Free and Cheap Place to Take Your Parents When They Visit: Quick Day Trips


Have you ever had family come to visit but all they want to do is go somewhere outside Austin? Maybe it’s wine tasting in Fredericksburg or the shops in Salado or a drive through the countryside. Even though there are endless things to do in Austin, the outlying areas pull them away.

Enchanted Rock with the Texas Hill Country outside Fredericksburg

Photo: Flickr user TimothyJ, creative commons licensed.

One city can’t have everything, and the small towns around here prove there’s something special about small town Texas. If your parents come to town and want to skip the big city hustle and bustle, here are some free and cheap places to take them on a day trip when they visit.

1. Pie Happy Hour in Marble Falls

Happy hour in Austin usually means craft beer, signature cocktails, and discounted appetizers. In Marble Falls, it means pie and coffee. Pie happy hour happens every weekday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Blue Bonnet Cafe. Mountainous meringue and hit-the-spot diner fare await you on your Texas Hill Country road trip.

2. Magnolia Market at the Silos in Waco

To say the success of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” has caused a tourism boom in Waco would be an understatement. Chip and Joanna Gaines’s venture into the restaurant game is only their latest project in what was once a sleepy mid-size city. Their crown jewel is Magnolia Market at the Silos. Shoppers come from all across the nation to buy home accessories to feather their nests.

But it’s absolutely free to browse and play! They have an astroturf lawn, yard games, and food trucks to keep you entertained. And don’t miss out on their amazing cupcakes!

3. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area near Fredericksburg

Less than 20 miles north of Fredericksburg, you can hike to one of the most famous spots from which to survey the Texas Hill Country. The walk up to the summit of Enchanted Rock is a little more than half a mile, but the elevation rises 425 feet. For those with limited mobility, reaching the summit may be off the table, but that doesn’t mean they should skip this state natural area. There’s also a 4-mile trail that forms a loop around most of the property included in the park’s 11 miles of trails.

Entrance fees are $7 for adults and free for children 12 years old and younger.

4. A barbecue lover’s paradise in Lockhart

In a state known for barbecue, the little town of Lockhart has its own Mount Rushmore of barbecue joints: Black’s, Smitty’s, Kreuz, and Chisholm Trail. Make your way down to Lockhart to sample one or them all! For the cost of a reasonably priced dinner, you’ll have hours of conversation about the smoky meats, savory sides, and sweet desserts ….

“That sausage was the best I’ve ever had.”

“Come, on! The brisket was best!”

“You’re both wrong! I could have eaten a mountain of that potato salad!”

5. Quarry Splash Pad at Williamson County Southwest Regional Park in Leander

After school lets out, splash pads can get crowded in Austin. Venture out to Southwest Williamson County Regional Park to let the kids run out their energy at Quarry Splash Pad. At $2.00 per person, the whole family can come along to get their feet wet.

6. National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg

At $15 admission for adults and $7 for students, the National Museum of the Pacific War may seem a bit steep to be included on a list of free and cheap places. But consider this: the admission is for a two-day ticket. This world-class museum includes the childhood home of Admiral Chester Nimitz, the 33,000 square foot George H.W. Bush Gallery, and the outdoor Pacific Combat Zone. With everything to see, you’ll need the two days. For super quick day trips, the museum has suggested itineraries based on how many hours you have.

7. The courthouse square in Georgetown

Georgetown loves to brag about its courthouse square … with good reason. Even though Georgetown isn’t exactly a small town, the courthouse square oozes small town Texas charm. With great eateries and interesting shops, your family will find plenty to do within a few blocks of the Williamson County Courthouse, even if it means packing a picnic and window shopping.

8. A smoky sausage rivalry in Elgin

Remember that barbecue argument your family had in Lockhart? Get ready to have it again, but this time the focus is on Elgin sausage. Here there are two heavyweights squaring off for the title of best sausage: Meyer’s and Southside. Even if you prefer some other meat when you eat barbecue, these two joints hold up. So try the sausage, but don’t fret about ordering brisket or ribs. Barbecue and quick day trips are a winning combination.

9. Pace Park in Salado

Cold spring water feels great on a Texas summer day. Salado has a spring-fed creek running through town. You can find locals and visitors lounging in folding chairs partially submerged in the chilly water at Pace Park. Pack your sunscreen and some cold beverages for a great afternoon of family time with the water gliding across your calves, ankles, and feet.

10. Glass-bottom boat tours in San Marcos

Puttering across a lake is a relaxing experience, but what if you could look under the water’s surface? That’s exactly what you can see from glass-bottom boats at The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University-San Marcos. Watch fish and turtles swim among the bubbles coming up from the lake bottom.

30-minute tour prices are as follows:

  • Adults: $9.75
  • Seniors (65+): $8.00
  • Children (3-12): $6.00
  • 2 and under: Free