The state capital of Texas has built an impressive reputation as a cultural and artistic hub in recent years – people cannot get enough of Austin and what it has to offer.

But don't let its endless attractions (live music, galleries, food, oh my!) distract you from the delights that lie just beyond the city limits. The Hill Country is filled with phenomenal hiking, scenic lakes and rivers, charming small towns and top-tier wineries.

Why not extend your city break and indulge in some fun day trips before packing up? These are seven of our favorites within a two-hour drive of Austin, Texas.

Colorful umbrellas line a waterway with people dining nearby
Enjoy a stroll along the River Walk while in San Antonio © f11photo / Shutterstock

1. Explore the River Walk and visit the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas

Travel time: 1 hour and 15 minutes

If you can spare a few days to visit San Antonio, grab the opportunity. Its Spanish colonial architecture makes it one of the most beautiful cities in the US. But if you can only spare a day, take a leisurely wander along the 15-mile River Walk that connects multiple districts such as Downtown and the popular Pearl District, home to a food hall, farmers market and excellent shopping. 

A visit to San Antonio wouldn't be complete without learning about the city's Spanish colonial 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.

Afterward, immerse yourself in the 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 a bus with Greyhound or 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 traveling by bus or car.

A corner building with balconies in a town
When you're finished with your winery tour, the town of Fredericksburg is worth a stop © Philip Arno Photography / Shutterstock

2. Fredericksburg is a surprising wine destination

Travel time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

People may not associate Texas with fine wines 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 this charming town and offer different types of tastings and experiences for every palate.

While you could skip a trip into town and just visit the wineries, don't deny yourself a good time. Sample the city's German heritage in the cuisine of local restaurants, explore the Pioneer Museum and admire the architecture of the Vereins Kirche. German culture aside, the downtown area is filled with cute 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.

You can also book half-day wine tours from Austin with Austin Detours or Texas Wine Tours. They will likely not stop in Fredericksburg itself though, so if you want to spend some time in the town, you'll need to book a private tour or take your own car.

3. Hit the trails at Pedernales Falls State Park

Travel time: 1 hour

Austin is surrounded by some of the best state parks in Texas, but our favorite is Pedernales Falls State Park. It's home to a beautiful river and a mix of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails that take you along rocky outcrops, through forests to overlooks and even a waterfall.

Yes, you can go swimming in the Pedernales River, as well as kayaking or canoeing. Spend a few hours at the park or camp overnight, but make sure to book your reservation well in advance as the park often reaches its capacity by mid-morning and will then close to those without permits and reservations.

Extend your stay and explore more of the Lone Star State on two feet – these are our seven favorite hikes in Texas.

How to get to Pedernales Falls State Park from Austin: The park is a 32-mile drive west of Austin on Hwy 290 followed by a turning north onto route 3232 for 10 miles. There are no bus or train connections.

A worker slices barbecue for a customer at Smitty's Market in Lockhart, Texas
Smitty's Market is just one of Lockhart's famous BBQ joints © Kris Davidson / Lonely Planet

4. Eat in Lockhart, the Barbecue Capital of the State

Travel time: 35 minutes

They say you can't visit the Lone Star State 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 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 and 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 bus from Austin to Lockhart and back. Get off at the Lockhart HEB stop, as it's within walking distance of the town's best barbecue joints.

5. Tube the river in San Marcos, Texas

Travel time: 40 minutes

River tubing is a super popular summer activity in Texas, and the San Marcos River is among the top two destinations for it in the state (the Guadalupe River is the second). Grab some snacks and 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 also lots of other rental tube outfitters located at different parts of the river.

If you'd rather explore the river at night, book a Crystal Kayak Glow Tour with Paddle SMTX. It uses clear kayaks with colored lights for its 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 has you covered. 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 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 45 minutes long.

If your main purpose is to go tubing in San Marcos, you can book a dedicated 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.

Diners eat on a terrace by a lake at sunset
Lake Travis provides stunning sunset views while you eat, drink and party © Terence Leezy / Getty Images

6. Party on the water in Lake Travis

Travel time: 35 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 – people tie their boats together as they hang out, drink and enjoy the Texas sun. 

If you don't want to rent a boat, you can go fishing at Lake Travis or admire the view from above on a zipline. 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 lake is a 20-mile drive northwest of Austin. There are no public transport options, but you can take a cab or an Uber/Lyft if you'd rather not drive.

7. Enjoy small-town fun in Wimberly 

Travel time: 50 minutes

The Hill Country is full of delightful small towns, and any Austinite will tell you that Wimberly is a great day excursion. Spend some time among the 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.

Experience the Wild West at Pioneer Town, an old-timey town with cool buildings that the whole family will love. If one day isn't quite enough, the Wimberly area is full of cabin rentals and hotels with spas. It 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 – it's a 37-mile drive southwest of Austin. 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 it's difficult to get to all the destinations around town without your own car. 

Ready to plan your trip to Austin?

Find the best times to visit
Add these experiences to your itinerary
Pick up a souvenir at one of our favorite independent shops
Get to know Austin like a local in these neighborhoods

This article was first published Jan 6, 2020 and updated Apr 23, 2024.

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