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Every so often, despite the seemingly endless adventures to be had in Austin, the urge to get out of town strikes. Here are 10 action-packed, family-friendly daytrips from Austin to get you out of the city and back home in time for dinner.
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It would be impossible to squeeze all that the Alamo City has to offer into one trip. Old standards like the Riverwalk and the Alamo are popular for good reason, but there’s so much more to see and do. Explore history at San Antonio Missions NHP. View outstanding art collections at the Museum of Art, McNay Art Museum, and Briscoe Western Art Museum. Nature lovers will delight in the Botanical Garden and Japanese Tea Garden. Those looking for something a little less conventional might enjoy a tour of the SAS Factory, one of the few remaining shoe factories in the U.S. Have kids along on your adventure? Don’t miss The DoSeum–an enormous museum designed for children to do, create, and tinker the day away. San Antonio Zoo is one of the best in Texas, featuring a tremendous variety of animals, opportunities to get close and personal with lories and butterflies, plus a train, carousel, geocaching, and more. Last but not least, consider a stop at Morgan’s Wonderland, the world’s first theme park designed with special-needs individuals in mind and built for everyone’s enjoyment.
The Bootiful Wimberley boot trail, adorned with fifty gigantic, one of a kind, artist-designed boots, is a great introduction to the charms of this small Hill Country town. Wimberley is home to two breathtaking natural swimming holes, Blue Hole and Jacob’s Well, both of which are nestled within lovely natural areas. Stop by the EmilyAnn Theatre and Gardens for their annual butterfly festival, festive holiday light display, or a top notch theatrical production. Its peaceful grounds are open to the public and feature life-size chess and checkers, an interactive musical garden, bird and butterfly watching, picnic areas, and beautiful views. On the first Saturday of the month (March-December), you can catch the oldest outdoor market in the Texas Hill Country, Wimberley Market Days, while you’re in town. End your visit with a truly unique movie going experience at the walk-in Corral Theatre.
Johnson City has something to please every member of your family. Get your history fix at LBJ Ranch National Historic Park and the Sauer-Beckmann Farmstead. (Read about my family’s experience here.) Discover the fun of science at Hill Country Science Mill. Explore a local brewery, distillery, or winery. Feeling wild? Take a guided safari tour at the Exotic Resort Zoo or go for a swim at Pedernales Falls State Park.
Best known for its proud German heritage–celebrated annually during Oktoberfest–the heart of Fredericksburg is a National Historic District with over 80 points of interest. History enthusiasts will appreciate a stop at the Pioneer Museum, which aspires to preserve and tell the story of the Texas Hill Country, as well as a visit to the world class National Museum of the Pacific War. Looking to polish up your two-step? Just 13 miles outside of Fredericksburg is the tiny town of Luckenbach, famous for live country music. (Bonus: kids are welcome!) If time outdoors is more your style, check out Wildseed Farms, a real live working Wildflower Farm that welcomes guests to freely explore their fields and gardens. And for magical views of the Hill Country, an invigorating climb up Enchanted Rock can’t be beat. (Read about Heidi O’s experience here.)
You might be surprised to learn that Waco is a treasure trove of family fun. Cameron Park Zoo’s 52 scenic acres are home to nearly 1,731 animals, representing 300 species, housed in natural habitats. Waco Mammoth Site, the nation’s only recorded discovery of a nursery herd of Columbian mammoths, is one of the country’s newest National Monuments. Sports fans will appreciate the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, Texas history buffs will enjoy the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum, and kids will have a blast exploring the Mayborn Museum (and visiting Baylor’s Bear Habitat while you’re on campus). Step back to the days of the Chisholm Trail on the historic Waco Suspension Bridge, which is bordered by two parks and numerous larger than life bronze sculptures. Recharge at the Dr. Pepper Museum’s soda fountain before heading home. And, of course, we can’t forget about Magnolia Market and all that Chip and Joanna Gaines have to offer! Read more about that here.
First populated by Stephen F. Austin’s “Old Three Hundred,” La Grange is a small town rich in history. The Old Fayette County Jail is a great starting point and a five-minute walk from the TX Quilt Museum, a fascinating stop no matter how you feel about quilts. More history abounds at the TX Czech Heritage & Cultural Center, Historic Faison House, and Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Sites. To experience a taste of life on a dairy farm, take a tour of the Jersey Barnyard or drop by their farm store for fresh, raw milk, and free range chicken eggs. Music and dancing more your style? Catch a show at Bugle Boy, the first “Fair Trade” music venue in Texas or cut a rug at the nearby Swiss Alp Dance Hall. Whatever you do, don’t miss the scenic, winding drive up the bluff (keep an eye out for Magilla the Gorilla) and a stop at Weikel’s for award-winning kolaches.
Texas State Parks
Spend a day exploring the beauty of Central Texas at one of more than a dozen state parks within an easy drive of Austin. From hiking and biking to swimming and spelunking there’s a park here to suit every interest: Bastrop SP, Blanco SP, Buescher SP, Colorado Bend SP, Guadalupe River SP, Inks Lake SP, Lake Somerville SP & Trailway, Lockhart SP, Longhorn Cavern SP, McKinney Falls SP, Mother Neff SP, Old Tunnel SP, Palmetto SP, Pedernales Falls SP.
There’s more to New Braunfels than Schlitterbahn. With two rivers to choose from–the Comal and the Guadalupe–there’s nothing better than floating in a tube on a toasty day. Load up the kiddos for good (dry) times at McKenna Children’s Museum, Animal World and Snake Farm, or the Railroad Museum. While the day away at beautiful Landa Park, where there is swimming, mini golf, a miniature train ride, an arboretum, and a public, 18-hole golf course. Catch a double-feature at Stars & Stripes Drive-In Theatre before heading home.
Marble Falls is a hub for outdoor recreation. Families can have a blast at Sweet Berry Farm, which offers seasonal berry picking and family fun spring through fall. Hikers at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge may be lucky enough to spy an endangered golden-cheeked warbler or black-capped vireo. Need a new spot to beat the heat? Try nearby Krause Springs or spend a day on the water at Lake LBJ or Lake Marble Falls. 4×4 enthusiasts and aspiring daredevils can get their fix at Hidden Falls Adventure Park where there are miles of off-road trails for all skill levels. If a more low-key outing suits your style, take a tour of local breweries and wineries and eat lunch at the Real New Orleans Style Restaurant, founded and operated by an entire church congregation that relocated to Marble Falls after Hurricane Katrina. Truth be told, pie happy hour at Blue Bonnet Cafe is reason alone to make the trip.
As Dripping Springs grows, it may be easy to forget that the small town on the edge of the Hill Country has been around since the 1850s. Spend a few hours wandering the Downtown Historic District, checking out shops, galleries, and historic architecture. Then head over to Texas Hill Country Olive Company for a tour and tasting. If you’re adventuring sans kiddos, consider touring the local breweries, wineries, and distilleries or cutting a rug at Mercer Street Dance Hall. Just a short drive north of Dripping Springs lie some of the most scenic gems of Central Texas — Hamilton Pool, Reimers Ranch Park, and Westcave Preserve. An entire day would be well spent there without ever venturing into town.