3 unique road trips you can take from Houston in 4 hours or less

Jul 1, 2020

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Editor’s note: As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year. Note that some of these locations may not be fully reopened.

Houston is one of the top 5 most populated U.S. cities with more than 2 million residents. Within Houston, you’ve got immediate access to a diverse collection of top-notch cuisine, the Space Center and NASA, world-class museums, large outdoor spaces, major league sporting teams and more.

But — sometimes no matter how much you have to do in your own backyard, you need a change of scenery and a break from lots of people.

Texas is a pretty massive state at around 800 miles across, so unlike in the Northeast, if you want to limit your driving distance to an easy four hours or so each direction, you probably aren’t crossing the state lines for this particular road trip. Within a four-hour drive from Houston, technically you could reach some of Louisiana and come within an hour or so of getting to Arkansas or Oklahoma, but more than likely you are staying in the Lone Star State.

With that in mind, here are three very different road trips within Texas that you can take from Houston on less than a tank of gas.

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(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Jacob’s Well in Wimberley, Texas (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Texas Hill Country

Distance from Houston: 3 hours

What to do: Get ready to unplug, put your feet in the cold water and crack open a cool drink.

In the Texas Hill Country, you can enjoy the lakes, rivers and hikes in small Central Texas towns such as Wimberley, New Braunsfels, Canyon Lake, Fredericksburg and Luckenbach.

Wineries are abundant in this area, as are can’t-miss swimming holes. As far as swimming holes go, in Wimberley, you’ll find Blue Hole (great for hanging out and rope swinging) and Jacob’s Well (great for jumping in from rocks above). About 30-miles west of Austin, you’ll find Hamilton Pool, another top-notch place to cool down in the Hill Country.

Hamilton Pool (Photo by WIN-Initiative / Getty Images)
Hamilton Pool (Photo by WIN-Initiative/Getty Images)

But all in all, for a true getaway I’m partial to Wimberley where you can stay away from it all on the Blanco River in a cabin and then easily walk into town for a meal and shopping at local, independent retailers when you decide you need a dose of civilization.

Then, when you want to take in the view, walk up the 218 rock steps of Old Baldy to get a breathtaking aerial view of the area.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

An added benefit is you’ve now probably worked off enough calories to have an extra snack or drink, which are in abundant supply.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Where to stay: Book a cabin that ranges from one to three bedrooms at The Waters Point in Wimberley. Prices usually range from $200–$400 per night.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

At one of these cabins, such as the two-bedroom Pioneer Cabin pictured above, you will have private access to a half-mile of the Blanco River, but you can also walk right into town or make the three-minute drive over to Blue Hole to swing into the blue water below.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Walk out from your cabin into the river. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

While it’s very different from Wimberley, if you want a taste of the Hill Country on hotel points, you can check out Hyatt Lost Pines Resort in Bastrop for 20,000 World of Hyatt points per night or the Hyatt Regency Hill Country outside San Antonio for 15,000 Hyatt points per night or by using a Category 1–4 award you get each year you have the World of Hyatt Credit Card.

Where to eat and drink: If you head to Wimberley, absolutely don’t miss dinner from the Leaning Pear (open Tuesday to Saturday for dinner). We loved everything we tried, but gave the highest marks to the wood-fired pizza, Leaning Pear house salad, fried avocado tostada and fried brussels sprouts.

Also, be sure and pick up some breakfast pastries next to the Leaning Pear from the Sugar Shack Bakery. That way you’ll have them at the ready for when you wake up the next morning. (Get the cinnamon and sugar croissants if they have them in stock!) If you want a meal with live music by the river in Wimberley, check out Ino’z.

Related: Best credit cards for eating out

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Bolivar Peninsula

Distance: 1.5 hours, depending on the ferry schedule or if you make the drive through Winnie without the ferry

What to do: You head to the 27-mile stretch of beach on the Bolivar Peninsula from Houston because you want to go to see, hear or touch the waves without spending all day in the car to head to a further afield stretch of beach. To get to Bolivar, you can take a longer drive around to avoid the ferry, or you can take a free 2.7-mile ferry ride from Galveston to the peninsula that carries both vehicles or pedestrians. Either way, you’re a world away from the city in a hurry.

(Photo by Swanette Smith)

Many visitors to Bolivar rent golf carts and cruise up and down the shoreline. You can also go fishing from the beach or in the bay.

(Photo by Swanette Smith)
(Photo by Swanette Smith)

Where to stay: You’ll probably want to rent a beach house if you plan on spending the night in Crystal Beach or one of the other portions of Bolivar. And this may be a surprise if you haven’t been to Bolivar in a while, but many of the beach houses are really, really nice and on the newer siee. In 2008, Hurricane Ike all but destroyed Bolivar, wiping out thousands of homes, taking lives and bringing with it over 100-mile-per-hour winds and a massive storm surge. It was a horrific event for the Texas Gulf Coast.

Now, more than a decade later, there are new beach houses dotting the shore, many of which are available for rent from local rental companies, or on sites such as Airbnb and VRBO.

If you really want to use your points, instead of Bolivar, you can stay in Galveston and redeem 30,000 Wyndham Rewards points per night at the historic, beachfront Hotel Galvez. Another option near the ferry landing in Galveston is a Homewood Suites by Hilton that can be booked from around 30,000 Hilton Honors points per night.

But really, for a true Bolivar experience, go for a beach house rental if you can.

Related: How to find the perfect home rental

(Photo by Swanette Smith)

Where to eat and drink: Have you really been to Bolivar if you didn’t order a basket of Gulf Coast fried shrimp at Stingarees? Arguably not. Stinagree is located in Crystal Beach on the Intracoastal Canal and is known for its seafood, cold drinks, live music and epic sunsets. My family can’t go to Bolivar without a stop (or two) at Stinagree. Bonus points if some tugs and barges go by during your meal.

(Photo by Swanette Smith)

Another popular spot for a meal on Bolivar is Steve’s Landing, where my family can vouch for the shrimp and grits. For some quick breakfast items when you don’t feel like flipping your own pancakes, check out Dannay’s Donuts or Third Coast Coffee.

Related: One of the world’s largest cruise ships is heading to Galveston

San Antonio

Distance: 3 hours west on I-10

What to do: San Antonio is only a three-hour drive from Houston (OK, that’s when there’s no traffic), but it feels like a world away. There’s no shortage of things to do, see and eat in San Antonio, but you’d certainly be remiss if you didn’t spend some time on the Riverwalk in downtown San Antonio. An easy, fun way to get a sense of where you are is to take a narrated riverboat cruise up and down the river. Then, you have to get some chips, dip, tacos and perhaps a cold margarita.

The San Antonio River Walk and the scenic canal tours via boat.(Photo by dszc/Getty Images)
The San Antonio River Walk and the scenic canal tours via boat. (Photo by dszc/Getty Images)

Also near the Riverwalk is the world-famous Alamo, and while it’s certainly worth a visit, it is far from the only mission in the area. The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park has four separate mission sites you can visit during your stay.

And, if all of that above-ground exploring gets too hot (and it really might in the summer), you can head underground to Natural Bridge Caverns that takes you up to 180 feet below the surface where it stays around 70 degrees all year long.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

For some more indoor, air-conditioned activities for the family in San Antonio, you can check out the DoSeum, which is geared for kids up to about age 10. For the older crew, the Witte Museum gets high marks and is even free on Tuesday evenings, if you can time your visit right.

Where to stay: There are many hotels on or near the Riverwalk. You can use Marriott points to book a room at the historic St. Anthony, a Luxury Collection property for 30,000 to 40,000 Marriott points per night. The Hyatt Regency San Antonio Riverwalk isn’t quite as luxe, but it is in a great location for 12,000 Hyatt points per night. If you want a bit more resort with your trip to the San Antonio area, the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort is just outside the city, complete with lazy river, a waterslide, shaded pools and more.

Hyatt Regency Hill Country (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Hyatt Regency Hill Country (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Where to eat: You must eat some Tex-Mex while in San Antonio and you’ll have plenty of options in that arena. Some popular options include La Margarita, Mi Tierra (open 24 hours and has a bakery) and the prickly pear margarita at Boudro’s basically has its own fan club.

If you are craving chicken wings, Cullum’s Attagirl has a wide assortment of flavor choices. TPG’s Benet Wilson swears by the Nashville hot and the peanut butter and jelly (it shouldn’t work, but she says it totally does). For a sweet treat, Bird Bakery also gets high marks for its cupcakes and cookies.

Bottom line

If you’re in Houston and have a tank of gas at the ready, there are almost limitless experiences, vastly different from city life, just waiting within a few hours drive. From the cold rivers and shady trees of the Hill Country to the hot salsa and vibrant culture in San Antonio and the lazy afternoons at the beach in Bolivar, there’s no need to spend all your time in Texas underneath the shadow of the Houston skyscrapers — get out there and explore.

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