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It’s Austin, not Dallas or Houston, that is the capital of Texas. So, as you’d expect from a state capital, there’s plenty here in the way of history, culture, and things to do! Although it continues to grow, and tourist numbers are increasing every year (30 million a year, currently), it still has a small-town feel!
There are plenty of places surrounding Austin worth your time too though. So, after you’ve got to know the city you might find yourself wanting a change of scenery for the day. But how can you know where to go?
Well, that’s where we come in. Our expert team of travel writers have put together this extensive list of the best day trips from Austin. We’ve thought about different travel styles, budgets, and interests. And we think we’ve come up with the ultimate list of great places to spend a day near Austin.
So, let’s jump straight in and check them out!
Table of Contents
State capitals are usually one of the biggest cities in the state, if not the biggest. Austin is not an exception to that rule, and there are plenty of neighbourhoods to check out when thinking about where to stay. We’ve taken a little of that load from you though! Here are three of the best hotels in Austin. Each one is suitable for a different budget, style, and taste. Let’s check them out!
Looking for the best place to stay in Austin on a budget? Well then, how about this place? One of the most reasonably priced hotels in town has everything you could want from your stay. A tasty hot complimentary breakfast, decent sized rooms, and meeting facilities (great if you’re on business) are some of the perks you can get here.
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The three star Hyatt Place gives you a lot of bang for your buck. After a long day of sightseeing or a day trip, unwind in the hotel’s indoor pool. It’ll relax those sore and tired muscles! If you’re hoping to keep your workout regime up to speed while on vacation, head for the on-site fitness centre.
Haven’t found what you’re looking for? Try our hotel guide for Downtown Austin!
The five star Fairmont Austin Gold Experience certainly earns the word experience in its name! For a number of reasons, this is easily the best luxury hotel in Austin. A dedicated concierge team will see to your every wish and whim while staying at this fabulous hotel from the moment you check in on the 35th floor. You’ll get a great view of the city from here!
Best Day Trip from Austin – Enchanted Rock State Park
Best Day Trip from Austin by Train – San Antonio
Best Romantic Day Trip from Austin for Couples – Dripping Springs
Best Day Trip from Austin with Kids – New Braunfels
With such great day trips around Austin, it was hard to pick a favourite. However, the beautifully named Enchanted Rock State Park takes the crown as our best day trip from Austin! Less than 100 miles away and under 2 hours by road, it’s a great place to visit if you have your own transport.
The main reason to come here is to see the rock formations – they’re the biggest in the whole of the United States! They’ve been a national monument since 1970, so they’re carefully protected.
After you’ve discovered the rock formations and their historical importance, there’s more. The park is full of hiking trails and many bird species call this area home. So, bring your boots, binoculars, and/or camera!
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One of the best day trips from Austin by train or bus, San Antonio is just 80 miles away. It’s actually quicker to take a bus, so do that if you’re short on time. Its rich colonial history is a big draw for anyone who wants to learn about the state’s past.
The Alamo is an unmissable attraction – it’s the site where Texas gained its independence from Mexico all those years ago! However, San Antonio is a great place to visit not just because of its past, but its present too.
The San Antonio River Walk is rife for exploring, a pedestrian promenade that stretches for miles and is lined with cafes and shops. If you want to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of city life, make for the Japanese tea garden. You’ll feel super zen!
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If you ask anyone from Austin (or even San Antonio) their favourite weekend getaway, Fredericksburg is bound to come up at some point! This town is just 40 miles from Austin, and you could be forgiven for thinking that you’ve ended up in Germany!
One of the best things to do in Fredericksburg is simply taking a stroll around the town. You’ll come across some lovely shops, and even better – plenty of gourmet restaurants. It’s a bit of a foodie haven!
If you’re interested in trying Texan wine, then Fredericksburg is a great shout. There are more than 20 wineries in the vicinity, so you can learn about the winemaking process before having a glass (or bottle) or two!
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In a state like Texas, a place has to be really special to be considered the water recreation capital. Throughout the state you’ll find rafting, kayaking, canoeing, and a range of other water sports. However, who are we to disagree that Canyon Lake is the best place to do it?!
With more than 80 miles of shoreline around this reservoir, you’ll find excellent jumping off points for boating, fishing, and swimming to name just a few.
More of a land animal? Well you’ll be happy to know that around said 80 miles, there are several hiking trails which can be used for a walk, cycling, or even riding horses.
If you want a comprehensive experience of Texas, then you need to visit Houston. Not that you won’t get one in Austin, but Houston is just that bit… different. Not only is it the biggest city in Texas, but the 4th largest in the United States!
It’s a little bit outside of the city centre, but the main attraction here has to be Houston’s National Space Centre. Hopefully, you won’t have any problems when you’re there though!
Back in town, enjoy a burgeoning gastronomy scene and some of the most fascinating museums in Texas. The Rothko Chapel and Menil Collection are one of the undisputable highlights of Houston’s cultural scene.
If you want to get away from the big cities, then this small town in Texas Hill Country is the perfect change of scene. Wimberley is one of the most popular day or weekend getaways from Austin, and it’s really not hard to see why.
There’s rather a lot packed in, and the best way to get to know the town is by taking the Wimberley Boot Trail. “Bootiful Wimberley” is a quirky but cool trail of 48 boots painted by local artists.
Once you’ve discovered all the boots, you’ll probably be a bit hot and sweaty from all the walking. Probably time to cool off then, right? Well, head to either Jacob’s Well or Blue Hole: two of Wimberley’s most popular swimming spots.
You’ll be happy to know that Austin’s crime rate is below average, especially when compared with cities of a similar size. However, there are a few things that you should be aware of when visiting. All large cities have an element of risk, especially when it comes to petty crime and pickpocketing. Be vigilant and use common sense when walking around town, especially at night. Hopefully, like many other travellers to Austin, you’ll have nothing but glowing references for the place!
Not only is this the best romantic day trip from Austin for couples, it’s also one of the best day trips from Austin by car. Dripping Springs is a town, and there’s nowhere better to start your romantic adventure admiring the historic architecture downtown.
There are several natural attractions that you’ll want to take in nearby though. Slightly north of the town, you’ll find natural pools and parks – with one of the best being Hamilton Pool.
Once you tick off visiting the Old Town and some natural attractions, it’s time for a drink. Whether your tipple is beer, wine, or something stronger, there’s a place for you to visit! Dripping Springs’ wineries, breweries, and distilleries offer tours, and all of them are rounded off with a little taste!
The TV show Fixer Upper has seen Waco’s popularity increase as a tourism destination in recent years. Yes, you can enjoy the Magnolia Market but there’s more to this city than that.
One of the most unusual attractions is the Dr. Pepper Museum. You can take tours of this quirky attraction and learn about the history of this drink, initially created by Waco pharmacist Charles Alderton.
There’s also the Cameron Park Zoo – a great place to visit if you’re travelling with kids. You can get up close and personal with Cameron Park Zoo! And when you get hungry, head to one of the best-preserved post war burger joints around – Health Camp.
Some of our ideas for the best day trips from Austin are pretty hectic. They’re undeniably great, but sometimes you just want some peace and quiet and an escape from the city. In that case, McKinney Falls State Park should be right at the top of your itinerary.
The park is located at the confluence of two creeks – Onion and Williamson, and covers more than 700 acres of land, primed for getting lost in nature. It’s here you’ll find Texan flora and fauna, so make sure you bring your camera!
The park also forms part of the El Camino Real de Los Tejas national historical trail. This is one of the most fascinating walkways for discovering the colonial history of Texas.
Another small town up in Texas Hill Country is Luckenbach. If you’re a Willie Nelson fan, you’re probably familiar with the town as he referred to it in the song ‘Everybody’s Somebody’. However, to all those who aren’t, let us tell you a little more about it.
Luckenbach is actually a bit of a ghost town nowadays, and since the 1960s the population has remained at a steady 3. Even though it has such a small population, it’s a great place to come on the weekends. There are live music performances from country acts which give a true taste of Americana!
Because it’s so close to Fredericksburg, it’s perfectly possible to combine both of these charming towns into one day trip.
There’s one part of Gruene above all others that makes it the best day trip from Austin with kids. And that’s the Schlitterbahn Water Park! If you’ve got toddlers, you can splash around in the lazy river. For those a little bit older, there are some hair-raising thrill rides too! It’ll put a smile on the face of even the surliest teen.
If you fancy water activities without the noise and distraction of screaming children (and probably adults too), then go tubing on the Guadalupe River.
Once you get dry, there are several other attractions to keep you entertained in New Braunfels. These include the McKenna Children’s Museum, the Retro Railroad Museum, and Animal World and Snake Farm.
Of many of the most important events in US history, the Kennedy Assassination stands out as one of the most shocking. Although no-one will ever know what really happened on 22nd November 1963, the fascinating 6th Floor Museum gives details of the event that will enable you to come to your own conclusion.
It’s not the only museum worth your time though – the recently developed Art District is packed full of those (and unsurprisingly, galleries too). It’s also home to an opera house and a symphony centre which host important cultural events.
After taking in all that culture, enjoy the city’s culinary scene. There’s plenty of choice, but you can’t leave without trying a traditional Texas BBQ!
If you liked the sound of Canyon Lake but would prefer not to travel so far, you’re in luck. Lake Travis is just 20 miles from downtown Houston and you can get there in roughly half an hour. It may not compete with Canyon Lake in size, but it still has 60 miles of shoreline for you to enjoy a range of activities.
Water-skiing, windsurfing, and sailing are all doable on its calm and blue waters. It’s also a great place for open water swimming!
The surrounding hills and grasslands make the perfect backdrop for a leisurely hike or a relaxing bike ride. There really is a lot to do!
Although it’s a city, it certainly doesn’t have that vibe. In fact, there are less than 2,000 people living in this settlement in Blanco Country, a part of Texas Hill Country. It’s best known for the Texas White House, established for Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s.
The site has been open to the public since 2007, and it’s a Texas must-see if you’re a history buff. A more unusual attraction is the Hill Country Science Mill. It’s packed full of interactive exhibits that make a fantastic day out if you’re travelling with kids! That’s of course if you can fit it in between the Texas white house and a guided safari at the zoo.
Looking for a serene and quiet getaway? Bastrop, although still located in the Austin city limits, feel like it’s worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the Texan capital.
On the Colorado River, it’s another part of the Camino Real trail like McKinney Falls State Park. The towering pines of Bastrop National State Park provide shade and cover from the hot Texan sun as you navigate its hiking and biking routes.
If you want to relax though, you’d be better heading to the Lost Pines Spa. They do excellent massages. Travelling with the family? The kids are sure to love the life-sized dinosaurs at the town’s dinosaur park!
So, that’s all from our list of the best day trips from Austin. We’re pretty sure you’ll have found something on our list that will suit you. Whether you’re travelling solo, with your other half, or as a family, there’s a day trip that will put a smile on everyone’s face!
As well as being a great city to have a vacation, Austin is surrounded by picturesque landscapes, quaint and charming towns, and some jaw-dropping natural beauty.
It’s also very well connected by road and rail, so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting around. If you’re a bit nervous about navigating the public transport system by yourself, you could always hop onto a tour!
Although our list is pretty in-depth, there’s a whole lot to do around town. So, if you feel we’ve missed something, do let us know in the comments!
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Emma Johnson lives to travel! Born in Washington D.C., Emma is a hotel connoisseur and a staff writer at Hotel Jules. An army brat, Emma got the travel bug early and has never been able to stop. Now, she has proudly visited 70+ countries and plans to visit every country in the world! Passionate about her ukelele (obviously) and her family, Emma eventually wants to retire in Thailand and write a book about all of her travel experiences.