The Best Day Trips from Austin with Kids
Spring Break is right around the corner. If you don’t have the time (or the funds!) to squeeze in a week-long family vacation, not to fear! There are so many fun adventures right here in Central Texas that you can do with your family.
My husband can’t really take off work for Spring Break and I’m not quite brave enough to take my boys on a full week, far flung vacation by myself. So during Spring Break I grab the boys and we head out for a Daycation or two. We might spend the night somewhere and make it a Double Daycation but I love that we are close enough to home that we can decide on a whim.
I thought I’d share my top 5 best day trips from Austin with kids. Depending on where you live, one of these might just be down the road or it might be a little more of a trek. Regardless, I have so many fun ideas you’ll have a hard time squeezing everything into one day!
:: Day Trip to San Antonio
San Antonio is probably our absolute favorite day trip. There is so much to do and fun for all ages. We could go to San Antonio everyday for a week and still have plenty more to do! Obviously there’s SeaWorld, Six Flags, The Riverwalk and The Alamo. All are great fun but they aren’t why San Antonio is one of the best day trips from Austin with kids! Here are my favorite things to do with the kids in San Antonio:
1. The DoSeum – If you haven’t been to San Antonio’s museum for kids you are seriously missing out. My boys beg to go here. I have to pace our visit or we run out of time to do everything! I love that it’s fun for little kids AND big kids. Truly something for everyone. Read my full review on it here.
2. San Antonio Zoo – Spring Break is a fabulous time to visit the zoo because it isn’t crazy hot yet. The animals might be out and about instead of napping in the shade. If you haven’t visited recently you might want to plan a trip because they just got some giraffes and you can even feed them!
3. San Antonio Zoo Eagle Train – This obviously won’t take you the whole day but we love to ride the zoo train. Plus it’s fun to get off and explore some of the other stops like the Japanese Tea Garden or Kiddie Park.
4. Hemisfair Park – This extra awesome park was originally built to host the 1968 World’s Fair. Since then it’s been transformed it a really fun place for kids. In Yanaguana Garden they have playgrounds for all ages, enormous sand boxes, a games plaza and a splash pad. It’s hours of fun for everyone.
5. Natural Bridge – Located just outside San Antonio are Natural Bridge Caverns and Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch. You can choose one or try to squeeze in both. The caverns are more than just a big cave. You can do Hidden Passage Tours, Canopy Tours, Try to find your way out of the big maze. The whole place it really fun and right next door is the drive through game ranch where you’ll have zebras, ostriches and more coming right up to your car window.
Too much fun to squeeze into a day? Book a night or two at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country. It’s our absolute favorite place to stay (and play!) They have campfire s’mores, duck races, several pools and a lazy river. But my boys favorite thing by far are all the water slides. And they just added two more that look absolutely awesome! It doesn’t get any more fun that the JW Marriott!
:: Day Trip to Fredericksburg
One of our other favorite destinations for family fun is Fredericksburg. I love to go with the girls and shop on Main Street and hit up the wineries but you might be surprised at how many fun activities there are for kids! All of the outdoor fun and wide open spaces definitely make Fredericksburg one of the best day trips from Austin with kids.
1. Go Fruit Picking – My boys love, love, love to go pick fruit. It’s fun for them to eat something they picked themselves. Our favorite spot is Marburger Orchard. Throughout the Spring and Summer you can head to their fields and pick Strawberries, Blackberries and Peaches.
2. Marketplatz Playground – Whenever we go peach picking, we always finish our trip with a visit to this fun playground right in the center of town. There are several different playground equipment pieces, rock formations to climb and a large covered pavilion with picnic tables. We always pack a lunch and stay for a while.
3. Willow City Loop – Alright, so this isn’t necessarily the most fun for kids but it’s a must-do with kids. The Willow City Loop is a beautiful country drive through pastures and rolling hills. During wildflower season it’s absolutely breathtaking. Pull over to the side of the road and snap some pics of your kids in the flowers. Just make sure you don’t hop a fence onto private property. Afterwards you can reward them with a trip to Lone Star Candy Bar.
4. Climb Enchanted Rock – This Texas State Park is a stunning granite “mountain” known as Enchanted Rock. We love the Jr. Park Ranger program to make your experience with kids even more fun. The area has tons of hiking. You don’t have to hike to the top. You can just climb around and explore. However, make sure to get there early as it’s often very crowded.
Want to make it an overnight? I think the most kid friendly lodging in Fredericksburg is the Hampton Inn & Suites. They have nice size rooms and a free hot breakfast. Plus, their swimming pool is fairly nice. There’s a zero entry section for the littlest tikes and a small slide for the bigger kids.
:: Day Trip to Johnson City
We go to Johnson City all.the.time. It’s only a 25 minute drive from our house, which hardly even makes it a day trip. More like just a regular outing. But for those of you up north or in more eastern parts of town, this definitely constitutes a day trip and one worth making! Here are our favorite things to do around Johnson City:
1. Hill Country Science Mill – Housed in an old feed mill built in the 1880s, the Hill Country Science Mill is full of engaging, interactive exhibits. The installations blend art, kinetic technology, augmented reality, and computer gaming. Little kids will have a good time but really it’s designed and perfectly suited for older kids.
2. Pedernales Falls State Park – Hike the trails, swim in the falls. Watch for wildlife and birds. It the perfect spot to head out, enjoy nature and soak up all the hill country beauty. Extend your stay and rent one of their campsites. Many of them have gorgeous views and you’ll get extra hours in the park!
3. LBJ National Park – In Johnson City you can tour LBJ’s childhood home and see the home his grandparents first settled in the 1860s. A little bit down the road in Stonewall you can drive through the LBJ Ranch, see the animals and tour the beautiful “Texas White House.”
4. Exotic Resort Zoo – This fun animal preserve is located on 137 wooded acres and features over 500 animals with 80 different species. You go out in a guided tram and the animals come right up to the side and eat out of your hand! I love this one in particular because I don’t have to drive! I get to ride in the tram and watch my kids enjoy the animals.
Play too hard? There aren’t many places to stay in Johnson City but one fun option would be to rent one of the safari cabins at the Exotic Resort Zoo. You’ll have views of the animals, access to a swimming pool and more. Plus everyone who stays gets a free tour!
:: Day Trip to New Braunfels
A straight shot south on I35, New Braunfels is a growing little town that is full of fun for little ones. From the world’s most popular waterpark to a tiny little railroad museum, New Braunfels is definitely one of the best day trips from Austin with kids. There’s something fun for everyone!
1. Schlitterbahn – This waterpark is unlike any of it’s kind. Parking is free. They let you bring in your own cooler. Most rides don’t have height requirements. One section of the park uses Comal River water instead of chlorinated water which is perfect for people with allergies. Waterparks don’t really get better than Schlitterbahn. It’s a family favorite. But if you need a more budget-friendly water thrill, try the Comal Tube Chute.
2. McKenna Children’s Museum – For a small town, New Braunfels has an incredible children’s museum. So much fun! There are a bunch of different exhibits inside but our favorite things to do are the water table and climbing feature outside.
3. New Braunfels Railroad Museum – Right across the street from the McKenna is a cute little railroad museum. It’s not huge. You don’t need to spend more than an hour here but it’s a fun extra stop to make. Walk through real train cars and see some cool electric model trains. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll get to see a real train rumble by on the adjacent track.
4. Animal World & Snake Farm – This is an interesting spot. My kids love getting to see all the different snakes and reptiles. They have specific snake handling and feeding times so kids can get up close and personal. You can also watch alligator and crocodile feedings too. It might make mom squeamish but the kids will have a ball.
5. Stars & Stripes Drive-in Theater – Have you ever experienced a drive-in movie theater? They are so much fun and a flashback to days of yore. Stars & Stripes shows movies nightly every night of the year. There are three different screens available and you get the sound right on your radio. They have a playground and a cafe. Just get there early for the best parking spots.
Long day and a late night? We’ve never spent the night in New Braunfels but I did a little research and the Sleep Inn and the Fairfield Inn both get great reviews and the free hot breakfast make them both a good value for families.
:: Day Trip to Waco
We meet friends every December in Waco because it’s halfway between Dallas and Austin. We’ve been pleasantly surprised at all the neat things there are to do. I never would have guessed that Waco would be one of the best day trips from Austin with kids! These are some of our family’s favorite attractions. But if a trip to Magnolia Market is a must while you’re there, don’t worry, the grounds are beautiful and oh-so-fun for kids.
1. Mayborn Museum Complex – I was pleasantly surprised by this gem of a museum when we visited. There are lots of hands on activities for kids but our favorite part was the historic village outside. There are 9 wood frame buildings that kids can go in and explore.
2. Cameron Park Zoo – I never would have guessed Waco, Texas would have a nice zoo but they do! It’s a great size to explore in a day. The pathways are shady and you get great views of the animals. They have elephants, giraffes, rhinoceros and more!
3. Waco Mammoth Site – About 65,000 years ago, 19 mammoths from a nursery herd drowned in flood waters in what is now Waco, Texas. In 2015 the 5-acre area was declared a National Monument. There are guided walking tours every 30 minutes and it’s just mesmerizing. Bones everywhere! You don’t realize how big they are until you see them in person. It’s truly a sight to see.
4. Heart of Texas Speedway – What could be more fun for kids than car racing? This track has races every Friday night and they do all kinds of variations. Sure there are late model races but also, kids Power Wheel races, bike races and even a demolition derby. Check the schedule to see what extra races are happening when you visit. Just remember to bring the ear plugs!
And there you have it. The best day trips from Austin with kids to fill your Spring Break with fun. Or bookmark this page for summer. There’s so much to do around Central Texas, you can keep your kids off the couch and occupied for weeks!