It’s that time of year again! The holiday season means opportunity: the opportunity to gather as a family, and to celebrate community and togetherness. And while those same values are celebrated each year, this year, you might choose to take your family outdoors to commemorate the occasion among some stunning surroundings.
Whatever your family’s holiday theme for 2021, you’ll find a scenic Austin backdrop that showcases the natural wonders of the area, and then capture it in photographs. Make magic this season with a visit to any one of these beautiful destinations.
There’s a reason it’s been called “the front row to Austin” …and that’s because The Long Center, a multi-disciplinary auditorium and events space, features breath-taking views of the downtown skyline (not to mention the curated talent on stage at any given day of the week). Take the family for a holiday-themed performance or event at the main stage, and then hang back to snap all your loved ones in front of a stunning stretch of Austin’s metropolitan sights––an absolute must-see for urbanites.
Centrally located at 701 West Riverside Drive, the Long Center has something spectacular on stage throughout the week, so be sure to check schedules ahead of time.
A must-see venue for shutter-happy photographers, the iconic Zilker Metropolitan Park in downtown Austin sits on 361 acres of land next to the mighty Colorado River and features a host of nature trails and scenic hiking paths, not to mention recreational spots, playgrounds, and rental facilities for biking and canoeing. A veritable urban oasis, Zilker Park is an ideal space to spend the day––and to capture some lasting family memories for your holiday cards.
Discover all the amenities on offer at Zilker Park’s open-air park space. Located at 2220 Barton Springs Road, but is easily accessible from multiple directions. Zilker Park is open from 5:00 am to 10:00 pm every day.
So nice, we included it twice. The Botanical Gardens section at Zilker Park is a destination like no other in all of Texas. Featuring a lush expanse of foliage and florals, including magnificent oak trees and koi ponds, the site’s 26 acres host colorful blooms throughout multiple themed gardens, including the famed Taniguchi Japanese Garden with its unique collection of Japanese maples. A picture-perfect photo session awaits you and the family (and BONUS: dogs are allowed, too).
Like Zilker Park, the Botanical Gardens is located at 2220 Barton Springs Road, nestled between the MoPac Expressway and the Colorado River––in the northwest area of the park. Parking can be accessed through the front entrance, or at the back through the Hartman Gate.
Situated to the south of downtown Austin, abutting the tranquil Lady Bird Lake, is Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail, a suburban pathway that winds through rich fields of grass along the shores for a scenic 10-mile stretch. Despite the serene setting, it’s one of the most popular recreational hubs in the city –– and accented by a sturdy and imposing backdrop of skyscrapers, which makes it a great venue for one-of-a-kind photo ops.
Because it’s such a beautiful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city, there tends to be a lot of people on hand nearly all the time. If crowds are not your thing, you might want to walk the boardwalk until you reach a more subdued space for photoshoots.
This urban park located in downtown Austin is another great family getaway –– one with ample spots for capturing the moment. A parcel of green space overlooking the Colorado River, Auditorium Shores typically hosts music events and open-air concerts on site but is also a serene, water-side pit stop towards Butler Metro Park and the Doug Sahm Hill summit, all of which have their own photogenic qualities. Get lost on the wide-open lawn and take some photos with the downtown core as your backdrop.
Situated at 900 West Riverside Drive, the space is open daily for people and pooches.
When it comes to traditional holiday-themed photography, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a premier destination. Sitting on 284 acres of natural earth and featuring a mixture of cultivated gardens, expansive wildlands, and a dedicated arboretum, this floral goldmine offers a background landscape for every photo opportunity imaginable. Not only that, but it’s also a great place for the entire family to spend a Saturday.
Located at 4801 La Crosse Avenue, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center offers free parking on site. Unfortunately, no pets are allowed (except for service animals).
With nearly 6 miles of available trails on which to wander alongside the Escarpment Boulevard, Circle C Metropolitan Park on Slaughter Creek is an open-air parkland and environmental area with recreational playing fields. In other words, it’s a great space for getting the family together for a scenic holiday photograph. Populated with heritage oak trees and large swaths of regional grasses, the relatively quiet retreat (about a 20-minute drive from downtown Austin) offers views and plenty of to-dos.
The main entrance to the park is at 6301West Slaughter Lane, just west of the MoPac Expressway. Ample parking is available onsite.
Head back to school without all of that, you know, schoolwork, and you’ll soon discover that the campus of The University of Texas at Austin is an immensely beautiful world of its own –– and one that offers a range of backdrops for family photos. There are plenty of architectural marvels to spot on these grounds: from the unique structure that houses the Blanton Museum of Art to the imposing Harry Ransom research and humanities building, to the positively iconic LBJ Presidential Library and fountain. Start exploring the landscapes and historical points without an appointment.
Visit the main building at 110 Inner Campus Drive (the one with the famous clock tower). Guest parking may be tricky to find during school hours, but there are plenty of paid street parking options nearby.
If you happen to love waterfalls (and who doesn’t love a waterfall?), then McKinney Falls State Park is the destination for you. Roughly 12 miles from downtown Austin, this wilderness and parkland reserve is teeming with natural beauty. Watch as massive surges of water from Onion Creek cascade elegantly from the limestone rock ledges, crashing into pools below (the perfect photoshoot!) Or simply walk the winding trails into the Hill Country woods to find your own unique nature-themed backdrop –– and while you’re at it, brush up on local history within the area.
Since McKinney Falls State Park operates as an all-season camping site, there is an entrance fee of $6 per person (kids under 13 enter for free) –– or skip the fees altogether with a Texas State Parks Pass. Park is open daily from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm, parking on site.
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