Recently our family attended a wedding in a small town south of Austin. Rather than rush along the freeways to get there in a few hours, we took an entire day and meandered from west Houston to Kerrville, skirting all the way around San Antonio and giving it a wide berth, so we could see more of rural Texas. When we found Bandera just northwest of San Antonio, we understood why the people of Bandera calls it the ‘Cowboy Capital of the World.’ It really feels like it’s where West Texas begins.
The Great Western Cattle Trail originated in Bandera in the 19th century, and both the area and the town’s history are chronicled in the Frontier Times Museum and with historical markers. Saint Stanislaus Catholic Church, one of the oldest churches in Texas, also gives some historical context to Bandera. Working ranches established in ages past still surround the town, keeping it close to its roots, and the lovely county courthouse dates back to the 1890s.
Bandera fits in a bend of the Medina River, and the river shapes both the character and the layout of the town. From one end of the river to the other, Bandera welcomes visitors for vacations with inns, resorts, RV parks, lodges, river cabins, guest houses, and even a dude ranch. People come to Bandera for the river activities like kayaking and canoeing, but there are also hike and bike trails nearby, as well as a paintball park, for drier outdoor activities. In June during Riverfest, cookoffs and live music add to the town’s attractions. Visitors who prefer to take in rural Texas from their vehicles can enjoy a drive up the incredibly captivating state highway 16, weaving over and around hills all the way to Kerrville, or to explore the back roads to one of the other small towns nearby, such as Boerne.
Bandera boasts a good number of dining options for travelers and locals alike. Local establishments offer everything from BBQ, to Chinese food, to Mexican food, to bakery and deli fare. Bars, ice houses, and saloons are fairly easy to find as well, and boutique shops for clothes, décor, furniture and antiques dot the downtown neighborhood along Main street. Bandera might be less than an hour from San Antonio, but it’s a completely different world that’s well worth discovering.
Felicia Winfree Cravens is a native Texan and writer. She’s the founder of the Houston Tea Party, Editor-in-Chief of Free Radical Network, contributing writer at Practical Politicking, and of course she also writes about small town Texas for The Pink Armadillo.