Beloved as Austin is, sometimes it’s nice to leave the city behind for a day. Grab some snacks, line up the tunes and hit the road to discover what else the Texas Hill Country has to offer. From German-influenced communities to stellar natural attractions, these are the best day trips from Austin – all two hours or less from downtown.
Georgetown (30 minutes)
It’s a quick drive north to charming Georgetown and one of the most beautiful town squares in the state. Come on the first Friday of the month for First Fridays in Downtown, when you can join the locals as they peruse the various art shows. Stroll through the historic downtown area, shopping for baked goods and antiques. Georgetown is surrounded by Texas Hill Country, so be sure to get out there and explore. Blue Hole Park, with a swimming area and waterfalls, is one of the hottest places to hang out in the summer. And, nearby, you can explore the Inner Space Cavern, which you can walk through via lighted passageways.
Hamilton Pool and Dripping Springs (45 minutes)
Beat the heat at Hamilton Pool, one of the best waterfalls in Texas and a beautiful swimming hole. To ensure your spot at this popular destination for cooling off, make a reservation for your car – choose from morning and afternoon slots. Check out the nearby town of Dripping Springs, known for its live music on the weekends, quirky shops and one-of-a-kind restaurants.
New Braunfels (1 hr)
In New Braunfels, southwest of Austin, you can pretend you’ve gone to Germany for the day. And yes, you’ve only traveled as far as the Texas Hill Country. This pedestrian-friendly city was founded by German settlers in 1845 and still maintains its culture and heritage through festivals, local shops and the cuisine. Go tubing or fishing along the Comal River or Guadalupe River, spend a few hours at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark, then fill up on pretzels and strudels at Naegelin’s Bakery, the oldest bakery in Texas. Check out the Gruene Historic District for artisan handicrafts and antiques as a memento of your visit.
Palmetto State Park (1 hour)
A trip to Palmetto State Park is another sure bet for cooling off during the hot summer months around Austin. The San Marcos River flows through the park and creates the lush environment in which the iconic dwarf palmetto plants grow abundantly. You can swim, fish, canoe, stand-up paddleboard, kayak and tube in the river. Or, go hiking on the Palmetto Interpretive Trail.
Wimberly (1 hour)
Break away from the bustle of the city for a day and visit quaint Wimberly. Between March and December, choose to visit on a Saturday and you can partake in Wimberly’s Market Days, with more than 475 booths selling local produce, crafts, pet items, yard art and holistic remedies – it’s the largest open-air market in Texas. Any other day of the week, you’ll love the vibrant main street of town with its chic boutiques and fun eateries. Prefer outdoor adventure? Head to Blue Hole Regional Park, with its spring-fed pool, giant cypress trees and 3.5 miles of hiking trails.
Johnson City (1 hour)
History buffs will love a day in Johnson City, birthplace of the 36th President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Visit Lyndon B. Johnson National Park, home to his birthplace, boyhood home and the LBJ Ranch. After exploring the additional state park and historic site in the former president’s honor and the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, take time to enjoy Johnson City’s artistic side in its shops and galleries. On the way into or out of town, stop at Pedernales Falls, with picturesque limestone cascades, hiking trails and swimming spots.
La Grange (1 hour)
In La Grange, if you’re a music fan, you can connect the dots from ZZ Top to Dolly Parton to the Chicken Ranch, inspiration for the musical, “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” Spend a day discovering the riches of this quaint small-town paradise in the foothills of Texas Hill Country. There’s MOnument Hill, where you can pay homage to lost Texans, the stately Fayette County Courthouse downtown and the interesting Texas Quilt Museum. Don’t miss the chance to learn about the Czech culture in town at the Texas Czech Heritage Center, where you’ll find clothes, relocated homes and musical instruments dating back to the early days of Fayette County when Czech immigrants populated the area.
San Antonio (1 hour, 30 minutes)
Try on a different Texas city for size and spend the weekend in San Antonio. You can easily fill a couple of days enjoying the on-point dining scene, the nearby Alamo, the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and the artistic and cultural heart of the city – the Pearl District. Definitely hop a boat for a tour along the San Antonio River.
Inks Lake (1 hour, 30 minutes)
Sensing a theme with these outdoor destinations? Thanks to its idyllic Texas Hill Country setting, Austin is a fantastic jumping-off point for getting back to nature. Nowhere is this more true that at 830-acre Inks Lake, 50 miles from downtown Austin and a favorite place for boating, fishing, waterskiing, hiking and camping. For the best views, walk the 1.8-mile Pecan Flats Trail. While you’re in the area, visit nearby Longhorn Cavern State Park, where you can view the inside of the cave via guided tours any day of the week.
Fredericksburg (less than 2 hours)
Tucked in the rolling Texas Hill Country west of Austin, photogenic Fredericksburg is another German settlement where you can still feel the European heritage. Check out the Main Street corridor, with its colorful shops and restaurants, as well as the National Museum of the Pacific War, just off Main Street. Ready to play outside? Head to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area to see the namesake pink dome there and climb to its summit.