- Kristin Finan American-Statesman Staff
Everyone seems to have something that, to them, symbolizes the start of the fall season.
Maybe it’s the return of pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks. Perhaps it’s that first cold front, where lows drop from the steamy 70s to the seemingly arctic 60s. Or maybe it’s the actual calendar date — this year it was Sept. 23 — declaring that the fall season has begun.
If your thoughts have started to turn to chunky sweaters, pumpkin carving and color-changing leaves, here are some places around Austin perfect for getting into the fall spirit.
Barton Hill Farms
The sky is a swirl of blue and white, the ground a blanket of soft green interrupted only by the occasional cottonwood tree providing patches of shade under its heart-shaped leaves, which will soon fall and be snatched up by eager young explorers.
Barton Hill Farms, located on the Colorado River in Bastrop, features an idyllic atmosphere any time of year. But once late September rolls around, the property transforms into a wonderland of fall fun that includes everything from a “Great Pumpkin”-themed corn maze (it’s actually made of sorghum plants, but that’s another story) to a vibrant orange pumpkin patch to activities including a jumping pillow, super slides, a sunken pirate ship playscape and sandbox and a barrel train.
“I think fall is different everywhere you go. In the northeast, it’s about the color of the trees,” said Barton Hill Farms co-owner Andrew Taft. “Here, as soon as there’s a shift in the weather, people get driven outside because Texas is beautiful. This a beautiful, picturesque Texas scene.”
Whether you traipse through the Old Texas Fort with the kids, soak in live music while enjoying a beer with your pals or get some exercise by kayaking the Colorado River (rentals are available at the farm), chances are good that one trip to Barton Hill Farms will lead to an annual tradition.
“We want to bring things back to their roots,” Taft said. “To see families come out and have fun and interact together without sitting in front of the TV has been one of the joys.”
The farm is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays from Sept. 26 through Nov. 8. Tickets may be purchased online and on site. Food, beer and wine are available; live music is featured daily from about 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Info: 1115 FM 969 in Bastrop; bartonhillfarms.com
Sweet Berry Farm
This farm is a great place to get in on pick-your-own fruit and veggie action throughout the year — the strawberry scene in spring is particularly sweet.
But starting Sept. 26, Sweet Berry Farm, located in Marble Falls, adds various fall-themed activities that include hay rides, a corn maze, a pick-your-own-flower patch, a pumpkin patch, scarecrow building, paint-your-own pumpkins and sand art. On weekends you’ll also find horse rides (October only), face painting and the Pumpkin Grille, which serves grilled corn, hot dogs and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
The farm is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday from Sept. 26 through Nov. 8. Closed Wednesdays. Cash or check only — ATM is available on site. Wear closed-toed shoes, if possible, and arrive before 10 a.m. if you’re going on a Saturday to avoid crowds.
Info: 1801 FM1980 in Marble Falls; 830-798-1462; sweetberryfarm.com
Royers Pie Haven
From the homey antique decor to the kitschy signs with sayings like “In pie we crust” to the coffee pot that’s always full — to stop by Royers Pie Haven is to be transported to a simpler time.
“The smells pies create in your home, they’re comfort,” said Tara Royer Steele, aka “the pie queen” of Royers Pie Haven. “They remind you of Grandma.”
And there’s no better time to stop at this pie paradise, which originated in Round Top and opened a second location in Austin in 2013, than fall, when visions of pumpkin and pecan and apple begin to dance in our heads.
“We have so many different choices that we don’t add a ton of pies for the holidays,” she said. “If we take one away, people get grouchy.”
Among the most popular flavors for fall: pumpkin, pecan and chocolate chip. (“During fall, everyone loves the chocolate chip — I don’t know why,” Royer Steele said.) New this year is an oatmeal cranberry pie, which Royer Steele describes as “a big ole oatmeal cranberry cookie topped with a cinnamon glaze.”
If you plan to get your holiday pies from Royers Pie Haven, Royer Steele recommends placing your orders early. Is now too soon?
“If they’re that organized,” she said, “go ahead.”
Even better, stop in for a slice and a cup of coffee and enjoy the laid-back, charming atmosphere, which last week included a marriage proposal written on the chalkboard wall. (The couple had spent their first date at Royers Pie Haven — and don’t worry, she said yes.)
“There’s so many wonderful places to go to eat in Austin that it was just a great fit for us. And there’s not that many pie places in Austin,” Royer Steele said. “For me, it is a sanctuary and a haven. It’s a place where people can go and be fed in their souls and in their bellies.”
Info: 2900 B Guadalupe St.; 512-474-2800; royerspiehaven.com
Summer Moon Coffee
With pumpkin offerings starting to hit menus across town, it can be difficult to figure out what to try first. If you’re seeking an espresso drink with the subtle but unmistakable flavor of fall, don’t miss the Autumn Moon at Summer Moon Coffee.
Summer Moon is known for two things: its wood-fired coffee, which is hand roasted over a one-of-a-kind hearth; and its moon milk, which is made from seven secret ingredients and creates the base for most of the shop’s espresso drinks. To make the Autumn Moon, which was brought back to the menu earlier this month, baristas combine one-half moon milk, one-half skim milk and a few shakes of pumpkin pie spice, steam it up and then add some wood-fired espresso.
“Even though the weather is still kind of warm, when the pumpkin spice drinks come out people get fall fever,” said Summer Moon Coffee owner Justin Terry. “It’s a great time of year. People think, ‘I’m drinking an Autumn Moon, so summer must almost be over.’”
Look for it to stick around the menu through winter.
“We will probably serve it as long as it’s still cold outside because people love it,” Terry said. “They always are excited for us to bring it back.”
Info: 3115 First St., Suite 1B, and a second location at 316 N. Main St. in Buda; 512-804-1665; woodfiredcoffee.com
Lost Maples State Natural Area
There aren’t many great places to watch the leaves change in the Austin area, but one place that rarely disappoints is Lost Maples State Natural Area. Located about two hours southwest of Austin, this area for several weeks each fall transforms into a collage of red, orange and yellow that looks out of place when compared to the rest of Texas.
If you want to see the changing colors, though, you may want to make it a day trip. Weekend campsites for October and November — peak color-change season — are already full, and weekday campsite availability is extremely limited. Daily entrance fee is $6 per person, free for children 12 and younger.
To find specifics on when the colors are expected to be their most vibrant, look for the fall foliage report posted weekly on the park’s website starting in October. Other outdoor activities available at the park include backpacking, hiking, bird-watching and fishing.
Info: 37221 FM 187 in Vanderpool; 830-966-3413; tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/lost-maples
Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa
Almond biscotti paired with warm apple cider. It may sound like a decadent treat ideal for cooler temperatures, and it is — for your body. From Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, Spa Django at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa, located outside Austin near Bastrop, will add two treatments intended to get you in the mood for fall.
To combat the dry skin that can come as the seasons change, the spa is offering an amaretto cider scrub body treatment that incorporates a warm apple cider shea butter scrub and almond biscotti whipped body cream. The 60-minute treatment is $129.
The spa has also added an amaretto cider mani-pedi featuring the same products. The 80-minute treatment is $120.
Hyatt Regency Lost Pines also hosts a variety of fall-themed events. Check website for updated schedules.
Info: 575 Hyatt Lost Pines Road in Lost Pines; 512-308-1234; lostpines.hyatt.com