Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway to Alamo City or just passing through on your way somewhere else, there are plenty of fun things to see and do when driving from Dallas to San Antonio!
This Dallas to San Antonio road trip guide is set up to first tell you what the drive is like, then provide you a list of highlights and tips along the way.
If you’re driving from San Antonio to Dallas, don’t worry–all of the same tips still apply.
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What’s it like to drive from Dallas to San Antonio?
To be honest, the drive to San Antonio from Dallas isn’t what anyone would call naturally stunning.
There is a lot of flat land, and if you’re driving on I-35 you will be virtually guaranteed at least one hour’s worth of construction traffic.
The trip, in total, is almost 280 miles and there are small landmarks along the way that are cool to look at such as McLane Stadium if you’re a college football fan or Magnolia Market for all of you HGTV fans. Both of these locations are in Waco and the next major city landscape will be in Austin before San Antonio.
If you have time, I highly recommend stopping over in both Waco and Austin to soak in all of the fun and food of a road trip through Texas when driving from Dallas to San Antonio.
How long does it take to drive from Dallas to San Antonio?
While Google will tell you that the drive is a little over 4 hours, I would factor in an extra half hour at the very least for construction and traffic. If you plan on leaving after work on a Friday I would anticipate at least 5 and a half hours.
If you are able to spend a full day dedicated to travel it is well worth it.
All of the stops are a really nice reprieve from the drive, and you’ll get to see so many hidden gems!
Where to Stop When Driving from Dallas to San Antonio
If you have ever fallen in love with HGTV’s Fixer Upper, this is the place for you! Chip and Joanna Gaines’ have contributed to the development of Waco by building a beautiful outdoor space with restaurants and stores all around.
This area is called The Silos, there are several different businesses to explore and every spring there are huge annual events like The Spring Fling or The Silobration, these events have more fun features like food trucks and activities apart from the normal attractions.
I happened to stumble there by accident and I ended up having the best time! I walked out with 2 dozen cupcakes from the bakery and tons of photos for my road trip memories!
Mount Bonnell is one of the highlights within all of Texas. Luckily, this attraction–often dubbed the oldest tourist attraction in Austin–is right off of the main highway in the capital.
In exchange for a nearly 800-step climb, you’ll be rewarded with sprawling views over Lake Austin. In the summertime, it’s a great place to sit and watch the boats go by for a while or try your hand at a little hike to loosen up your muscles from being in the car.
There isn’t a ton of parking space but street parking is available nearby if the spaces are taken.
It is definitely worth the view, and if you can spend a half-hour or so just exploring and taking it all in.
If you live in Texas, chances are that you’re already familar with Buc-ee’s, a lovable chain of huge gas stations with a gazillion pumps and an even larger convenience store.
There are huge display cases with sweet treats, kolaches, and a myriad of other bakery items. To cover all of your basic “snack” bases get red velvet cake balls, cheesy popcorn, and the candied nuts.
Also, a plus point of Bucc-ee’s is that they have the cleanest bathrooms in the nation compared to any gas station (they are award-winning!), a major perk on any road trip.
San Marcos Premium Outlets
If you’re looking to do a little, or a lot(!), of shopping, these outlets are a great way to get everything in one place, and a classic stop between San Antonio and Dallas.
When they said everything is bigger in Texas, this is exactly what they meant. San Marcos is not only home to the largest outlet mall in the state, but one of the largest in the country!
This mall is actually two separate, smaller malls that were combined, however, it is easy to go between both as you need to. There is plenty of parking and a couple of places to grab a quick snack while you shop.
If you can sneak in a trip near the holiday season you’re bound to find a great deal.
Natural Bridge Caverns
Natural Bridge Caverns is a good sign that you’re really close to the end of your drive from Dallas to San Antonio!
The caverns are some of the most beautiful in Texas, and there are plenty of adventures for everyone, whether you’re traveling solo or with a minivan packed with family members.
Aside from the guided tours, there is a small water feature that streams water through with filters and it shows you how small gems and fossils can be sifted from the water. There is also a ropes course and a maze for slightly more adventurous people.
A slightly lesser-known fact about Natural Bridge Caverns is that they make delicious fresh fudge on-site, and it’s worth grabbing an extra piece for the rest of your ride.
Bracken Cave Preserve
Right down the road from Natural Bridge Caverns is the largest bat colony in the world, and one of the best places to see bats in Texas.
If you’re able to time your visit for dusk from March to October, you can see them spiral out of the mouth of the cave, just like the start of the Scooby-Doo theme song!
The site aims to protect and preserve the bat populations of the area. There are specific rules in place to protect the wildlife in the area, as it is primarily a conservation site, but watching the colony emerge is a sight you’re not likely to forget soon!
Tips for Driving from Dallas to San Antonio
Avoid rush hour.
Driving from Dallas to San Antonio through Austin means passing through some of the biggest cities in the US, and rush hour can cause a large slowdown. If you’re able to, I highly recommend leaving at non-peak hours.
Additionally, Austin and Temple tend to have lots of road construction that could throw your desired ETA, definitely keep that in mind as well.
Take the I-130 tollway.
If you do have to leave around peak hours the tollway can help you make up some extra time. A Texas Toll Tag will let you coast at 85 mph for a decent stretch of land.
It is handy when if you want to try to get to the end destination as fast as possible, you will miss some of the highlights of the article but if speed is your main priority I recommend jumping on the tollway.
Plan on stopping somewhere between Waco and Austin.
Waco and Austin are your best bets to have the best food options for lunch or dinner when driving from San Antonio to Dallas.
Somewhere along this stretch I highly recommend refilling your tank if it’s below half and grabbing a nice meal to break up the monotony of the trip. Your eyes get tired too so this is a way to just get some new wind in your sails as you trek on.
If you do get lunch to go or bring your own, eat at a state park!
Sometimes due to timing or availability, you might not be able to sit inside a proper restaurant and have a meal together. A really unique way to enjoy a to-go meal is to make a picnic out of it!
Most state parks in Texas, if not all, have open picnic areas available with some great views and lookouts. There are a few parks along several different routes to San Antonio. This is a great way to disjoint yourself from the hustle of the road.
I-35 isn’t your only option.
While driving from San Antonio to Dallas or vice versa is definitely most commonly done on I-35, to make a fun road trip out of the experience, consider taking 281 instead!
Being on the highway instead of the interstate will add about 45 minutes of driving time, but you’ll enjoy a far more scenic route, potentially avoid traffic, and pass right through adorable small towns like Burnet, Marble Falls, and Johnson City along the way.