Located between Texas Hill Country and the Gulf of Mexico, San Antonio is a great base for day trips into the wider region.
The surrounding area offers a mix of rolling hills for hiking and coastal plains full of amazing wildlife, as well as a thriving wine region and charming towns with quirky attractions, boutique shopping, and charismatic art scenes. Once you’ve experienced the best of central San Antonio, this guide to the region’s top day trips will help you experience the different flavors of Texas just a short journey away.
Get local insight on destinations all over the world with our weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox. Make time to hang out on 6th Street in downtown Austin © dszc / Getty Images
1. Soak up the vibes in Austin, Texas’ capital
Travel time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Austin and San Antonio vie for the top tourist destination in Texas, but the two cities are close enough together that you don’t need to choose and can experience both in one vacation. Ideally, make it more than a day trip and plan to spend a night or two in the capital of Texas, home to fantastic barbecue, phenomenal outdoor spaces and a nightlife full of live music shows.
Start your day with a swim or hike. Lady Bird Lake draws travelers for its water activities, but it’s not the only place to take a dip in Austin. Barton Springs Pool and the Barton Creek Greenbelt are local swimming spots surrounded by open space and parkland. Hiking and climbing are extensive in the Greenbelt area, too. Downtown Austin is home to 6th Street – the entertainment district full of clubs, bars and restaurants. Be sure to check out different neighborhoods for different vibes. South Congress Avenue and East Austin are two of our favorites.
How to get to Austin from San Antonio: Driving north on I-35 is perhaps the easiest and quickest route, though you could save some cash with a ride on a Greyhound or Megabus, or by taking the Amtrak Texas Eagle train. Just keep in mind that the Amtrak train ride to Austin is 3.5 hours which is quite a bit longer than the hour and fifteen-minute drive by car.
Stay a little longer at Enchanted Rock to enjoy its Dark Sky status © Arnab Guha Photography / Getty Images
2. Take a hike in the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
Travel time: 1 hour 30 minutes
The pink granite dome of the Enchanted Rock has drawn humans for over 12,000 years. Indigenous people have romantic, tragic and ghostly legends about the rock. For instance, the Tonkawa people thought that ghost fires flickered at the top of the dome. Legends aside, Enchanted Rock is a great place for outdoor lovers who want to do some hiking near San Antonio.
The dome rises 425ft high and is the centerpiece of the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. Visitors come from all over to explore 11 miles of hiking trails and phenomenal rock-climbing spots in the park. As an International Dark Sky Park, stargazing here is amazing. You could stay overnight in one of the campsites to experience the dark sky firsthand or plan your trip around one of the park’s Rock Star Parties to learn about the constellations from the park rangers.
Be sure to book a reservation to Enchanted Rock prior to visiting. Texas State Parks are strict on the number of people allowed in each day, so you wouldn’t want to arrive and be turned away.
How to get to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area from San Antonio: Driving a car from San Antonio to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area will save you a lot of time and energy. However, there is an alternate way to get there. Travelers could take a bus from San Antonio to Fredericksburg, a small German town known for being the center of the Texas wine industry. You would then book a private group tour to Enchanted Rock with Fredericksburg Tours, which takes travelers from Fredericksburg to the natural area on a two-and-a-half-hour tour. Keep in mind that you might run into timing issues with the bus and the tour, so you’ll have to plan accordingly and may even need to stay overnight in Fredericksburg to go this route.
3. Have a beach day in Corpus Christi
Travel time: around 2 hours
Don’t miss a chance to lay out on the beach along the Gulf of Mexico with an overnight or day trip to Corpus Christi. With over 100 miles of beaches, there is plenty of sand to choose from. Spend the day out on the water surfing with Texas Surf Camp or go on a guided kayak tour with GlowRow. Fishing, kite boarding, and windsurfing are some of the other fun water-based activities happening in Corpus Christi Bay too. Families should take the kids to the Texas State Aquarium to learn about the aquatic life found in the bay. Corpus Christi is also the hometown of Tejana legend Selena Quintanilla. Learn more about her life and contribution to music at the Selena Museum.
How to get to Corpus Christi from San Antonio: If you want to explore various beaches throughout Corpus Christi, we recommend renting a car and driving south on I-37 from San Antonio to Corpus Christi. It’ll be more convenient in the long run. Greyhound runs a service between the cities, but it’s a three-hour ride versus a two-hour drive.
Four of Texas’ Painted Churches are near Schulenburg © xradiophotog / Shutterstock
4. Have a German-inspired experience in Schulenburg
Travel time: 1 hour 35 minutes
San Antonio is surrounded by charming towns full of personality, and Schulenburg is one such place. Stop in the downtown area for country cooking or a great German meal at Oakridge Smokehouse Restaurant or (the possibly haunted) Momma’s at Sengelmann Hall. Don’t leave Schulenburg without trying a traditional kolache (sweet pastry with fruit) or schnitzel.
Once you’re nice and full, take a journey through the city’s unique attractions. There is the Texas Polka Museum, which highlights the German and Czech heritage of polka music in Texas through great displays. The biggest attractions of Schulenburg are the Painted Churches. There are 20 Painted Churches in Texas, with four located in this city. They look like ordinary country churches on the outside but offer a huge, colorful surprise inside. These ornately decorated churches feature painted frescoes and gorgeous altars, the likes of which are usually found in Europe. Before you leave Schulenburg, grab fresh pecans – some of which are candied or placed in fudge – at Potter Country Store.
How to get to Schulenburg from San Antonio: Travelers have two transportation options to get to Schulenburg from San Antonio. You can drive or take a Greyhound bus, with the bus taking between five to fifteen minutes longer than driving yourself. If you take a bus, keep in mind that Schulenburg is a very small town of fewer than 3000 people. It’s unlikely you’ll have a lot of luck finding a taxi or rideshare, so you’ll have to walk between attractions.
5. See the Cowboy Capital of the World in Bandera
Travel time: 1 hour
Northwest of San Antonio is a small town of 829 people called Bandera, and it draws people from all over the world for its cowboy culture. Start your day in Bandera in the rustic-style downtown area. Shop among the boutiques and antique stores and stop in Brick’s River Cafe or OST Restaurant for a meal. For a dose of history, check out the Bandera Natural History Museum or the Frontier Times Museum. Those who stay into the evening hours can stop by what some claim to be the oldest continuously operating honky tonk in Texas, the Arkey Blues Silver Dollar Saloon. If you want to spend a few days and get a cowboy experience check out one of the local dude ranches like Mayan Dude Ranch or Hill Country Equestrian Lodge.
Fun tip: If you visit Bandera in the fall, visit the nearby Lost Maples State Natural Area for the most beautiful leaf peeping in the state. It’s only 45 minutes away from Bandera, and well worth the extra time.
How to get to Bandera from San Antonio: As with most of the destinations on this list, driving to Bandera from San Antonio is the easiest way to go. However, you could take a bus – well, sort of. You’d have to take a Greyhound to Center Point, Texas, and then take a taxi or Uber to Bandera. Center Point and Bandera are only 22 minutes apart, which means the entire bus and taxi/Uber route is about an hour and a half.
In spring, Texas Hill Country is filled with thousands of colorful blooms © dszc / Getty Images
6. Spend the day on the lake at Canyon Lake
Travel time: 1 hour
What’s a trip to Texas without spending some time on the lake? Our favorite lake near San Antonio is the 8308-acre Canyon Lake, known as the water recreation capital of Texas. The lake has 80 miles of shoreline and a number of parks where you can lay out, picnic, swim, fish, or launch your kayak or canoe. Motorized boats are allowed on the lake, so it could be fun to rent a pontoon boat, jet ski or other type of boat from Lake Life Boat Rental, Canyon Lake Adventures, or one of the many other boat rental companies. Other options include scuba diving, parasailing, helicopter tours, and nearby golfing.
There are a variety of hiking trails and wildlife to enjoy around the lake. If you have time, visit the mile-long Canyon Lake Gorge, which formed in 2002 when over 34 inches of rain fell and sent a torrent of floodwater that carved out this geological attraction. The floodwaters exposed dinosaur footprints and fossils. Not too far from the gorge is The Heritage Museum of the Texas Hill Country, which provides a lot of information on the dinosaur activity that existed in the Canyon Lake area.
How to get to Canyon Lake from San Antonio: Taking a car to Canyon Lake from San Antonio is the smartest route, as it will ensure you can explore different areas around the lake. You could try your hand at taking an Uber, Lyft or taxi from San Antonio to Canyon Lake. If you have any issues finding a driver that is willing to drive directly to Canyon Lake, take a rideshare or taxi to New Braunfels, which is a 36-minute drive from San Antonio, and then book another rideshare to Canyon Lake, which is about a 31-minute drive from New Braunfels.
Otherwise, take a Greyhound bus or the Amtrak train from San Antonio to San Marcos and try to book a 50-minute rideshare or taxi ride from San Marcos to Canyon Lake. This transportation option, of course, is far more complicated.