If you’re planning a road trip to – or through – Texas, odds are you have a big Texas city like Dallas, Houston, San Antonio or Austin on your radar. Although the big Texas cities offer big fun, don’t miss out on the small towns. If you are visiting Austin or San Antonio a side trip to historic Gonzales is an easy one. When you’re planning your next Texas road trip, check out our favorite things to do in Gonzales.
But first, a little history lesson
I’ve never loved the “everything is bigger” in Texas saying, although we certainly have plenty of room to explore without ever crossing any state lines. Gonzales is one of our favorite day trips from San Antonio or quick weekend getaways. You may not have this small city on your radar but I’m sharing six things to do in Gonzales that are super family-friendly, inexpensive, and fun. With more people road tripping in the United States than ever before, there is so much to explore in Texas,. When you’re making plans to explore the Lone Star State, don’t miss out on the city of Gonzales!
But first, a history lesson. I’ll make it painless, I promise.
Gonzales Texas is the county seat for Gonzales County. This small city holds a unique place in Texas history as the site where the first shot for Texas Independence was fired. The land we know today as Texas once belonged to Mexico. The Mexican Army had given the people of Gonzales a small cannon for self-defense. When Mexico got wind of the rumblings of Texas independence they decided they wanted their cannon back.
On October 2, 1835, 18 townsmen stood on the bank of the Guadalupe River and refused to surrender their small cannon to the Mexican Army. The people of Gonzales fashioned a flag showing a black replica of the cannon on a white background with the words that would echo through the years:
Come and take it.
This is important information for a visitor to Gonzales because you will see that black cannon and that slogan everywhere in town. So, now you know what it means.
Hopefully, my little history lesson was painless. Now, on to six things to do in Gonzales today that your family will enjoy.
1. The Old Jail Museum
The Old Jail Museum is on Lawrence Street in downtown Gonzales. This use to be the Gonzales County Jail but it is now a museum. The docents are friendly and full of great stories. A free guided tour is a must and will take about 45 minutes.
Visit the Gonzales Chamber of Commerce website for current hours and more info.
2. Gonzales Memorial Museum
The Gonzales Memorial Museum houses the original cannon behind the “come and take it” story as well as a bunch of other Texas artifacts.
The museum has lovely, scenic grounds. If you have little ones who need to burn off some energy, there is plenty of wide open space.
Current hours for the Memorial Museum are Wednesday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. Their hours have currently changed due to the recent pandemic so definitely check their website before you visit just to make sure. Entrance is free and I recommend about an hour to look at all of the items and read all of the plaques outside.
3. Historic Home Tours
Gonzales has lovely historic homes. Contact the Gonzales Chamber of Commerce for tour Gonzales info. The home tours are widely available during Gonzales’ two main festivals: The Come and Take It Festival and Winterfest, but you can ask about arranging a private tour if you are visiting during another time. Check with the Gonzales Chamber of Commerce.
4. Pioneer Village Living History Museum
Pioneer Village is an open-air living history museum. It boasts a collection of 1800s and early 1900s era houses and buildings from Gonzales County. Visitors strolling through The Village often feel as if they have just stepped into the same era as that of the original occupants of these buildings and that the inhabitants have merely stepped out for a while.
Each structure has been donated to Pioneer Village and has been carefully relocated to the grounds for its preservation. Most of the furnishings and equipment found within these structures were either loaned or donated to help represent the cultural lifestyle of the pioneers who settled this area. It gives great insight into what life used to be like before we had so many modern conveniences.
If you visit during Gonzales’ annual Come and Take It Festival, you can see a re-enactment of the battle that started the fight for Texas Independence. This is a very fun and realistic re-enactment that all ages will enjoy. If anyone in your group is into Civil War type re-enactments, they will LOVE this.
I learned a TON about Texas history visiting Pioneer Village. Did you know the early settlers in what is now Texas were called Texicans? I guess I thought we were Texans right from the beginning!
5. Palmetto State Park
Palmetto State Park is about 12 miles outside of Gonzales. It’s a little piece of the tropics in the Texas landscape. With multiple sources of water (including the San Marcos River), this is a haven for a wide variety of animals and plants. Look for dwarf palmettos, the park’s namesake, growing under the trees.
Palmetto State Park offers various camping options – check out their website for more info – and several fun hiking trails. We did two of the trails – the Ottine Swamp and the Mesquite Flats Trails – and they were listed in the park map as moderate. We were two adults and two seven-year-olds not really dressed for hardcore hiking and we did just fine. It was really beautiful and we loved the different scenery. We didn’t find it particularly strenuous.
Please note that some Texas state parks are requiring advance reservations for day use due to the pandemic. Check the website before you visit.
One of my kids whined, “When are we going to be done?” about six trillion times, so if that makes this count as a challenging trail, then it was.
6. Texas Heroes Square
Texas Heroes Square is at the intersection of N. St Joseph Street and St. Lawrence Street. The square honors the men of Gonzales who fought in the Texas Revolution.
This is the hub of Gonzales. The town is very walkable and most everywhere you want to go is right around here. If you are visiting Gonzales for a day trip, there is ample parking in the square and you’ll be able to shop, eat, and see the sights, in addition to absorbing a little bit of Texas history.
Lodging and Dining in Gonzales, Texas
If you’re spending the night in Gonzales, I recommend the Dilworth Inn and Suites, a lovely boutique hotel right off the square in Gonzales. Most of what you’ll want to do in Gonzales is walkable from this location. For fun, you can also stay in the Bonnie and Clyde Room at the Alcade Hotel. Bonnie and Clyde escaped from the window during their infamous run from the law. There are also lots of Bed and Breakfasts and Boutique Inns in this area, although most of them are not kid-friendly.
La Bella Tavola (right next to the Dilworth Inn) serves lunch and dinner. They offer basic Italian food and it’s delicious. The service is amazing. I recommend the baked manicotti. I wish I had a picture but I was too busy eating it. Cheesy goodness.
The Come and Take it Bar and Grill is directly across the street from La Bella Tavola. It’s a fun place to people-watch and get a drink or eat a really fun meal. They have a pizza oven where they make their pizzas. They have a a nice selection of burgers, sandwiches, steaks, and salads. I recommend the “Come and Take It” Burger.
Sweet B’s Dessert Boutique is a cute little bakery and ice cream shop on St. Joseph Street. They offer a fun selection of kitchen-related gifts, such as aprons, mugs and cake plates.