This October, the town of Round Top, Texas, will swell from the population listed on the sign — 87 people — to over 100,000. Collectors, antique dealers, design enthusiasts and celebrities will fill the community for a triannual celebration of art and creativity in the verdant Texas country between Austin and Houston.
Driving to a place you’ve never been that’s also close to home has a special kind of mystique. We followed Highway 71 East through Bastrop past the signs for La Grange before turning off towards Round Top. As we got closer, we drove past grassy, tree-covered fields, a drastic contrast to the crispy, yellowed lawns we left behind in Austin.
The scenery around us took on a whimsical and delightful strangeness. In the open plot of a small ranch, we saw a series of Big Boy statues, from the old fast food chain and, more notably for me, the “Austin Powers” movie. We passed more collections of vintage signage from fast food restaurants and stores. From that first odd and engaging entrance to the town, our visit to Round Top continued to be surprising.
Over and over again, from the beauty and charm of the bucolic town itself to the many spots of artistic and historic significance, Round Top felt wholly unexpected. To experience interesting architecture, delicious food and an eccentric little world of antique shopping, here are stops and spots you might consider for your visit to Round Top.
Stroll through Henkel Square
As you enter town from Austin, take a right off the main road and find picturesque Henkel Square. The square is home to a collection of quaint buildings, several original to the property and historically home to German immigrants. The land was purchased in the 1960s by the Bybee family, antique collectors and philanthropists. Today, you can walk the pathways between art galleries, the design center, hotels and eateries.
Henkel Square has the power to seduce out the deep and urgent craving to sit under a tree and drink coffee. The whole town seems to embody this slower pace and feeling of calm. The elegant houses circled up around the central courtyard, a bubbling stone fountain and a walking bridge over a bed of river stones added to this blissful scene. Some favorite spots include Lyric Salon, the Little Cheese Shop, Royer’s Pie Haven and The Humble Donkey. We went into the Humble Donkey and were greeted by the artist, who offered us free beer and wine while we shopped. Everything was so endearing and friendly. I didn’t want to hurry. I liked perusing the art, unwinding in the shade and people-watching.
Lunch at Round Top Brewing
Round Top Brewing opened its doors in fall 2021, but this relative newcomer to Round Top has the tranquility and charm to fit perfectly in with the town. The vintage feel of the bar and inside seating area, decorated with eclectic art, was warm and welcoming. My husband, my kids and I spent a leisurely afternoon here. I enjoyed a Reuben sandwich with soft, fresh marble rye. We also feasted on deviled eggs topped with salty-sweet bacon jam, duck confit tacos and beer made onsite. The food was so good and the service was friendly and solicitous. This is my favorite kind of meal: outdoors and with a welcoming atmosphere. We were happy to slowly sip our drinks and allow a different pace of life to settle around us, a natural deceleration. Time became spacious and there was no reason to hurry through our meal or rush anywhere. The kids played under the trees, walked a balance-beam path around the fire pit and played corn hole in the sideyard.
Dessert at Lollitop
Rousing from our super-relaxed complacency at the brewery, we walked next door to Lollitop. The bakery and retro candy store is owned by Brooke and Paul of Round Top Brewing. The beautiful, converted old house blew our kids’ minds, especially the low-ceilinged upstairs space packed with bright colors and a Willy Wonka assortment of treats. My 7-year-old found a 5-pound gummy bear and tried to select it as her “one thing”. In addition to the sugary delights lining the shelves, there was also a selection of fine chocolate bars and a bakery case filled with fresh-baked cookies and pastries. We sat in the clear acrylic ghost chairs on the front porch, seemingly held by invisible forces to enjoy our treats. For the rest of the day and probably forever, our kids start dreaming a previously unimagined and amazing dream: that you can grow up to own a candy store.
Catch a show at Festival Hill Concert Hall
Just outside of Round Top, we caught a glimpse of the decorative silver tower on the roof of Festival Concert Hall. We took a short detour off the main road to explore and stroll through the gardens and past the marble fountain on the grounds around the concert hall. Home to a musical campus and conservatory, established by pianist Philip Dick in the ‘70s, the venue hosts events and musical performances throughout the year. The exterior is dominated by windows, while the interior is acoustically excellent, with beautiful woodworking craftsmanship and a dramatic feel. The architecture of the concert hall is something extraordinary to behold off the small winding road in the country.
See some Shakespeare in the barn at Winedale
We also took a side trip a few miles outside of town to see Winedale, where the University of Texas offers students of theater the opportunity to immerse themselves in the study of Shakespeare on a scenic 225-acre plot of land. They also offer several summer camp sessions for younger thespians. The barn is actually the primary performance space, with opportunities to see shows all summer. This really is a barn in the middle of a pasture where you can delight in a showing of a Shakespeare play. I was utterly charmed.
Admire the beauty of Round Top Library
On the recommendation of a friend, we visited Round Top library, which also acts as a community center and meeting space. The library is in a stunningly gorgeous, butter-yellow building and former Lutheran church built in the 1920s with vaulted ceilings and peaked windows. The library was joyful and bright, a marvelous surprise with a garden and park nearby. We took a cool break near the bubbling fountain at the center and escaped the heat in an emerald-green plant-filled sanctuary.
Shop for antiques, furniture and oddities
On impulse, we stopped at Market Hill, a collection of antique and furniture vendors housed in massive high-ceilinged buildings and open breezeways. We wandered the outside showroom, running our hands over massive pieces of rose quartz and amethyst in outrageous cuts. Inside, we perused African glass beads and art, even timidly sitting on a set of chairs and a sofa made with Zebra hide. The visit involved a great deal of trying to convince our kids not to put their hands on everything. I couldn’t blame them in this tempting world of tactile delights, a feast of textures, colors and fabrics. In the center of the antique market is an open and modern dining space where you can rest between perusing and enjoy their restaurant and wine bar.
Stay at the Vintage Round Top
If you have the time, stay overnight at The Vintage Round Top. The property includes two full-size homes that are attached and can be rented together or separately and two unique studio-style cabins. Boho, the larger home, is so inviting and immersive you can’t believe you stepped from the easy-going country road into what feels like a work of art. In the great room, two fawn leather couches sit next to a chic black-columned fireplace. The space evokes family meals and get-togethers with the girls. Every corner is unique and comfortable, drawing warmth from the wood beams overhead. Two daybeds are thoughtfully accessorized along one wall with soft throws and pillows, inviting you to lounge, to chat, to nap.
My favorite spot in the No. 1450 house was a set of numbered stairs leading up into a cozy attic sleeping space right from my childhood book-lover’s dream. I really enjoyed hearing from Paige, one of the owners, how this space evolved from a family dream of a house in the country to a canvas inviting collaboration and inspiration from many brands and artists. The two smaller cabins on the property are both distinctive in character, based on her children’s personalities.
The first, named the Eisley, is blushed with shades of pink and rose. The signature daybed sits under an aquatic-looking wall piece and is lined with fringed shimmery pink pillows. In the second, named the Pierce, a hand-hammered metal kitchenette counter and bathroom vanity add to the overall masculine quality of the studio. If you love what you see during your stay, you may be able to take some parts home! The Vintage Round Top sells many unique products right from the rental on their website, www.thevintageroundtop.com.
Round Top is only 90 minutes from Austin but serves as a charming little paradise in Texas, with plenty of opportunities to be surprised and enchanted.