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Best Central Texas Day Trips

Marcy loves to share her wandering adventures, including her home state of Texas and the many places she's traveled.

The San Antonio river walk

The San Antonio river walk

As big as Texas is, it is surprisingly easy to get around if you stay in one geographic area. Central Texas, also known as the beautiful Hill Country area of the state, has several great towns and sites that are accessible from Austin or San Antonio.

You can have a weekend adventure and stay at a local inn or bed and breakfast on one of your stops, or you can go back and forth from a central location in one day.

For starters, if you are visiting or living in San Antonio or Austin, a logical trip is to head up or down Interstate I-35 and visit your sister city to the north or south.

These two cities are only a bit more than an hour apart, but they're vastly different in culture, feel, population and entertainment. Both cities have rivers running through their downtown areas, but each city has handled that geographic (and somewhat man-made) feature in its own way.

Austin's Colorado River is bordered by parks and jogging trails, while the San Antonio River has become a hub for dining and entertainment in the Alamo City.

Other great places to visit are Fredericksburg, Salado, Round Top, and Winedale. Although the towns are not that far apart, each has its own history, feel, and characteristics, and each offers unique things to see and do, whether you visit for a day, a weekend, or a week.

The Texas Capitol lights up the entire sky at night

The Texas Capitol lights up the entire sky at night

What to See in Austin Texas

Be sure to visit scenic Austin, the Capital City of Texas if you haven't yet dropped by for a spell. Austin's famous live music scene is probably the best known feature of this city, but don't stop there, or you will miss some great local attractions. If you take a short trip to Austin, spend your daytime hours seeing the historic treasures the city has to offer before checking out the music venues that night.

The French Legation Museum is a small landmark just east of the downtown area that has historic displays documenting France's recognition of Texas as an independent state by establishing official representation in the city. Just across Interstate-35 and a few exits to the north is the LBJ Library and Museum. Parking is free and easy to access at both locations.

The flagship store for Whole Foods (which was founded in Austin) is located not far from these two sites; you can stop here for a meal, snack, some organic shopping and to stare in awe at the amazing features the store offers.

If you're in a car, take a scenic ride on Loop 360, which circles the west side of the city. You'll see rock cliffs, rolling hills (you're truly in Hill Country now), and the award-winning 360 Bridge (the Percy Pennybacker Bridge), which arches over the Colorado River to the northwest of the downtown area.

The Alamo is in the middle of Downtown San Antonio

The Alamo is in the middle of Downtown San Antonio

Things to Do in San Antonio Texas

San Antonio Texas is known for its lively and beautiful River Walk, its historic missions and the Alamo. You can easily tour one or more of these in one day, or perhaps see the San Antonio Zoo or one of its museums. The five missions in the area (one of which is the Alamo) mark the immigration of Europeans and their culture and religion to Central Texas.

The San Antonio Zoo is well worth visiting and can be seen in just a few hours. On your way out of the front gate, visit the Sunken Gardens, located on the hill opposite the main parking lot. Entry to the Sunken Garden is free, and the lagoon, floral plantings and water lilies offer a small tropical oasis that begs to be used as a background for photos of the family.

The River Walk has historic restaurants as well as newer culinary offerings, shops and souvenirs. You can ride a tour boat and learn about local history and architecture from the boat captain and guide.

This monument commemorates the Pacific Theater in World War II

This monument commemorates the Pacific Theater in World War II

Visit the German Town of Fredericksburg Texas

This quaint German town is located about 70 miles southwest of Austin, in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. As you enter Main Street, you'll immediately notice the brick and limestone storefronts lining each side of the street (many of them preserved as historic landmarks). You can spend many hours browsing for antiques and crafts, and enjoying ice cream, home-baked pastries and other goodies along the way.

The town is known for it's great food (several German restaurants as well as some small cafes and a favorite bakery) as well as its rich history. It is the county seat of Gillespie County and is also home to the National Museum of the Pacific War (also referred to as the Admiral Nimitz Museum).

The first European settlers arrived in the area in 1846, and had some stressful times at first until reaching a treaty with the Comanches (who decided the newcomers were more interested in farming and living peaceful lives than in going to war with them).

The events surrounding this treaty were celebrated for years through the Fredericksburg Easter Fires Pageant, in which townspeople played the parts of Indians, Settlers and Easter Bunnies. The pageant reenacted a local legend about a settler woman who calmed the fears of her children one Easter by telling them the fires they saw in the hills were a sign the Easter Bunny was boiling and coloring eggs for them.

Nearby attractions include the Lady Bird Johnson Park. The park has a golf course and RV sites with full hook-ups as well as areas for grilling and picnics and a small lake where visitors can canoe or fish.

Enchanted Rock is another popular Central Texas spot. This mammoth rock formation (the base covers 640 acres) is preserved as a State Natural Area by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The park, located 18 miles to the north of Fredericksburg, has a campground, hiking trails and educational exhibits.

Enchanted Rock is filled with Indian lore and has been a landmark in Central Texas for decades.

Enchanted Rock is filled with Indian lore and has been a landmark in Central Texas for decades.

Historic Salado Texas

To the north of Austin, the town of Salado was founded in 1859 at a crossing site of Salado Creek. The town's gristmill and ready access to other mills in the area helped it thrive in its early days, and it also became known for its educational facilities (among the earliest in Central Texas).

In later years, Salado was eclipsed by other nearby cities (notably Austin and Waco), but it remains one of the favored jewels of Central Texas and is beloved for its beauty, charming historic buildings and arts community.

A stop at the famed Stagecoach Inn is almost a must if you visit the town. The dining room is open Thursdays through Sundays for lunch as well as dinner. You will feel you stepped more than a century back in time in the faded elegance of the inn's historic dining area.

If you tour the local shops you'll find antiques, pottery, original artwork, fine jewelry, crafts and more.

Round Top and Winedale Texas Are Known for Music, Theater Arts, and Antiques

You can visit these small towns (actually, Winedale isn't even big enough to be called a town) any time of the year, but if you like Shakespeare, you might plan your trip for July and August. No matter what time you visit, though, Round Top and the surrounding area has a wealth of antiques to offer as well as some great food.

Shakespeare at Winedale is a state treasure and gift from the University of Texas' English Department (yes, English, not Drama). The summer program was launched in 1970 as the brainchild of the now-retired Professor James Ayers, who wanted a venue for studying Shakespeare's plays through performance.

The entire town quickly adopted the program as part of the local family and culture. Students who participate in the intense, two-month course are often hosted for dinners by townsfolk, and children in the area have performed in the plays when parts call for youth.

The program culminates in three plays performed during a series of weekends in late July and early August. Each weekend includes all three plays, and student/actors learn to switch characters between afternoon and evening performances as they assume new roles for each play. Plays are performed in an open-air barn (there's a roof, but no walls), and actors dash in and out through the aisles as well as the small backstage area.

In the fall, antique buffs flock to the area for the gigantic Antique Show, which lasts from late September through early October. In addition to the many shops in Round Top and nearby towns, tents and temporary antique displays line the highway in every direction. If you like antiques, bring a truck; you'll need it.