Sure, the thriving metropolis, vibrant atmosphere, and round-the-clock entertainment in Texas’ major cities are enticing (and well worth experiencing), but venture a little beyond the city limits and discover captivating towns, unique sites and natural wonders that promise a true taste of Texas charm. From spooky ghost towns, quirky museums, dramatic landscapes, and hidden islands – there is far more to the Lone Star State than BBQ, boot scooting and baseball. These six under-the-radar towns are just a starting point to unlocking the state’s best-kept secrets.

Fredericksburg

Deep in the heart of the Lone Star State, nestled between San Antonio and Austin, Fredericksburg is a tiny town with a big personality. Dripping with old-world charm and traditions, the town’s dual German-Texan heritage is on full display at the many wineries, biergartens and quaint ranch-style buildings that line the streets. Delve into the town’s rich history at the National Museum of the Pacific War where bona fide WWII relics, live re-enactments, and interactive exhibits transport you back in time. Or, opt for an adventure of the culinary kind with a visit to one (or more!) of the town’s 70 local restaurants and tuck into everything from classic Tex-Mex cuisine to authentic German favourites (think schnitzels and sauerbraten) – accompanied by a stein. Known for its globally-renowned wines, no trip is complete without sampling a local drop, and with 40 wineries and tasting rooms located along the 48km stretch between Fredericksburg and Johnson City, you don’t have to travel far to sample some of the region’s best varietals. Whether it’s the culture or cuisine, Fredericksburg is more than just another dot on the Southern region of the map, and a must-visit for anyone seeking an off-the-beaten-path Texas experience.

Marble Falls

Ask anyone in Texas where to get the best pies in the world and they’ll likely direct you to Marble Falls in Burnet County. Located about an hour northwest of Austin, pie lovers the world over have been flocking to Blue Bonnet Cafe for their famous, made-from-scratch pies since 1931, and for good reason. Whether you’re a fan of pecan, chocolate fudge, coconut, or lemon meringue, the decadent desserts are worth making a special trip for. But pies aren’t the only thing that this scenic city is known for. Magnificent vistas, award-winning wineries, tranquil lakes, and sweeping parks are among the many pleasant surprises that await – almost all of which can be enjoyed with a visit to Flat Creek Estate Winery and Vineyard. Set on 80-acres of pristine countryside, the winery offers guided wine tastings and tours, a gourmet restaurant and food hall, an 18-hole championship golf course, stargazing tours, and on-site lodging. For a taste of the city (that doesn’t involve eating), hire a bike and soak up the natural beauty of Johnson Park. As well as an amphitheatre; hiking and biking trails; BBQ and picnic area; a playground; and access to Marble Falls Lake, the picturesque green space is also located just minutes from the Main Street, making it a convenient and accessible pitstop.

Wimberley

A haven for writers, artists, and musicians seeking reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city, Wimberley inspires everyone who visits. Ideally situated just an hour from Austin, where Cypress Creek and Blanco River meet, the town’s natural beauty reveals itself in dramatic countryside vistas, and some of the best swimming holes in Central Texas. A hotspot for visitors since it was made public in 1920, Blue Hole Regional Park is among the most popular places for a refreshing dip. Similarly, the ice-blue waters of Jacob’s Well have been enticing keen divers and swimmers for years. Whether you’re swimming or spectating, the wonder of this seemingly endless underwater cavern is something you have to see to believe. Beyond the waterways, Wimberley’s eclectic community adds another layer of appeal, playing host to big-city arts and cultural activities throughout the year including the Arts Fest, the Butterfly Festival, live theatre, musical performances and more. As unsuspecting as it may seem, shopping in Wimberley is also a big drawcard, with the local markets (held on the first Saturday of each month between March and December), attracting avid shoppers from all over Texas.

Gruene

Originally populated by cotton farmers dating back to before the civil war, today the historical town of Gruene (pronounced ‘green’) is a highlight of any visit to Texas Hill Country. Approximately a one-hour drive from San Antonio, Gruene is known for its uniquely rustic Texan feel – with the charming district filled with whimsical boutiques, antique stores, and old-world homes offering a glimpse into the past. Soak up the laid-back atmosphere with a stroll starting at the heart of the town, Gruene Hall. Built in 1878, the oldest dance hall in Texas has hosted legends including George Strait, Hal Ketchum, and Willie Nelson and to this day remains a hive of activity with live music and fun happenings no matter when you visit. Take your cowboy boots and hat and hit the dance floor, or sit and enjoy the country home-grown vibes, either way, this lively venue is not to be missed. If hunting down one-of-a-kind treasures is up your alley, you’ll feel right at home in Gruene. The Gruene Antique Company offers over 600-square metres of antiques and collectables, whilst Pookie Jane’s Boutique and Tipsy Gypsy feature a unique range of bohemian clothing, accessories and jewellery. For a dose of nostalgia, make your way to the Gruene General Store where an original soda fountain, novelty bric-a-brac and homemade fudge and candies, are sure to transport you back to your childhood days. During the warmer months, the Guadalupe River provides an endless source of fun and the perfect place to cool-off, whether you’re stopping through or staying a while.

Jefferson

With a population of just over 2,000 people and home to quaint B&Bs, unique museums, heritage houses, and several haunted sites, the historic town of Jefferson in northeastern Texas makes you feel as though you’ve travelled to a bygone era – one where petticoats and parasols wouldn’t feel out of place. Featuring four-levels of ancient artefacts and exhibits, the Jefferson Historical Museum tells the story of the town and country’s history, providing a great introduction for first-time visitors. Got some spare time up your sleeve? Spend it browsing the rare collectibles, vintage maps and clocks at The Museum of Measurement and Time, or embrace the old-fashioned ambience (in style) with a horse-drawn carriage ride through town. With various sites around the town believed to be haunted, a visit isn’t complete without taking a ghost tour. Built in 1861, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Grove (also referred to as Stilley-Young House) has also been named among the top 12 most haunted houses in America, and one of the eight scariest places in Texas, making it the perfect place for a paranormal encounter (if you dare!).

Pilot Point

With the population of Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) exceeding seven million (making it the largest inland metropolitan area in the United States), it’s little surprise that travellers often seek a reprieve from the sights and sounds of the big city. Fortunately, a plethora of small towns surround the region – offering an abundance of  relaxing escapes within short driving distance. While many travellers will head to Ennis (for its festivals and bluebonnet fields) or the town of West (famed for its Czech heritage), Pilot Point is also an extremely popular day-trip getaway. Here, skyscrapers are swapped for the simple life – a landscape dotted with gently rolling hills, verdant state parks, and pristine Lake Ray Roberts. But perhaps Pilot Point’s most impressive claim to fame is its appearance in one of America’s most iconic movies – with the town’s former bank (now an antique store) appearing in the 1967 film Bonnie & Clyde. For those spending time in Northern Texas, Pilot Point may be less than 90-minutes from DFW, but it truly feels a world away.