Any Texan worth their boots will tell you that bigger is better—and then proudly declare that the Lone Star State sits smack dab at the intersection of the two. Where else could you find a 100,000-square-foot honky tonk? Do a little exploring, though, and you’ll find that there are plenty of small towns around the state that seem to sprout up in contradiction, packing Texas-sized amounts of swagger into petite locales. Round Top is one of them.
Situated on the southeast crescent of the land of Bigger and Better, about halfway between Houston and Austin , the tiny town (population 90) makes a fine case for the old adage that good things come in small packages.
Incorporated in 1870 (just 25 years after Texas made the transition from independent country to a state), Round Top has carefully protected its history. The town’s historic buildings are so well preserved that it’s easy to convince yourself that the entire place is something of a fiction, like a perfectly curated theme park or movie set. But the historic structures in this one-square-mile town are 100% genuine, as real as the leather on those cowboy boots.
But even as these century-and-then-some-old buildings offer a step back in time, Round Top brims with forward-thinking entrepreneurs, hoteliers, and restaurateurs, who aim to hold on to its tiny-town charms while welcoming outsiders to discover its Hill Country magic. Here’s how to pass the time while you’re in Round Top, Texas—the South’s Best Tiny Town for 2023.
When to Visit
If you’re treasure hunting for a one-of-a-kind pair of Bergere chairs or vintage antler mounts, there’s no better time to visit Round Top than during the triannual antiques palooza, The Original Round Top Antiques Fair , which happens winter, spring, and fall. Twice a year (spring and fall), the town’s signature event coincides with Marburger Farm Antiques Show , the fancy-pants, highly curated answer to the dust-on-your-boots, romp-through-the-pasture scavenger hunt that you’ll experience in the tents popped up in the expansive fields along State 237.
Of course, you can visit the town year-round, as many of its restaurants and shops stay open regardless of the antiquing calendar. For those hoping for an especially warm-fuzzy small town experience, there’s no better time to visit than over the Fourth of July, when the town hosts the longest continuously running Independence Day parade west of the Mississippi.
Where to Stay
Rancho Pillow Motel
Given Rancho Pillow Motel's folksy-cosmic-cool environs, you may forget for a moment that you're not in nearby Austin. Anchored by an 18th-century, three-story Dutch barn moved from New York, this 20-acre compound outside of town spills over with color and personality. But unlike some of the manufactured eccentricity you may find within bigger city limits, this is the real deal, a Texas Hill Country fever dream conceptualized by owner and designer Sheila Youngblood. Stay in one of five on-site abodes, from a two-bedroom “casita” to an air-conditioned, hand-painted, sheetrocked teepee.
Nowhere do Round Top’s mindful commitments to honoring the past and welcoming the future mingle more beautifully than at
in the heart of town. Comprising six restored historic bungalows (which together hold 14 guest rooms), the boutique stay is a celebration of design-minded hospitality with an on-site restaurant and bar, a formal garden and herb garden, and a pool.
The Frenchie Boutique Hotel
Just a short walk from downtown Round Top, this light and airy stay is outfitted with girls’ trips in mind. Bunk in with friends in fabulously appointed rooms and suites that sleep up to four comfortably, or snag a bitty bungalow for yourself. The Frenchie's amenities are thoughtful and luxurious: Moccamaster coffee makers and deep soaking tubs in many of the rooms, aqua-and-white scalloped umbrellas around the pool, and fire pits that encourage stargazing on chilly nights.
Where to Eat and Drink
Royers Round Top Café
This beloved, family-owned institution is a popular spot year-round, dishing “great steak” and Gulf snapper Wednesday through Sunday. But during the weeks of the Original Round Top Antiques Fair, a reservation at Royers Round Top Café is coveted as much as a one-of-a-kind piece of furniture—maybe more. Call early and often to snag one. And once you’ve scored that hallowed table, reward yourself with dessert first. This is the home of Texas Trash Pie , a chocolate-y, caramel-y concoction studded with chocolate chips, pretzel pieces, and coconut. Don’t skip the added scoop of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream (from just down the road in Brenham).
Prost on Block 29
The town’s most historic building is also home to a cozy wine bar and shop . Nibble on a tasty charcuterie and cheese board inside the stone cottage or sip something from their globally-sourced wine list on the patio.
For an Italian dinner in utterly transportive surrounds, don’t miss Lulu's, the on-property restaurant at Hotel Lulu . And given that the kitchen is helmed by Jose Monterossa, schooled in cooking by both his grandmother and a Michelin-star winner, it’s obvious why the dishes, which range from cacio e pepe to grilled branzino, will transport you too. After dinner, stop in at the hotel’s whimsically muraled bar, Il Cuculo, for a nightcap.
What’s a trip to this part of the world without a little Tex-Mex? Plop into a booth at this colorful joint for chips with guacamole and chili con queso and a frozen ‘rita.
Contrary to the name, this isn’t a place to rest your head. Head to the restored 1840s property instead for a stiff drink in a comfortable, laid-back environment that feels like a handsomely decorated ranch house. Ellis Motel's smart design isn’t just a ploy to get you to settle in and stay a while (though it has that effect too): The art and furniture here are for sale.
What to Do
Brave "The Fields"
If you’ve coordinated your trip with The Original Round Top Antiques Fair, carve out a day to scavenge the tents that blanket the pastures along State 237 for cheap thrills; there are plenty of metaphorical diamonds to be found in this rough. Fair warning: The fields are hot, dusty, and the best finds will require a sharp eye and serious stamina.
Experience a Days-Long Antiquing Marathon
Throughout the course of the antiques festival, there are nearly 100 independently owned and operated venues where you can score covetable antiques, funky vintage finds, and one-of-a-kind pieces. Here are just a handful of stops to add to the list: the Big Red Barn, Blue Hills, Punkie’s Place, Excess 1 and 2, The Compound, Bader Ranch at Round Top European Antiques, and Market Hill.
Shop the Open-Year-Round Spots
While shopping options increase exponentially during show times, several spots are open all year long. Discover hand-selected textiles, furnishings, and accessories at Courtney Barton , an eponymous shop from the Houston designer. Peruse 6,000-square-feet of antiques carefully selected by a dozen different dealers at Round Top Antiques and Design Center . Tucked in a 1920s farmhouse, you’re sure to find a true Texas souvenir among Townsend Provisions’ collection of home goods and vintage cowboy boots.
Visit the Round Top Festival Institute
Lest you think that the antiques community has the monopoly on culture in this town, think again. Founded more than 50 years ago, the Round Top Festival Institute is home to an internationally respected music performance and education center and hosts public concerts and events throughout the year. But even if there’s no show on the books while you’re in town, the 210-acre campus is still worth a visit, as its grounds hold several gardens, lakes, and walking trails.