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Dog-Friendly Trails, Restaurants, and Lodging in Central Texas

Written by Melissa Gaskill. Photographs by Will van Overbeek.

When that road-trip itch needs scratching, I can always count on one friend to join me: my big mutt Max. He won’t beg off due to work commitments, because he’s too tired, or because he doesn’t have anything to wear. I never hear whining about where I want to go, either, because anyplace with me suits him just fine.

Max and I have enjoyed travels everywhere from urban jaunts like downtown San Antonio to the remote reaches of Hill Country State Natural Area. At the former, he gave the hotel housekeeper a bit of a start, and in the latter, a snake gave us the start, but all in all, we have a blast.

A few simple rules help make road trips fun for humans and canines. We “stay” at places glad to see my four-legged roomie, “sit” at restaurants happy to cater to both of our needs, and “fetch” fun activities we both enjoy. We hit all three on a recent road trip between Austin and Brenham.

Our not-so-ruff weekend started with a hike on dog-friendly, off-leash Turkey Creek Trail in Austin’s Emma Long Metropolitan Park. This almost-3-mile balloon loop follows and frequently crosses a creek that generally flows year-round, on a mostly dirt surface with ample shade, all ideal for canine hikers and their pals. An uphill portion crosses more open area with occasional views. The trailhead lies about a half-mile before the entrance booth to the main park, which has restrooms, picnic areas, and access to Lake Austin. Dogs must be leashed in the park proper, and the designated swim beach only allows swimmers of the two-legged variety, but Max and I cooled our feet and paws from the shoreline in the picnic area.

Set on relaxing for the rest of the afternoon, we stopped at Austin’s Yard Bar. An increasing number of restaurants allow owners to bring dogs; this establishment takes more of a “dogs, bring your owners” approach. An open, shaded area offers dining (dogs on leashes here) from an extensive food menu that includes hush puppies and hot dogs, naturally, while the bar offers local beers, wine, dog-inspired seasonal cocktails, teas, coffee, and fountain drinks. A large fenced area offers playtime under plenty of shade—agility equipment, pools, and even two fire hydrants for the pups; picnic tables, lawn chairs, and its own bar (same menu) for their people. Manager Keith Sobieralski reports busy Saturdays host as many as 150 dogs, but staff members—aptly named Bark Rangers—scoop poop, keep the peace, and generally make sure everyone has a howling good time.

An increasing number of restaurants allow owners to bring dogs; this establishment takes more of a “dogs, bring your owners” approach.

We bunked for the night at Lone Star Court in the Domain, a dog-friendly property with convenient parking, the better to schlep in all the dog gear. Rooms open to a large outdoor courtyard and native landscaping, both of which make it easy for dogs to answer the call of nature. Inside, plenty of space and distressed concrete floors had us feeling at ease. We grabbed a table on the patio of the on-site restaurant, the Water Trough, and enjoyed live music spilling out of the large overhead doors. I may have slipped Max a bite or two from my generous brisket plate.

The following day, we drove to Lake Somerville State Park to hike off that brisket and the hearty breakfast served at the hotel. In Max’s younger days, we enjoyed the Lake Somerville Trailway, a 13-mile route between its Birch Creek and Nails Creek units, circumnavigating the lake and Flag Pond with excellent birdwatching possibilities. The 3-mile combo of Wilderness Run, Cardinal Bend, and Sunset Trails suits the old fellow better now. This mostly level route took us along a scenic creek bottom, through grasslands and woods, and past views of the lake.

Home Sweet Farm Market & Biergarten

In Brenham, we stopped at Home Sweet Farm Market & Biergarten to tap our paws to live music on the dog-friendly patio. The Biergarten serves local craft beers with a rotating selection of 21 on tap—many of them small-batch or seasonal—plus some regulars, including Brazos Valley Brewery beers. Home Sweet Farm also offers artisanal foods; I ordered a cheese plate featuring several local, small-batch artisan cheeses—including a tangy blue one served with a slightly sweet local jam—and a summer sausage. (Sorry, Max, no sharing this time.)

Canine Checklist


  • Basic training.

    Your dog needs to behave in public and remain under your control, reliably following basic commands such as “come” and “stay.” Fellow travelers like constant barkers about as much as you enjoy that cousin of yours who never stops talking.

  • Leash ’em.

    Few places allow dogs off-leash, for the safety and comfort of everyone, including your dog. Even a super-chill pup may get confused and nervous in strange places, so a leash is especially important when traveling.

     

  • Leave no trace.

    It should go without saying to always scoop the poop and dispose of it properly. But we’ll say it anyway.

     

While plenty of Texas hotels accommodate dogs, a vacation rental takes dog-friendly to a higher level. No worries about bothering folks in the room next door, being spotted walking Fido in your jammies late at night, or finding a dinner spot suitable for your four-legged friend. On the HomeAway website, I searched by destination and selected the “pets considered” option under “More Filters.” (Some properties have size limits or extra fees.) Out of the list of options, I chose a farmhouse a few miles outside of town that sits atop a hill surrounded by pastures and trees with a constant breeze. We enjoyed the view from the front porch, the peace and quiet, and cooking a leisurely dinner in the home’s fully equipped kitchen. My city dog even got a kick out of the cows grazing nearby, and I loved seeing the Milky Way above us after dark.

We lazed around the house and porch the next morning for some quality dog and owner time, finally heading into town for lunch at Mobius Café and Pizzeria, touted by the local paper as having the best pizza in the county. The café makes its own dough and pizza sauce, uses a premium blend of cheeses, and bakes its pies in a brick oven. I chose the thin-crust option for my delightful Kitchen Sink pizza, topped with pepperoni, ground beef, Italian sausage, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, and black olives. The menu also includes sandwiches and salads, as well as breakfast options like tacos, omelets, and quiche. The small outdoor seating area is pleasantly decorated with plants and shaded by umbrellas, so Max didn’t mind when I lingered to take advantage of the Wi-Fi (although he may have wished I ordered bacon on my pizza).

Texas history runs deep in Washington County, no place more so than at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, so it seemed a good choice for one last walk. A trail leads from the visitor center past Independence Hall, where 59 delegates met in what was then the town of Washington in 1836 to draft the Texas Declaration of Independence and adopt a constitution for the Republic of Texas. The trail goes through the old townsite, where I ponder whether some of its 19th-century residents had dogs. Then it crosses a wildflower meadow and eventually leads to an overlook on the Brazos River, a major travel route for early Texans. The last shady stretch follows along the river before returning to the visitor center. (Note: Dogs must be on leashes in state parks and are not allowed in buildings.)

I had to make one last stop, at Bevers Kitchen in Chappell Hill, for a slice of one of its famous pies and a cup of coffee for the drive home. Dogs can join diners at a couple of tables on the porch and a small outdoor patio. I didn’t have to worry about whether or not to share my pie, as all this fun had Max snoozing under my chair like a puppy. That marks a weekend well spent.

For the Dogs

Turkey Creek Trail, Emma Long Metropolitan Park, Austin.
Call 512-974-1831;
austinparks.org/parks/turkey-creek-at-emma-long

 

Yard Bar, Austin.
Call 512-900-3773;
yardbar.com

 

Lone Star Court, Austin.
Call 512-814-2625;
lonestarcourt.com

 

Lake Somerville State Park, Somerville.
Call 979-535-7763;
tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/lake-somerville

 

Home Sweet Farm Market & Biergarten, Brenham.
Call 979-530-7994;
homesweetfarm.com

 

Mobius Café and Pizzeria, Brenham.
Call 979-251-9955

 

Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, Washington.
Call 936-878-2214;
tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/washington-on-the-brazos

 

Bevers Kitchen, Chappell Hill.
Call 979-836-4178;
bevers-kitchen.com

 

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