Johnson City sits less than an hour’s drive directly west of downtown Austin. It was made famous in the 1960’s as the home of President Lyndon Johnson. While the town wasn’t named after President Johnson, the town and the nation’s leader take their names from the same family.
But the town has so much more. Despite its small size, there is plenty to fill up a day trip to Johnson City.
1. Presidential history
This little town has plenty of the trappings of other Hill Country towns, but what truly sets it apart is the history that comes alive at the LBJ Boyhood Home and the LBJ Ranch. Both historic sites are maintained by the National Parks Service, and both offer peeks into the life of President Johnson at very different times in his life.
Just after turning five years old, young Lyndon’s family moved from nearby Stonewall to Johnson City. During Johnson’s presidency, the home was used as a community center, and tours were offered to the public. After Johnson’s time in office, the National Parks Service assumed control of the property and restored it to its 1920’s appearance using materials and construction techniques appropriate to the period.
The LBJ Ranch is where President Johnson was born, lived the majority of his life, died and buried. It is closer to Stonewall, but Johnson City is still the logical jumping point for your visit. Visitors can tour the property at their own pace, but the Texas White House is the site’s must-see attraction. This is where the President and First Lady went when Lyndon needed a break from Washington, DC. He conducted government business at the ranch and met with world leaders on his home turf.
2. A Texas-style safari
Just a few miles north of Johnson City you’ll find a safari awaiting your arrival. Exotic Resort Zoo offers tours among hundreds of exotic animals including American bison, camels and antelopes. And you get to do more than just look. You can feed them, too! When you purchase your tour tickets, make sure you purchase a bucket of feed to help you get up close to the animals.
And if you’re a little skittish to feed the grown-up animals, Exotic Resort Zoo has five separate petting zoos for you to interact with baby animals.
If you want to turn your day trip into a weekender, the zoo has cabins available. But book your stay before you head to Johnson City. The cabins will likely be taken if you just walk up and ask to stay.
3. A brewpub that wants to be your new hangout
Pecan Street Brewing wants to be your third place. Third place? Why not first place? Let me explain. They want to create an atmosphere that makes their brewpub the place you go when you’re not at home or at work. See? Third place.
They’re constantly rolling out new flavors to try, so locals never get in a rut. But hey, you’re just here for the day. Grab a chair and a pint, and make some new friends even if you have to leave them in time to make it home for bedtime.
4. A place to get your geek on
You wouldn’t expect to find a science museum in a tiny Texas Hill Country town, but that’s precisely what you can discover at the Hill Country Science Mill. Their mission is “to ignite the curiosity, ambition, innovation and problem-solving potential of the next generation through an innovative, immersive experience that enhances the community’s understanding of, and appreciation for, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).” Even if you’re part of the current generation rather than the next, you’ll find yourself entertained during your visit and more educated afterward.
5. Fermented temptations
When you think of the Texas Hill Country, the first thing you think about is the scenery. The second is wine. And Johnson City does not disappoint on either front. Take your pick from Texas Hills Vineyards, TASTE Wine + Art and Hahne Estates Winery. Sample something new, and take in the views.