This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue with the headline “Hip to Be Square.”
It was a festive Saturday afternoon at Georgetown’s Mesquite Creek Outfitters, a bar and outdoor-apparel store set on the historic town square, across from the Greek Revival–style Williamson County Courthouse. Bearded men in ball caps held court at tables on the sidewalk, while inside, shoppers perused racks of clothes from Austin-based Howler Brothers, leisurely lollygaggers played dominoes, and a group of new parents, with babies in tow, found respite in a round of pale lagers from Georgetown’s first craft brewery, Rentsch.
The year-old Mesquite Creek is just one of many places luring visitors to this charmer of a town (population of about 67,000), thirty miles north of Austin. Founded in 1848 and named for land donor George Washington Glasscock, Georgetown is home to Southwestern University and the large and quite happening retirement community Sun City Texas. As more restaurants and retailers move in, Georgetown has become a destination while still retaining its small-town character. Cobblestone-style pavers line the sidewalks around the square, old-fashioned street lamps stand next to tree-shaded wooden benches, and local independent businesses embrace and preserve the architectural details of the Victorian-era buildings they occupy.
Just off the square are more local gems, including the lime-green Craftsman that houses Sweet Lemon Kitchen. It’s an easy place to stop for a snack, such as chef-owner Rachel Cummins’s baked-from-scratch cinnamon rolls, and a latte from Austin roaster Summer Moon Coffee. You can also spend the night upstairs in one of the Sweet Lemon Inn’s airy suites, with tempting monikers like Lemon Chiffon and Lemon Chess.
It’s a short walk to Blue Hole Park, a swimming hole and lagoon on the San Gabriel River surrounded by limestone bluffs. If a plunge in the surprisingly warm waters isn’t your thing, consider a stroll along the manicured path overlooking them. On the north fork of the river is a reservoir, Lake Georgetown, which is stocked with bass and catfish and bordered by the Goodwater Loop, a 28-mile hiking trail. San Gabriel Park’s Creative Playscape had a Saturday scene of its own, with parents bringing picnics to enjoy while watching their kids run around, climb on, and slide down the impressive structures.
At 3 p.m., people were already lining up for dinner at the popular El Monumento, the sister restaurant of the well-known Monument Cafe down the street. The modern, 7,700-square-foot restaurant is a glass, crushed-granite, and steel contrast to the rest of the city, but it makes the most of its waterside location, with an outdoor terrace overlooking Blue Hole. Try the carne asada tacos with beef, cilantro slaw, and avocado-tomatillo salsa, followed by a dreamy slice of tres leches cake. Or quench your thirst with a Mexican martini from the restaurant’s aptly named El Bar.
As the sun began to set, the town square was still bustling. Passersby stopped for photos with a bronze sculpture of Williamson County namesake Robert M. Williamson (known as Three-Legged Willie because of his wooden leg), with shopping bags from colorful boutique Pink Poppy in one hand and to-go cups from the Georgetown Winery in the other (yes, you can drink wine around the square). Williamson would be proud to see the way imaginative retailers and restaurants have kept this historic community relevant and thriving.