In small towns across Texas, you’ll find big-city touches with rural sensibilities. Why stay in a standard motel when you can sleep in a charming, renovated jail cell? That kind of sophistication with a touch of the quirky can be found in restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries in small towns across the state. Here are some of our favorites.
Away From It All
Just passing through? These five intimate retreats have real character.
Earlier this year, J. and Sara Ewing turned a dilapidated 1860s home into a boutique boardinghouse. Bonus: it’s within walking distance of the barbecue trifecta of Kreuz Market, Smitty’s Market, and Black’s Barbecue. 512-230-2366.
The former city jail is now the smallest of boutique hotels (one bedroom, one bathroom), complete with original steel doors. Owner Kaye Robinson Callaway is also behind the restaurant Sinclair. 254-227-5656.
Local chef Laurel Waters partnered with Pete Nelson, of the Treehouse Masters TV series, to open a retreat this summer consisting of four themed treehouses nestled high in the sky. 830-966-8733.
This pueblo-style dwelling in the Ghost Town has all the makings of a West Texas adventure: outdoor showers, hammocks for stargazing or just relaxing, and a fire pit to gather around at day’s end. 432-294-2404.
The school, near the San Marcos River, was built in 1921 and was transformed into a five-bedroom vacation rental that opened in June. Want a prom do-over? The old gym on the premises, Martindale Social Hall, serves as an event space. 512-656-8896.
—Lauren Smith Ford
These three restaurants put their towns on the culinary map.
A wood-fired oven is the heart and soul of smart Rancho Pizzeria, producing beautiful thin-crusted, puffy-edged pies topped with the likes of shiitake mushrooms, roasted garlic, and fontina. 325-726-9307.
This rustic farm-to-table restaurant in a repurposed gas station is all about simple, big flavors, from the unbeatable fried green tomatoes to the flaky Gulf black drum. 254-675-8888.
Peggy’s might be known for steaks, but its monster double pork chop, in a heady bourbon-piloncillo glaze, is hard to resist, as are its Southern sides. 830-572-5000.
True Texas Style
These five shops would be right at home in the big city.
Local couple Colt Miller and Logan Caldbeck make their popular desert boots on old sewing machines in their studio on South Dean Street, where they sell a smart collection of men’s and women’s clothes, accessories, and West Texas mementos from their favorite makers.
Samuel Melton’s expertly styled space is filled with vintage finds like worn-in chesterfield sofas, kilim rugs, and handcrafted goods by Texas makers. 214-697-3338
With theatrical window displays, Keri Kropp’s modern mercantile started as a high-fashion boutique and has grown with the addition of SG Home, around the corner, featuring furniture, home accessories, and gifts. 830-315-5000.
Forced to close for many months because of flooding after Hurricane Harvey, the store, filled with sophisticated swimwear, punchy jewelry, and beach-house accessories, is scheduled to reopen in August. 361-749-1881.
Cheryl Schulke opened her first retail space in a 117-year-old house on Rummel Square, where she sells her Stash leather items as well as clothing, candles, and goods by other designers. 281-212-3929.
Sometimes old buildings find new life as art galleries.
Bruce and Julie Webb curate five major exhibits a year at their 31-year-old gallery, including the current “Lone Stars: A Celebration of Texas Culture in Art” (through August 26). The colorful space, which also features books and antiques, is housed in a 1902 building downtown. 972-938-8085.
This North Texas town has seen an influx of temporary residents from around the world thanks to 100 West, an artist and writer residency program founded by artists Kyle Hobratschk and Travis LaMothe, in 2012. Creatives from Düsseldorf, Germany, to Charlottesville, Virginia, come to stay, work, exhibit, and host ticketed dinner parties that are open to the public in the residency’s three-story, 120-year-old red-brick building. 480-677-0928.
The two-story limestone-block building, the first permanent jail in Shackelford County, became a museum and cultural center in 1980. Since then, the OJAC has featured artists such as Matt Kleberg, Natasha Bowdoin, and George Grammer. 325-762-2269.
Founded fifteen years ago in a former dance hall a mile from Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation, this nonprofit cultural space showcases artists from all platforms, including music and film. 432-729-3600.
Mary Katherine Fickel’s Main Street gallery features much more than just Hill Country landscapes. Contemporary oils and abstracts made by artists from as far away as Korea and Russia are on display in the restored historic building. 830-997-1111.