My cranky contrarian of a grandmother used to proclaim that Texas is not beautiful. We argued about this regularly. Granted, I grew up here in central Texas, so its beauty is the type that is most familiar to me. But driving out to Wimberley last Saturday morning to attend this month’s Market Day, I kept gazing out the window at the landscape and thinking how wrong my grandmother was. In my humble opinion, the gorgeousness of the Hill Country rivals that of Ireland.
Okay, the overall hue is closer to brown than emerald, and it’s certainly a different type of foliage, but the rolling hills are just as lovely and picturesque. Meadows and fields are divided by low rock walls, and little old barns and ramshackle dwellings sit here and there, nearly obscured by lush trees and vines and grasses. The Hill Country really is the jewel of Texas, and you’ll see this if you drive to Market Day along any route that takes you down FM 150 or Ranch Road 12. (Click here for directions to the market.)
Be sure to drive slowly — the road is only two lanes, and most of its stretch has no shoulder. Unexpected curves have a way of coming up fast. Suddenly, you find yourself cresting a rise, unable to see anything but the expansive sky stretching out ahead of you. Once you crest the hill, you’re treated to a gorgeous vista of trees and valleys and the rolling hills that give the region its name.
So: Why should you go to Market Day in Wimberley?
Well, let’s see: If you like the Hill Country, flea markets, thrift stores, antiques, farmers markets, live music, barbecue, handcrafted soaps, old records, reclaimed wooden anything, yard art, leather boots, fairy wings, Bedazzled things, rusty tools, country kitsch, decorative cactuses, homemade jellies or honey, hippies, country folk, cowboys, gentlemen, grandmas, cute kids, kittens and puppies, philanthropy, charitable donations and good works… Basically, if you like anything at all under the sun, Wimberley Market Days are for you.
If you’re coming from Austin or one of our surrounding towns, it’s a good half-day trip. You can extend the pleasure with a meal at the Salt Lick on your way back to town, or a tasting at one of the wineries dotted throughout the region, such as Driftwood Estate Winery at Elder Hill Road and Ranch Road 12. There’s also a nice farm stand at the corner of 1826 and FM 150 that’s worth a stop (that’s right down the road from the Salt Lick).
It’s the oldest outdoor market in the Hill Country, and the second-largest one in the state. This is the only place I’ve ever been where you can get a rhinestone-studded baseball cap, an antique bedpan, a hand-carved wooden cane, a classic kids’ tricycle and a plate of barbecue all at the same spot, along with an earful of live music — often covers of songs by Gram Parsons, Townes Van Zandt and other Texas greats.
Market Day itself is like a sprawling outdoor flea market infused with inimitable Hill Country charm.
Run by the Wimberley Lions Club, Market Day has been going for the past 50 years and counting. I grew up going to Market Days with my mother, and it really hasn’t changed much in the past 35 years. It’s still free to get in, though the best parking is in the pay lots near the market complex, which cost $5. This visit, I parked at one of the first pay lots on FM 2325, on the same side of the road as the market. It turned out there was a route through the back corner of the lot straight through Gate 10 into the eastern corner of the market.
Note that if you park in a $5 Lions Club lot, purchase food or refreshments at one of the market booths, or use the “You Call, We Haul” service (which, for a $10 suggested donation, gets you and your purchases a lift from a Lions Club member back to your car whenever you’re finished shopping), your money is going toward a good cause. I ended up purchasing three small pieces of furniture, so I used the “You Call, We Haul” service. The Lions Club member who picked up Pearl, our purchases and me told me that last year, the Lions Club raised over $160,000 for scholarships and charitable donations to nonprofit organizations. Most of that money came from Market Days.
But let’s return to the shopping experience. Pearl rode on my back in our Ergo carrier (so much easier than a stroller — more on this below), and we wended our way down the little paved paths that crisscross the outdoor complex. There’s plenty of shade, but also lots of sun, so if you go to Market Day during a hot month, be sure to go as early as possible. Things get going around 7 AM, which is definitely the best time to arrive during the summer months.
I didn’t intend to purchase anything big, but I just couldn’t resist a little wooden children’s rocker for only $15, or a green painted cabinet for $35. These are the kinds of deals you can find at Market Day — and most vendors are amenable to bargaining, especially if you purchase more than one item from their booth.
Best of all, everyone at Market Day is just so friendly! It’s like the best aspects of central Texas — the beauty, the kitch, the country, the hippie, the community, the fun, the music and the food. It’s what all those “Keep Austin Weird” tee-shirts are really talking about — that central Texas vibe that’s just as wonderful as it is hard to explain.
Normally, we eat lunch at Market Day in the big, airy pavilion that’s filled with picnic tables and other tired, hungry shoppers. You can sit in there and enjoy the music along with your plate of barbecue. (Market Day is old-school Texas, y’all; there’s still not a whole lot for vegans or vegetarians to eat there. But you can always bring your own food, if you like.) This trip, however, Pearl and I decided to meet her grandparents for lunch at Salt Lick on the way back home — mmm, mmm!
Wimberley Market Days
First Saturday of every month, March through December (no Market Days in January or February)
7 AM – 4 PM
Here are a few things to note and some things you may want to bring with you when you go:
- Wear comfortable, closed-toed shoes that are good for walking
- Bring sunscreen and/or a hat and a bottle of water
- Bring a rolling luggage cart if you know you plan to make some purchases, or buy a nice rolling cart and liner from one of several vendors there (it will cost you at least $25–30)
- Bring cash and/or checkbook — many vendors still don’t accept credit cards
- If you’re bringing a small child, wearing them in a carrier may be easiest; strollers are tough since the paths can be narrow and busy with foot traffic
- Leave your dog at home; even leashed pets are not allowed inside the market