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Fredericksburg Winery Texas
Photograph: Courtesy Signor Vineyards

The 11 best day trips from Austin

Bat City is a great base for exploring the heart of the Lone Star State – just take a look at the best day trips from Austin

James Wong
Written by
James Wong
Contributor
Brandon Watson
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If you wanted to call Austin the star attraction of central Texas, we wouldn’t disagree – the place is packed with fun things to do, delicious restaurants and seriously rowdy nightlife. But it also acts as a great base from which to explore the surrounding smaller towns and cities, which is where these day trips from Austin come in.

In under two hours from the heart of city, you can find yourself sampling Texan wines in the Hill Country or on a thrilling bike tour of the Texas White House. And did we mention all of the barbecue food the Lone Star State has to offer? There’s a lot to get stuck into.

One piece of advice before we begin: traveling around Texas usually requires access to a car, so make sure you sort out a rental before you set off. But with that done, you’ll be free to make the most of the part of Texas.

RECOMMENDED: the best things to do in Austin

Best day trips from Austin, ranked

Lockhart
Photograph: Courtesy Kreuz Market

1. Lockhart

The main draw in Lockhart is its world-famous barbecue, with Black’s Barbecue (get the thickly barked brisket), Chisholm Trail BBQ (the three-meat plate is Lockhart's best bargain), Kreuz Market (sausage is king here) and Smitty’s Market (which has the only good barbecue sauce you'll find in town) all vying for your brisket buck. But there are plenty of other things to do if you need a little time to digest. Swim, fish and play a round of golf at nearby Lockhart State Park, get fitted for a 10-gallon hat at Texas Hatters or snap some pics in front of the historic limestone county courthouse. 

45mins by car

Fredericksburg
Photograph: Courtesy Signor Vineyards

2. Fredericksburg

Filled with old-world architecture, German restaurants and specialty shops, Fredericksburg has been drawing in Austin’s weekend warriors for decades. Start your adventure with a hike at Enchanted Rock, a massive pink granite formation located 17 miles outside of town. Then hire a shuttle to drive you to a winery or four. Our faves include Ab Astris, a family-owned, boutique winery that produces brilliant vintages using Texas-grown fruit, and Southhold Farm and Cellar, perched with breathtaking Hill Country views and delicious food pairings. Finish out the day with dinner at either contemporary German joint Otto’s or New American eatery Hill & Vine, both of which combine small town charm with a big city palate. If it’s summer, be sure to come home with a bag full of the region's world-famous peaches.

1hr and 25mins by car

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Dripping Springs
Photograph: Courtesy Dripping Springs Distillery

3. Dripping Springs

Whether you know your ryes from your malts or the differences between grapes, Dripping Springs is the place to go for a tipple. One of the things it's most famous for is the sheer amount of breweries, wineries and distilleries. Time it right and you can visit a whole bunch in one fell swoop. You’ve got Jester King ale, Desert Door sotol (a spirit made from desert spoon plant), Solaro wine, and vodka at Dripping Springs Distillery, to name a manageable amount. Of course, if you don’t drink, you can always head on down to the gloriously verdant Solstice Gardens or Hamilton Pool.

35mins by car

The taco rivalry aside, there are hundreds of reasons why an Austinite should spend the day in San Antonio. The culinary scene is booming, with many of the best restaurants in San Antonio serving internationally inspired fare such as French Brasserie Mon Chou Chou (the desserts are beautiful), Asian-American restaurant Best Quality Daughter (try the famous Char Siu), and Caribbean street food stand Mi Roti (obvs, go roti-crazy). For those not wanting to venture too far from Texan fare, the coolest kid in town is Domingo, on the riverwalk. They’re a modern tribute to South Texas, so if you love fish tacos and a juicy steak, you’re in heaven. The arts scene is having a moment, too. The San Antonio Museum of Art is always stellar, not to mention newbies like Hopscotch which combines cocktails and art for the best immersive museum experience statewide.

1hr and 20mins by car

📍 Check out the best things to do in San Antonio

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Bastrop
Photograph: Larry D. Moore

5. Bastrop

A little detox haven for those who overindulged in Austin. This small city, less than an hour's drive away, is home to the Lost Pines Spa, where you can get a massage and a herb garden salt glow before getting snap happy at the wild Dinosaur Park. Continue the nature walks through Bastrop State Park to work up an appetite, then head to Maxine’s Cafe where you can eat just about anything fried.

45mins by car

Driftwood
Photograph: David Brendan Hall

6. Driftwood

Even closer to Austin than Bastrop is Driftwood. Here you can get your sommelier on at Duchman Family Winery, which uses Texan grapes, but looks like it could be straight out of Sicily. Before you get tipsy, though, go and marvel at the vast and architecturally stunning Radha Madhav Dham Hindu Temple, where they also have peacocks roaming freely. Finally, saving the best until last, venture forth to Salt Lick BBQ, a Driftwood institution that's second to none when it comes to grilling meat. It’s worth noting though that they accept cash only, so hit the ATM first.

35mins by car

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Waco saw tourism boon following HGTV’s Fixer Upper, but cribbing shiplap style at Magnolia Market is hardly the only thing to do. Learn the science behind soda at the Dr. Pepper museum’s liquid laboratory. Meet Galapagos tortoises and capybara at the natural habitat Cameron Park Zoo. Or go back in time at the perfectly preserved postwar burger joint Health Camp. If you’re still in the mood for some shopping, you’ll find everything from scented candles to farmhouse antiques and womenswear at downtown’s Spice Village.

1hr and 35mins by car

📍 Check out the best things to do in Waco

Wimberley
Photograph: Courtesy City of Wimberley

8. Wimberley

A little bit country and a little bit rock and roll, Wimberley doesn’t quite feel like any other town in Hill Country. Start the morning with a cold brew from Sip! on the Square and a few kolaches from the Sugar Shack Bakery, then take some selfies in front of one of the town’s 50 giant decorated boots (dubbed Bootiful Wimberley). In the mood for shopping? Stop by shops that include foodie mecca Kiss the Cook, legendary thrift store The Bazaar, contemporary fiber craft spot Ply and interior design house Rancho Deluxe. In the summer, take a dip surrounded by old-growth cypress trees at the Blue Hole.

55mins by car

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Georgetown
Photograph: Inner Space Caverns

9. Georgetown

You would never know it from the highway, but Georgetown boasts a town square that makes Back to the Future's courthouse square look shabby. There you can check out one of the visiting exhibits at Georgetown Art Center or catch a matinee musical at the Palace Theatre. The highway does have at least one great attraction, though: Inner Space Caverns offers everything from guided spelunking to group tours of their stunning caves.

35mins by car

Johnson City
Photograph: Courtesy NPS

10. Johnson City

Johnson City became internationally known in the 1960s as the site of President Lyndon Johnson’s Texas White House, which has been open to history buffs since 2007. Try a bike tour with Ranch Road One, which takes you through his gorgeous gardens and ranch easily and breezily. Science lovers can geek out at Hill Country Science Mill, a super cool presentation of science with tech (think: 4D and virtual reality). If you visit during the winter holidays, almost the whole town gets into the festive spirit, so expect lights galore.

1hr by car

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New Braunfels and Gruene
Photograph: Mikie Farias

11. New Braunfels and Gruene

If you’re going to New Braunfels, make sure you wear a swimsuit. For locals, tubing is almost a daily ritual during the summer, with both the Guadalupe and Comal rivers intersecting the town and the spring-fed Schlitterbahn water park providing a slightly less au naturale experience. Before you dip your toes in, stop by at Faust Brewing Co. for a plate of German nachos and a stainless steel growler of golden ale. Then head to Canyon Lake Marina to rent a kayak or Texas Ski Ranch for wakeboarding and waterskiing. Once you dry off, check out the assortment of novelties at Got Toys before honky-tonking at Gruene Hallwhere greats like Lyle Lovett and George Strait got their start.

50mins by car

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