Austin Day Trips

Filed Under: Austin

Austin's attractions can satisfy travelers for the duration of their trip, but should the itch to explore beyond Austin’s city limits strike you won't be disappointed. Within easy driving distance of Austin lie numerous day trips geared to satisfy various interests, whether it's exploring Texas's history at the Alamo, chowing down on Texas's best barbecue, hiking Texas Hill Country or even soaking up some water sports.

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San Antonio

Many travelers to Texas rightfully consider a foray to San Antonio worthy of its own multi-day trip. That said, it's entirely possible to explore San Antonio's tourist highlights in a single day trip from Austin.

Begin your day at El Mercado, or Market Square, a 3-block outdoor plaza filled with produce stands, restaurants and shops mainly selling Mexican arts and crafts like jewelry, dresses and sombreros. From here, take a stroll to the Spanish Governor's Palace, dating from 1722 and formerly the seat of Texas's government, it is the oldest and best-preserved structure in San Antonio. Next, walk to San Fernando Cathedral. Built in 1738, it is the oldest continually functioning church in Texas.

With lunchtime approaching, head to the River Walk, a series of walkways and bridges along the San Antonio River. Restaurants, shops and bars line the walkway, and you should heed the temptation to stop in somewhere for a bite to eat.

Now, it's time to "Remember the Alamo!" with a visit to the colonial Spanish-style fort. It was here during the Texas Revolution in 1836 that, in an epic 13-day siege, Mexican troops defeated a dedicated group of 189 Texan volunteer soldiers fighting for autonomy from Mexico. Finally, if time permits, squeeze in a visit to the Tower of the Americas, San Antonio's tallest structure at 750 feet high. Hit the observation deck for excellent views of San Antonio.

Plan to leave Austin in the early morning and expect to return in the evening in order to squeeze in San Antonio's greatest hits. Traffic between the 2 cities can be notoriously heavy, particularly during rush hour (8 a.m. to 9 a.m., 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.), but generally the trip takes about 1 1/2 hours each way. Drivers can take the main highway, I-35, for the entire route.

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Stuart Seeger, flickr

Lockhart

Work up a hearty appetite before taking a day trip to Lockhart. This unassuming town is commonly known as the "barbecue capital of Texas" with good reason -- some of Texas's best barbecue is lurking within the town lines.

Locals will passionately argue which joint they think dishes up the best barbecue, but two of the most highly regarded spots are Black's Barbecue, which has been run by the same family since 1932 making it one of Texas's oldest barbecue restaurants, and Kreuz Market, where you better not ask for barbecue sauce on your meat -- they claim good barbecue doesn't need any!

Still, Lockhart is more than a mecca of barbecued meat. Visitors will be delighted to find the Caldwell County Courthouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as Lockhart State Park, a lovely spot for taking a stroll along Clear Fork Creek and also home to a 9-hole golf course.

To get to Lockhart from Austin, take US Highway 183 South; Lockhart is located 25 miles south from the Austin-Bergstrom Airport.

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Randall Chancellor, flickr

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

Outdoor lovers can get their nature hike on at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, a 1,643-acre recreation area marked by -- no surprise here -- a dramatic 425-foot-tall pink granite dome that covers some 600-plus acres. The Enchanted Rock is estimated to be 1 billion years old, and it's believed humans began inhabiting the surrounding area around 11,000 years ago.

Activities include hiking, backpacking, rock climbing (climbers must check in at park headquarters), camping, picnicking and even bird-watching opportunities. More than 7 miles of hiking trails include the Summit Trail, a steep .6-mile trail that leads to the summit of the Enchanted Rock.

Visitors to the area should plan to arrive early, particularly on weekends, as parking is limited, and when the lot is full, the park closes to additional visitors. Drivers heading here from Austin should expect the trip to take 2 hours each way. Head west on US-290, toward Fredericksburg, TX, then turn onto Ranch Road 965, heading north. After approximately 18 miles, the entrance to the park will be on the left.

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Madame.Furie, flickr

Fredericksburg

Chances are you didn't bring your lederhosen to Austin. Even so, you're within driving distance of Fredericksburg and some serious German culture.

Settled in 1846, Fredericksburg's first settlers were of German heritage, and today the town still proudly recalls that history with a lively annual Oktoberfest celebration, featuring German music, food and beer. Visitors not in town for Oktoberfest will still sense the Germanic past via the Bavarian-style architecture found throughout the town or by stopping at specialty shops like Opa's Smoked Meats, which prepares smoked meats using authentic German recipes.

Beyond its interesting German culture, Fredericksburg is also home to many events and festivals, like a Crawfish Festival, Chili Pepper and Salsa Festival and the Fredericksburg Food and Wine Fest. It's worth planning a day trip around one of these events.

While in town, history buffs can pay a visit to some of the local museums that further explore Fredericksburg's past, including the Pioneer Museum, dedicated to the history of Fredericksburg's early settlers, and Fort Martin Scott, one of Texas's first military outposts.

Fredericksburg also lies in the midst of a number of excellent wineries. Wine lovers can explore many of them, including Grape Creek Vineyards, Rancho Ponte Vineyard and William Chris Vineyards, while driving along the Fredericksburg Wine Road 290 (US Highway 290). The 1 1/2-hour drive to Fredericksburg from Austin is straightforward: Take TX-1 Loop South to US-290 West, which leads into town.

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Randall Chancellor, flickr

Lake Travis

Just west of Austin lies some of Texas's loveliest rolling terrain, known as Hill Country. It’s home to a number of lakes and parks, including Lake Travis, located just 20 miles northwest of Austin.

Lake Travis measures a massive 63 miles long and 4.5 miles across at its widest point -- that means there's nearly 270 miles of shoreline dotted with parks such as Mansfield Park and Pace Bend, as well as docks offering water sports like sailing, parasailing, windsurfing and fishing.

Multiple outfitters rent various water vehicles, including WaveRunners, pontoon boats and even houseboats. At its deepest point, the lake measures some 210 feet, and there are diving outfitters available for scuba trips around multiple dive sites. When hunger hits, shoot for a slightly upscale meal at The Oasis, a restaurant perched atop a 450-foot-tall cliff known for its multiple outdoor seating areas overlooking the lake.

To reach Lake Travis, drive approximately 40 minutes, taking TX-1 South to TX-360 North, then exit at Ranch to Market Rd. 2222. You'll drive about 8 more miles to reach the lake.

About the Author

Valerie Conners is a freelance writer, editor and producer who has worked with the Travel Channel for more than 14 years, specializing in travel topics including the world's best beaches, outdoor travel and romantic getaways. Her work also appears in many online and print publications including, Aol Travel, Discovery Channel, World Hum, Frommer's Travel Guides, the Boston Globe, Baltimore Sun and Philadelphia Inquirer. She's happiest when eating spicy Thai food, snorkeling with sea turtles in Indonesia and bargaining for bangles in Indian markets. She blogs about her travels at PassengerConners.com.