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Want a great day trip from Austin? Texas is a big state, which means lots of possibilities for day trips. Whether you’re an Austinite or visiting the area and using Austin as a jumping off point, you’ll love these ideas for eight great day trips from Austin with families.
8 of the Best Day Trips from Austin with Families
Just because you can’t or don’t want to take a week-long trip doesn’t mean you can’t explore a different place. I know some great places in Texas where I could happily spend a week or two and there are some fabulous Texas resorts that are worth the splurge, but don’t knock a good old fashioned day trip. When time is tight but we have the urge to explore and wander, a day trip from Austin to Fredericksburg can satisfy our need for adventure.
I’ve gathered up a list of my favorite Texas cities that are in the two-hour or less driving range of downtown Austin. Each of these day trips from Austin offers something unique and different. Happy exploring!
1. San Antonio: 80 miles
Naturally, I have listed San Antonio first because I’m from San Antonio and I think it’s the best place for day trips from Austin. It’s about 80 miles from downtown Austin to downtown San Antonio. Since San Antonio is such a widespread city, your mileage will vary.
You could visit San Antonio every weekend for a year and not run out of things to do. Literally. Popular tourist attractions include the San Antonio Riverwalk, The Alamo*, SeaWorld, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, the San Antonio Zoo, museums, parks and more.
San Antonio is also home to five-time NBA Champions, the San Antonio Spurs, so basketball season is a fun time to visit if you have basketball fans in your group.
TravelingMom Tip: Forget the Alamo. I know we’re supposed to remember it and if you’re staying in the downtown area and happen to catch a glimpse of it through the crowds and merchants selling light up toys and fake flowers, fine. Take pictures. Go crazy. But. Don’t go out of your way to see it; The Alamo is absolutely underwhelming. Check out San Antonio’s other four missions: San Jose, Concepcion, San Juan Capistrano, and Espada instead. You can thank me later.
2. Bastrop: 30 miles
Even though Bastrop is technically part of the Austin metro area, it doesn’t have an Austin vibe whatsoever. Located about 30 miles from the center of Austin, Bastrop offers lots of options for outdoor lovers, such as hiking in Bastrop State Park or swimming and boating at Lake Bastrop. You can also rent a kayak or paddleboard just off the historic main street and explore the Colorado River.
If you’re looking for something less active to do, the Main Street/old town area offers lots of options for shopping and dining. Eateries range from scratch cooking to trendy, upscale cuisine you wouldn’t expect to find in a small town to local whiskey distilleries. Yes, Bastrop offers lots of options! There also are cute, artsy boutiques that sell everything from clothes to jewelry to homemade soaps. The visitors center includes a small museum that showcases the history of the area, from the earliest settlers to the fires that ravaged the area in 2011. If you’re exploring the downtown area with younger kids who aren’t enthused about shopping, make sure you pick up a free kids’ scavenger hunt at the visitors center, complete with a prize for finishers.
Even if you want to forgo the shopping, this is a great place to grab a meal before heading back home.
TravelingMom Tips: Know the history behind the fires of 2011. These fires, memorable to the locals, substantially impacted the flora (you can see evidence in Bastrop State Park). If you talk to anyone for any length of time, they will mention the fires.
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Second, if you’re a shopper, don’t miss Lost Pines Art Bazaar. There are so many handmade and locally made goodies here. You can find books about the area, unique children’s toys, home decor items and more. I pretty much wanted everything in the store. It sits a little apart from the other shops downtown but it is worth the extra steps.
When someone says “Fredericksburg” you probably think of wine. That’s not wrong. This lovely slice of the Texas Hill Country is home to many wineries and more are popping up all the time. Our year-round hot weather provides growing conditions similar to Spain, so a lot of Spanish grapes are grown in and around Fredericksburg. But, in spite of this area being a great spot for adult trips, there’s a lot for kids and families as well.
Fredericksburg was initially settled by Germans and you can see the nod to that heritage in the architecture and the names of the streets, shops, and eateries. Downtown Fredericksburg offers wineries, shops, pubs, and the National Museum of the Pacific War. For whatever reason, my “usually lukewarm about museums” kids were really into this one. If you took your time and explored every bit of the museum, you could spend several hours here. But you can get the gist of things in about an hour or so.
Outside of Fredericksburg, you’ll find Enchanted Rock State Natural Area and Wildseed Farms. Visit Wildseed Farms in the spring to see the most beautiful Texas wildflowers in bloom. Wedding Oak Winery is also on site, as well as a charming shopping area where you can purchase yummy eats, garden supplies, and home decor items.
Enchanted Rock is a massive formation of pink granite located 18 miles from Fredericksburg. It’s easily one of the most beautiful and picturesque places in Texas. Both Enchanted Rock and Wildseed Farms offer wide open spaces for kids to run around and burn off energy.
Back to the German Roots
If you want a delicious meal before heading home, downtown Fredericksburg offers many choices. There’s an emphasis on German food, as you might expect, considering the ancestry.
Nearby Johnson City also has some fun kids’ activities, such as The Hill Country Science Mill, The LBJ Presidential Home and State Historic Site, and the Sauer Beckmann Living History Museum. The tiny town of Luckenbach is also nearby, although not much is there other than a place to get some craft beer, BBQ, and a few unique photo opps.
4. Gonzales: 65 miles
Everyone remembers the Alamo, but the quest for Texas independence didn’t start in San Antonio. The first shots were fired in nearby Gonzalez, when the Mexican Army showed up to retrieve a cannon on loan to the Texicans (as settlers in the region were called back then) and the Texicans said no backsies. Obviously, the story is a little more robust than that, but if you’re interested in Texas history – even a little – make the trip to Gonzales.
Gonzales is 65 southeast of Austin, which is a perfect distance for a day trip. History buffs will love the Gonzales Memorial Museum and the Old Jail Museum. The Gonzales Memorial Museum contains the actual cannon that fired the first shot for Texas independence. There’s also Pioneer Village Living History Museum, an interactive step back in time. My kids were pretty “meh” about the Gonzales Memorial Museum, but they enjoyed the Old Jail Museum and Pioneer Village very much.
If you’re looking for outdoor activities, check out nearby Palmetto State Park. The trails are very easy and kid-friendly. Even though the park is located just off Interstate 10, it has a very secluded feel to it.
Food and Festivals
If your activities in Gonzales cause you to work up an appetite, there are plenty of places to eat in the town square. Our favorites are La Bella Tavola and Sweet B’s Dessert Boutique.
TravelingMom Tip: Visit Gonzales during one of theitwo festivals: The Come and Take It Festival in October or Winterfest in December. The town square will be bustling with vendors. food booths and music. Each festival has a parade and there is nothing quite like a small town parade, right? Not to be missed is the historic re-enactment of the battle of Gonzales at Pioneer Village Living History Museum. The participants take their period costumes very seriously and the battle simulation is very well done. Even if your kids roll their eyes at educational outings, chances are they will like this one.
5. Waco: 100 miles
Waco is just a little over 100 miles from Austin, which might push it toward the upper end of what you want for a day trip. Depending on traffic (and where in Austin you’re starting from) your drive to Waco will be around 1 hour and 45 minutes. This once sleepy college town was put on the map as a hot travel destination by HGTV’s Chip and Joanna Gaines. Although Fixer Upper isn’t being produced anymore, Waco’s most famous residents are still well-loved. Their Magnolia enterprise has expanded over the last few years to include more food trucks and yard space behind the famous Magnolia Market, Silo Baking Company and The Magnolia Table.
Even if you’re not Chip and Joanna fans or don’t know who they are (gasp), this growing town has a lot to offer beyond all things Magnolia. Waco Mammoth National Monument, run by the National Parks Service, is a great outing for kids of all ages. The Baylor University campus is home to a great children’s museum. If you’re a sports fan, you can check out the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. Even if your kids groan when you take them to a museum, the Texas Ranger Museum and the Dr. Pepper Museum are a lot of fun.
If you’re looking for outdoor activities in Waco, try the Cameron Park Zoo or the Homestead Craft Village. If you go to Homestead Craft Village, go hungry and put your name on the waiting list for the restaurant right away. There is always a wait but the food is worth it.
TravelingMom Tip: If you’re planning a Magnolia-heavy experience, check the hours and days. It’s closed on Sundays. Also, Saturdays are a madhouse. If you can swing a middle of the week trip, you’ll have a much better experience.
6. Wimberley: 40 miles
Wimberley is a short little jump from Austin, less than 40 miles. This area has lots of outdoor fun, so I recommend a spring or summer visit versus a winter visit. Or, what passes for winter in Texas. Whole other story.
Wimberley is home to two natural swimming areas: Blue Hole and Jacob’s Well. You need reservations for both, so don’t just show up and expect you’ll get a spot. If you have younger kids or mobility restricted individuals in your group, I’d probably skip Jacob’s Well. You’ll encounter some rough terrain getting down to the water and it’s not at all stroller-friendly. Blue Hole Regional Park is much more family-friendly and a great place to hang out for a morning or afternoon. If you like swimming in fresh water, these are your places.
Even if you aren’t interested in swimming, Blue Hole and Jacob’s Well can be beautiful places to explore on foot or use as a backdrop for pictures. There are lots of hiking trails surrounding Blue Hole and lots of wildlife to check out. Make sure you have a look at the park website in advance of your visit for up-to-date info and special happenings.
On our list for “next time” is Old Baldy. Old Baldy is a scenic overlook in a public park that offers stunning views of the surrounding area. Maybe I’ll catch you out there sometime.
Also, if swimming holes like Blue Hole and Jacob’s Well pique your interest, look up Hamilton Pool in Dripping Springs.
7. New Braunfels/Gruene: 45 miles
New Braunfels and Gruene are separate cities but they’re very close neighbors, so I’ve included them together. Located on the Guadalupe and Comal Rivers, New Braunfels and Gruene are just 45 miles from Austin. As you might imagine, this is a popular area in summer for tubing.
Gruene offers shopping, live music (check out what’s on at Gruene Hall) and dining at the famous Grist Mill Restaurant. The Grist Mill doesn’t take reservations and there’s a line to get in the door at lunch. Most times you’ll find a hefty wait, but the food and views are worth it.
New Braunfels is home to the best waterpark in the United States – Schlitterbahn. There are other Schlitterbahn properties in Texas but the New Braunfels park is iconic. You’ll find the latest in thrilling water slides alongside traditional inner-tube chutes that spit you out into the river.
In addition to German-themed shopping and dining, New Braunfels also has The McKenna Children’s Museum, a noteworthy children’s museum, and Landa Park, a beautiful public park with a spring-fed swimming pool. You may also want to check out Natural Bridge Caverns and Natural Bridge Wildlife Safari. These are two separate activities that are co-located so you can easily do both in a day. The grounds of Natural Bridge Caverns have add-on activities such as ziplining and panning for gold and there’s lots of space for little legs to stretch out. The Wildlife Safari is a drive-through park (you drive your own car through) where you can observe animals in action. If you’re really interested in seeing the animals, do this one during the cooler months. Oh, and beware the ostrich. Just trust me on this.
Another potential New Braunfels area outing is Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo. This place is an Interstate 35 icon and has come a long way from just “The Snake Farm” that gave nine-year-old me bad dreams. This is now an accredited small zoo with ongoing expansion.
8. Brenham: 90 miles
Brenham, Texas, is home to Bluebell Creamery. If you haven’t heard of Bluebell Ice Cream, they tout themselves as “the best ice cream in the country.” It’s true. Sorry, everyone else who doesn’t live in Bluebell’s distribution area! You’re missing out. But Brenham isn’t only about ice cream.
Located halfway between Houston and Austin, this small city has experienced an revival of the arts in recent years, including the introduction of several new music venues and numerous professional murals.
If you are looking to taste Texas, two of the top 10 Texan BBQ joints are located in Brenham. Local favorite LJ’s moved into a permanent space; you’ll want to head over early before they sell out. Don’t miss the brisket mac n’ cheese! They tend to sell out midday, so be sure to plan around it. Truth BBQ of Chopped fame is also located in Brenham and features great ribs and corn pudding.
If you’re traveling with kids be sure to check out the playgrounds at Fireman’s Park and near the Library. Fireman’s Park also includes the Flying Horse Carousel, one of only five surviving wooden carousels in Texas. You can ride for a dollar on Saturdays and Sundays.
A dollar will also get you a cup full of ice cream at Bluebell Creameries. On weekdays you can see the ice being made on the upper deck. There is also a small museum to poke though.
I’m sure this list of best day trips from Austin is missing something. Maybe several somethings. Texas is filled with dozens upon dozens of hidden gems that I just haven’t discovered yet. If I’ve missed your favorite on this list of day trips from Austin, let me know!