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Sure, Texas is big, but it actually doesn’t take long to drive from its biggest city to its capital.
From a Texan perspective, the drive from Houston to Austin is an easy one since you can make it in under three hours, traffic permitting. To put things into perspective: It’s possible to drive for 12 hours in one direction in Texas and find yourself…still in Texas — so Houston to Austin is a cinch, regardless of which of the two main routes you can take.
One option is to go west on Highway 290 all the way. The other is to drive from I-10 to Highway 71. Both are straight shots that take almost the exact amount of time — a little over 2.5 hours going from one city’s downtown to the other. The question of whether the former or the latter is the one for your trip mainly depends on which part of Houston you’re leaving from and which part of Austin you’re going to.
Putting geographical convenience aside, your decision may also depend on what kind of road trip stops suit your fancy. While the stretch of land between Houston and Austin isn’t necessarily the most scenic in the state — just being honest — there are some fun destinations along each way to keep things interesting. Here’s what’s in store for both routes.
Related Read: The Best Stops on an Epic Dallas to Houston Road Trip
Houston to Austin Road Trip: Highway 290 Route
On the more northern route into Austin, a lot of the local interest comes from shopping destinations and great food. Come hungry and with a few bucks to spare, and you’ll find lots to enjoy this way.
- Distance: 163 miles
- Drive time without stops: 2 hours, 48 mins
Highlight 1: Houston Premium Outlets
Some people can’t resist a good outlet mall, and there’s a nice one waiting for you right as you’re leaving Houston. From Marc Jacobs to Michael Kors to Columbia, Houston Premium Outlets has outposts from a variety of brands, totaling over 145 stores if you can believe it.
If you’re visiting someone in Austin and need to get them a gift, or you forgot to pack something yourself, this is where you can cover your bases.
Highlight 2: Chappell Hill Sausage Company
Some of the best parts about road trips are the quaint, local eateries that pop up along the way. Open since 1968, the family-owned Chappell Hill Sausage Company is a great spot to grab some down-home cooking.
More than just a restaurant, Chappell Hill Sausage Company also has meat products for sale, including its famous smoked sausage and honey-glazed ham.
Related Read: 12 Unique Places to Stay in Texas
Highlight 3: Chappell Hill Lavender Farm
Before you leave the small town of Chappell Hill, make your way to Chappell Hill Lavender Farm. That’s assuming it’s between March and November since that’s when the farm and gift shop are open.
While here, you can stroll about the fields, say hi to the resident miniature goats, and even cut some fresh lavender yourself if it’s the cutting season.
Highlight 4: Blue Bell Creameries
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! And if you’re in Texas, the ice cream you crave is Blue Bell. This beloved ice cream brand was founded in Brenham in 1907, and you can visit their Brenham headquarters Monday through Friday.
See how the magic is made from the observation deck, grab a scoop at the ice cream parlor, and get your souvenir at the gift shop.
Related Read: The 11 Best Small Towns in Texas To Visit This Year
Highlight 5: Buc-ee’s
You can’t really call it a road trip through Texas if you don’t fuel up at Buc-ee’s, a travel center chain that takes your everyday gas station-convenience store hybrids to the next level and has amassed a cult following.
You’ll hit one in Giddings on your way to Austin where rows upon rows of gas pumps meet quirky beaver-branded goods and famously clean bathrooms.
Highlight 6: Barbecue in Elgin
Hungry yet from all that driving? You’ll have two great barbecue joints to choose from once you reach the town of Elgin. First up is Meyer’s Elgin Smokehouse BBQ where the beef sausage and Mexican cream corn will have your mouthwatering.
Next is Southside Market & Barbecue where the pork steak and blackberry cobbler are sure to leave you satisfied. If you can’t decide between the two, why not stop at both to do your own little taste test?
Related Read: 12 Outdoor Things to Do in Austin for Adventure Lovers
Side Trip 1: Lake Somerville State Park & Trailway
If you’re craving some fresh air along your drive, Lake Somerville State Park and Trailway is calling your name.
There are nearly 40 miles of trails here including the 13-mile Trailway itself, which connects two sections of the park. A big draw of this destination is the lake where you can boat, fish, canoe, and kayak.
Side Trip 2: Round Top
You’ll have to go a little off 290 to reach the next highlight: the charming little town of Round Top. This place is most famous for its antiques show when literally thousands of people converge to find vintage treasures.
But even if you’re not passing through when that popular event is happening, you can find lots of cute boutique shops here and some excellent pie at Royers Pie Haven.
Related Read: 15 Romantic Getaways in Texas for Adventurous Couples
Highway 290: Where to Stay
Because of the short distance between Houston and Austin, there’s not really a need to break up the trip with an overnight stay anywhere else. Unless, of course, you’re feeling like taking things slow and experiencing what small-town Texas is all about.
For that, you can book a stay at the charming Lillian Farms in Brenham. Take your pick from one of the bed-and-breakfast-type rooms inside the Victorian-style mansion, or you can get some more privacy in one of the cozy cottages — many of which have their own hot tub!
If camping is more of your style, Lake Somerville State Park has over 150 campsites, including many with water and electric hookups. Anyone who thinks they’ll want to stay here can make a reservation for their campsites online.
Houston to Austin Road Trip: I-10 / Highway 71 Route
Take the more southern route into Austin and you’ll drive by lots of green spaces to break up your drive plus quirky attractions that embody what kind of fun surprises a road trip can bring.
- Distance: 170 miles
- Drive time without stops: 3 hours, 8 mins
Highlight 1: Hruska’s Store & Bakery
There’s no better way to kick off a truly Texan road trip than with some kolaches, a traditional Czech pastry that has become a mainstream breakfast food in the state.
It’s easy to find them at basically any donut shop, but if you’re headed to Austin, you should hold out to grab one at Hruska’s Store & Bakery, a family-owned business since 1912.
Related Read: 9 Incredible Cabin Rentals Near Austin, Texas
Highlight 2: Kreische Brewery & Monument Hill State Historic Sites
After soaking up some Texas culinary delights, it’s time to immerse yourself in Texas history. At the Kreische Brewery State Historic Site, you can wander around the ruins of one of the first commercial breweries in the state.
Right nearby is the Monument Hill State Historic Site, which commemorates the militiamen killed during the Dawson Massacre and Mier expedition in 1842.
Highlight 3: Weikel’s Bakery
If you passed up your earlier opportunity for above-average kolaches, you have another chance to get some top-notch ones at Weikel’s Bakery.
They use an old family recipe to make their kolaches, but you’ll find far more than just Czech treats here like cinnamon rolls, pies, and cupcakes. With so many options, you may want to bag some treats to go…
Related Read: The 6 Best Places to See Fall Foliage in Texas
Highlight 4: Buescher State Park
After a couple of hours in the car, you might be ready to stretch your legs. For that, make a pit stop at Buescher State Park.
The park may not be the biggest but it has plenty to offer from six miles of trails to a 30-acre lake. For anyone who isn’t bringing along a kayak or canoe of their own, you can rent one at the park.
Highlight 5: Buc-ee’s
Like we said, a stop at Buc-ee’s is a rite of passage if you’re doing any long-distance driving in Texas. Don’t you worry because there’s one along this route too in Bastrop.
Even if you don’t need to fill up your car’s gas tank, or empty your own tank, it can be fun just to stroll about the store to see the many wacky ways they’ve slapped their red-capped, buck-toothed beaver brand on all kinds of products.
Related Read: 9 Incredible State Parks with Cabins in Texas
Highlight 6: Bastrop State Park
Just down the road from Buescher State Park, Bastrop State Park is another popular spot to get out of the car and enjoy nature.
Bigger than its neighboring park, it offers many of the same activities like hiking, biking, and fishing amid acres of pine-oak forest.
Highlight 7: McKinney Roughs Nature Park
Drive about 20 minutes down the road and you’ll cross yet another park—this time McKinney Roughs Nature Park.
What sets this family-friendly park apart though is that along with its chill recreation opportunities like hiking and picnicking, it also has some adrenaline-inducing activities like zip lining and riding UTVs.
Related Read: 11 Best Texas Swimming Holes to Beat the Summer Heat
Highlight 8: The Dinosaur Park
If you’re all about weird and wonderful roadside stops, then chances are you’ll love The Dinosaur Park in Bastrop. This outdoor museum features life-size dinosaur replicas strategically placed along a winding nature trail.
Rather than looking at dinosaur bones roped off and propped up inside a stuffy museum, you — and certainly your kids — can really imagine what the age of the dinosaurs might’ve been like here.
Highlight 9: Berdoll Pecan Candy & Gift Company / Ms. Pearl the Giant Squirrel
Texas’ official state tree is the pecan tree, and its official state pie is the pecan pie, so needless to say Texans love their pecans. At Berdoll Pecan Candy & Gift Company, you can lean into that love by picking up a variety of snacks and souvenirs that celebrate the pecan, including their famous pecan pies.
Before you go, don’t forget to take a picture with their photogenic mascot outside: Ms. Pearl the Giant Squirrel. She’s a 14-foot-tall squirrel statue so you definitely won’t miss her.
Related Read: 10 Unique Hotels in Texas, Including a Jail House
I-10 / Highway 71: Where to Stay
If your trip from Houston to Austin is more about the journey and less about the destination, then you might be inclined to do some camping along the way. Both Buescher State Park and Bastrop State park have on-site camping for both RVs and tents. McKinney Roughs Nature Park has its own slightly more elevated accommodation options with their cabins.
Feeling a little swanky? You’ll have no trouble pampering yourself at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort & Spa in Cedar Creek. This four-star hotel takes up a little over 400 acres and is chock full of attractions like an actual waterpark with its own lazy river and an 18-hole golf course. Then, there are all the on-site activities from horseback riding to shotgun trap shooting.
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