School’s out, the temperatures are sweltering, and the kids are ready for an adventure. Thankfully summer’s long, sunny and less-structured days beckon a road trip. Kick off the season of sunshine and swimming with a family-friendly excursion to these nearby towns. Whether chilling out in a river, plunging into a swimming hole or capturing thrills at a water park, here are eight day trips where you can beat the heat and collect some memories to bring back home. The best news? They’re all within 100 miles of downtown Austin.
GEORGETOWN (30 miles from Austin)
When the weather heats up, let the kids splash around in Georgetown’s Blue Hole (parks.georgetown.org/blue-hole), a refreshing lagoon hemmed in by limestone bluffs covered in leafy trees on the San Gabriel River. Located just five blocks north of Georgetown’s beautiful downtown square, this scenic wading spot is open from dawn until dusk and is completely free.
While in town, seek relief from steamy summer days without getting wet by descending underground to discover the spectacular formations found inside Inner Space Cavern (innerspacecavern.com). Hidden for more than 10,000 years, this is one of the best-preserved caves in Texas, and because it’s a living cave, it is still actively growing. Young kids will love the mile-long Adventure Tour, where they can walk along the damp, dimly lit path beneath tapering formations that drip like icicles from the cave’s roof, while older kids (7-12) might enjoy a more raw and rugged experience along the Hidden Passages Tour, where they can light their own way with a flashlight. The truly adventurous can book the Wild Cave Tour — a four-hour, off-trail spelunking experience for advanced cavers.
Before heading back to Austin, enjoy dinner at El Monumento (elmonumentogeorgetown.com), a Georgetown gem serving delicious made-from-scratch Mexican fare and the most refreshing margaritas Mom and Dad have ever put lips to — even the basic frozen margarita is made using a Japanese shaved-ice machine to create a snow conelike concoction infused with 100 percent blue agave blanco tequila, all-natural triple sec and freshly squeezed lime juice. Day-tripping on a Friday? Don’t miss Georgetown’s Music on the Square Summer Concert Series (visit.georgetown.org/music-on-the-square-concerts), which brings free concerts to “Most Beautiful Town Square in Texas” Friday evenings throughout the summer.
SPICEWOOD (36 miles from Austin)
Sometimes a 30-minute drive outside the city takes you a world away. Tucked in sleepy Spicewood, Krause Springs (krausesprings.net) has served as a tranquil escape for decades, drawing visitors with its 115 lush acres and 32 natural springs. Pack a picnic and bring the whole family for a fun day spent swimming in the pristine 68-degree spring-fed waters that fill Krause Springs’ manmade and natural pools, discovering natural caves and waterfalls and braving the rope swing.
Not waterlogged just yet? Head down the road to play at Pace Bend Park (parks.traviscountytx.gov/find-a-park/pace-bend), which stretches almost 10 miles along Lake Travis shorelines and features designated swimming coves and stellar sunsets. If hunger strikes before returning home, stop off to refuel in Bee Cave, which boasts plenty of family-friendly restaurant options.
WIMBERLEY (40 miles from Austin)
There isn’t a better cure for summertime’s sizzle than rope-swinging into the cold, clear spring waters of Cypress Creek known as Wimberley’s Blue Hole (friendsofbluehole.org). The idyllic natural swimming area is surrounded by towering cypress trees, several of which feature natural steplike formations ideal for climbing and ropes perfect for swinging. Swimming is only allowed in Wimberley’s beloved Blue Hole from Memorial Day through Labor Day ($10 adult, $6 seniors and youth 4-12, free under 3), and reservations are highly encouraged. Plenty of dining and shopping options are sprinkled around Wimberley’s charming square located just outside the park. Five miles down the road, cool down at one of the most beautiful and geologically significant gems found in the Hill Country. The pristine swimming hole known as Jacob’s Well (jwnap.recdesk.com/Community/Home) is actually a spring that flows up from the Trinity Aquifer roughly 140 feet below the surface. Reservations are required to secure a two-hour swimming slot, and the calendar fills up fast ($9 adults, $5 children/seniors/residents, free children 4 and under).
NEW BRAUNFELS (50 miles from Austin)
When the temperature rises, this German town with two rivers winding through it provides the perfect place to cool off. Fringing the spring-fed Comal River, Schlitterbahn Waterpark & Resort (schlitterbahn.com/new-braunfels) offers four adventures — Original Schlitterbahn, Surfenburg, Blastenhoff and Tubenbach — rolled into one water park featuring 51 attractions spanning around 70 acres. The whole family can enjoy floating in lazy rivers, speeding down thrilling slides and tackling tube-u-lar rides together. While in town, be sure to check one of New Braunfels’ favorite pastimes off your bucket list: floating the river. Whether you throw a tube in the relaxing spring-fed Comal River or ever-changing Guadalupe River, you’re in for some of the most fantastic floating to be found in the Lone Star State. Myriad outfitters skirt both rivers, renting everything from tubes with or without bottoms to rafts and inflatable canoes. For the coolest pool in town, head to Landa Park Springfed Pool (nbtexas.org/1434/Aquatic-Facilities), one of the oldest and most historic bathing pools in Texas, built in the early 1900s. Fed by the Comal Springs, the water remains a brisk 72 degrees year-round, and waterslides, a rope swing and an overhead cargo net for climbing only add to the fun.
JOHNSON CITY (52 miles from Austin)
Beat the day’s heat by arriving at Exotic Resort Zoo (zooexotics.com) in the morning to see more than 700 animals, including exotic and previously endangered species that now thrive in this natural preserve. Purchase a bucket of food at the office to hand-feed 2,000-pound buffalo, zebras and camels while learning more about them during a tractor-pulled guided tour. Then cool off in the AC at the Science Mill (sciencemill.org), an interactive learning museum housed in a feed mill built in 1880 as a steam grist mill and cotton gin. This community landmark now serves as a family-friendly learning environment bursting with technology-based exhibits designed to expand and inspire students’ learning and curiosity in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). When hunger strikes, refuel at Pecan Street Brewing (pecanstreetbrewing.com) with a handmade brick-oven pizza or hearty sirloin burger best washed down with a cold handcrafted beer brewed in house. Finish off the day at Pedernales Falls State Park (tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/pedernales-falls), where sultry afternoons are best tolerated by swimming, wading and splashing in the refreshing Pedernales River.
BURNET (65 miles from Austin)
When it’s blistering outside, head below ground to marvel at the undulating curves and awe-inspiring formations inside of Longhorn Cavern (visitlonghorncavern.com). Meander through the majestic Hall of Marble, become mesmerized in Crystal City or allow your imagination to run loose looking at the Underground Ballroom — everything inside this river-carved cave is cool, even the temperature, which remains a constant 68 degrees year-round. On tours, you’ll pick up facts about Longhorn Cavern’s storied past — the cave has served as everything from a shelter for the area’s prehistoric peoples to a dance hall and concert venue during Prohibition. Continue the cool adventure at nearby Inks Lake State Park (tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/inks-lake), which sits adjacent to Inks Lake on the Colorado River in Burnet County and boasts pink granite hills, shady cedar and oak trees and rejuvenating water. Whether boating, canoeing, kayaking or swimming at Inks Lake, you’ll find no shortage of ways to keep cool. Be sure to take a dip in Devil’s Waterhole, a small extension of Inks Lake surrounded by granite boulders. Even when summer temps hit triple-digits, this refreshing watering hole remains in the 80s.
BRENHAM (90 miles from Austin)
Take a weekday road trip to tiny Brenham to treat the kids to Texas’ favorite ice cream at its source. On weekdays and summer Saturdays, visit Blue Bell Creameries (bluebell.com) to learn the backstory behind the company that started churning butter in 1907 and now requires the milk from 60,000 cows just for one day’s production. Pick up your Blue Bell swag in the Country Store before cooling off with a creamy hand-dipped scoop at Blue Bell’s ice cream parlor. For a bird’s-eye view of ice cream production, check out the Observation Deck (Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.). After satisfying your sweet tooth at this old-fashioned creamery, spend some wandering around Brenham’s historic Main Street district, where you can shop till you drop, take a whirl on a fully restored antique carousel and grab lunch followed by a slice of homemade pie. Need to add a dip into your day trip? Brenham’s Blue Bell Aquatic Center (cityofbrenham.org/parks/bbac-index.php) boasts a large outdoor recreation pool and waterslide as well as two indoor pools ($5 daily admission/$3 children 3 and under).
SAN ANTONIO (95 miles from Austin)
Grab your swimsuit and head to San Antonio — this city offers ample opportunities for splashing in the sunshine. SeaWorld San Antonio’s Aquatica (aquatica.com/san-antonio) boasts wet and wild rides, thrilling slides and unforgettable animal experiences like the spectacular Stingray Encounter that lets guests get in the water, touch and feed graceful cownose stingrays. The whole family can cool off at Six Flags Fiesta Texas (sixflags.com/fiestatexas) on water park rides like the Texas Tumble, where the whole gang piles into a jumbo-size raft that slides down a six-story tall river of rapids, before wave-jumping in the Lone Star Lagoon, a Texas-shaped wave pool that holds a half-million gallons of water. Morgan’s Inspiration Island (morganswonderland.com/inspirationisland), the world’s first ultra-accessible splash park, opened last summer next door to Morgan’s Wonderland. This splash park of inclusion designed with special-needs individuals in mind lets everyone have fun together — take a ride on the River Boat Adventure through a jungle setting and enjoy a handful of water play areas featuring raintrees, waterfalls, tipping buckets and pools.