9 Perfect Fall Road Trips for When You Need to Escape Austin
Nature is healing, y’all.
Out-of-state travel may be thriving, but why leave Texas during peak season when everyone else is paying big bucks just to get in? Fall and winter are the perfect time to explore the Austin region—we can finally wander outside at 2 pm without immediately needing an ice bath, festivals don’t require portable fans, we don’t need to stick to frozen margs on rooftop bars, and there’s plenty of time to ditch the city for nearby Lone Star state delights. Gear up to discover all the scenic wineries, restorative glamping opportunities, cute lil’ town squares, and so much more, all within driving distance of Austin.
Distance from Austin: 72 miles west; 1.5 hours drive
Named after German nobleman Jakob Luckenbach, who helped settle the Texas Hill Country, Luckenbach is commonly known as a ghost town due to its deep western roots and tiny population that hovers around a dozen residents. But don’t be fooled by size—the town has charmed the spurs off of big-name country stars who regularly travel far and wide to perform there, from Willie Nelson to Waylon Jennings, the latter of which coined the motto “Everybody’s Somebody in Luckenbach.” Today, the adorable destination remains a busy weekend draw. There are just two working buildings: A dance hall, where events are scheduled on most days, and a saloon-meets-general store that functions more as a souvenir shop, where you can purchase a t-shirt emblazoned with Jennings’ famed slogan. When you’re done, Fredericksburg is just a 15 minute drive away (see below).
Distance from Austin: 31 miles south; 48 minutes drive
San Marcos is a mecca for hardcore shoppers year-round and, for the rest of us, come holiday season. Head to Tanger Outlets and San Marcos Premium Outlets for bargains on brands from Kate Spade to Nike and Disney or ball out at glitzy neighboring complexes carrying discounted designers like Valentino and YSL. Shopping aside, there’s a bunch of other things to do. The San Marcos River is ideal for tubing, paddle boarding, or a swim, and if you’d rather explore the river without getting wet, take a $10 glass boat tour from the Spring Lake Natural Area. Downtown is surprisingly bumping after dark, when the overnight revellers come out to play. Young Sixth Street types love Shade Rooftop Patio Bar, while queers and their allies get down to delicious drag and karaoke at the Stonewall Warehouse.
Distance from Austin: 102 miles north; 1.75-hour drive
If you’re a regular Austin to Dallas commuter, then you know Waco as the halfway point along the drive or Greyhound route. However, the town itself is definitely worth a day of exploration. Soda-lovers should stop by the Dr Pepper Museum, the site where the fizzy refresher got its start. It spans three floors of fascinating exhibits plus soda fountains and a gift shop. Next, take your road sodas five minutes up the road to Cameron Park, one of the largest municipal parks in Texas, and crack them open by the Brazos River or under the towering trees on a warm winter's day. The Cameron Park Zoo is cute for the kiddos, but adults might prefer discovering the mammoths who once roamed the area instead at the Waco Mammoth National Monument. The paleontological site was added to the NPS by President Obama in 2015, protecting and promoting the fossilized Ice Age remains. Finally, grab your souvenirs at Magnolia Market downtown before skedaddling back to the big city.
Distance from Austin: 48 miles southwest; 50-minute drive
Hill Country charm, historic German roots, and an abundance of natural beauty make New Braunfels a solid pick for a day trip or weekend away from home. Summers are popular for tubing, but come fall or winter, try venturing downtown for kolaches, pretzels, and strudels at Naegelin’s Bakery, the oldest bakery in Texas, before browsing 16,000-square-feet of books, records, furniture, glassware, and jewelry at the Downtown Antique Mall. Afterward, practice your best “Prost!” at Krause’s Cafe, which, in addition to traditional German eats, sports an enormous Biergarten lined with communal tables and over 60 Texan and German beers on tap. On the edge of town, swing by Gruene (pronounced “green”), where live music at the historic Gruene Hall is scheduled on a near-daily basis.
Distance from Austin: 24 miles west; 38-minute drive
Just a short jaunt outside of Austin proper, Dripping Springs is a boozy oasis and home to some of the state’s top breweries and distilleries. Start at Jester King Brewery, take the tour or just sample their award-winning farmhouse ales under the shade of ancient live oak trees. Just down the road, you’ll find gin and liqueur producers Revolution Spirits, dog-friendly booze emporium Treaty Oak Distillery, crafty outpost Last Stand Brewing, and Beerburg Brewing, a beer hall stocked with farm-to-table food offerings. If you want a one-stop-shop destination, Dripping Springs Distilling is hard to beat. The first licensed distillery in all of Texas Hill Country, they produce handmade, artisanal vodka, gin, and bourbon in small batches using limestone-filtered spring water native to the region. Guests can tour the 10-acre property, enjoy tasting sessions, and book a table at the newly opened Distillers Bar, which serves cocktails and elevated Texas comfort fare including super addictive Mini Bacon Biscuits slathered with Bourbon Maple Butter.
Distance from Austin: 80 miles southwest; 1.25-hour drive
San Antonio has always been a buzzing cultural hub, but over the last decade the city has undergone a seriously stylish glow-up. Spend a weekend exploring the city’s offerings with a stay at the sparkling new Canopy by Hilton San Antonio Riverwalk, which, as you’ll guess by name, sits pretty along the famed waters. And even if you don’t stay the night, at least give the property’s South Texas-inspired Domingo Restaurante and agave-forward Otro Bar a whirl. Later, check out two awesome exhibits starting with the San Antonio Museum of Art and followed by the funky immersive experience at Hopscotch. Then head to Pearl, a massive mixed-use space built using the historic bones of the former Pearl Brewery, for shopping, chowing down, or just hanging out and enjoying one of the spot’s green spaces. Standout stops include Best Quality Daughter for incredible char-siu served family-style and The Bottling Department food hall’s Caribbean specialist Mi Roti. Need a lie-down? Book a pamper session at the magical La Cantera Resort and Spa.
Distance from Austin: 33 miles south; 35-minute drive
Meat-lovers flock to Lockhart—AKA The Barbecue Capital of Texas—to make a pilgrimage to the town’s ‘cue institutions. Kreuz Market is enormous and stuck in time in the best way (just don’t dare ask for a fork or sauce for your ribs). Pop over to Black’s Barbecue, established back in the 1932, for melt-in-your mouth brisket then swing by Smitty’s Market for juicy, coarse-ground sausage with just the right snap. Immerse yourself in Lockhart’s boot-scootin’ history with a visit to the Caldwell County Jail Museum (open weekends), admire the architecture of the historic Dr. Eugene Clark Library, or peruse antiques at Fields Stables. Last but not least, Lockhart’s walkable main square offers some great food and drink options, from unfussy, comfort food at Commerce Cafe and beers from historic saloon The Pearl to Little Trouble, a hip speakeasy-style spot serving cocktails and a Texas-centric menu laced with Mexican and German influences.
Distance from Austin: 38 miles southwest; 50-minute drive
Wondering why tiny hygge-fied cabins have been taking over the ‘Gram lately? Meet Getaway, a glamping company that sets up adorable low-fi escapes all over the country—and, thankfully, there’s a hub of them just waiting for you to unplug in Wimberley. The concept is simple: Check in with keypad code, lock away your phone, and reconnect with nature. (And they even give you free s’mores!) Nearby, distract your cellphone-deprived self at swimming holes like Jacob’s Well, a 120-foot-deep clear spring, and tree-lined Blue Hole Regional Park with its sapphire waters. There are some interesting art galleries and boutiques downtown, and if you like animals, go and hang out at The Shady Llama, a sprawling beer and wine garden where resident llamas and donkeys can come and go as they please. Later, wind down at Cypress Creek Reserve Rum, where you can tour the distillery, sample the wares, and sip on tiki cocktails.
Distance from Austin: 80 miles west; 1.5-hour drive
Hill Country is considered one of the most beautiful places in Texas, and Fredericksburg lies at the very heart of the whole shebang. The charming hamlet has something for everyone: German culture, natural attractions, and a boatload of locally produced wine. In fact, there are more than 50 wineries, vineyards, and tasting rooms scattered throughout the country. Kick things off at Ab Astris, a family-owned boutique winery that cranks out exceptional vintages using Texas-grown fruit. Meanwhile, Ranch Road 1 offers bike tours of the region for those itching to burn some calories between sips. Back downtown, hit up Main Street, a haven spanning 150 shops, art galleries, and boutiques, plus a vibrant and varied restaurant scene including gems like West End Pizza Company, Chase’s Place Cocktails & Kitchen, Otto’s German Bistro, and Granite House Lounge. On your way out of town, work off the carbs with a hike up to the soaring summit of Enchanted Rock. The massive, otherworldly pink granite dome is said to be haunted by the spirits of Native Americans, who considered the site supernatural. Alternatively, get your steps in the Vereins Kirche Museum at Marktplatz, a local landmark showcasing the town’s rich history.