When you live in Austin, that weird and wonderful nucleus of Texas that offers so much to eat, do, and listen to, you can be hard-pressed to leave. I mean, do you even brisket, rest of Texas?
But venturing out is good for the soul. Outside those familiar Austin city limits, some truly incredible adventures await (even if they’re not brisket-related). And if you’re lucky, the crowds and traffic will be a bit gentler for you off the beaten path of I-35.
This summer, make a plan to visit one of the central Texas destinations you’ve been wanting to visit but haven’t gotten around to yet. Here are five great choices within an easy two- to three(ish)-hour drive of the city.
You can get to Corpus Christi in a shade over three hours and sink your toes into a nice little beach getaway. Go the traditional hotel route or set up a vacation rental for a real salt life experience. Visit the Texas Surf Museum (“just like the waves, the museum is free!”) or witness a sea turtle hatchling release on Padre Island National Seashore.
If you can drive a bit further, locals love the quiet, authentic vibe of Port Aransas and Mustang Island, a great fishing destination, but also a great place to enjoy wildlife, from dolphins to alligators to birds.
Fredericksburg and other Hill Country destinations
The only thing more intoxicating than the charm of this historic German Texas enclave is the wine from than 45 wineries located right here in Hill Country. If you’re a wine fan, you’ll want to devote some time to slurping your way through the wine trail that sprung up along Highway 290 (there’s even a shuttle that will provide the designated driver for you).
But don’t miss the other great parts of Fburg, starting with the delicious cuisine (schnitzel anyone?), the natural beauty of Enchanted Rock, and some of the great historic attractions, such as Lyndon B. Johnson’s ranch, located just outside the city. B&Bs are the name of the game here, as the “Sunday houses” of the original settlers have now been converted into guest lodging.
Feeling a bit more rustic? Rent a cabin in Canyon Lake or Wimberley and explore the natural beauty of Pedernales Falls State Park, Blanco State Park, or Blue Hole in Wimberley.
If you haven’t ventured south to SA yet, or it’s been a while, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit. There really isn’t another place like it north of the border–the city explodes with culture. Stop at El Mercado (the Market Square) for authentic Mexican cuisine and trinkets. Wind your way through the River Walk, which now expands out to the four other historic missions (in addition to The Alamo downtown)–you can even rent a bike and cycle your way through the entire 15 miles of River Walk. And don’t miss the Pearl District, home of Hotel Emma, located in the restored 19th century Pearl brewhouse, and several restaurants that are making waves among foodies.
H-Town is the fourth largest city in the U.S., in a state where everything is already allegedly bigger. That means lots of terrain for an Austinite to cover, and a nearly dizzying array of options. For starters, how about scheduling in lunch with an astronaut, visiting the Art Car Museum (a/k/a the Garage Mahal), taking in a free performance at Miller Outdoor Theatre and snapping a selfie in front of the Water Wall. Houston always boasts a number of James Beard Award finalists, earning a reputation for food that is big on deliciousness.
The sprawling DFW metroplex is an easy drive north and offers lots of fun surprises hidden within the communities that make up this region. In Fort Worth, take in the daily cattle drive. Check out the National Videogame Museum or The Star, the brand new headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys, in Frisco. Spend the night at a hotel the size of four city blocks, the Gaylord Texan. Or visit Dallas’ Klyde Warren Park, a city park that was built “out of thin air” in the space over a freeway.