When you have a tiny train enthusiast in the back seat of the car, getting stopped at a railroad crossing when a train passes can feel like winning the lottery. But some days, you want a more guaranteed train sighting. Here are ten spots around Austin, in no particular order, where you can almost always see a train.
1. Butler Park, 1000 Barton Springs Rd. 78704
Across the street from Auditorium Shores is Butler Park, which features a climbing hill that offers a beautiful view of downtown. From the hill – and really, from many points in the park, you can see the train bridge that crosses Ladybird Lake. Freight trains pass pretty regularly and you also might see the Amtrak pass through. Free parking along Riverside Dr. or pay at the Palmer Events Center on Barton Springs Rd.
2. In-N-Out Burger, 4508 N. I-35 at Airport Blvd. 78751
Step one, get your fries, animal style if you must. Step two, find a spot on the patio. Step three: wait for a train. If you go around dinnertime during the week, Metrorail trains pass on the other side of Airport Blvd. every fifteen minutes or so. The rest of the day, it’s about every half hour. (Metrorail trains don’t run on Sundays, have limited hours on Saturdays, and hardly every run on holidays. Check CapMetro for specifics.)
3. Black Star Coop, 7020 Easy Wind Dr. 78752
The prices at Black Star is a little steeper than the In-N-Out down the street, but: beer. Black Star is located right next to the Metrorail Crestview Station. Happy hour and rush hour have a lot of overlap, so make the best of it by hanging out on the patio to watch the trains. It works best with a few adults, so someone can take the kids out to look at the tracks/station/art fixture while everyone else gets to enjoy a round. They have a kid’s menu.
4. Austin Steam Train Association Depot, 401 E. Whitestone Blvd, Cedar Park
The Austin Steam Train Association runs tourist train rides on most weekends, chugging up to Burnet and the surrounding environs. The tickets aren’t exactly cheap, but you can visit the train depot any day to see the train cars at rest. The gate is not always open and you’re not supposed to climb on the train cars anyway, but we get a big kick out of driving real slooooow through the parking lot on our way to Costco.
5. Dell Diamond, 3400 E Palm Valley Blvd, Round Rock
During baseball season, this is a great option. Tickets for the “Berm” area of the Dell Diamond, the grassy lawn behind left field, are pretty cheap — and if you have little kids who can’t sit still, it’s probably the only spot you want to sit anyway. There are actually a lot of activities to keep kids busy at the ballpark, including a climbing wall, a playground and a pool. But in addition, the freight trains that pass are easy to watch from the Berm.
6. Ride the Metrorail from Howard Station to Lakeline
Really a train ride from any station to any other is a great outing: one-way tickets are $1 for adults and kids under 6 ride for free. North of Howard Station are a couple of sidings where you can often see freight cars.
7. Austin Beer Garden Brewery, 1305 W. Oltorf 78704
Another beer+train combo, but this one on the south side of town. Trains pass very close, just on the far side of the parking lot, and can be easily viewed from the lower patio. In the evenings, the southbound Amtrak comes by around 6:45, but freight trains are also common.
8. Play for All Abilities Park, 1541 North A. W. Grimes Blvd, Round Rock
This awesome park is a great destination all its own — the huge playscape is complemented by sensory activities, a giant sandbox, and a tiny town where kids can ride through bikes through real traffic lights. Across the parking lot are train tracks and when a train comes through, most of the children run to the fence to watch it pass.
9. Convention Center, 500 E. Cesar Chavez St., 78701
The Metrorail hangs out here for 15 minutes at the end of its run before starting north again. It’s the perfect time to walk up and down the cars, to look at all the seats and out all the windows and try out the doors, without bothering anyone (this will cost you a ticket). You can also hang out at the Convention Center to watch the train come and go for free. Other attractions at the Convention Center: nice-enough bathrooms, water fountains, escalators.
10. Camp Mabry, 2200 W. 35th St. 78703
Getting in to Camp Mabry is free, but each adult is required to show ID. Ask directions at the gate to the Texas Military Forces Museum; there is usually plenty of parking there. The museum is free, fun, and beloved. Once you are finished there, run across the parade grounds to look at the airplanes and helicopters on display out by Mopac (you have driven past this a thousand times, right?). Sit in the gazebo, rest in the shade, and if your timing is good, you will see a freight train chug down Mopac.
–> Want to go on a Train Ride? If just watching the trains pass by doesn’t cut it with your kids, you can read all about our experience hopping aboard…
– Alicia Noack