Between its languid stretch of the Colorado River and its charming historic downtown, this small town (population 7,218) is an ideal place to while away a weekend. Its unofficial slogan, “East of Weird,” may be a cheeky nod to its location thirty miles east of Austin, but Bastrop, which I wrote about in my June 2014 column, has plenty of its own character and characters.
SEE + DO
Bastrop County Museum and Visitor Center // Consider a spin through this well-done repository of local history for an easily digestible rundown of Bastrop’s first 175 years, including notable particulars about its namesake (that’d be the supposedly résumé-enhancing “Baron de Bastrop”) and its “lifeblood” (that’d be the Colorado River), as well as an overview of 2011’s devastating wildfires. 904 Main, 512-303-0057
Bastrop River Company // About forty of the Colorado River’s six hundred miles run through Bastrop County, and if you want to traverse them by kayak, canoe, stand-up paddleboard, or inner tube, this outfitter will get you on your way, whether you’re aiming for a two-hour float or a two-day overnight paddling trip complete with an overnight stay on one of four rustic islands. 601 Chestnut, 888.972.9160, @BastropRiverCo
Bastrop State Park // Some 96 percent of this six-thousand-acre park—including a sizeable swath of loblollies that are part of the “Lost Pines” forest—was incinerated in the drought-fueled wildfires that sparked in the fall of 2011. As demoralizing as that statistic is, volunteers have been busy planting hundreds of thousands of seedlings (marked by tiny, victorious orange flags), and all but a few trails and campsites have been reopened. The unscathed, so-retro-they’re-cool cabins, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the thirties, book out months in advance. 100 Park Rd 1A, (512) 321-2101
Old Iron Bridge // When you walk along this white iron truss bridge, which was built to span the Colorado River in 1923, consider joining, at least informally, the International Society of Bridge Spitters. The Bastrop-based group, founded in the eighties, was inspired by a 1961 episode of The Andy Griffith Show, in which launching loogies from a bridge was depicted as the Mayberrian cure for small-town boredom. Work up the nerve (if necessary) and give it a whirl. Chestnut Street at the Colorado River
Plus . . .
Bastrop Opera House // Aside from stints as a movie theater and a teenage hangout, this has been the nucleus of Bastrop’s performing arts scene since 1889.
Deep In the Heart Art Foundry // Call ahead to schedule an hour-long tour of this full-size foundry, which has fabricated everything from the enormous Aggie Ring on A&M’s campus to the iconic Buc-ee’s mascot, cast in bronze.
EAT + DRINK
Paw Paw’s Catfish House // If a glance at the appetizers (fried deviled eggs, fried pickle spears, fried jalapeño-stuffed Hot Wangs wrapped in bacon) at this family-run cafe doesn’t deter your inner Michael Pollan, by all means proceed to the baskets and platters of crispy fried shrimp and catfish. Those with sensitive stomachs can find solace in the fact that the latter is apparently dredged in a gluten-free breading. 1014 Main, 512-321-9800
Lock Drugs // The shelves are stocked with all manner of medicines and there’s an herbal specialist on staff, but no prescription is needed for the drugstore’s most soothing remedies: sweet cold treats from the old-fashioned soda fountain. A chocolate malt or a frosted Coke (a shake with cola substituted for milk) will surely cure whatever ails you. 1003 Main, 512-321-2422
Maxine’s Cafe // Full disclosure: there’s an item on the morning menu here that’s been renamed in honor of this magazine. Though not many folks actually order the Texas Monthly Stacker, a dozen pecan praline griddle cakes served with a quarter pound of bacon, we stand behind our declaration that this unpretentious storefront cafe consistently dishes out our favorite homemade breakfasts. And no judgment here if you decide to nurse your coffee and sit tight till lunch to try the chicken-fried steak too. 905 Main, 512-303-0919
Viejo’s Tacos y Tequila // When Joe and Danny Oviedo, brothers from Del Rio, decided to launch the restaurant empire they’d been dreaming about, they relocated to Bastrop in 2013 to open their first venture. In just a year, they’ve already built up a fan club devoted to their “fresh Mex” offerings, particularly the street-style (read: no yellow cheese) tacos, smoked-cashew salsa, and fresh-fruit margaritas. 811 Main, 512-988-7544
Plus . . .
Baxters On Main // The atmosphere here is casual but the kitchen prides itself on sophisticated surf and turf specialties.
The Grace Miller Restaurant // Known as “Gracie’s,” this home-cooking establishment has daily lunch specials and a cozy back patio.
Art Connections Gallery // The walls of Deborah Johnson’s gallery are hung with the works of more than eighty artists from Texas and far beyond, which makes for a rich viewing—and buying—experience. Ten percent of each sale is donated to charity of the artist’s choice. 908 Main, 512-581-1799
Bastrop Fine Arts Guild // Every three months, new original pieces by local artists go on view at this corner gallery. Not surprisingly, the mediums and the messages vary greatly. Be sure to get a look at the architectural renderings for the Lost Pines Art Center and Sculpture Gardens, a six-thousand-square-foot complex that will occupy a nearby hundred-year-old cottonseed mill. 815 Main, 512-321-8055
LarryLand // You may hear Larry Wilson before you see him. The professional guitarist, who spent years on the road playing with the likes of Jimmy LaFave and Lavelle White, is often out on the porch of his eponymous music store, a stone’s throw from the Colorado River (the official Pickin’ On the Porch gathering convenes on the first Friday of the month). There are instruments for just about everyone inside, from custom Skermetta electric guitars to plastic skull-shaped shakers. 601 Chestnut, 512-321-3325
Lost Pines Art Bazaar // This exquisite showroom is filled with European antiques, bronze cowboy sculptures, budget-friendly gift items, and a trove of museum-worthy Persian carpets hand-knotted in owner Kazem Khonsari’s native Iran (a particularly memorable black and white one depicting Ronald Reagan is framed on a wall). The family also runs the adjoining Abri Gallery, which is open by appointment only. 603 Chestnut, 512-985-6403
Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa // With nearly five hundred rooms and a 405-acre spread, there’s nothing small-time about this all-inclusive hotel. You could spend your entire stay at either the golf course or the Crooked River Water Park or the Django Spa but you shouldn’t pass up the long menu of available activities, which include horseback riding, skeet shooting, and canoeing the Colorado. During my stay, the service was impressive from check-in (there were alpacas in the lobby!) to check-out (a ride to my car in the self-park lot). 575 Hyatt Lost Pines Rd, 512-308-1234