Last Updated on August 24, 2023

Southwest Austin is a hidden gem offering a perfect blend of natural beauty and outdoor recreation with a laid-back lifestyle. I recently moved from big-city life in Dallas to the rural countryside of Southwest Austin.

I chose this area for the peaceful natural surroundings just 30 minutes from downtown Austin. It offers a world of rewards and exciting exploration, mainly as the gateway to the beautiful Hill Country. Our next-door neighbors are the tiny hill country towns of Dripping Springs and Driftwood.

Good eats, cultural attractions, nearby wineries and distilleries were also compelling reasons for making this my new home. I want to share with you some of my favorites.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a botanical garden and research center. Named after former First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson, it is dedicated to preserving and conserving native plants and landscapes. Spread across 284 acres, the center showcases the beauty and diversity of Texas’ native flora.

Visitors can explore the various gardens, including the Central Complex, which houses the Visitor Center and gift shop.

The Wildflower Center also offers educational programs, workshops, and events for all ages, promoting environmental stewardship and the importance of native plants in sustaining ecosystems. Walking trails meander through native plant habitats, providing a peaceful retreat for nature enthusiasts.

The center’s commitment to research and conservation makes it a valuable resource for studying and protecting Texas’ natural heritage. Whether you’re a botany enthusiast or simply looking for a serene place to connect with nature, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a must-visit destination.

Coneflowers at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Coneflowers at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center © Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Hamilton Pool Preserve

A stunning natural wonder beloved for nature lovers, hikers, and swimmers, Hamilton Pool Preserve is perfect for those seeking respite from the Texas heat. This unique preserve is famous for its picturesque limestone cave and a beautiful waterfall that cascades into a crystal-clear pool below.

The pool was formed thousands of years ago when the dome of an underground river collapsed, creating a breathtaking oasis surrounded by towering cliffs and lush vegetation. The preserve covers over 230 acres and allows visitors to explore its diverse ecosystem, including cypress trees, ferns and wildflowers.

In addition to its natural beauty, Hamilton Pool Preserve is home to a wide array of wildlife, such as birds, turtles and fish. The preserve offers guided tours, educational programs and hiking trails for visitors.

Salt Lick BBQ

Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood is a renowned destination for barbecue lovers in the Austin area. Established in 1967, this family-owned and operated restaurant has become a Texas barbecue institution. With its rustic and welcoming atmosphere, Salt Lick BBQ offers a true taste of authentic Central Texas barbecue.

The restaurant is famous for its mouthwatering slow-smoked meats, including brisket, ribs, sausage, and turkey, all cooked to perfection over open pits. Their secret family recipe for the barbecue sauce adds a unique flavor to the meats.

Visitors can enjoy their meals in the inviting dining area or the spacious outdoor picnic area surrounded by beautiful Hill Country scenery. A visit to Salt Lick BBQ promises an unforgettable experience that captures the essence of Texas flavor and hospitality.

Salt Lick BBQ
Salt Lick BBQ © Salt Lick BBQ

Camp Lucy in Dripping Springs

Camp Lucy is a luxurious retreat in the scenic town of Dripping Springs. The city has earned the nickname “wedding capital of Texas” due to its picturesque wedding venues.

This one is nestled in a picturesque rolling hill setting with beautiful gardens, towering oak trees and a serene atmosphere creating an enchanting experience for guests.

Camp Lucy has a variety of accommodation options to suit every taste. From elegant cottages and spacious villas to charming cabins and rustic yurts, guests will find their ideal place to stay.

Tillie’s onsite restaurant offers a delectable dining experience with its farm-to-table cuisine and extensive wine list.

Texas Hill Country Olive Oil Company

The Texas Hill Country Olive Oil Company is a family-owned and operated business in Dripping Springs. Dedicated to producing high-quality extra virgin olive oil, it has become a staple in the local community and a destination for olive oil enthusiasts.

The company’s olive orchards span over 100 acres and are carefully tended to ensure the production of the finest olives. They harvest and press the olives onsite, using traditional methods to preserve the flavor and quality of the oil. The result is a range of award-winning olive oils known for their exceptional taste and health benefits.

Visitors to the Texas Olive Oil Company can tour the orchards, learn about the olive oil production process and sample the various oils. The company also hosts events and workshops to educate and inspire others about the benefits and uses of olive oil.

Wild Basin Preserve

Wild Basin Preserve is a hidden gem in the beautiful Bee Cave area in South Austin. This 227-acre nature preserve is home to various plant and animal species, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers. With lush greenery, picturesque waterfalls, and scenic hiking trails, Wild Basin Preserve provides a serene and peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Visitors can embark on various trails that wind through the preserve, offering different difficulty levels and distances. These trails provide opportunities for birdwatching, wildlife spotting, and enjoying the breathtaking vistas. 

Aside from its natural beauty, Wild Basin Preserve is a research and educational center that offers educational programs to raise awareness about the importance of preserving and protecting natural ecosystems.

Wild Basin Preserve Waterfall.
Waterfall at Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve. Photo credit: Visit Austin

Barton Creek Greenbelt

In the heart of Austin, the Barton Creek Greenbelt is a beloved natural oasis stretching almost eight miles and offering many outdoor activities. This urban wilderness is a haven for hikers, mountain bikers and rock climbers.

The Greenbelt is renowned for its beautiful limestone cliffs, crystal-clear swimming holes, and meandering trails that wind through dense forests and along the banks of Barton Creek. Visitors can explore the diverse ecosystem, spot wildlife and enjoy the peaceful sounds of nature away from the city life.

One of the highlights of the Barton Creek Greenbelt is its numerous swimming holes, such as the gorgeous Twin Falls and Sculpture Falls. These natural pools provide a refreshing escape from the sometimes-grueling Texas temperatures. They are perfect for a relaxing dip or a picnic by the water.

The Greenbelt also offers opportunities for rock climbing. Its impressive cliffs and boulders provide a challenging playground for climbers of all levels.

Desert Door Texas Sotol

Desert Door Texas Sotol is the only distillery in Texas dedicated to producing Sotol, a spirit made from the Desert Spoon Plant that grows wild in the Chihuahuan Desert. It offers a distinct taste reminiscent of tequila and mezcal, but with its own Texan twist.

The tasting room at Desert Door in Driftwood offers a unique experience for visitors with prominent windows that provide an unobstructed view of the copper stills where the “magic” happens. I sampled the Essentials flight on a recent visit and the Sotol Sangria was my favorite!

They have a food truck onsite and live music on the weekends.

Fall Creek Vineyards

Fall Creek Vineyards is a renowned winery in a region known for its exceptional wines. It has become a pioneer in the Texas wine industry, consistently producing award-winning wines that showcase the area’s unique terroir.

Visitors are treated to a truly immersive experience. The grounds offer breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside, making it an idyllic spot for wine tasting and picnicking. The onsite tasting room provides a warm and inviting space to sample exceptional wines while learning about the winemaking process from the knowledgeable staff. Each varietal is carefully selected to thrive in the Texas climate.

Fall Creek caters to every palate, from the crisp and refreshing white wines to the rich and robust reds. Fall Creek Vineyards is not just a winery; it’s a destination celebrating the beauty and flavors of the Texas Hill Country.

Dripping With Taste Trail

The Dripping with Taste Trail is a self-guided culinary adventure taking visitors on a tantalizing exploration of the food and drink offerings in and around Dripping Springs. It’s a great way to meet local producers, get your “passport” stamped, and learn more about the local offerings.

With a diverse selection of wineries, breweries, distilleries, and gourmet food producers, the trail offers a wide range of flavors and experiences. The trail not only showcases the delicious offerings of the area, but also provides an opportunity to experience the charm of the Hill Country.

Don’t miss Southwest Austin on your next visit to the Lone Star State. After you’ve spent time downtown, come on down to visit the gateway to the Hill Country.

The best time to visit is in the spring when the bluebonnets bloom and in the fall during harvest season. Fall farmer’s markets burst with pumpkins, apples and pecans.

Author

  • Sharon Kurtz

    Sharon Kurtz is a freelance writer and photographer who shares her love for travel and food by exploring unique cultures and flavors at home and around the globe. While she calls Austin, TX home, her carry-on is always packed, ready for the next adventure. Sharon has a way of crafting a story that pulls you in, holds your attention and entertains along the way; always looking for a unique angle to bring a fresh perspective.