Texas Travel

City Spotlight: Bandera

By Chet Garner 5.7.18

Bandera’s current claim to fame is that it’s known as the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” But it’s not just that everyone in town wears hats and boots. This city has been home to cowboys for more than 150 years, and was once a gathering spot for cowboys heading out on wild west cattle drives.

Today, this small town is home to a few Western stores, lots of good food, and enviable places to swim along the Medina River.

Play Cowboy

All the herders from South Texas used to meet up at Bandera and keep driving the cattle north on the Great Western Trail. As a result of its cowboy past, the town now boasts the most dude ranches in Texas. There are plenty of places where you can connect with the cowboy way, such as resorts where visitors can ride horses, play with baby cows, milk momma cows, eat chuck wagon dinners, and sit around campfires.

Everyone leaves saying, “Yeah, I could be a cowboy. That was great!” That’s likely because these resorts do all the hard cowboy work and leave nothing but fun for the visitors.

Ride Horseback

Horseback riding at dude ranches is great; however, most ranches are exclusive to guests only. If you’re just a daytripper like me, there’s a wonderful place called Juniper Hills Stables that will take day-use guests out on an amazing ride.

The Hill Country State Natural Area is a great place to go. Just southwest of town, its 40 miles of trails offer plenty to explore, whether you’re on horseback, on foot, or on your mountain bike. The rugged terrain is grassy and beautiful, with steep limestone hills and spring-fed streams.


Good Grub and Cowboy Tunes

There are a couple of good cowboy-style stops in Bandera. The OST Restaurant (Old Spanish Trail) has been around since 1921. They serve one of the best chicken-fried steaks I’ve ever had. I think it’s because their cream gravy has as much butter in it as it does gravy.

The 11th Street Cowboy Bar’s Wednesday steak night can’t be missed. The bar fills up with hundreds of people who gather around and cook their steaks over a few big open pits. You bring the meat, the restaurant provides all the seasonings, and you can pay for a baked potato, roll, and salad for just $7. All the locals are there shooting the breeze. On the grill, you’ll see chicken, steak, deer, salmon, even rattlesnakes. It’s really a cool experience.

As a final stop, you’ve gotta wrap up the day at Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar Saloon. Arkey, who owns the joint, sings and hosts pickin’ circles. The likes of Willie Nelson and George Strait have sung on his stage.

Dig into History

St. Stanislaus Catholic Church is not just a church. It’s the second-oldest Polish parish in the United States. The immaculately painted interior is just breathtaking. It was built just off the Medina River and later restored to its current grandeur. It is really a sight.

The Bandera Natural History Museum is pretty cool too. Check out the life-size replicas of dinosaurs and ice age animals.  The rooms of stuffed exotics from around the world rival any big-city museum.


Salute Frontier Times

First, hit up the Bandera General Store on Main Street, get an ice cream, and maybe buy some vintage boots in the back.

Then wander over to the Frontier Times Museum, honoring an old cowboy publication that had a nationwide following. Turns out people all over the country liked to hear about the cowboy lifestyle. Well, the publisher loved a good story. So people started sending him souvenirs from all over the world. Eventually, he opened a museum that is now a shrine to the weird and wonderful — like a stuffed two-headed lamb and the Rodeo Hall of Fame. Like everything in the Cowboy Capital of the World, it’s a wild ride.

Find more of Chet’s daytrips around Texas here.

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