It’s fall! Here are 5 Texas cities to visit right now

Can’t you just feel it? Fall is in the air. Whether you prefer to spend the day sipping a pumpkin spice latte at an outdoor cafe or crunching through the leaves on a hilly hike, there’s something for everyone this fall in Texas.

Here are five fantastic weekend or day trips to take right now.

Marble Falls

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Sweet Berry Farm in Marble Falls is an ideal spot for pumpkin picking. credit: Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

For family friendly fall fun, it’s hard to beat Marble Falls, located about 80 miles from Austin. Begin at Sweet Berry Farm, which is open now through Nov. 5 for the fall season, offering everything from a giant maze and scarecrow stuffing to pumpkin painting and hayrides. There are heaps and heaps of pumpkins ripe for picking, too. While you’re in Marble Falls, grab lunch and a slice of pecan pie at Blue Bonnet Cafe. Ready for a drink? If you go on Friday or Saturday, don’t miss Save the World Brewing, where all profits go to charity. They’ve got lots of fun games to keep the kids busy, too.

Galveston

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Bicyclists roll past the Galveston Pleasure Pier at sunrise, before Sea Wall Boulevard fills with cars. credit: Galveston Island CVB

While much of the Texas coast is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, Galveston managed to make it through the storm with relatively minor damage. “We are fortunate to have fared well through the storm and made a quick bounce back,” said Kelly de Schaun, executive director of the Galveston Island CVB. With fewer crowds and cooler breezes, fall is an ideal time to see the island. If you go, be sure to stop by a taffy pulling demonstration at La King’s Confectionery on the Strand, go for a spin around the Pleasure Pier or a take a stroll through Moody Gardens.

Fredericksburg

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Patty Williamson of Lizard Dreaming Yoga in Frederiskburg leads a sunset sun salutations yoga class on top of Enchanted Rock in 2015. credit: Tom McCarthy Jr. for American-Statesman

There’s no better way to enjoy a crisp fall morning than by hiking up the massive granite dome that is Enchanted Rock — just be sure to arrive to the park arrive early, as it can get extremely crowded. Next, grab brunch at the Old German Bakery and Restaurant, home to a number of standout dishes including German pancakes, Opa’s sausage and eggs and country fried steak. Once you’re fully nourished, spend your afternoon touring the wineries that put Fredericksburg on the map, such as 4.0 Cellars, Baron’s Creek and Kuhlman Cellars. Want to stay for the night? Starry’s Studio has you covered.

Grapevine

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Grapevine’s Main Street Days are a fun time to visit. credit: Visit Grapevine

There are lots of reasons to visit Grapevine. There’s its quaint Main Street, just perfect for a leisurely evening shop-and-stroll. There’s its Urban Wine Trail, which includes nearly a dozen wineries. And there’s its kid-centric fun, including family friendly spots such as Legoland Discovery Center and Sea Life aquarium. If you go in October, you’ll also be treated to Great Wolf Lodge’s Howl-O-Ween festivities, which will include trick-or-treat trails, silly-scary storytime and “monster bash” dance parties.

Dripping Springs

Grab a pie and a pint in the sunshine at Stanley's Farmhouse Piz
Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza is a fun spot for dinner. credit: Mauri Elbel

Big on adventure but short on time? The laid-back vibe combined with spectacular Hill Country sunsets make Dripping Springs, located 35 minutes from Austin, a fantastic place to spend an afternoon this fall. Alcohol aficionados can take their pick between 15 area breweries, wineries and distilleries including Deep Eddy VodkaTwisted X Brewing Co. and Treaty Oak Distilling Co. The food scene isn’t bad, either, featuring standouts like Crepe Crazy, Drippin Donuts and Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza. Nearby Hamilton Pool is open again, too, although you’ll need to make a reservation in advance.

Dreaming of Oktoberfest? Check out last-minute Austin-Frankfurt flight deals

Every year, more than six million people attend Munich’s Oktoberfest, where music, pretzels, dirndls and giant mugs of beer abound. The 2017 festivities technically end on Oct. 3, but if you think you’ve missed your chance to go, you may want to think again.

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Munich soccer player Robert Lewandowski and his wife Anna Lewandowska arrive at the Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, Sept. 23. credit: Matthias Balk/dpa via AP

Condor Airlines is currently offering $279.99 one-way nonstop flights, based on round-trip purchase, from Austin to Frankfurt through Oct. 5, getting you there just in time to soak in the end of the festivities. Condor flights include free checked baggage, meals, beverages and in-flight entertainment.

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Visitors celebrate day two of the 2017 Oktoberfest beer festival on Sept. 17 in Munich, Germany. Oktoberfest is the world’s largest beer celebration and typically draws over six million visitors over its three-week run. credit: Joerg Koch/Getty Images

Unfortunately, the return flights are not as affordable, starting at $429.99. I priced a trip leaving Sept. 28 and returning on Oct. 5 that came to a total of $709.98, certainly not the cheapest fares ever but also not terrible if you have the trip of a lifetime.

RELATED: Austin airport adding third direct route to Europe

Can’t make it this year? Don’t worry — Austin’s own Oktoberfest will be held Sept. 30.

The most insane milkshakes ever and other things to try in New York City with kids

New York City. You simply can’t beat it.

Last month, my 8-year-old, KoKo, and I spent a three-day mother-daughter weekend in the Big Apple with only one goal in mind: To have as much fun as possible.

If you’re making your way to New York soon and plan to take the kids, here are some ideas that are sure to please adults and children alike.

Eat a crazy dessert

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The creations at Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer will make your jaw drop. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

In New York, there are oh-so many options, but without question my favorite place we visited was Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer, which serves the most insane, over-the-top, sugar-coma-inducing milkshakes you’ve ever seen in your life. Options include the Cake Shake, which comes with topped with a hulking Funfetti cake slice, whipped cream, rainbow sprinkles and a cherry; the Bam Bam Shake, which features a Fruity Pebbles rice krispy treat, a strawberry Pop-Tart and a Nerds rope; and the Cotton Candy Shake, which stands nearly a foot tall and is served with a pink lollipop, rock candy and a heaping mound of cotton candy, naturally.

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Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer is known for its crazy shakes. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

Still craving sugar? If your kid loves cookie dough (and really, who doesn’t?) head to Cookie DO NYC, an entire shop filled with exciting cookie dough flavors such as cinnamon roll, cake batter and peanut butter snickerdoodle. You can even get it served in a cone with toppings. Magnolia Bakery (get the banana pudding), Serendipity 3 and Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain are all well worth a visit, too.

See a show

When we realized that Aladdin was currently on Broadway, we couldn’t resist the splurge (tickets range from about $60 to $200). The show lived up to every expectation, from the stunning costumes to the perfectly cast actors — we especially loved Major Attaway’s infectious portrayal of the Genie. “The Lion King,” “School of Rock” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” are other excellent options. Look for discounts at the TKTS Booths at various locations around the city. I also love Hiptix, a low-price ticket program for theatregoers ages 18–35 offered by the Roundabout Theatre Company.

Hit the shops

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Heart-shaped pancakes are one of the options on the menu during brunch at the American Girl Cafe in New York. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

My daughter was in heaven when I surprised her and her doll, Isabelle, with brunch at the American Girl Cafe, which cost $20 per person and included three courses as well as take-home surprises for dolls and girls alike. Isabelle also enjoyed a spa treatment and hair-styling during our visit to New York’s American Girl Place. (Must be nice to be Isabelle…) After Isabelle’s makeover, we wandered through Times Square, where KoKo couldn’t help staring through the windows of stores like M&M’s World, Hershey’s Chocolate World and the Disney Store and I couldn’t resist snapping a photo with one of New York’s most famous street performers, the Naked Cowboy.

Park it

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Visitors to Brooklyn Bridge Park can skate with a backdrop of the New York skyline. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

One of the best parts of our trip was joining my Brooklyn-based sister for an afternoon at Brooklyn Bridge Park that included taking a spin around a roller-skating rink, wiggling our toes in the sand of a pop-up beach and enjoying drinks and snacks in front of the New York City skyline. That afternoon, followed by order-in pizza from my sister’s favorite pie joint and a viewing of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” made for the perfect conclusion to our New York rendezvous. We also loved a morning spent wandering Central Park, where an engaging performer taught KoKo the art of blowing a bubble inside of another giant bubble.

In Rockport, Hurricane Harvey survivors have the T-shirts to prove it

Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt.

It’s been a little over a week since Hurricane Harvey devastated the small coastal town of Rockport, but over Labor Day weekend, signs of life, and consumer activity, were returning.

Along Rockport’s Highway 35 North on Sunday, volunteer groups waved signs touting free supplies, Whataburger distributed free burgers and fries and Tino Ferreira worked the line of people under his canopy eager to purchase $15 Hurricane Harvey souvenir T-shirts.

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Tino Ferreira came from Las Vegas to sell souvenir T-shirts in Rockport, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

“Everybody has been shaking my hand, telling me thank you for being here,” said Ferreira, who lives in Las Vegas and is employed by a Florida-based company called ShowMakers. “It’s been wonderful. FEMA was here buying stuff from me, everybody is coming to get a shirt. These are souvenirs.”

The T-shirts, offered in a variety of colors including burnt orange, featured phrases such as “I survived Hurricane Harvey,” “Texas Strong, come hell or high water” and “Hurricane Harvey survival team.”

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Hurricane Harvey souvenir T-shirts come in variety of colors. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

While waiting in line, some residents discussed their new normal. One said she was in especially high spirits because she had finally taken a shower, her first since the hurricane hit.

“There was a lady here yesterday, she was on the phone talking to her dad and she was in tears,” Ferreira said. “She was paying for two shirts, she goes, ‘I’m sorry I’m crying, I just found out about my dad’s house, it was devastated.’ But she was here buying the shirts. She thanked me as she left.”

Ferreira said everyone who has visited has been welcoming and that he hasn’t received any complaints that he’s profiting from the disaster. He added that his company does donate some of the proceeds toward relief efforts, although he didn’t have specifics.

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Hurricane Harvey souvenir T-shirts in Rockport, Texas. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

“Everybody is in high spirits even though the devastation here is very sad,” he said. “Everyone is working, busy and very happy to have me here.”

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Even after losing power, Whataburger serves free meals in hurricane-ravaged Rockport

Hurricane Harvey may have knocked the power out of Whataburger’s Rockport location, but that won’t stop staff from serving free hot meals to anyone who needs them as the city works to get back on its feet. On Sunday, cars lined up along Highway 35 North in front of the restaurant, which used a generator to turn out burgers and fries for throngs of hungry customers.

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“(We’re) just making sure that these people are fed, that they’ve got some good food and hot meals,” said Whataburger CEO Preston Atkinson, who was on site in Rockport on Sunday to lend a hand. “We’re just doing what we can to get people back up and going again.”

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Whataburger employees Juliet Lopez and Loraine Black bag free meals for residents and workers in Rockport, Texas, on Sunday. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

Between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m on Sunday, customers received a No. 1 Whataburger meal consisting of a burger, fries and a drink. Atkinson said serving free meals in Rockport was a no-brainer for the Corpus Christi-born company.

RELATED: Watch: N.Y. first responder eats Whataburger for first time and loves it

“We’ve been here for a long time and these folks have been supporting this business for many, many years,” he said. “We just want to do what we can to serve them.”

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Employees serve free hamburgers, fries and drinks to hungry customers at the Whataburger location in Rockport, Texas. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

RELATED: Whataburger pledges more than $1.5 million to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts

Whataburger plans to offer free meals again Monday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Rockport location, while supplies last.

“The rest of the week, we just don’t know yet,” Atkinson said. “We’re working on generator power and trying to get supplies in.”

RELATED: Photo of Harvey-battered Whataburger sign goes viral

Throughout the day on Sunday, customers, many of whom were still grappling with the devastating impact of Hurricane Harvey on their small coastal town, paused to thank Whataburger employees. Atkinson said he wishes he could do more.

“People are dealing with a lot of dramatic situations, and our heart just goes out to all of them for what they’re having to go through,” he said. “This is just a little token of our appreciation.”