nature, Opt Outside in Texas, Travel & Tourism, U.S. Destinations

Wine, Bread, and Hiking? Castroville, Texas Has It All!

This post was updated on 4 April 2021 to include information about the Castroville Poppy House.

Texas travel and tourism has no shortage of small-town stopping points. One of my favorite things about Texas is that travel here often involves history, nature, or some combination of the two. Today’s post is about Castroville, “the Little Alsace of Texas” and a small town west of San Antonio. At first glance, Castroville seems unassuming, with Highway 90 running down the middle and a lack of bells and whistles. For those in the know, it’s not a place to pass through, it’s a whole destination: Haby’s Alsatian Bakery, Medina River Winery, historic landmarks such as the Castroville Poppy House, and public parks. There’s plenty to do to make Castroville your next staycation or vacation.

Hiking is fun for the whole family!

My personal favorite place to go is Castroville Regional Park. It boasts a pool, RV park, hiking trails, and I’ve seen people depart their vehicles with pool floaties destined for the Medina River. It’s a great location for picnics with family and friends. Be cautious of the wildlife and heed all warning signs. Bring lots of water and watch your step!

If you’re anything like me then after your hike at the park, you’ll want to stop by the Magnolia Filling Station for some iced coffee.

Castroville-based Black Rose Writing sponsors a Little Free Library next to the Magnolia Filling Station

Wine lovers are not forgotten in Castroville. Medina River Winery is locally owned and operated. My personal favorite is the Blanc Dubois. They are currently open for pickup – send them a message to reserve a bottle!

Castroville boasts another unique feat: At the turn of the 21st century, an entire 1,200+ sq ft, 17th century Alsatian house was disassembled in France and put back together in Castroville (see below pic to get an idea of the style). Click here to learn more about the Steinbach House.

Photo by Pierre Blachu00e9 on

Another gem is Haby’s Alsatian Bakery, which has such a delicious assortment of treats and sweets that as I write this I am very tempted to drive over and get some. In addition to ready-made breads, donuts, and pastries, they fill custom orders and supply bread for Sammy’s Restaurant across the street.

Over Easter weekend, my son and I visited the Castroville Poppy House. I drove by it on my way to the regional park and thought, where did all these flowers come from?? Fortunately, Lloyd and Sally have opened their historic property during the months of March and April for visits and photographs. Their beautiful dog, Jack, is ready to greet you with a friendly tail wag – if that doesn’t entice you further, I don’t know what else will!

(The following information comes from the Castroville Area Chamber of Commerce 2020 Visitor Guide.) The home on the property is the G. L. Haass House and was built in the late 1840s/early 1850s, with room additions occurring over the subsequent years. “The house was constructed using hand-hewed native cypress for beaming and framing with locally quarried limestone for the foundation… The original hand-made front doors are of a unique French style assembled using wooden dowels no nails. All windows were 12 paned double hung windows with louvered shutters.”

It is believed that the log cabin – located next to the windmill and well – was relocated to this property from another site but the reason is unknown. According to the 2020 Visitor Guide, it is “the last original free standing one room log cabin left in Castroville from the early pioneer days.”

George Haass was deeded this property by Henri Castro (for whom Castroville is named after) in 1847. “George Haass, a native of Durkheim, Bavaria Germany, was one of Henri Castro’s original colonists. He was one of two paid guides leading the colonists out of San Antonio on September 1, 1844, to settle near the Medina River on September 3, 1844, and was one of the original signers naming and founding Castroville on September 12, 1844.” Haass also went on to become Castroville’s first constable in 1844, the first sheriff of Medina County in 1848, and was a mayor, among other business ventures.

Can you imagine saddling up and heading west to Castroville? Now, we get there in no time – all we have to do is load up the car and head down Highway 90 or the farm-to-market road (my preferred route, actually, I like taking the back roads 🙂 ).

In some more good news, Lloyd shared that they are planning to turn the A. H. Tondre House (catty-cornered to the G. L. Haass house) into a bed and breakfast. Sign me up for that! The A. H. Tondre house is an early 1900s Sears, Roebuck and Co model.

Information on the properties listed above as well as much more is available in the Chamber’s visitor guide, which also includes a map and descriptions of the 70+ properties on the Castroville Walking Tour.

Castroville has so much to offer for history and nature lovers and anyone seeking a laid-back weekend. (I can’t wait to do the historic walking tour!) Visit the Chamber of Commerce and the City of Castroville to learn more!

Travel & Tourism, U.S. Destinations

A Morning at the Mobile Botanical Gardens

I recently visited the Mobile Botanical Gardens with my son! We were greeted by one of the on-site cats, provided some fish food for the little pond, and encouraged to head up the hill to visit the chickens. If that doesn’t entice you, it is also leashed-dog friendly!

The Mobile Botanical Gardens are known for their stunning and picturesque camellias. I strongly encourage you to read this article by the Smithsonian Institute Community of Gardens, which explains how camellias got their start in Alabama thanks to Kosaku Sawada, who went on to develop many beautiful hybrids.

A hungry and hard-working bee

The Mobile Botanical Gardens have been around since the 1970s. In 2019, they faced a closure due to lack of funds. I couldn’t find any documents online with details on raising the funds, but the community succeeded in one way or another because it is still open.

Gardens are an integral component of the community experience – many offer classes on gardening or food preparation, hold music events, and overall are an accessible and relatively inexpensive location to rejuvenate and enjoy nature. Where I live, the botanical gardens are located near a popular area within the city as well as within walking distance to a bus stop.

And a bonus – botanical gardens are often not crowded. Family-friendly and socially-distancing friendly!

Explore more at and on their social media. This location is also part of the reciprocal admissions program.

Bonus content!

After the gardens, we did a to-go/curbside pickup order from Mobile’s one and only The Cheese Cottage to take home and share with family.

How scrumptious is that? I am down with almost any charcuterie situation. One day I’d like to eat there in-person to get the entire cheese and wine experience.

Safe travels, friends!

Opt Outside in Texas, Travel & Tourism, U.S. Destinations

Obtainable Orchids feat. the South Texas Botanical Gardens and Nature Center

This is Part 3 of a three-part Botanical Garden seriesfeaturing gardens that are members of the American Horticulture Society’s Reciprocal Admissions Program. A membership at one of these gardens includes eligibility for free or reduced admission at 300+ participating locations across North America. Always call ahead of your visit to verify what special admission privilege is offered by the Garden.

The South Texas Botanical Gardens and Nature Center is an orchid lover’s dream! While there had been an orchid exhibit there for many years, in 2015 the newly-built greenhouses officially became the Samuel Jones Orchid Conservatory.

Samuel Jones was an avid orchidist. He built the original orchid homes at the Gardens and, prior to his passing in 2018, taught classes on how to grow and care for orchids.

Like many flowers, symbolic meanings have been attributed to the colors. The following list comes directly from FTD By Design:

  • White orchids symbolize innocence and purity, as well as elegance and reverence.
  • Pink orchids symbolize femininity, grace, and joy.
  • Yellow orchids symbolize friendship and new beginnings. They make great gifts for a friend to celebrate an accomplishment.
  • Purple orchids symbolize royalty and admiration, and are traditionally given as a sign of respect.
  • Orange orchids symbolize pride, enthusiasm, and boldness.”

The South Texas Gardens doesn’t only have orchids – they care for animals like birds and turtles, have a butterfly garden, and their walking trails are DOG FRIENDLY.

If you read my post The Orchid Graveyard, you know that I have some trouble with over-watering my plants. Orchids especially take the brunt.

That’s one of the reasons I love going to the South Texas Gardens and hanging out in the orchid greenhouses, snapping pics while quietly reveling in the beautiful colors, shapes, and sizes.

Look at those colors! Do you feel convinced to start growing orchids again or for the first time? I do!

Luckily, the American Orchid Society offers many tips & tidbits to make successful growing of orchids obtainable even for those of us with less-than-green thumbs. Here are a few:

  1. Don’t over water – water for a few seconds then let drain; don’t be tempted to over water or water again too soon.
  2. Use a fertilizer “weakly, weekly” – on a watered plant, use small amounts weekly instead of monthly all at once.
  3. Repot into a bigger pot when the plant starts growing over the side (divide if necessary).
  4. Plant in a fast-draining but water-retentive “medium” – medium is what the plant is planted in, such as peat, bark, sand, or a combination of a multitude of ingredients. (Read more about potting media here.) The article specifically mentions bark-based, peat-based, and aliflor.
  5. Orchids need sufficient light to rebloom – leaves should be a lighter, grassy color instead of dark green. East- or south-facing windows are ideal.

That doesn’t seem too bad!

Every weekend (and sometimes during the work week, let’s be honest) I have the urge to drive down to Corpus Christi and go to our favorite spots: The Coffee Mugg (Harry Potter themed!), the Texas State Aquarium, and the Gardens.

When things settle down, the orchids at the Gardens are the first place I want visit.

To tide you over until your next botanical garden excursion, browse more pics of the South Texas Botanical Gardens below. Pictures featured in this post are from two separate visits, one was hot and sunny and the other was cold and rainy – and both were extremely fun!

Thanks for joining me for the third installment of Oak + River Books’ three-part botanical gardens series! Happy exploring, friends!

This post is not paid or sponsored. Views and opinions are my own and do not represent those of any of the Gardens or the American Horticulture Society.

Go West, Travel & Tourism, U.S. Destinations

Dating Yourself: An Afternoon in Denver feat. the York Street Botanical Gardens

This is Part 2 of a three-part Botanical Garden seriesfeaturing gardens that are members of the American Horticulture Society’s Reciprocal Admissions Program. A membership at one of these gardens includes eligibility for free or reduced admission at 300+ participating locations across North America. Always call ahead of your visit to verify what special admission privilege is offered by the Garden.

Dating yourself is one of the most important things you can do for your own well-being (in my opinion). You get time alone to think, or not think, and to explore the world around you. Dating yourself is a solo date that proclaims, “I am worthy of special things regardless of my partner status.”

Last September I had the fortune of taking a quick work trip to Denver. It was my first time in Colorado! When a meeting-free afternoon presented itself, I jumped at the chance to explore the city and took myself on a date.

I can’t recommend solo dates enough. To the movies, the coffee shop, a restaurant. Anywhere you want! It’s good to be alone with your thoughts and maybe a good book.

Speaking of books, does anyone else like to read books at the airport to pass the time? These were my trip purchases:

And it’s hard to read a good book without coffee!

My hotel, which was built onto an old press building, was conveniently located right next to Thump Genuine Coffee (Broadway location) where I got a deliciously refreshing cold brew.

On my last morning I also visited the laid-back but not to be outdone The Bardo Coffeehouse on South Broadway. This was the site of my first oat milk mocha! If you haven’t tried it, give it a go! I was hesitant (I’m partial to a whole milk mocha) but it was quite good.

Now – onto the solo date!

To begin the afternoon, I had a sushi and salad lunch at Hillstone – a chic locale with an elevated yet classic menu.

Hillstone’s “Nice Little House Salad”

It’s one of the most beautiful salads I’ve had the honor to consume.

After lunch I walked about three-quarters of a mile to the York Street location of the Denver Botanical Gardens. Coming from Texas, I found the weather to be heavenly and just right (read: sweat free) for an afternoon stroll.

I felt very safe walking alone here.

At the Gardens, my time was serene. There was set-up for a wedding going on and it didn’t interfere with seeing anything. Honestly I was a little jealous – what a beautiful spot for a wedding! I need to find a groom first…

With its 24 acres of gardens and collections, the York Street location also boasts the Helen Fowler Library and the Mordecai Children’s Garden.

The Gardens does a LOT of scientific work throughout the year, including specimen collection, outreach and engagement, and restoration. You can view their annual “accomplishments and endeavors” here.

The Denver Botanical Gardens inspired me to get a dahlia tattoo!

Want to spruce up your garden? They have partnered with Colorado State University Extension and Colorado Master Gardeners to provide expertise; one of their webpages is dedicated to Gardening Resources.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

After the gardens, I stopped by the Hermitage Antiquarian Bookshop and purchased a few books. I also bought The Book of Tea at the Botanical Gardens gift shop.

There is a lot to see and learn about when you visit the Denver Botanical Gardens (and all of Denver)!

I was unable to visit the Chatfield Farms location, but would love to bring my son there. “Facilities include the Earl J. Sinnamon Visitor Center, the historical Hildebrand Ranch, a restored 1918 dairy barn and silo, the 1874 Deer Creek Schoolhouse, 2.5 miles of nature trails, the Deer Creek Discovery children’s play area and numerous wildflower gardens.”

Hard not to smile at the botanical gardens!

Plus, the working farm contributes to food programs throughout the area and in the fall they have a corn maze and pumpkin patch.

Have you been convinced to take a solo date? It’s hard in the current situation but you can always get a coffee to go and read in your favorite park. A solo date can be as close or far away as you want it to be. You get to make the rules when you date yourself!

While you wait for your next trip or solo date, browse some of the photos I took below. I hope they bring to you what botanical gardens bring to me: a sense of peace, grounding, and stillness.

This post is not paid or sponsored. Views and opinions are my own and do not represent those of any of the Gardens or the American Horticulture Society.

Opt Outside in Texas, Travel & Tourism, U.S. Destinations

San Antonio Botanical Garden Offers Family Fun All Year Long

This is Part 1 of a three-part Botanical Garden series, featuring gardens that are members of the American Horticulture Society’s Reciprocal Admissions Program. A membership at one of these gardens includes eligibility for free or reduced admission at 300+ participating locations across North America. Always call ahead of your visit to verify what special admission privilege is offered by the Garden.

A few years ago, I stepped off a plane at the San Antonio airport, picked up my luggage and a rental car, and (with the services of an expert realtor) bought a house. Thanks to the smooth buying process, I had a lot of spare time, so one of my first tourist destinations was the San Antonio Botanical Garden.

The San Antonio Botanical Garden has been a part of the city landscape for the last 30 years. It continues to develop and stay engaged with the city: it offers adult and youth classes, volunteers opportunities in the produce garden, and cooking demonstrations in the teaching kitchen in partnership with CHEF SA.

The Japanese Garden “Kumamoto En” recently reopened. It was originally a gift from San Antonio’s sister city Kumamoto in 1989. “Tranquility” comes to mind when I think of this garden.

Another popular aspect of the San Antonio Botanical Garden is the Family Adventure Garden. They have a hill for running and rolling, a big green space for play, a tunnel, little houses, and during the summer months No Name Creek has running water for kids to splash in. Occasionally, the Garden hosts a dog-friendly day, too!

If beautiful flowers and a peaceful walk aren’t enough to tempt you, the seasonal decor and intriguing garden-wide art exhibits such as Lego sculptures, giant bugs, origami, and the Frida Kahlo exhibit.

We love the San Antonio Botanical Garden so much that I chose to support them with a Friend level membership (which includes one complimentary guest per visit – great for when my mom or a sibling is in town!) I like to go early in the morning or during the member-only hour, so I’ve rarely felt crowded there.

Let me know if you’ve visited and what your favorite part was!

In the meantime, check out some more fun photos of the San Antonio Botanical Garden below.

This post is not paid or sponsored. Views and opinions are my own and do not represent those of any of the featured Gardens or the American Horticulture Society.

nature, Opt Outside in Texas, Travel & Tourism, U.S. Destinations

Lost Maples State Natural Area

One brisk day during our first Texas autumn, I woke up early, packed up my son and our dog, and drove an hour and a half west to Lost Maples State Natural Area. It was so beautiful and peaceful. We got there very early so there weren’t a lot of people. The leaves smelled amazing, the air was fresh, and we got our exercise in.

My hiking buddies 💜
I did not realize beforehand that would end up traversing what felt like a small mountain – Mama got her workout in that day 💪

Lost Maples is an important wildlife and natural habitat. It “protects a special stand of Uvalde bigtooth maples” and is home to the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.(1) In 1988, a refuge population of Guadalupe bass was established in the Sabinal River in the park to encourage reproduction and try to restore the bass to its former numbers after it was determined that cross-breeding between the Guadalupe bass and smallmouth bass created a hybrid fish and almost eradicated the pure Guadalupe bass.(2)

Scroll down to view more photos from our hike. If you decide to visit, I highly recommend making a day pass reservation so that you have a confirmed parking spot!

To learn more about Lost Maples and explore Texas’s other state park destinations, visit the Texas Parks & Wildlife Lost Maples page.

For more details about the Uvalde bigtooth maple, visit their page on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website.


  1. Texas Parks & Wildlife. Accessed 23 July 2020.
  2. Fry Cortez, D. March 2018. Accessed 13 July 2020.