San Antonio to my grandparents' in New Braunfels. I've always been a fan of roadside attractions, but somehow I never made it into this one!.
Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch is 450 acres of rolling hills, creek beds, and magnificent live oak trees, providing a home to over 500 animals from 40 exotic, native and endangered animal species worldwide. It's the ultimate drive-thru safari experience, and I have the most incredible memories of this location. I've taken my own kids to similar attractions in other location, and nothing has quite measured up yet. Unfortunately, I have yet to make it to an in-depth exploration of the neighboring Natural Bridge Caverns - Texas’ largest show cave with a guided tour through underground chambers, ropes course, zip rails, and more.
No description of Landa Park can possibly do it justice. Growing up, the most magical words I could hear are "we're going to the park", and my childhood park was so amazing. There were two pools - the olympic pool and the most enchanting spring-fed pool where I spent hours upon hours every summer. The Landa Park train would whisk us away from the pools to the various playgrounds and waterways where we could watch the ducks or just enjoy outdoor play. I loved that red double-sided twisty slide! The little pebble-bottom wading pools in the park were a great place to cool off with other kids in the middle of the afternoon - just good old fashioned natural fun. BUT - my absolute most amazing memory of New Braunfels also took place at Landa Park, and it happened when I was an adult on a return visit with my husband and kids. We were there for my grandmother's funeral in September, and parked at Landa Park just before dawn so that I could have a moment. It was foggy - very foggy - and as some of that fog started to lift, I saw a deer - then another, and another. All of a sudden, there were dozens of them - just standing there in the hazy mist of my playground in the early morning, and we were the only people around to see it. I didn't blink, and I didn't even take a photo, but I will hold that vision in my memory forever.
When you're looking for nourishment, you won't be disappointed! I strongly suggest aiming for Mexican, German, and barbecue establishments, as you really can't go wrong with any choice in these genres. It seems that New Braunfels has developed quite a worthwhile craft beer scene as well, with the development of the Hill Country Craft Beer Trail.
If you're looking for the perfect time to visit, I can't imagine any season will disappoint, but amazing experiences are sure to accompany a well-timed vacation that coincides with Wurstfest or the bluebonnet blooms in March/April!