Austin Growth Leads Some Residents to Head for the Hill Country
Amidst the boom of the Austin real estate market, some are choosing to move to smaller towns bursting with charm and natural beauty
By Ashley Brown and Mary Lancaster
Austin’s exponential growth — for better or worse — is apparent everywhere you look. But the Hill Country also abounds with smaller towns and areas, each with their own identity and charm. While some move to these towns, like Kyle and Buda, and commute to Austin, enjoying the benefits of both, others are seeking a little land and slower pace as well as the flexibility to work from home that has become so much more common.
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“Dripping Springs and Wimberley have become the hot ticket,” says Allure Real Estate agent Justine Smith. “And since low supply and high demand aren’t slowing down, I’m currently looking at Blanco in addition to Kyle and Buda for more affordable options.” The quality of life in these Hill Country towns is hard to deny, which is part of why those affordable options are getting harder and harder to find.
Nicknamed “A Little Bit of Heaven,” Wimberley attracts creatives of all sorts — musicians, designers, furniture makers, writers — in addition to small business owners, ranchers and farmers. The community is a mix of liberals and conservatives, young adults starting families and long-time residents who were lucky enough to snag hundreds of acres back in the day … all enjoying a laid-back pace of life surrounded by the beauty of nature, including Cypress Creek and the Blanco River.
Former Austin resident and musician Slaid Cleaves shares a story that many echo: “Austin was the perfect spot for us for many years, with [wife] Karen working near the Capital and my schedule full of Austin gigs. But as the city grew and our careers evolved, we felt less need to live close to the hustle and bustle of town and started looking for a quieter, less hectic place. I’m hesitant to talk about Wimberley’s small-town ease, with its beautiful, uncrowded parks, award-winning local community radio, local artists, and peace and quiet — because more people will want to move here!”
Property values have sky-rocketed, so with an average home cost of $680,000, Wimberley is no more affordable than Austin. New homes are sprouting up like weeds (the pretty kind, of course) in neighborhoods like Woodcreek North — where lots are relatively small, and it can be hard to find anything in the many neighborhoods that feature five to 10-acre lots, like Los Lomas or Mustang Valley.
Residents — and the proud signage — may disagree, but Driftwood is essentially a “suburb” of Austin, a very expensive one with homes costing an average of $800,000. The “town” consists primarily of an historic Texico gas station and post office at a four-way stop sign, and the official population in 2020 was 176. But the sprawling area boasts a growing number of wineries and distilleries — like the upscale Desert Door, a sotol distillery with a Santa Fe-style tasting room — as well as beloved restaurants like The Salt Lick and Trattoria Lisina, next door to Duchman Family Winery. Driftwood Estates Winery on Elder Hill Road just off RR12 is a popular stop, where wine lovers can enjoy a tasting or glass of wine in a Tuscan-like setting with amazing views.
Photos by Jennifer Hayes
Buda, “The Outdoor Capital of Texas,” and Kyle, the “Pie Capital of Texas,” just six miles farther south, are popular for their proximity to Austin/I-35, small-town feel and cost of living; the median home value is holding steady at around $400,000 in Kyle and $500,000 in Buda, which makes them some of the most affordable options in the Hill Country.
When Marc Bech, looking to put his corporate career in the past, was moving from Austin, he found the very popular neighborhood of Plum Creek in Kyle.
“The neighborhood was everything I was looking for,” he says. “All the houses were different; affordable; close to shopping, the Hill Country and the airport. The neighborhood has sidewalks! Also, short white picket fences that allow you to actually communicate with your neighbors. It has community pools, trails and a lake. It was safe enough for kids to walk to and from the school on their own. What more could you ask for?” He notes the town has gone from 25,000 residents in the 2010 census to over 50,000 in the 2020 census. “As a result, we’re seeing our own set of growth issues. With so much new housing, services are getting strained,” he explains. Soon they will have a Costco in addition to H-E-B and Walmart, and Austin-area restaurant chains are making their way there: Tiff’s Treats, Torchy’s Tacos, P. Terry’s and Z Tejas.
Many who move to Kyle and Buda grow weary of commuting to Austin, and both towns are seeking to embrace their own identity and invite residents to both live and work there.
“The goal is to basically keep people living, working and playing here,” said Ann Miller, executive director of the Buda Economic Development Corporation, in an interview with KVUE for their “Boomtown” series in 2019. Jennifer Hayes, a writer and photographer, has lived in Buda since 1997.
“Buda has become a foodie destination, from old favorites like Helen’s Casa Alde (now a food truck after their restaurant burned) and Garcia’s to new favorites like Brooklyn’s Down South and Mud Bugs,” says Jennifer. “Word is obviously spreading because Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ (among the state’s top 50 barbecue establishments according to “Texas Monthly”), is currently building their brick-and-mortar restaurant in town. Our Buda Drug Store has a soda fountain featuring Blue Bell ice cream treats. It’s amazing considering twenty-five years ago we didn’t even have a McDonald’s. We have everything from The Cigar Vault to Zoi Market (a market and wellness shop) to the Buda Mill & Grain Co. (a new ‘hipster’ retail area that hosts more upscale shops and restaurants).” There’s a new amphitheater in City Park, and Buck’s Backyard features live music many nights a week. In addition to enjoying the abundance of parks year-round, residents can partake in a variety of community events like The Weiner Dog Races; Budafest; Red, White n’ Buda and a weekly farmers market.
Photos courtesy of Treaty Oak
With easy access to Austin (if you consider 290 “easy”) as well as all kinds of Hill Country fun, Dripping Springs has been a hugely popular area to call home, but that popularity equates to a median home cost of $910,000. A weekly farmers market that was voted #1 in Texas and #1 in the Southwest; a plethora of wineries, distilleries and breweries and top-rated schools are just a few of the reasons Justine Smith (Allure Real Estate) has been there since 2006.
“I fell in love with the natural beauty, the community of diverse friends and neighbors, and the slower pace of life. I look at property all day every day all over Central Texas, but I still choose Dripping as my home; my heart is here.”
Nancy and John Fierstein have been in Dripping since 1996 and explain there’s no shortage of massive changes in the town since then, when Hays County was dry and traffic was non-existent. Among those more positive changes, according to Nancy: the introduction of the Dripping Springs Songwriters Festival.
“It comes as no surprise to me that the DSSF has done as well as it has here in Drippin.’ We’ve proven to songwriters from all over the place that we’ve got good listeners here,” says Nancy.
The annual Founders Day Festival and Christmas on Mercer are a few other defining local events. Both held on Mercer Street, a four-block stretch of road that has become the anchor of the community and boasts unique shops, live music, coffee and libations.
Enjoying an adult beverage under the oaks at family-friendly Treaty Oak Distillery, brunch and bistro dinners at Rolling In Thyme And Dough, open mike night at Hudson’s on Mercer or a workshop taught by a local herbalist at Sacred Moon Herbs are all sure to make you feel the charm of this budding community.