Things to do in Gruene, Texas: a Gruene Christmas

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Happy Christmas!

One of the downsides of living in the south is that Christmas is a snow-less holiday. In my six years living in Houston it has snowed exactly twice, and both times it was a brief and terrifying affair (seriously, southerners do not know how to handle snow).

Christmastime may be lacking the traditional white powder, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything festive to do. In fact, given Texas’ mild winters, it’s much easier to get out and explore during the holiday season.

This past Christmas, our destination of choice was Gruene, Texas, a tiny little town in the Texas Hill Country. After securing a hotel in nearby Canyon Lake, we set out to enjoy out Gruene Christmas (see what I did there?). We were a little wary at first, with it being such a small town, but it turns out that there are a lot of things to do in Gruene, Texas — especially around the holidays.

A former Texas ghost town

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Originally one of several German settlements in the Texas Hill Country, Gruene was home to a huge gristmill and cotton gin. The small town flourished, until the 1930s came around. The Great Depression hit Gruene hard, and what momentum it managed to maintain was destroyed when a fire burnt down the mill.

Without a way to make money, the residents fled, in search of better opportunities elsewhere. Gruene became a ghost town, left to rot.

Then in the 1970s, Gruene experienced a revival. People began moving back, drawn to the beauty of Hill Country and the nearby growth of New Braunfels and San Marcos. While Gruene still isn’t particularly large, it has enjoyed steady growth and has officially left its ghost town status in the dust.

Dining at the Gruene Gristmill

In an effort to revitalize the community, a number of improvements have been made to the town, drawing in tourists from around Texas. One of the best examples of this is the old, burnt shell of the gristmill. While its initial desolation marked the town’s downfall, it has managed to rebuild itself as an expansive restaurant overlooking the Guadalupe River.

The Gristmill is one of the main draws of Gruene, with a menu that stays true to the town’s German roots, with a little southern flair. It’s a great combination of cuisine and history, giving visitors a chance to experience the early success of Gruene firsthand.

Gruene Shopping and Sightseeing

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Since it was a Gruene Christmas, the town was done up for the season when I visited. The lights made for a lovely walk up and down the main strip.

The available shops were almost all locally owned, with shop owners on hand to help as needed. There was the usual run of antique stores and ice cream shops that tend to grace small Texas towns. As an extra bonus, during the holiday season, most of the shops were offering free glasses of wine for shoppers.

Nearby Attractions

The Hill Country is full of places, like Gruene, that offer small-town Texas charm. If you’re looking for something a little more remote, the nearby Canyon Lake is available for water sports, hiking, and camping. The Canyon Lodge Resort has suites and cabins available for visitors as well.

Moving up in size, New Braunfels isn’t far, and it is home to the Natural Bridge Caverns and Wildlife Ranch. I’ve been to both of these, and while they’re a bit touristy they offer really cool experiences. The Natural Bridge Caverns have tours that range from large group, accessible walking tours through the caves to adventure tours that involve spelunking and crawling through the caverns. There is also a ropes course and a zip line on site.

The Wildlife Ranch allows visitors to witness exotic animals from around the world, up close and personal. From bison to ostrich and giraffe, these animals roam more or less freely while you drive around. You can purchase feed buckets if you’d like, which will entice the animals to come closer. All of the animals at the Wildlife Park are well cared for, which is always my first concern when visiting an animal-themed attraction.

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New Braunfels also has a cool railroad museum in its downtown area that’s worth a visit (its free, so why not?). The railroad line cuts straight through the town, and museum visitors can see how the station was used back when passenger trains were more frequent.

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 Gruene Festivals and Events

In addition to exploring the shops, Gruene hosts a variety of seasonal events. These include food tours, open-air markets, dance festivals, and more. For a full calendar of events, you can check out the official Gruene, Texas website.

Tips for Visiting Gruene, Texas

  • It can get a bit quiet during the off-season. If you’re looking for excitement, pay attention to the town’s calendar and try to time your visit during a festival.
  • Being a small town, many of the businesses are closed on Sunday and holidays. Monday is also a popular day to be closed, so make sure you plan accordingly.
  • If you decide you want to get out of Gruene and back to the big city, San Antonio and Austin are both short drives away.
  • There are a number of hotels in Gruene, Texas – but I recommend driving a bit further away and staying at the quiet, rustic Canyon Lake Resort.
Catania: a foodie's paradise
Visiting Texas Hill Country: Canyon Lakeview Resort Review