Austin is a destination in and of itself, but the city’s location in the Texas Hill Country makes it easy for travelers to access other unique places without a long drive.
The Texas Hill Country is full of phenomenal hiking spots, popular lakes and rivers, small towns with cute downtowns, and wineries galore. If you’re going to travel all the way to Austin, you might as well sample what the region has to offer too.
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We’ve made a list of our favorite day trip destinations from Austin within a two-hour drive. If you schedule your trip well, you can enjoy the city and some of Texas’ most magical spots all in one vacation.
1. Explore the River Walk and remember the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas
Travel time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
If you can spare a few days to visit San Antonio, don’t miss the opportunity; its Spanish colonial architecture makes it one of the most beautiful cities in the US. If you only have the day, however, the 15-mile River Walk connects multiple districts like Downtown to the popular Pearl District, home to a food hall, farmers market, and shopping.
La Villita is a historic village on the southern bank of the San Antonio River Walk © Alamy Stock Photo
A visit to San Antonio wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the city’s historic Spanish past and its vibrant Mexican culture today. The San Antonio Missions National Historic Park features five historic Spanish missions, including the Alamo, which are all connected by a bike path. Don’t miss a chance to experience San Antonio’s Chicano community at El Mercado, a traditional Mexican market full of shops with Mexican-made products, art, traditional food stalls, restaurants, bakeries, and musical and artistic performances.
How to get to San Antonio from Austin: The easiest way to get to San Antonio from Austin is to drive down I-35. However, you could also take the bus via Greyhound and MegaBus or hop on the Amtrak Texas Eagle train. An Amtrak coach ticket from Austin to San Antonio is cheap, but the journey takes about 3.5 hours – about three times longer than a bus ride or car drive.
2. Tube the river in San Marcos, Texas
Travel time: 36 minutes
River tubing is a super popular activity in Texas in the summer and the 72-degree San Marcos River that runs through San Marcos is among the top two destinations for it in the state (the Guadalupe River is the second). So, grab some snacks, a floating cooler full of beverages, and spend a half or full day tubing the river.
If you have your own tube, you can use the free drop-in spot from San Marcos City Park. Otherwise, rent a tube from the Lion’s Club, which includes an unlimited shuttle pass. The shuttle will pick you up downstream and return you to the launch spot as many times as you’d like. There are lots of other rental tube outfitters located at different parts of the river.
If you’d rather explore the river at night, you could take a quick trip to San Marcos for a Crystal Kayak Glow Tour with Paddle SMTX. They use crystal clear kayaks with colored lights for their night tours.
How to get to San Marcos from Austin: If you don’t have a car to get from Austin to San Marcos, you’re in luck – the Interurban Coach is a public bus service that connects Austin with surrounding cities including San Marcos. Travelers can take the 1510 Yellow Route or the 1517 Express Gold Route from Austin to San Marcos, both of which are about an hour-long ride. An all-day pass on the Interurban Coach is only $6. Another transportation option is the Austin to San Marcos Amtrak line on the Texas Eagle. A coach ticket can be as cheap as $5 and the ride is only 42 minutes long.
If your main purpose is to go tubing in San Marcos, you can always book an excursion from Austin. ATXcursions has a shuttle service from central Austin to San Marcos. A tube rental and ice chests (with ice) are included in the price of the ticket. Plus, you can drink and snack on the shuttle there and back.
When you’re finished with your winery tour, the town of Fredericksburg is worth a stop © Philip Arno Photography / Shutterstock
3. Fredericksburg is a surprising wine destination
Travel time: 1 hour and 32 minutes
People may not associate Texas with being a wine destination, but the small town of Fredericksburg has really made a name for itself in the last few years. Over 100 wineries and vineyards (and one distillery!) surround Fredericksburg, offering different types of tastings and experiences that wine enthusiasts will love.
While you could skip a trip into town and just visit the wineries, it’s worth the time and effort. The city’s German heritage is prominent in the cuisine of local restaurants, the Pioneer Museum, and the architecture of the Vereins Kirche. German culture aside, the downtown area is filled with clothing shops and gift stores that are worth exploring.
How to get to Fredericksburg from Austin: Most travelers drive from Austin to Fredericksburg and spend the day exploring the town and wineries before returning to ATX in the evening. However, a Greyhound bus is the most affordable transportation option to Fredericksburg.
If you plan to visit a lot of wineries and engage in wine tastings, you can book half-day wine tours with Austin Detours or Texas Wine Tours. These depart from Austin but will likely not stop in Fredericksburg. If you want to spend some time in the town, you’ll need to book a private tour or drive your own car.
4. Hit the trails at Pedernales Falls State Park
Travel time: 57 minutes
Austin is surrounded by some of the best state parks in Texas, but our favorite is the Pedernales Falls State Park. It’s home to a beautiful river and a mix of easy, moderate, and challenging hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails that take you along rocky outcrops, through forests to overlooks, and even to a waterfall.
Yes, you can go swimming in the Pedernales River, as well as kayaking or canoe on it too. Spend a few hours at the park or camp overnight, but just make sure to book your reservation (to visit or for a campsite) well in advance as the park often reaches its capacity by mid-morning and will close to those without permits and reservations.
How to get to Pedernales Falls State Park from Austin: You’ll need a car to get to Pedernales Falls State Park as there’s no bus or train service.
Smitty’s Market is just one of Lockhart’s famous BBQ joints. ©Kris Davidson/Lonely Planet
5. Lockhart: the Barbecue Capital of the State
Travel time: 35 minutes
They say you can’t visit Texas without tasting the barbecue so it’s a good thing that the barbecue capital of Texas is just a short drive from Austin. Lockhart was given the Barbecue Capital honor in 2003 by the Texas Senate, and since then, travelers have been making their way to the small town to taste the best smoked, fall-off-the-bone meats.
The four most popular BBQ spots in Lockhart are Black’s Barbecue, Smitty’s Market, Kreuz Market, and Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Q. You can expect slow-roasted meat over oak wood and some phenomenal German-inspired sausages. We highly recommend going on a BBQ crawl between the restaurants tasting different cuts and sides. Sure, you’ll be full by the end, but you’ll be able to say you had a true old-school barbecue-tasting experience.
How to get to Lockhart from Austin: You could easily drive or get a cab to Lockhart, but if you’re on a budget, take the 1516 Orange Route Interurban Coach CARTS bus line from Austin to Lockhart and back. Get off at the Lockhart H-E-B stop as it’s within walking distance of the town’s best barbecue joints.
6. Party on the water in Lake Travis
Travel time: 33 minutes
Lake Travis is very popular among Austin locals and has a bit of a reputation as being the city’s “party lake”. The lake itself is 63.75 miles long and has over 271 miles of shoreline, making it a fantastic destination to rent a boat, jet ski, kayak, or canoe. Devil’s Cove is where the party is at – boaters of all types tie their boats together and people hang out, drink, and enjoy the Texas sun.
Lake Travis provides stunning sunset views while you party © Terence Leezy/Getty
If you don’t want to rent a boat, you can always go fishing at Lake Travis, test yourself on the Waterloo Adventures on-the-water challenge course, or go ziplining at Lake Travis Zipline Adventures. Don’t forget to grab a bite at The Oasis, the largest outdoor restaurant in Texas with stunning lake and sunset views. It has live music too!
How to get to Lake Travis from Austin: The only way to get to and from Lake Travis is by taxi, Uber, Lyft, or your own car.
7. Enjoy small-town fun in Wimberly
Travel time: 46 minutes
The Hill Country is full of small towns, and any Austinite will tell you that Wimberly is a great day excursion. Spend some time shopping among boutique stores and art galleries in the Historic Downtown, before grabbing a meal at the CreekHouse Kitchen and Bar or a wine tasting at the Hill Country Wine Shoppe.
Travel back in time to the Wild West at Pioneer Town, an old-timey town with cool buildings that the whole family will love. If just one day isn’t quite enough, the Wimberly area is full of cabin rentals and hotels with spas, and offers adventure like horseback riding and ziplining, artsy activities, like glass blowing, and even tastings at a rum distillery.
And if you travel to Wimberly in the summer, don’t forget to visit the Blue Hole Regional Park, Cypress Falls Swimming Hole, or Jacob’s Well Natural Area. These swimming holes offer a cool respite from the sweltering Texas heat.
How to get to Wimberly from Austin: Trust us when we say that a car is necessary to visit Wimberly. You could take the Texas Eagle Amtrak train from Austin to San Marcos and then get a 25-minute taxi, Uber, or Lyft ride from San Marcos to Wimberly, but you’ll find it difficult to get to all the destinations around Wimberly without your own car.