Moon Austin, San Antonio & the Hill Country
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- Flexible itineraries, from a long weekend in Austin to a road trip through Hill Country
- Strategic advice for music lovers, history buffs, families, and more
- Unique and authentic experiences: Two-step at a local honky-tonk, or explore the folk and contemporary art scenes. Catch a live show in one of Austin’s countless famed venues, or a UT Longhorn game in a jam-packed stadium. Hike or bike around the many trails, lakes, and streams of Hill Country, or spot roaming bison and antelope on your way to a local winery. Explore the rich Latino heritage of San Antonio and visit the historic Alamo
- Expert tips from Austin local Justin Marler
- Honest advice on where to stay, where to eat (including the best BBQ joints!), and how get around by car or public transportation
- Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
- Detailed and thorough information, including background on culture and history, geography, and regional vernacular
Looking to explore more of the Lone Star State? Try Moon Dallas & Fort Worth or Moon Texas.
DISCOVER Austin, San Antonio & the Hill Country
Planning Your Trip
Austin in a Long Weekend
Austin’s Music Scene
CRAFT BEER BOOM
Hill Country Road Trip
When Austin is mentioned in casual conversation, all eyes light up. Those who have been to Austin can’t help but chime in with enthusiasm, and those who have never been have heard only amazing things about this alluring city in the heart of Texas. What makes Austin so memorable and so liked? Austin is perhaps the most diverse city in Texas, and probably all of the American South. It is the land where John Wayne meets Andy Warhol. Here cowboys drive pickup trucks with abstract murals painted on the side, Christmas lights are on year-round, bizarre landmark art is everywhere, and hip youngsters and old country folk two-step together in honky-tonks.
Absolutely anyone can come here and feel right at home. The closet cowboys can safely pretend they are real cowboys without fear of looking out of place. Messy-haired hipsters can stagger down urban streets lined with clubs, diners, and music stores, while fans of folk art and Americana pillage countless boutiques and curiosity shops. The voices of passionate politicos boom throughout grand halls, while sports fans hoot ’n’ holler at UT Longhorn games in jam-packed stadiums. Music fans of all genres fall in love with countless musicians and venues in a wildly eclectic scene that never shuts off its amps.
The capital city dances to the beat of many tunes, but the fun doesn’t stop at the Austin city limits. This colorful town is the porch overlooking the gorgeous Texas Hill Country. This lush region at the center of the state is lined with vast rolling hills spotted with fields of wildflowers, grazing cattle, and historic little towns founded by German pioneers who brought accordions and schnitzels to the Wild West. Folks from all over come to the region’s sleepy hamlets to hunt for antiques, ride horses, explore caves, go wine-tasting, and hide out in bed-and-breakfasts.
At the southern reaches of the Hill Country is the Graceland of Texas history—San Antonio. Here pilgrims from all over venerate the legendary Alamo, stroll down the beautiful and romantic River Walk, and spend the day at massive theme parks and world-class museums.
Given half a chance, Austin, San Antonio, and the Hill Country are guaranteed to suck you in and take you for a spin, like a cow in a twister on the plains. Where else can you see Willie Nelson perform, go wine-tasting, explore underground caves, visit The Alamo, see ancient dinosaur bones, dance to German polka music, and catch a Mexican rodeo—all in one weekend? Nowhere else but deep in the heart of Texas.
Planning Your Trip
No matter how much time you have, it’s best to know what you want out of your travel experience. If you want an urban experience filled with live music, tall buildings, late-night escapades, and socializing, stick to the Austin metropolitan area. If you want to explore the great outdoors, including many hiking and biking trails, lakes and streams, fields of wildflowers, plus maybe some wineries, you can find all this in the surrounding Hill Country. If you want a family vacation filled with museums and theme parks, you’ll probably stick to Austin and San Antonio. Or, if you’re looking for the very best way to experience it all, take a road trip through the entire Hill Country, from Austin to San Antonio. All this requires is an operable automobile (with air-conditioning), your favorite Willie Nelson album, a full tank of gasoline, and the will to meander.
An important thing to consider before heading to Austin, San Antonio, and the Hill Country is lodging. Because of the many festivals and events, hotels are often booked months in advance. The earlier you book your lodging, the better chance you have of staying in the property of your choice, or having a place to stay at all.
Getting to Austin and San Antonio is easy, as both destinations have international airports with flights offered by most of the larger carriers. However, getting to the Hill Country isn’t as easy. Due to the lack of public transportation in the rural areas, you will need to rent a car for your Hill Country road trip.
As for getting around Austin, a great metro system, pedicabs, taxicabs, and ride-hailing apps make navigating pretty simple. Getting around San Antonio is much more complicated. There is a metro system, but everything is so spread out that you will have more fun and waste less time by renting a car.
Where to Go
Although Austin is geographically south of the center of Texas, it’s definitely the heart of the state. The Austin metropolitan area is situated at the eastern edge of the Hill Country on the I-35 corridor. The Colorado River winds its way through town and has been dammed off, creating a lush and beautiful lake that is the focal point of downtown. Austin is the state capital and the commercial heart of several industries, one of which is live music. Here in the “Live Music Capital of the World,” a thriving music and nightlife scene is to be found at the base of the city’s skyscrapers. The combination of rural and urban is what attracts people to Austin. The city experience offers museums for the day-tripper and a flourishing nightlife when the sun sets.
The Hill Country
The remarkably beautiful region called the Hill Country, to the west of Austin and north of San Antonio, is the Napa Valley of Texas. This sprawling, slow-paced region is filled with small towns—some frozen in time, others catching up. Nearly all these wide spots in the road have the signature Hill Country feature at the center of town—a beautiful, historic, ornate limestone courthouse. Between many of these towns there are pristine parks, wineries, antiques shops, and roadside fruit stands. The industry in these parts is farming, ranching, winemaking, and tourism. As you drive around the Hill Country you may notice exotic animals such as zebras, bison, and antelope grazing in fields. Many ranches in the Hill Country have become home to these rare animals.
The age-old city of San Antonio is just to the south of the Hill Country, southwest from Austin. If you look at a map of this vibrant, historic city you will notice that all roads lead to San Antonio. This river town is one of the 10 largest cities in the United States. It’s also home to Texas’s most visited tourist attraction—The Alamo—as well as the famous River Walk, which cuts its way through downtown, and several Spanish missions. The Mexican border is only 175 miles away; this proximity has given San Antonio an incredibly rich Latino heritage.
When to Go
Many locals say that south-central Texas has only two seasons: winter and summer. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll do like the locals and lump fall and spring in with summer since they’re so short. The best time to come to Austin, San Antonio, and the Hill Country is during this long summer season, which starts in March and wraps up by the end of October. Although June, July, and August are hellishly hot, these are the peak months for tourism. Central Texas is overflowing with people. The warm, laid-back climate and the uncanny number of festivals and music events draw thousands to the area from all over the country. Everyone is kept alive during the summer months by drinking lots of water and by air-conditioning. Anywhere you go indoors the air is a cool 74°F, and outdoors there are many swimming holes, lakes, rivers, and pools in which to keep cool.
Besides the long summer heat, the only other thing to keep in mind when planning to visit south-central Texas is allergies. The Hill Country is rife with wildflowers and trees that come to life in the spring. Sure, it’s beautiful, but for the person who suffers from seasonal allergies, it can be hard to enjoy. The peak allergy times are December-January (mountain cedar), March-April (oak), and September-October (ragweed). If you plan to come during these months, be prepared to buy an antihistamine.
Although folks visit the region year-round, winter is definitely the quiet season. In Austin you can always find fun things to do; however, San Antonio and the Hill Country are pretty sleepy this time of year.
Austin in a Long Weekend
Austin is a city that can easily be explored in a weekend. It’s so alive and accessible that it takes little effort to be completely immersed in its life and culture.
This is probably the only day you will wake up early. First thing on the agenda is a hearty breakfast at the Magnolia Cafe. To walk off all the calories you just consumed, head straight out the door of Magnolia Cafe and down the street to Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake). Enjoy walking the overgrown trails, watch the turtles and ducks putter in the lake, and take in the stunning view of Austin’s skyline. Along the trail you can pay homage to Austin music legend Stevie Ray Vaughan at his famous statue.
Next make your way to one of the most popular record stores in the United States, Waterloo Records, and check out their extensive collection of Texas music. After buying a Willie Nelson CD, walk across the street to Whole Foods world headquarters and buy some granola, energy bars, or dried fruit to consume the following day on a hike.
A first day in Austin must include a visit to the Texas State Capitol. Walk the grounds, stand beneath the dome, and take in the gubernatorial history. If it’s between 2pm and 4pm, make your way over to the Governor’s Mansion for a tour of the historic home that some think is haunted.
Before evening descends, get a copy of the Austin Chronicle and look at the entertainment section. Pick a show—any show—and plan to have your socks blown off by a great night on the town. For an authentic Austin night out, catch a country band at the Broken Spoke. If you have the guts and gumption, try your hand at two-stepping.
The first half of Day 2 is devoted to an education in Texas pride by visiting the Bullock Texas State History Museum. After you’re all Texased out, have lunch at nearby Texas Chili Parlor, then walk over to Austin’s world-class repository for art, the Blanton Museum of Art. After admiring the Picassos, make your way down to the Driskill, Austin’s famed haunted hotel. Even if you don’t stay here you can marvel at the architecture and the creepy vibe, and get a confection at the 1886 Café & Bakery.
Cross over Lady Bird Lake and keep going until you arrive at the city’s most popular strip, South Congress Avenue, which is lined with funky shops, trendy boutiques, and restaurants. If you get hungry, order a margarita with shrimp fajitas at popular Güero’s Taco Bar. Check out the oddity shop Uncommon Objects and marvel at the $3,000 cowgirl boots at Allens Boots. As a side note, staying at one of the trendy hotels on South Congress is highly recommended.
By this time the music scene is getting revved up. Check out music listings in the Austin Chronicle and catch some live music at the Continental Club on South Congress or any of the venues on 6th Street or Red River Street, such as Stubb’s Bar-B-Q, The Mohawk, or The Parish. Peruse the music listings for Austin City Limits Live at The Moody Theater. This is a great way to see a world-class act and get close to the famous Austin City Limits stage.
Day 3 is kicked off with a trip to the most visited presidential library in the United States, the LBJ Library and Museum. You’re sure to be moved by the exhibit about the president’s life, and may well up with tears when you walk into the JFK assassination exhibit, or feel a sense of pride at seeing the pen LBJ used in signing the Civil Rights Act. Follow up the LBJ experience with lunch at Rudy’s Country Store and BBQ for some smoky beef brisket. If it’s not over 100 degrees, make your way to Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve, which is close by. Walk the hills and learn about Central Texas flora and fauna through interpretive trails. At the end of the trail be sure to sit on the bench and enjoy the view of the city skyline for as long as you can. Once you’ve acquired peace of mind, take a walk through Zilker Botanical Garden. Consider how this area was the stomping grounds of dinosaurs in the Hartman Prehistoric Garden, and then get a bite to eat at nearby Shady Grove Restaurant. Once you’ve filled up on great Tex-Mex, head downtown to famous Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. Order a pitcher of beer and watch a random movie or attend a Michael Jackson sing-along.
Your final day in Austin will start with a trip to Zilker Park, where you’ll take a ride on the Zilker Zephyr. This mini-train takes both mini and full-size passengers throughout the park. If you’re lucky your train ride will include a brief performance by “the man with the guitar in the cutoff shorts.” Assuming it’s a hot summer day, get off at the Barton Springs stop and jump in Barton Springs Pool. Plan to splash around in the constantly 68-degree water and people-watch for a couple of hours.
Before evening sets in, make your way to Lady Bird Lake and watch the bats of Congress Avenue Bridge, which take flight just before sundown. A great way to view them is by taking a ride on Lone Star Riverboat, a genuine double-decker paddle wheel riverboat. Follow this up with a visit to Austin’s burgeoning Warehouse District. First stop off at the Irish pub Fado’s or the popular pub The Ginger Man and drink a pint of beer produced by local brewhouse Live Oak Brewing Company. It’s your last night, so if you still have ears for music, check out some more bands and musicians. Or if you prefer a calm evening, walk over to Halcyon Coffeehouse to roast marshmallows and make s’mores at your table.
If you can squeeze one more day into your long weekend, a trip to San Antonio to visit The Alamo is essential. The drive is just two hours to downtown. After exploring Texas’s most sacred site, walk down to The Esquire Tavern, a spot famous for pub grub and for having the longest bar in Texas. Afterwards enjoy a stroll on San Antonio’s greatest feature, the River Walk. If you still have some time to kill before heading back to Austin, drive the Mission Trail.
Austin’s Music Scene
Austin is the undisputed Live Music Capital of the World. With an unprecedented number of live music performances happening every night of the week throughout the year, it has earned the title. Touring national acts, local favorites, and unknowns perpetually fill Austin’s venues, clubs, and bars as well as unusual places such as clothing stores, supermarkets, and even the airport.
The Quintessential Austin Music Experience
Musical styles and tastes vary greatly, making it difficult to suggest one quintessential music experience, but here’s a start. The proper accommodations are crucial for the live music fan. They need to be cheap, centrally located, and near a restaurant that serves breakfast all day. Musicians and fans alike love to stay at the Austin Motel on South Congress Avenue because it meets all these criteria. Once you arrive in town, immediately consult the music section of the Austin Chronicle. All venue listings and festival and event information are found in the pages of this weekly rag.
After a night of live music followed by a visit to one of Austin’s many dive bars, you’ll probably wake up after noon. If you stay at the Austin Motel, saunter up the street to Home Slice Pizza or Güero’s Taco Bar for great grub. If you want to continue with a music-themed visit to Austin, check out one of the most popular music stores in the country, Waterloo Records. If you’re a vinyl collector, explore Antone’s Record Shop or End of an Ear. While in town it’s imperative that you pay your respects to local music legend Stevie Ray Vaughan on the south-shore trail of Lady Bird Lake. On the banks of the Colorado stands a life-size bronze statue of the guitar god.
While in Austin all music lovers invariably ask themselves, “I wonder how to get tickets to a taping of Austin City Limits?” You have a better chance of sprouting wings than acquiring tickets to a taping of this famous PBS program. However, on off nights, the famous stage with the Austin skyline as the backdrop is utilized as a traditional venue called the Moody Theater, where anyone can see great national acts perform.
Austin has over a hundred places that offer live music from both regional and national acts, and nearly all of them are worth checking out. Most are in the downtown area on 6th Street, Red River Street, and South Congress Avenue. Venues generally come alive after dark, except during special benefit shows and during SXSW. Most venues have something going on every night of the week, so don’t expect the good shows to be only on weekends. You’re sure to catch something interesting virtually any time doors are open at the following venues.
Antone’s has been Texas’s outlet for the blues for decades. In recent years it’s expanded its repertoire to include pop, rock, and indie, bringing in some major national acts. Stubb’s Bar-B-Q serves up both great barbecue brisket and superb big-name rock and indie bands in a historic limestone building; this is where the hip parties go down during SXSW. There’s an intimate indoor stage for smaller acts, while the big outdoor stage features national acts such as Drake, Death Cab for Cutie, and Queens of the Stone Age.
For traditional country and two-step dancing, there’s the legendary Broken Spoke. This real honky-tonk will blow your Stetson off when you walk through the door. The crowd is a perfect mix of country folk, young hipsters, and everyone in between, which makes it all-inviting. The premier intimate venue for all things unplugged is the Cactus Cafe. Big-name acoustic, singer-songwriter, country, and folk acts have graced the small corner stage for over 70 years. The space is small, upscale, and outfitted with a full bar in the back.
For those who like it loud and grungy, Emo’s is Austin’s outlet for punk, metal, and indie rock. If you don’t know where to go or who to see, the best place to experience Austin’s own is the Continental Club on South Congress Avenue or Saxon Pub on South Lamar Boulevard.
Lastly, if you want to see the big headliners such as Taylor Swift or Iron Maiden, the Frank Erwin Center or the Formula 1 racetrack Circuit of the Americas is where it will happen.
Out of all the music festivals that happen in and around Austin there are a few you simply can’t miss if you happen to be in town.
In March, one of the biggest music festivals in the nation takes over Austin—SXSW, also known as South by Southwest. For one week the city is overrun by hundreds of musicians and celebrities and thousands of music fans. Restaurants, clubs, music stores, and barbecue joints are teeming with greasy-haired, tattooed, ripped-jean-wearing rock stars and rock star wannabes. The festival features literally hundreds of big names and up-and-coming artists in alternative, indie rock, and even pop. This isn’t your typical music convention held in a convention center. Shows happen in all Austin venues from midday to the wee hours. You have to purchase pricy wristbands to get into venues, but it’s well worth it. Oh, and good luck getting a hotel if you haven’t booked it months in advance.
ACL MUSIC FESTIVAL
The biggest festival on Austin’s calendar is the Austin City Limits Music Festival. For three days in September nearly 200,000 people fill Zilker Park and overdose on music and sun. Spun out of the famous public television show, ACL Fest features top acts, bands, performers, and musical legends in nearly all genres of music. Passes are available for all three days or for single days. Bring sunscreen and be prepared to sit in the Texas summer heat for this one.
FUN FUN FUN FEST
In the fall, Waterloo Park becomes the site of Fun Fun Fun Fest, which features neo-punk, indie pop, electronic, metal, and random icons from punk’s bygone era. Along with a messy hairdo, be sure to bring sunscreen and a penchant for FUN.
- On Sale
- Oct 13, 2020
- Page Count
- 248 pages
- Moon Travel