Visitors might have a preconceived notion of Texas as a flat place, possibly with a few lonely tumbleweeds drifting by. So the beauty of Austin area's hills and lakes can come as a surprise to out-of-towners. We're right on the edge of Texas Hill Country, so the western part of the city has an especially picturesque landscape. Many of the lakes around Austin were created by the damming of the Colorado River in the 20th century, including Lady Bird Lake, Lake Austin, and Lake Travis. These hills and the lakes team up to create some appealing views, both of Austin's natural beauty and its downtown skyline. From many vantage points in Austin, you can pick out familiar sites like the Capitol, the Tower at the University of Texas at Austin, and the hilltop campus of St. Edward's University on the horizon. (These landmarks come in particularly handy if, like me, you're bad at navigating.)
The Oasis on Lake Travis
Just over 15 miles from downtown Austin, the Oasis has one of the best-known views in town. The huge, multi-story restaurant was built (and rebuilt, after a fire in 2005) to take full advantage of the sunset over the almost 19,000-acre Lake Travis. It seats almost 2,500.
The panoramic view of Austin you can get from Mount Bonnell on Lake Austin is simply stunning. Keep in mind that getting to the view requires a short climb up some steps, so wear comfortable shoes. Mount Bonnell is about 5 ½ miles from downtown Austin.
A view of this graceful steel bridge over Lake Austin is lovely, and so are the views from it—of the surrounding lake and hills. You can also see landmarks like Austin Country Club, where golfer and Austin native Harvey Penick got his start (look to the left if you are driving south over the bridge).
St. Edward's University
This private, liberal arts university perched on a hill off South Congress Avenue has great views of downtown Austin, especially just outside its Mary Moody Northen Theater. The school's athletic teams, appropriately, are called The Hilltoppers.
Lady Bird Lake Boardwalk Trail
A prime view doesn't require elevation, either. In summer 2014, this 1.4-mile segment of the hike-and-bike trail along Central Austin's Lady Bird Lake opened. It's popular not just for exercising, but also for enjoying (and Instagramming) the view of Austin's skyline across the lake.