Johnson City, Texas, is a small yet historically significant city located in the scenic Hill Country, just an hour from both Austin and San Antonio. It’s a perfect destination for travelers looking for a quiet and authentic Texan getaway without being too isolated from the major cities.
You can use the city as a bridge between larger tourist zones and set up shop there. While Johnson City isn’t a household name for visitors, it most definitely flies under the radar. There’s plenty to do there, especially if you’re interested in history, nature, and more relaxation-based activities.
Johnson City Texas
On the surface, Johnson City Texas is a quiet city with a population of just under 2,000 people. However, when you dig a little deeper, you learn of its historic and cultural importance, not only to Texas but to the entire United States. The city was founded by a man named James P. Johnson.
In 1879, Johnson, a landowner, pledged a site that he owned along the Pedernales River to create a town. Initially, the town was just 320 acres. However, the first site laid the foundations for its development. The town was later named after an early settler, Sam Ealy Johnson, Sr.
Sam Ealy Johnson was born and raised in Alabama. However, in the 1850s, he moved to Johnson Texas with his brother. Together, they developed one of the biggest cattle-driving businesses in the region. As well as ranching, Johnson was a politician and successful businessman, largely responsible for the growth of the town.
His political involvement and thriving cattle business drew new residents to Johnson City. In 1890, it became the official county seat of Blanco County. Sam E. Johnson settled and had a family there, including a son, Sam E. Johnson, Jr. In 1908, Junior and his wife welcome a son, named Lyndon B. Johnson.
Of course, Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) went on to become the 36th president of the United States. He served from 1963 to 1969 but spent a lifetime in politics. As the name suggests, the Johnson family really put the city on the map. Although the city hasn’t grown significantly through the years, it has a lot to offer.
So, if you’re looking for somewhere slightly off the beaten track but close enough to some of Texas’s major cities, Johnson should be a consideration. Now, let’s go through some of the best things to do in the city and the surrounding areas.
Things To Do In Johnson City, Texas This Weekend
Many people overlook Johnson City and other smaller towns that surround major Texas cities like Austin, San Antonio, Houston, or Dallas. As the biggest state in the U.S. (apart from Alaska), there are so many other places worth visiting, including Johnson.
Located deep in the Texas Hill Country, Johnson City is surrounded by nature, historical sites, and of course, vineyards. It’s one of our favorite spots in the Hill Country and one of the best in the state for wine tasting. Furthermore, it’s a stone’s throw from the Pedernales State Park if you fancy an outdoor adventure.
The city itself is well-serviced. It’s got a broad selection of hotels and you can also find quaint short-term rentals on sites like Airbnb. Much like the rest of Texas, the food is awesome, especially the barbecue and Tex-Mex. The town square features beautiful 19th-century architecture and is filled with local cafes and restaurants.
That said, you can see most of the city over a weekend. Unless of course, you wish to sample the wines from multiple vineyards. In that case, you can enjoy this region year-round.
But most visitors use Johnson as a base and then plan several trips to the national park and to Austin and San Antonio, which are short drives away. However, if you’re after a fun-filled weekend in Johnson City, here are our top picks. We’ve included a range of suggestions to cater to people with different interests.
Unbeknownst to many, the Texas climate is ideal for growing the same types of grapes as in France and Italy. The Hill Country surrounding Johnson City is home to a variety of grapes and the region’s wine is fast becoming world-renowned for its high-quality wines.
In recent years, Texas wines and wineries have won several awards. However, since it’s still a developing wine-producing region, the prices for winery tours and the wines themselves are very reasonable, especially when compared to places like Napa Valley in California.
Johnson City is perfectly situated for a wine-tasting vacation. There are several top-class wineries to visit and most of them offer insightful and fun tours. Moreover, the Texas Hill Country has some of the most beautiful nature in the state, providing idyllic backdrops to enjoy your tasting.
Highway 290 is generally the best route for wine tasting. From Johnson to Fredericksburg, you’ll find a number of popular wineries offering fantastic tours and delicious wine. If you don’t have a designated driver, we recommend hiring a tour guide to take you from place to place.
One of our favorite wine-tasting stops is 290 Wine Castle. Chateau de Chasse is designed in a medieval-inspired style that you might find in the south of France. It offers wine from all over the world, from the Hill Country to Europe. The castle also serves food, giving you a comprehensive and enjoyable experience.
Some other wineries we recommend visiting include:
- Fall Creek Vineyards
- William Chris Vineyards
- Pedernales Cellars
- Texas Wine Collective
- Duchman Family Winery
- Fall Creek Vineyards
- Kuhlman Cellars: Stonewall
- Messina Hof Hill Country Winery
- Becker Vineyards
- Urban Wine Trail
- Southold Farm + Cellar
- Spicewood Vineyards
Arts and Antiques
Johnson City has a thriving art and antique scene and is home to multiple vintage stores, antique shops, and galleries. Most of these are conveniently located downtown so you can spend a leisurely day strolling the streets and popping into the various stores.
Whether you’re looking for thrift stores to pick up a bargain retro outfit or some antique ornaments for your living room, Johnson City is an ideal shopping town. It’s also a great place to view and buy fine art. Nugent Avenue Arts District is the go-to place in the city.
There is a spirited art culture in the area and it’s a particularly popular spot for photographers. Take a look online ahead of your visit and see if you can take part in a workshop or visit an exhibition. The A Smith Gallery is a must-visit for both amateur and professional photographers visiting Johnson.
One of our favorite things about Nugent Avenue and the Johnson City downtown area, in general, is that it’s totally walkable. You don’t need to spend time and money traveling to the various hotspots. What’s more, this area has tons of quirky cafes and fantastic restaurants to fuel your artistic voyage.
Visit The Johnson Settlement
You can’t visit Johnson City without paying homage to the family and former president who helped it forge it. As I discussed earlier, Lyndon Johnson’s grandfather and his brother created a successful cattle-driving business in the city, helping it grow.
To this day, many of the farm’s buildings are still standing, including the windmill, log cabin, barns, and cooler house. The reason these buildings, along with other equipment were salvaged is that the National Park Service bought the Johnson Family Settlement area shortly after the former president retired from office.
The settlement was then transformed into a visitors center as part of the Lyndon B. Johnson Historical Park. It’s free to enter and you can take a self-guided tour around the grounds. In fact, the tour follows a nature trail loop that’s approximately one mile long.
Some of the main stops along the trail include:
- The Visitor Center
- Lyndon B. Johnson’s childhood home
- The education building
- The exhibition center
- The Johnson log cabin
- The Johnson and Bruckner barns
- The windmill
- The cooler house
The Johnson Settlement is easy to access when traveling west from Johnson City along Highway 290. Outside the grounds, you’ll find a large pullout area where you can park your car or RV.
Check Out Some Local Breweries
Texas is a beer drinker’s dream location. Over the last few years, the brewing industry has skyrocketed. Whatever city or town you visit in the Lone Star State you’ll find several artisan breweries working on a variety of tasty beverages. Although Johnson is small, it still has some top breweries.
The best route for breweries in the area is between Johnson City and Fredericksburg, right along Highway 290. This is the area where the wine-tasting and beer-sampling worlds collide. Interestingly, this highway is the second most popular wine-visiting area in the entire country.
Perhaps the most well-known brewery in Johnson City is Pecan Street Brewing. Located in the town square, the brewery was once a hardware and supply store. During that time, it became a popular hangout spot where locals would get together to socialize over coffee.
Today, the vibes remain the same, but the go-to beverage has changed from coffee to craft beer. Pecan Street brews beer and wine on-site and serves a broad range of beverages, from pilsners and ales to mimosas and sparkling wines. You’ll be happy to learn that the prices are very reasonable.
Pecan Street Brewing is one of the most popular places in town. In addition to drinks, it serves a full menu with pizzas, salads, burgers, and more. On weekends, you can catch live bands in the Biergarten. If you’re after a good time on the weekend, make Pecan Street your first stop.
Other local establishments worth adding to your list include Reck ‘Em Right Brewery, Nice N Easy, Old 290 Brewery, and Moonshine Ridge (distillery).
Take Your Kids To The Science Mill
Arguably the best hidden gem Johnson City has to offer is the Science Mill, a tremendous children’s science museum. This novel museum is situated inside an old historic mill from 1880 in the downtown area. The mill’s presence in the city is iconic, and it’s long been a source of inspiration for local artists.
The mill was purchased by a non-profit in 2012, and over the next three years, it was converted into a unique science museum. It was opened to the public in early 2015 and is now the number one destination for scientific exploration in the region, especially for kids.
While the old mill was totally remodeled, much of the infrastructure, such as the silos were preserved and repurposed. Spanning 17,000 square feet, the state-of-the-art museum contains leading-edge exhibits, STEM projects, and interactive games and programs.
The Science Mill is a must-visit for families with kids of all ages. You can take a break from the exploration at the 3D theater or get a bite to eat in the museum cafe.
Head For Pedernales State Park
The Pedernales State Park is a beautiful nature preserve between Johnson City and Austin. The tranquil site is a superb place to immerse yourself in nature, relax, and recharge your batteries. There are plenty of outdoor activities at the park, including water sports in the Pedernales River.
Hiking and mountain biking are two of the most popular visitor activities. There are multiple trails scattered throughout the park, and many of them are beginner friendly. The Twin Falls Nature Trail is a half-mile trek suitable for inexperienced hikers. The reward is a breathtaking view of the waterfalls.
If you’re after something a little more challenging, try your hand at the Wolf Mountain Trail. This challenging six-mile route passes around the Wolf and Tobacco Mountains. Along the way, you can cool down at the Arrowhead Pool which is fed by the Bee Creek.
Many experience mountain bikers enjoy taking on a new biking trail, called the Juniper Ridge Trail. It’s a 10-mile route that follows a single track. There are several obstacles along the way that require technical skills to get through.
If you wish to spend a night under the stars, the State Park features a number of well-serviced campsites with clean water and electricity. However, there are also several primitive sites available for more experienced campers.
Although the Pedernales River flows through the park, it can be quite dangerous to swim in due to its turbulence. You can get to the park’s designated swimming zone via a tricky quarter-mile hike. Be warned, this is a tough trek with steep rock stairs and no handrail.
Other fun activities at the State Park include paddling, kayaking, fishing, and horseback riding. During certain seasons, you can enroll your kids in a Junior Ranger camp where they can learn outdoor survival and exploration skills.
- Johnson City population: worldpopulationreview.com
- Shopping in Johnson City: johnsoncitytxonline.com
- Johnson settlement: nps.gov
- Pecan Street Brewing info: pecanstreetbrewing.com
- Pedernals State Park: texas.gov
Christian Linden is a seasoned writer and contributor at Texas View, specializing in topics that resonate with the Texan community. With over a decade of experience in journalism, Christian brings a wealth of knowledge in local politics, culture, and lifestyle. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Texas. When he's not writing, Christian enjoys spending weekends traveling across Texas with his family, exploring everything from bustling cities to serene landscapes.