Need a break from South By Southwest? Take a day trip to iconic Texas towns

Mary Cantrell

Enjoying all that Texas has to offer, but sick of pretentious hipsters drinking endless cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and blowing American Spirit smoke in your face? Get in your car — and get out of Austin. With everyone and their mother swarming around the city, nearby towns offer a change of pace and a breath of fresh air. These five towns, all within driving distance of Austin, are perfect for spontaneous road trips with friends. Fill up yer tank, grab some Twizzlers and check out these easy-to-overlook Texas marvels. Yee haw.  


Distance from Austin: One hour and 30 minutes

Fredericksburg is a city that bursts with Texas culture while proudly preserving the community’s original German and Czech heritage. Stroll along the city’s garden-lined, historic Main Street and duck into bike shops, haberdasheries and wine lounges. Although antiques might not be feasible on a budget, it’s always fun to browse and compare odd findings with your companions.

Located just 18 minutes north of Fredericksburg is Enchanted Rock. Can you really call yourself a Texan if you’ve never hiked the state park’s massive, pink granite dome? More than 250,000 people visit the National Natural Landmark each year. Get some exercise in the middle of SXSW — hike, camp and rock climb, then stay late into the night to stargaze. Admission into the park is $7 a day for adults. 

San Marcos

Distance from Austin: 35 minutes 

San Marcos, home to Texas State University, offers a wide range of outdoor and cultural activities. Take a break from your jam-packed South By schedule and float lazily down the San Marcos River in a giant, inflatable donut. The river stays a cool 72 degrees year-round. Food and drinks are permitted on the river, so feel free to enjoy some spring libations or plan a real picnic. Tube rentals are typically $10 a day, and there are multiple companies to rent from in the area. 

While you’re in San Marcos, tour Texas State’s campus and stop by the Alkek Library to check out its Austin-focused art exhibits. “The Face of Texas,” a collection of portraits from famous portrait photographer Michael O’Brien, will be on display during spring break. The 48 portraits feature a range of subjects, from average townspeople to the legendary Willie Nelson. Iconic posters of the Austin music scene in the ’60s and ’70s will also be on display. 


Distance from Austin: 45 minutes

Gruene (pronounced green) is a quaint town sprinkled with antique shops, boutiques and restaurants. Situated along the Guadalupe River, Gruene is famous for being true to its original Texas roots, with a plethora historic buildings that have been converted into established local businesses.

Still want to listen to live music, even during your SXSW hiatus? Gruene Hall, founded in 1878, is Texas’ oldest dance hall and boasts music every day. Under Gruene Hall’s high-pitched tin roof, you’ll hear the echoes of renowned singer-songwriters from the past and present. 

Get in touch with your adventurous side and raft along the Guadalupe River. Take-off sites are in Gruene and New Braunfels, and trips can last either two or four hours. Rafting is a great way to get a workout and take in the natural landscape along the Guadalupe.


Distance from Austin: One hour and 20 minutes

Schulenburg is famous state-wide for its Czech and German heritage and for the rare painted churches that are scattered throughout the rolling hills. Tour over 20 “painted churches” in Fayette County, some of which are over 100 years old. Czech and German immigrants who moved to Texas in the late 1800s built and painted the churches to serve as community spaces. They feature ornate architecture, stained glasses windows and golden altars. For many Texans, this is the closest we’re going to get to the Notre-Dame Cathedral.

The town is also home to the Texas Polka Music Museum. 


Distance from Austin: 45 minutes 

Wimberley, a small town deeply dedicated to preserving its own natural beauty, is home to a number of rivers, creeks and parks. The huge variety of plant and animal species in Wimberly — population 2,582 — make it an ideal destination for any nature lover.

Jacobs Well is an artesian spring located just north of Wimberley. The spring is actually fed by one of the longest underwater cave systems in Texas and is open year-round to visitors. Swimming is not permitted until after May 1, but Jacobs Well acts as a serene picnic spot all year long. The royal blue water and limestones surrounding the well show off the beauty of Central Texas (and make for a great photo op). 

Stargazing gets easier the farther you travel from light-polluted cities, and Wimberley residents and visitors have a magnificent view of the night sky. The town’s stargazing community charts meteor showers and phenomena year-round. The unobstructed view of constellations is a sight to see. Make sure to BYOT (bring your own telescope).