Usually by mid-March, our family is already looking ahead to summer and planning our bucket list, seeking out the top things to do in our area, dreaming about the vacations we’ve booked, and reserving coveted spots in local camps. But after paying for those trips and camps, there’s little left in the budget for the rest of the summer days. That’s when this bucket list can come to the rescue.
This year, I’m a little behind in making our list because so many great ideas and new opportunities have been flooding my inbox and text chains. Sometimes, I consider keeping these hot spots a secret to be enjoyed without much of a crowd, but NAH, this blog is all about sharing the fun!
I invite you to check off these Top 21 FUN (and affordable or FREE) things to do in Austin and the surrounding areas with us, so we can make the summer of 2023 memorable!
Items marked with an * are FREE.
HILL COUNTRY SUMMER BUCKET LIST (in no particular order)
Swim in the warm Pedernales River, hike the moderate to difficult trails, try a little rock climbing, or just lay out on the beachy river shore. Be prepared for a bit of a hike down and uphill if heading to the water from the parking lot. Fees are charged for entry at $5/adult, cash only, and reservations are not allowed.
When you combine open green space, climbing trees, picnic tables, delicious food, and unique wines, you get a fantastic place to spend an afternoon with family and friends. Bring snacks for your kids, a few lawn toys, and savor the views and the slower pace in a beautiful setting next to a vineyard. You can order food to-go from the winery or a full Italian meal from Trattoria Lisina and picnic with a bottle of their wine.
3. Route 12 Filling Station and Dreamland (both in Dripping Springs)
Multiple porches, splash pad, small playground, casual food menu, and full bar make these hotspots great family-friendly options for a summer evening. Dreamland also has putt putt golf for $10/person and pickle ball courts.
Pack a cooler, load up the tubes, grab a fishing pole, pull out some cash ($10 for adults, $6 for kids), and remember the slip-proof water shoes for a full day in and on the water. The trek down can be a tad difficult so be prepared to carry little ones. There are bathroom facilities on site but no food options. Overnight camping is also available with advanced reservations.
5. *Go Park-Hopping
Clear your schedule for the day and hit as many parks as you can. Finish up the hot day of play with a dip in Founders Pool for a nominal fee. (http://www.cityofdrippingsprings.com/page/parks_foundersmemorial)
This is one of our fave pools! There are waterslides, leap pads, baby pool, pool loungers, and picnic tables. There’s also an affordable concession stand. Small fee required for all day access.
This scenic park is free for day use, and it has a variety of shaded trails, as well as a few swimming spots. Park at any of the designated parking areas and go right for lake swimming, left for creek and waterfall. Bring in all your own swimming toys, food, and blankets/towels. The trails toward the lake are flat enough for a wagon.
This is one of the best priced water parks with 3 distinct pool areas for all ages, as well as multiple slides, cargo net for climbing, splash pad, and small obstacle courses. Two of the pool areas are spring-fed and quite cool. There is a large locker room with bathrooms and changing areas. You can bring in your own food and drinks. Just outside of the aquatic center is a train that takes you around the park, which has multiple playgrounds and trails.
9. *Hamilton Greenbelt and *Hurst Creek Overlook
Enjoy a hike or a bike ride along the waters of Hurst Creek on the Hamilton Greenbelt and then travel a few minutes away to take in a gorgeous view at the Hurst Creek Overlook.
10. *Mayfield Park
Walk the trails, photograph the peacocks and peahens, and lounge in a beautiful, shaded outdoor space at this free city park. If you go on a Thursday, you can visit the Laguna Gloria art gallery next door for FREE. Make a full day of it by traveling less than 10 min to Red Bud Isle for hiking, kayaking, and an off-leash dog park or to Hula Hut for a unique dinner on the water.
11. Emma Long Park
Enjoy a beach day on the shores of Lake Austin. The park boasts swimming, camp sites, hiking trails, fishing areas, volleyball and basketball courts, boat ramps, a cycling trail, and lots of wildflowers. $5-$10/vehicle admission, coins or card only, unless you book online in advance.
12. *LBJ State Park and Sauer Beckmann Farm
Spend the cool morning hours touring the farm and hiking the easy trails to see Texas Longhorns. When it gets too hot, take the driving tour through the national park to see the LBJ family working ranch, as well as historic sites. Check out the link above for more details.
Sand, boulders, a flowing river for swimming or wading, shaded trails, unique wildlife, campsites, and beautiful views… what more could you want for a summer day or weekend? Be sure to reserve a day pass or campsite in advance. They do sell out.
14. *Chill in the San Marcos River after Playground Fun
Check out one of the best playgrounds in the area, The Children’s Park in San Marcos, and then cool off in the river just steps away. Bring your own floats or tubes as well as a picnic lunch. Then head into downtown San Marcos for a unique treat at Icy Rolls. Your kids will never look at ice cream the same way again.
15. *Attend Awesome Library Events
The Dripping Springs, Bee Cave, Lake Travis, Westbank, and Wimberley Libraries have amazing magic and puppet shows, petting zoos, parties, summer reading challenges, Lego and chess clubs, and movie nights. Some require registration in advance. Be sure to check the summer event calendars and plan ahead.
16. A *Hike and Some Ice
Hike the Hill of Life (enter at the “Trail’s End Access to Barton Creek Greenbelt”) until you get to the water’s edge for a few beautiful photos and opportunities to splash in the creek. Then, after the difficult hike back up what feels like a small mountain, reward yourself with a mountain of delicious shaved ice at Woody’s (check online before you go to see if it’s open). The hike is steep in some areas, with loose gravel, and not stroller friendly. For younger kids, try an easier hike (ending in a secret swimming hole) on Lost Creek Trail, which begins at 2614 Lost Creek Blvd, before the sweet treat.
Small, laid-back park in the heart of town with easy hiking trails, campsites, a playground, and several swimming and fishing areas along the river. Day pass reservations recommended. $5/adult.
Take a cold dip in the spring fed waters, hike, picnic, and enjoy playground fun. Afterward, wander into town for a walk along Cypress creek, a big bowl of yummy ice cream at The Wooden Spoon, a pizza and playtime at Community Pizza, and some live music. (Make swimming reservations for Blue Hole in advance. $12/adult, $6/child)
19. Cypress Falls Swimming Hole
Spend the whole day on a paddle board, in a canoe, or in a tube. You can bring your own or rent on site. You can also climb in the small cave, search for the goats, and lounge on the shore munching a delicious taco from the on-site restaurant. $10/adult, $6/child 5+.
Zilker Hillside Theater is back with a free production of Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical! The show must go on rain or shine or 100 degree heat every Thursday through Sunday at 8 pm from July 7th through Aug 12th. It’s the perfect opportunity to check out the famous Barton Springs pool before the show if you’ve never been. And if you can’t get in, good news… there’s a free, public-access side too! It’s right next door to and down the hill from the Barton Springs facility.
This park has it all: playground, 1500 foot beach, large shallow swimming area, several shaded picnic spots, boat ramps, volleyball courts, and a deeper side of the lake for floating and boating. $20/vehicle for all day (no in and out) or $5 for Comal County registered vehicles.
I hope this list gets you motivated to get out and explore without breaking the bank, even on the blistering hot Texas summer days. And for those weeks when your kids need a break from all the outdoor fun, check out this list of the best VBS options in the area.
Also, please subscribe below or follow on Instagram for upcoming posts with reviews on the above places as we check off our list. Dripping with Kids will also share frugal travel tips and ideas for indoor fun with kids. Thank you for reading!