School is out, summer is here and the kids are ready for an adventure. From a dreamy outdoor oasis in Dripping Springs to spring-fed pools, cool caverns, exotic zoos, private islands and thrilling waterparks, here are six nearby daytrips where you can take the kids to play while keeping boredom at bay. Go ahead and sprinkle all six spots into your family’s summer schedule –– each one is less than an hour and a half from Austin.
Dreamland in Dripping Springs
On a recent Friday, I took my family to explore Dreamland, which, as its name alludes to, is pretty dreamy. This new Dripping Springs destination less than 40 minutes from Austin is quickly becoming a Hill Country hotspot –– and for good reason.
Sitting on 64 sprawling acres, Dreamland is a family-friendly amalgamation of awe-inspiring art, mini-golf, pickleball, live music, yummy food and one of the largest self-serve craft beer and wine selections in the country. The outdoor oasis drips with fun for all ages and interests and there’s no entry fee –– you just pay to play on the lighted pickleball courts (think ping pong meets tennis) or one of two mini-golf courses where players can opt for the easier, more playful Dream Course or the Challenge Course, which Dreamland touts as being one of the most extreme and challenging mini golf courses in the world, featuring three difficulty levels and 54 holes ranging from par 2 to par 5.
Adding to the perks of putt-putt and pickleball, you’ll find live music playing most nights of the week in Dreamland’s intimate beer garden or on its custom stage, which features an oversized video wall and a sprawling 8,000-square-foot turf lawn. While some shows require tickets, most music is free to enjoy. After enduring more than a year defined by a paucity of live music, we relished an evening spent outside, listening to music from The Watters, soaking in Hill Country breezes and sipping local craft beers. Dinner was a palate-pleasing smorgasbord of foods to suit everyone’s tastes spanning street tacos, a veggie pizza, chicken tenders and funnel cake fries (an instant hit with our kids).
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the drinks at Dreamland, which are truly next level. Shiny taps wrap an expansive sports bar, inviting patrons to open a tab and self-serve their beverage of choice from an encyclopedic selection of 50 craft beers, hard seltzers, ciders and kombuchas as well as 40 Texas and worldly wines using a RFID card that charges by the ounce poured. Are you more of an Austin Beerworks, Twisted X Brewery or Austin Eastciders fan? Can’t decide? Pour yourself several ounce-sized tastings to sip and sample, then have a seat in the open-air beer garden while keeping an eye on the kids playing on the covered playscape or almost-finished splash pad.
But Dreamland’s captivating, continually-evolving outdoor art gallery that’s on display from the moment you arrive is undeniably one of the venue’s biggest draws.
I toured the grounds with artistic director Gareth Maguire, who is responsible for the impressive collection of artwork at Dreamland that captures the American Dream and reinforces the idea of our common humanity. Maguire, an Irish artist and actor who calls Austin home and works primarily in neo-expressionist, graffiti-style painting, says Dreamland’s owner and founder Steve Kuhn gave him a blank canvas to curate the thought-provoking art that unfolds across the property.
Wandering through Dreamland is a visual treat –– an outdoor gallery featuring larger-than-life sculptures created by some of the world’s top artists, mesmerizing mosaics made from thousands of colorful tiles, and more than 15 giant repurposed Richard’s Rainwater collection tanks, which capture water used for operations across the property while serving as a one-of-a-kind curated mural and graffiti park created by local emerging artists as well as some of the world’s most established muralists.
At Dreamland, you’ll also see colossal works like “Equals” by Michael Benisty –– the stainless steel 12-foot-tall and 14-foot-wide black and white sculpture fabricated in Shanghai that’s reflective of Dreamland’s mission of celebrating inclusivity. “Mariposita” by artist Chris Camabucci is another stunning work, featuring hundreds of layers of cut wood glued and screwed together to form a woman emerging from the shell of her past and being born into the American Dream.
“The art is a Trojan horse for the message and mission of trying to bring people together,” says Maguire, who has some of his own works on display at Dreamland including two paintings from his “Don’t Mess with Texas” series. “All of the art here I did in a subtle way to try to allude to that togetherness.”
Do your family a favor and put Dreamland on the top of this summer’s bucket list. Then, check out these five nearby day trips perfect for beating the heat while school is out.
Plunge into Landa Park Springfed Pool in New Braunfels
Here in Austin, beloved Barton Springs is unarguably the go-to spot to chill on blazing days. But growing up in New Braunfels, we grew goosebumps in our own spring-fed sanctuary: Landa Park Springfed Pool. This 1.5-million-gallon pool fed by the largest springs in Texas, the Comal Springs, was built in the early 1900s and has provided a blissful escape from the sweltering summer for generations. It was in these cold, clear waters that remain a brisk 72-degrees year round where I perfected my rope swinging skills, whiled away countless afternoons with friends and earned spending money as a lifeguard during high school. Daily admission Monday through Friday into the Landa Park Aquatic Complex is $6 for adults, $5 for children (3-12) and seniors (60+), and free for those 2 and under on weekdays.
Have the hottest, coolest time at Schlitterbahn
Stick around New Braunfels to capture supersized water-themed thrills at Schlitterbahn’s flagship waterpark sitting on the banks of the spring-fed Comal River in New Braunfels. Families can counter summer’s blaze with four distinct adventures — Original Schlitterbahn, Surfenburg, Blastenhoff and Tubenbach — rolled into one water park with more than 50 water-themed attractions across 70 acres. Whether you brave the Dragon’s Revenge, the first uphill water coaster, or float the Falls, the world’s longest water park ride offering 3,600 feet of whitewater “transportainment” throughout the park, you’ll find endless opportunities to keep cool when the weather is blazing. Pro tip: Parking is free and Schlitterbahn allows you to bring your own cooler of food and drinks, which is a huge savings for families.
Jet over to Johnson City
Beat the afternoon heat by arriving at Exotic Resort Zoo in the morning to visit more than 700 animals, including exotic and previously endangered species that now thrive in this free-roaming safari park. Purchase a bucket of food at the office to hand-feed 2,000-pound buffalos, zebras and camels while learning more about them during a tractor-pulled guided tour. Less than 5 miles from the zoo, you can cool off while expanding your STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) knowledge at the Science Mill, an interactive learning museum housed in an old feed mill built in 1880 as a steam gristmill and cotton gin. Admission ($11 adults/$9.50 for ages 3-18) includes 50-plus interactive exhibits, a science movie theater, a 1,000–square–foot fully operational aquaponics greenhouse, and a two-acre Outdoor Science and Art Park that functions as a big learning backyard with a popular Fossil Dig.
Spend a day on a private island paradise in Seguin
For those who aren’t into waterpark crowds, there’s an alternative place to chill: Son’s Island. Located just an hour outside of Austin, you’ll find a tropical island paradise tucked away in Seguin. Spend a day at this 4,000-foot perimeter lakefront island, bursting with tropical plants, cypress trees and thatched roof Hawaiian-style cabanas –– you must have a cabana reservation to enter this private island hideaway where you can keep cool swimming, floating, paddle boarding and kayaking in the refreshing water.
Cool off at Natural Bridge Caverns
Go down below to explore Texas’ largest and one of the world’s premier show caves at Natural Bridge Caverns. Even during triple-digit days, the temperature inside these awe-inspiring underground chambers brimming with rare and delicate formations like unusually long “soda straws” and waves of “cave ribbon” remains a cool 70 degrees. While there, you can explore outdoor mazes, pan for treasures or test your skills on the aerial ropes course. If you’re up for another adventure, head to Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch, which neighbors the Caverns, but stop here first (the animals are more active during the coolest hours of the day and you can stay cool in the caverns during the afternoon heat). Driving through this 450-acre safari park, you’ll find more than 700 animals from over 40 exotic, native and endangered species from all over the world, from American bison and African wildebeest to bactrian camel and white rhinoceros.
If You Go
Dreamland (2770 W. Hwy 290, Dripping Springs, TX 78620) is less than 40 minutes from downtown Austin.
From pickle ball and mini-golf to lawn games and a playground, there’s no shortage of things to do in this mecca of outdoor entertainment.
Eat & Drink:
Feast on everything from street tacos and pizza to chicken tenders and funnel cake fries. Dreamland’s self-serve taps feature 50 local beers, hard seltzers, ciders and kombuchas and 40 wines. There’s also a full bar serving creating cocktails like Peaches & Dreams, concocted with Dripping Springs gin, champagne and peach puree.
Go on a Monday through Thursday to enjoy unlimited mini-golf. Check the music calendar to plan your visit so you can play putt-putt while listening to live music.