Austin is located in the heart of Central Texas. While there is plenty to do in Austin, it is also a convenient base to explore the area. If you have time, take advantage of this and do a day trip from Austin.
You have your choice of visiting a big city, exploring the outdoors, or checking out a smaller town. Together, with a few other travel bloggers, I have put together a list of the best Austin days trips to consider.
**Also be sure to grab our free printable travel checklist here to help plan your vacation.
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Places to Visit Near Austin
After you have had some time to enjoy Austin and take advantage of some of the cheap things to do, there are several places within an hour or two drive of Austin that are worth visiting. If you haven’t been to San Antonio yet, that would be my top pick. There are also many smaller towns just a short trip from Austin that have a lot to offer too.
It’s easiest to do these central Texas day trips from Austin if you have a car.
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San Antonio is one of the cities in Texas that you must visit and it’s only about an hour an a half drive from Austin. It is after all, home to the Alamo, where the most famous battle in Texas’s war for independence from Mexico, and the Riverwalk.
If you don’t know the story of the Alamo, you might want to watch the movie Alamo: The Price of Freedom in IMAX at the Rivercentre theatre (or there is a short film you can watch at the Alamo). Then it’s just a short walk to see the Alamo, which is free to visit. There is a charge if you want to take a guided tour or get the audio tour.
Next head to the San Antonio Riverwalk, which is a 15 mile long network of walkways alongside the banks of the San Antonio river. Five miles of it runs through downtown San Antonio. There is plenty to keep you entertained along the Riverwalk including a boat ride, shops, restaurants, and bars. In the Museum Reach section, you can visit attractions like Witte Museum, the San Antonio Zoo, the DOSeum, San Antonio Museum of Art, Pearl Brewery, and more.
The Alamo is not the only Mission in San Antonio. In total there were five missions all built in the early 1700s in an effort by Spain to colonize the region. If you have time, you could visit another mission. They are all now connected by the Mission Trail.
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If you are visiting San Marcos for the day, there are more than enough attractions to fill your time. It’s probably best to decide whether you want to spend the day outside or if you rather be indoors.
You can easily spend a whole day enjoying the San Marcos River. Depending on your preferences, you can go kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, or my personal favorite tubing down this spring-fed river. At Spring Lake, you can take a glass-bottom boat tour. Alternatively, you could go hiking at the Purgatory Creek Natural Area.
For those that want to prefer to do something indoors, there is the San Marcos Premium Outlets. It a shopping-lovers dream, and you can easily spend the whole day there. If shopping is not your thing, there is the San Marcos Art Center or the Central Texas Wing, a 1943 vintage aircraft hangar home to an Air Force exhibit.
After you’ve finished your shopping, sightseeing, or exploring the great outdoors, you can relax at one of the local breweries – AquaBrew, Middleton Brewery, or Roughhouse Brewery.
San Marcos is only a 40 minute drive from Austin.
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Fredericksburg has wineries, charming shops (ideal for antiquing), fine dining, and German heritage, all in a beautiful and historic setting in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. In the spring, it’s one of the best areas to see wildflowers (i.e. bluebonnets) in Texas.
Wine lovers flock to the Fredericksburg area for the famous Texas Hill Country wines. The only wine region in the US that hosts more visitors is Napa! There are more than 50 wineries and tasting rooms in Fredericksburg and Gillespie County. If you’re only in the area for a day, you can check out one of the town’s many tasting rooms or take the wine trolley.
*Be sure to have a designated driver to take you back to Austin (or considering spending the night in Fredericksburg).
History lovers will enjoy the museums in Fredricksburg. The Pioneer Museum has a collection of well-preserved structures from the 19th-century German pioneer days, including the Webster Sunday House. The National Museum of the Pacific War, the only US institution dedicated to telling the story of the Pacific theater in World War II, is one of the best museums in Texas. It attacts more than 150,000 visitors each year.
From Austin, it takes about an hour and a half to drive to Fredricksburg.
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Located in the beautiful Highland Lakes region of the Texas Hill Country, within easy reach of both Inks Lake State Park and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, lies the delightfully charming small town of Llano, Texas.
It is known for some iconic Texas experiences (barbecue, deer hunting, and bluebonnets), as well as some more unique offerings (potential bald eagle sightings, a railroad hotel once frequented by Bonnie and Clyde).
As far as day trips from Austin go, it’s hard to beat–and considering that the roughly 1.5 hour drive from Austin to Llano (traffic dependent, of course) takes place along gorgeous Highway 71, even the journey to get there is part of the fun. During bluebonnet season, be sure to snap plenty of photos (Llano is known for its blooms) and head to nearby Burnet for another bluebonnet favorite.
Some of the best things to do in Llano include joining the line (and eventual feast) at the famous Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, exploring Llano’s gorgeous courthouse and main square, strolling along the Llano River, and crossing the Inks Bridge on foot. Be sure to also check out Shakedown Street while in Llano–this collection of colorful street art is a whimsical delight that you may not expect to find in small-town Texas!
If you’re spending the night in town, paying a visit to either Inks Lake State Park or Enchanted Rock is a must!
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The city of Bastrop is located about 45 minutes east of Austin and offers plenty of options to make it worth spending a day there.
For starters, Bastrop has a wonderful historic downtown area. The Bastrop County Museum is located in an old 1930’s fire and police station and should be the first stop to learn about the area. You could also visit the Lost Pines Art Center, free of charge, any day of the week. Located in a two-story, glass and metal building that takes up 12,000 square feet, the art center is a terrific place to spend perusing art galleries and even taking a glass blowing class.
When planning your excursion, be sure to check out the performance schedule for the Bastrop Opera House. This hidden gem is located in a historical building and presents award-winning, live theater that rivals big town productions. Their dinner theater performances are especially popular.
If antique shopping piques your interest, you won’t be disappointed in what this little town has to offer. Those looking for more time spent outdoors can head to Bastrop State Park for hiking or go zip lining at Zip Lost Pines.
When you’re ready for lunch, head to PawPaw’s Catfish House on Main Street. Locals and visitors alike rave about their food so you may have a bit of a wait to get in, but it’s worth it!
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Just under an hour from downtown Austin, the tiny hamlet of Dripping Springs feels miles apart from the Lone Star Capital. Drippin’ (as locals call it) is the go-to destination for craft breweries and distilleries. In a region packed with options for alcoholic beverages, Drippin’ stands apart.
Start your day by walking the town’s historic main street: Mercer Street. Pop into a few stores and maybe grab a coffee. Before lunch, grab a beer at one of the many local breweries. Jester King is a very popular choice.
For lunch, drop into Rolling in Thyme & Dough for sandwiches or stay at Jester King brewery and order one of their famous pizzas. After lunch, make your way to Hamilton Pool for a dip in the refreshingly cool water. There are a lot of swimming holes in Texas, but the Hamilton Pool is the one of the most photographed and the most popular. There’s just something amazing about cooling off in a natural spring-fed swimming hole on a hot day.
After swimming, consider visiting one of the many craft distilleries in the area. Both Treaty Oak and Deep Eddy Distillery are extremely popular. In fact, of all the ways to fill your time in Dripping Springs, drinking is probably the most popular!
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Enchanted Rock is an enormous pinkish red granite rock formation located about 15 miles north of Fredericksburg, Texas. The rock covers 640 acres and rises approximately 425 feet to elevation of 1,825 feet above sea level. It is one of the largest batholiths in the United States, making it one of the best spots for hiking in Texas.
Since it takes about an hour and a half to drive to Enchanted Rock from Austin, you can do this hike as a day trip. While Enchanted Rock is a relatively small park, there are still over ten miles of hiking trails to explore.
Enchanted Rock is a popular destination and once they reach maximum capacity they will turn away visitors. If you don’t want this to happen to you, it’s best to order your tickets online in advance here. Admission is $8 for adults, those thirteen and older, and it is free for children, those twelve and younger.
Hiking isn’t the only thing to do at Enchanted Rock. There are sections of the park that are open to rock climbing. If this is something you are interested in, you must first visit the park’s headquarters and sign the climbing release form.
You can learn more about the history, culture, geography, and nature of the park, through Ranger Led Programs. It’s also an ideal spot for stargazing as there is little light pollution. They hold “rock star” parties where you can learn more about constellations and shooting stars.
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If you are looking for a fun day trip from Austin, consider heading to Bryan, just 1.5 hours away. This college town is adjacent to Texas A&M University, yet offers plenty of fun for non-college students too. With a winery, shopping, outdoor activities, and delicious restaurants, you might find yourself wanting to stay in Bryan for a weekend getaway.
Visitors shouldn’t miss downtown Bryan’s unique shops. Many businesses are in repurposed buildings that were original to the town. Not to miss stores include: Bird’s Nest Antiques with an eclectic collection of collectibles, Texas Rose Boutique with cute clothing and jewelry, and Catalena Hatters where you can buy a customized hat on-site.
When it’s lunch time, there are no bad options. Try the farm-to-table meals at Ronin, grab a pizza at Rx Pizza, or have some of the best Italian food in the area at Caffé Capri. If you have time, head to Messina Hof winery for a wine tour, followed by a tasting and charcuterie.
Visit on the first Friday of the month and enjoy “First Friday”, an outdoor street festival with live music and events. Every Saturday is the Brazos Valley Farmers’ Market downtown, it’s a great way to support the local businesses.
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Johnson City is indeed Lyndon B. Johnson’s (the 36th President of the US) hometown. You can visit the Johnson Settlement, a pioneer ranch built by President Johnson’s grandparents in the 1860s-1870s, and the LBJ Ranch nearby. That’s just the beginning of what you can do on a day trip to Johnson City.
The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park is home to the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, other historic cabins, LBJ ranch, family cemetery, as well as tons of nature, wildlife and hiking trails. You could easily spend a whole day here.
As the seat of Blanco County, Johnson City features a charming town square, dominated by its 19th-century courthouse and lined with antique and vintage stores, restaurants, art galleries, and even the town’s historic jail. The town is famous for its Lights Spectacular festival put on by the local Pedernales Energy Co-Op every holiday season.
If you are traveling with kids the Science Mill is a must. This museum is housed in a historic mill right downtown, and has interactive exhibits dedicated to helping kids explore STEM subjects.
Allow an hour to drive from Austin to Johnson City. If you don’t want to do the drive yourself, there is a tour option that will take you to the LBJ Ranch. Get more information here.
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The tiny historic district of Gruene is one of the best day trips from Austin. The drive is a quick 50 minutes down I-35 towards San Antonio, making it easy to accomplish a lot in one day.
If visiting during the hot summer months, the best thing to do is to float the river next door in New Braunfels. Rent a tube and spend a few hours floating the cold waters of the Comal or Guadalupe Rivers to cool off from the hot Texas sun. These rivers and the views they offer are easily one of the most beautiful places in Texas.
After you pull yourself out of the water you’ll have definitely worked up an appetite. Eat lunch at the best restaurant in Gruene, The Gristmill. The outdoor patios cling to the cliffs overlooking the river below. The tables are perfectly shaded under the oak trees. There is no better ambiance around.
After lunch, take a walk through the antique shops in town. The General Store is always a fun stop. Try the different hot sauces and dips, order ice cream at the soda bar, or get some homemade fudge.
Visit Gruene Hall for a piece of Texas music history. This is the oldest continuously running dance hall in the state. They have live music every night so if you’re in no rush to get back to the city, extend you Austin day trip into the wee hours of the night by two-stepping on the same dance floor that has graced the likes of George Strait and Willie Nelson.
The Best Day Trips from Austin
While it’s always fun in Austin, if you get the chance it is worth exploring more of Central Texas. Take a one day trip from Austin and you can find some beautiful natural scenery, interesting history, and fun cultural experiences.
Have you done any Austin day trips?
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Last Updated on February 28, 2023