The Best Stops When Driving from Dallas to San Antonio


Ready for some Lone Star road trip? The Dallas-San Antonio route makes for a good start, whether you have an end destination to go to or just want to have a joyride.

But what is driving from Dallas to San Antonio (and vice versa) really like? Well, people’s comments differ. Some say it’s pretty scenic, while others say that it’s not that naturally stunning at all, as it consists mostly of stretches of flat terrain.

In total, the trip will take you nearly 280 miles, and there are some cool landmarks along the way that are worth investigating. Dallas and San Antonio are two iconic Texas cities for a good reason – or a myriad of good reasons! And these reasons only await your discovery.

Driving on I-35

Driving from Dallas to San Antonio (or vice versa) is usually done on I-35. For the uninitiated, I-35 is not always the smoothest, easiest, and most fun route as you would like it to imagine. If you’re able to do it in about three hours (if you’re going to and from your end destination), consider yourself lucky. That is if you don’t encounter being pulled over, getting detoured by the endless road-blocking construction, or getting eaten up by a semi-truck.

Fortunately, I-35 is not the only option. If you want to get away from the (mostly) fickle and crazy scene at I-35, you can go off the beaten path, like Route 281, for instance. It will make a more fun and less stressful road trip. Plus, avoid rush hours.

Here are some of the great roadside spots and hidden gems that will fill your stops, listed in order as you would encounter them when travelling on I-35 from Dallas to San Antonio:

Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza (Dallas)

Dealey Plaza in 2003

Kicking off your Dallas to San Antonio journey, the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas is a deeply compelling stop. It’s a place where history echoes through the halls as it delves into the life, assassination, and lasting impact of President John F. Kennedy. Located in the very building from which the tragic event unfolded, this museum offers a mix of solemn reflection and insightful learning. It’s more than just a museum – it’s a journey into a significant chapter of American history. It’s a great way to start your road trip with a thoughtful, reflective tone.

Hawaiian Falls (Mansfield)

Hawaiian Falls Mansfield is a fun-packed waterpark that’s perfect for a family pit stop when traveling through Texas. With a variety of water slides, a wave pool, and a lazy river, it offers something for everyone, from thrill-seekers to those looking to relax. The park is known for its clean, safe environment and friendly staff, making it a stress-free way for families to enjoy a day in the sun. It’s an excellent choice to beat the Texas heat and add a splash of excitement to your road trip!

As of writing, the waterpark is undergoing renovations, so it’s temporarily closed, but it will be set to open again at May 11, 2024.

The Bluebonnet Trail (Ennis)

Field of bluebonnets in Texas

On your journey from Dallas to San Antonio, don’t miss the chance to experience the magic of the Bluebonnet Trail in Ennis, especially if you’re cruising through in the spring. This place is like a scene from a Texas postcard, with fields and roadsides awash in stunning blues and purples. It’s a slice of wildflower heaven, perfect for a leisurely drive or a pit stop to stretch your legs and snap some Instagram-worthy photos!

Ennis really comes alive during bluebonnet season, making it a must-see for a true taste of Texas spring. Remember, timing is key to catching these beauties in full bloom!

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center (Glen Rose)

At Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, you’re in for a real treat, especially if you love animals and nature. Picture yourself on a scenic drive through a sprawling, 1,800-acre conservation park where you can see a wide range of animals roaming free. It’s like being on a mini-safari right here in Texas!

From the comfort of your car, you’ll spot giraffes, zebras, and other wildlife. It’s not just a fun detour – it’s a chance to learn about wildlife conservation and the efforts to protect these amazing creatures. Plus, the interaction you get with the animals here is genuinely one-of-a-kind. Don’t forget to bring your camera, as this place is full of unforgettable sights.

Dinosaur Valley State Park (Glen Rose)

River at Dinosaur Valley State Park

Next up, why not add a prehistoric twist to your road trip at Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose? This place is a real gem for anyone who’s ever been fascinated by dinosaurs. You’ll get to walk in the footsteps of these ancient giants, quite literally, as the park is home to some of the best-preserved dinosaur tracks in the world. Hiking along the riverbed, you can spot these incredible fossilized footprints.

It’s not just about the dino tracks – the park’s scenic beauty with its trails and river views is equally captivating. Visiting here is like stepping back in time and a fantastic way to mix adventure with a bit of history!

Slovacek’s (West)

apricot kolache

West is a tiny Texan town with a significant Czech immigrant population. It’s the land of kolache – a puffy dough that holds a filling (usually fruit jam) in the center. Kolaches can also be savory.

Slovacek’s functions as a part gas station, part convenience store, part dog park, part gift shop, and part bakery. It’s like Buc-ee’s but much smaller and has a homey and cozy European atmosphere. While you’re there, remember to order some Czech pastries, including, of course, its famous kolache. But you may get stuck in a choice paralysis, as Slovacek’s has 37 types of kolaches! So, it’s best to ask the shop about their best sellers.

Waco, Texas

Magnolia Market

If you’re a big fan of the HGTV series Fixer Upper, you would definitely not want to pass up Waco. Waco is the seat of three major colleges, including Baylor University, so the city exudes some sort of a vibrant college atmosphere. It offers a myriad of things to see and do.

For Fixer Upperfans, we’re sure you’re dying to visit Waco since the show is set here and is all about renovating properties to create a new and magical living space. Since the popularity of the series skyrocketed, Waco has become a tourist destination. Visitors to Waco can check out the renovated homes in the city, then head to Magnolia Market at the Silos, which is operated by the show’s stars and real-life couple, Chip and Joanna Gaines.

Downtown Waco is a lovely place to take a walk, visit historic buildings that now house several businesses, and stop for a cup of coffee. Fans of Dr. Pepper will be happy to check out the iconic Dr. Pepper Museum and learn everything they want to learn from the famous soft drink brand. If you are into wacky stuff, start a self-guided tour at the Webb Gallery, which curates kooky, wild, and whimsical displays of art pieces.

You can also check out Cameron Park, one of the biggest parks in Texas. It’s so big that it has a zoo inside it!

Buc-ee’s Gas Station (Temple)

bu-cee's in temple, texas

If you’ve never been to Buc-ee’s Gas Station before but at least heard the name, you may think of it as just another average gas station. However, Buc-ee’s is anything but just another place to go full tank.

Buc-ee’s has become an iconic Texan institution. Your Texas road trip won’t be complete without making a stop here. If Buc-ee’s 60 or so gas pumps won’t wow you, it also has a Costco-sized convenience store and 80 soda fountains to satisfy every customer entering the premises. Its restrooms, 33 urinals, and 50 toilet seats are immaculately clean. In fact, Buc-ee’s sparkling clean restrooms have actually won several awards (yes, there’s such a thing).

Let’s go back to the behemoth convenience store. Buc-ee’s boasts a dizzying array of Buc-ee’s legendary brand road trip snacks, such as its world-famous jerkies, fudge, chips, and, of course, its iconic Beaver Nuggets – those delightful little morsels are both crunchy and puffy. After filling up with gas, make sure to grab a bag or two of the Beaver Nuggets before continuing your road trip.

Austin Aquarium (Austin)

The Austin Aquarium offers a fun and educational experience that’s perfect for families or anyone interested in marine life. It’s a cozy yet immersive space where visitors can interact with a variety of sea creatures, including stingrays, sharks, and even some exotic birds and reptiles. The hands-on encounters allow you to feed and touch many of the animals, making it more engaging than your typical aquarium.

Whether you’re a local or just passing through, the Austin Aquarium provides a unique glimpse into the aquatic world that captivates both young and old alike. Through this aquarium, you and your family can get the excitement of learning about the ocean without having to take a long trip to the coast!

Jester King Brewery (Austin)

Jester King Brewery is a destination for beer enthusiasts looking to experience unique, locally-sourced craft beers in a picturesque setting. Nestled on a 200-acre ranch about 18 miles west of Downtown Austin, this brewery is world-renowned for its authentic, artisanal beers, which include farmhouse ales and barrel-aged sours.

The rustic, family-friendly atmosphere, complete with farm animals and picnic areas, makes it more than just a tasting room—it’s a place to relax and enjoy the scenic outdoors. Whether you’re a serious beer aficionado or just curious about craft brewing, Jester King offers a memorable experience.

Hamilton Pool Preserve (Dripping Springs)

Hamilton Pool with tourists

Hamilton Pool Preserve in Dripping Springs is a natural oasis that’s totally worth a detour. Picture a stunning, turquoise-green pool underneath a massive, ancient limestone grotto with a waterfall cascading down – it’s like a hidden paradise! This spot is perfect for cooling off on a hot Texas day or just enjoying some peaceful nature time.

Remember, it’s super popular, so reservations might be needed. A visit to Hamilton Pool is a refreshing change of pace from the road, offering both relaxation and a bit of awe at nature’s beauty.

Jacob’s Well Natural Area (Wimberley)

Jacob’s Well Natural Area in Wimberley is a stunning natural wonder that features one of the longest underwater caves in Texas. This artesian spring – which delivers several thousand gallons of waters per minute – offers a crystal-clear swimming hole that is both a visual treat and a popular spot for adventurous swimmers and divers.

The surrounding area provides scenic hiking trails and picnic spots, making it an ideal place for a nature-filled day out. As one of the most significant natural geologic areas in the Texas Hill Country, Jacob’s Well is a fascinating stop for anyone looking to cool off and enjoy the great outdoors.

Blanco State Park (Blanco)

Located along the banks of the Blanco River, Blanco State Park provides a serene getaway where visitors can enjoy a variety of water-based activities. Here, you can go swimming, fishing, canoeing, camping, tubing, and wildlife viewing. With its lush greenery and shaded picnic areas, it’s a perfect spot for a family outing or a peaceful retreat into nature.

The park also offers trails for those interested in a leisurely hike with beautiful river views. It’s a small, easy-to-navigate park that packs a lot of beauty and fun activities into a compact space, making it an ideal stop on any Texas road trip.

Fredericksburg, Texas

Bavarian Inn, Fredericksburg, Texas

Fredericksburg, located in the Texas Hill Country, is a charming blend of German heritage and Texan hospitality. It’s known for its picturesque Main Street, lined with shops, wineries, and quaint B&Bs. The town offers a unique cultural experience with its rich history, delicious German cuisine, and an array of local vineyards and breweries.

Whether you’re strolling through the historic district or exploring the nearby Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Fredericksburg is a delightful stop to immerse yourself in culture, history, and nature. It’s a great place to unwind and savor the slower pace of small-town Texas.

Gruene Historic District (New Braunfels)

Gruene Historic District

Gruene Historic District is a delightful step back in time, nestled just outside of New Braunfels. This little town oozes charm, with its well-preserved 19th-century buildings now hosting vibrant shops, cozy cafes, and some excellent restaurants. The star attraction is Gruene Hall, Texas’s oldest dance hall, where live music still fills the air.

Strolling through Gruene is like walking through a living piece of Texas history, yet it’s buzzing with a lively, modern vibe. It’s a must-stop for anyone who loves history and music or is just soaking up some laid-back Texas culture.

Schlitterbahn Waterpark (New Braunfels)

For a splash of fun, Schlitterbahn Waterpark in New Braunfels is the ultimate stop. It’s a water world with thrilling rides, lazy rivers, and wave pools, perfect for all ages. This waterpark comes with a unique charm that blends well with the natural surroundings. It’s a great place to cool off and have some laughs, especially if you’re traveling in the Texas heat.

Schlitterbahn offers a mix of relaxing and adrenaline-pumping attractions, ensuring a memorable part of your road trip.

San Marcos Downtown Square (San Marcos, TX)

Hays County Courthouse

If you’re traveling as a romantic or married couple and looking for somewhere idyllic, your heart will surely flutter as your car rolls into the San Marcos Town Square. Established in 1851, the square is lorded over by the majestic Hays County Courthouse in the center, which was constructed in 1908. It displays a beautiful Classic Revival architecture.

Check out indie specialty shops and boutiques, fine dining options, hipster coffee houses, late-night snack shops, bars, and free museums. Open-air musical performances and other events are also held there. Indeed, the San Marcos Town Square is a mix of homey and intimate. The Kissing Alley is one of the square’s hidden gems, with colorful murals, overhead string lights, and scenic views of the Hays County Courthouse – a place for the perfect couples pictorial!

Palmetto State Park (Gonzales)

Palmetto State Park is a unique spot in Texas, offering a tropical escape with its lush, green landscapes filled with dwarf palmettos. Located near Gonzales, this park lets you explore a bit of the tropics with swamps, oxbow lakes, and the San Marcos River. It’s perfect for kayaking, fishing, or hiking along its scenic trails.

The park also has picnic spots and campsites, making it a great place for a family outing or a quiet retreat into nature. Bird watchers and nature enthusiasts will especially enjoy the diverse wildlife and tranquil setting.

Caves in San Antonio, TX

natural bridge caverns

Check out a couple of nature spots as you reach the tail end of your Dallas-San Antonio road trip.

First is the Natural Bridge Caverns, which are some of the most beautiful in Texas. It has plenty of adventures for every visitor, whether you’re traveling solo, as a couple, or with the family. Discover rocks, water streams, fossils, large underground chambers, breathtaking stalactites and stalagmites, and the magnificent limestone bridge that gives the Natural Bridge Caverns its name.

Second is the Bracken Cave Preserve, which houses the largest bat colony in the world and, obviously, the best place to see the flying mammals there. It’s also a conservation site that aims to protect and preserve the bat population of the area.

The Alamo (San Antonio)

The front view of the Alamo

As you reach San Antonio, The Alamo is a must-visit. This iconic mission, rich in Texas history, is more than just a landmark. It’s a testament to the bravery and sacrifice of its defenders during the famous 1836 battle for Texas’ independence. The Alamo’s grounds and museum offer a poignant glimpse into the past, making history tangible and accessible. The Alamo offers visitors a meaningful experience that connects them to the heart of Texas, its spirit and heritage.

Final Word

From the deep history in Dallas and San Antonio to the fun water adventures and serene nature spots, it’s a journey packed with a bit of everything. It’s not just about the places but the memories you make and the bits of Texas you take with you. So, roll down the windows, turn up the music, and enjoy every bit of the ride!

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