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Driving from Austin to San Antonio: Where to Stop + Tips!

Driving from Austin to San Antonio not only means traveling between two of Texas’ most popular cities to visit, it also gives you an opportunity to seek out some fun things to do along the way!

If you’re driving between the two cities (this guide also works if you’re driving from San Antonio to Austin), here’s how to make a fun, if quick, road trip out of the day!

German style church in New Braunfels Texas as seen from above, one of the best places to visit when driving from San Antonio to Austin

What’s the Austin to San Antonio drive like?

Honestly, the roughly 80-mile route along I-35 is the opposite of scenic, unless you consider general interstate views peppered with a side of suburban sprawl to be scenic.

But here’s the thing–just beyond the unremarkable highway views lie some of the most popular places in Texas, from truly legendary barbecue joints to state parks featuring gorgeous rivers and hikes.

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If you choose to take the backroads rather than the interstate, you’ll find plenty of small towns along the way–but we recommend having a plan in place before you go. 

It’s very easy to accidentally head right past something interesting or beautiful when taking a road trip between Austin and San Antonio!

interstate view when driving from austin to san antonio with signs for 281 in the image and a black compact car in the foreground

How long does it take to drive from Austin to San Antonio?

In theory? About 1.5 hours.

In practice? It varies dramatically.

The I-35 corridor between San Antonio and Austin has a tendency to get extremely backed up, especially when entering and leaving the cities.

We recommend avoiding rush hour if at all possible when driving from San Antonio to Austin (or vice versa).

Guadalupe River lined with cypress trees near New Braunfels TX

Where to Stop When Driving from Austin to San Antonio

San Marcos

If you just pass by San Marcos on the highway, you may only notice its famous outlet mall (more on that below), but the home of Texas State University has far more to offer visitors–including water flowing through the San Marcos River that is so clear, you can even go snorkeling!

Whether you’d like to swim, snorkel, go tubing, take a glass-bottomed boat tour, or just enjoy the views from the shore, San Marcos’ rivers are absolutely worth exploring.

San Marcos River Texas as seen from the water on a summer day

New Braunfels

New Braunfels is not only one of the best towns to visit between San Antonio and Austin, it’s also home to several of the most popular things to do in Texas!

New Braunfels is an extremely popular place to float the river, thanks to the fact that the Guadalupe River and Comal River both flow through it.

It’s also home to the Gruene Historic District, home to plenty of small-town charm with German roots, and one of the most famous dance halls in Texas!

To top it off, New Braunfels is also where you can find the original Schlitterbahn Water Park, a Texas favorite for generations.

Whatever you like to do, there’s no doubt that New Braunfels is an unforgettable stop on an Austin to San Antonio road trip!

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The Outlets

For shoppers, the Outlets of San Marcos (made up of both the San Marcos Premium Outlets and the Tanger Outlets, which are located side-by-side), are a destination unto themselves.

As one of the largest outlet malls in the USA, you’ll virtually always find a crowd and plenty of familiar brands here.

Young Asian woman trying on a hat when shopping in a mall. She's carrying a black handbag

Lockhart

Want to prioritize lunch when driving from Austin to San Antonio?

If so, you can’t go wrong with a stop in Lockhart–the barbecue capital of Texas! Be sure to arrive in Lockhart with an empty stomach and a big appetite.

Smitty’s, Kreuz, and Black’s are among the most legendary barbecue spots in the area, but Lockhart is also home to plenty of breweries and a big helping of small-town Texas charm.

Large tray of Texas barbecue shot form above, with a beer in the top right corner

Natural Bridge Caverns

Located just 15 minutes out of the way when driving between San Antonio and Austin, visiting Natural Bridge Caverns is an easy way to get underground and experience one of Texas’ best limestone caverns.

Named for its stunning, naturally occurring, 60-foot limestone bridge, Natural Bridge Caverns have been delighting visitors for decades, and it is the largest cavern that you can visit in Texas!

Interior of Natural Bridge Caverns in Texas

Tips for Driving from Austin to San Antonio

Avoid rush hour if you can.

Traffic can be extremely heavy on this route, especially if you stay on I-35 the whole time.

The more you can avoid driving at peak times, the better!

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Make at least one stop along the way.

Sure, you don’t have to take a full day to complete the Austin to San Antonio drive–but with such an enormous variety of places to visit along the way, it’s worth making at least one stop!

two young women in sunglasses sitting in a car on a road trip, one is leaning out the window slightly while driving

Plan lunch carefully.

With an endless number of barbecue joints, TexMex restaurants, breweries, and delicious local restaurants of all kinds along the route from San Antonio to Austin, it’d be a shame to end up going through a drive-thru for lunch!

I-35 isn’t the only route option.

For example, alternatively, you can jump on Highway 130 for part of the way, or for a truly out-of-the-way scenic route through the Hill Country, you could even make a day of it and take Highway 281.

If your priority is scenery rather than efficiency, you have plenty of options!

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If you want to make a full day trip of it, consider visiting the Hill Country.

Popular Texas Hill Country destinations like Canyon Lake, Wimberley, Dripping Springs, Guadalupe River State Park, and Fredericksburg are located either west or southwest of Austin, and north or northwest of San Antonio (depending on the destination).

They’ll add, as a rough estimate, about an hour of driving time between the two cities (though that varies dramatically depending on where you’re going), but if you’d like to squeeze a day trip to the Hill Country when driving from Austin to San Antonio, it’s definitely doable!

two photos of texas, one of a tray of texas barbecue and the second of the guadalupe river. black and red text on a white background reads "austin to san antonio road trip guide"

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