The best place to watch sunset in Austin

Everybody loves a great sunset!

I’ve been photographing Austin for a LONG time.  I am talking about many years worth of photos that number in the thousands.  In fact, I accumulated so many Austin photos that I ended up writing an eBook about it, which you can find here.  It’s entitled The Photographer’s Guide to Austin, and it’s awesome.  Ok, I’m a little biased.  ;-)

I also have a list here on the blog of the best places to take photos in Austin.  It's a very comprehensive list of what I consider the best places to shoot in Austin.  Even if you aren't a photographer, this list is like a virtual guide to some excellent spots in this town that is full of them.  You can find that list here.

Anyways, back to this sunset thing.

Everyone loves sunset, and as a photographer I guess you could say I have a particular interest in them.  The fading light can help create a dramatic end to the day, and I am always hopeful that when it does, I will be standing there with my camera, firing away.

So, where do you go to shoot the best sunset in Austin?  Great question.

I have heard so many different ideas about the best place to shoot sunset here in Austin over the years, from downtown to way out West of town, and seemingly everywhere in between.  Having shot at every one of them, (cue self-important deep voice) I felt like this could be my contribution to the future of mankind.  I could weigh in and settle this age-old dilemma once and for all! (end voice)  

Well, maybe it’s not that big of a deal, but some of you may find this important, so if you do, please read on.  

By the way, some of you may completely disagree with me, and that’s cool.  I’m laid back about this anyways, and certainly won’t force my opinion on you.  So you can choose to go elsewhere if you’d like to, which means one less person in my way when I am capturing sunset.  ;-)

In my opinion, the very best spot to watch the sunset in Austin (and of course take photos of it, too!) is at the Loop 360 Bridge Overlook, on the west side of town.

Yes, the Loop 360 Bridge Overlook is the winner!

Why?  Well, let me list the reasons…and provide some visual proof of my claim.

  1. You are elevated and get a commanding view down the lake/river in both directions. 
  2. You can even see the skyline of Austin in the distance.
  3. The Pennybacker Bridge (aka The Loop 360 Bridge) is a gorgeous architectural structure, it gracefully arches over the river, and it looks great with the golden light of sunset shining on it.
  4. Because of the traffic moving on Loop 360 below you, you also have the option of capturing some long exposures, blurring out the lights of the passing cars.  Should the sunset be less than stellar, this is a great second option.
  5. Because you are west of town already, you are clear of other obstructions which would otherwise get in the way of seeing the sunset (such as the skyscrapers downtown).
  6. You have several choices of locations on both the East and West sides of Loop 360, so although this is one spot, it’s really more like a few spots.  Variety is good.  Note: the East side is always WAY less crowded.
  7. You can stand down next to the bridge on the south side of the river for a new and interesting perspective, while still witnessing the sunset.

Click on any image below to enlarge and view in a lightbox.  If you are interested in purchasing a print of any of these images, you can find them all on my portfolio site here (along with 400+ more images of Austin).

Now, some locals may want to argue about my choice, and that’s ok, we are all entitled to our own opinion.  Here are some other popular spots that I did NOT choose, and why I did not choose them:

  1. Downtown - While the position of the sun at sunset will vary through the year, I feel like downtown is generally not well positioned for a sunset view.  You can’t really capture downtown (the skyline, that is) and the sunset at the same time (unless you have a drone).  You can stand on a bridge (1st Street, Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, Lamar St Bridge) and look upriver, which might give you a decent shot at some nice light (and that's happened a few times for me), but I don’t feel it is even close to how nice of a view you get over at the Loop 360 Bridge.  The Boardwalk is a nice spot, but again it's not quite the spot that the Loop 360 Bridge is.
  2. Mount Bonnell - While this is an enjoyable spot, and you can get a decent view, it’s not as dramatic in my opinion, and in photography, more drama is generally better.  Also, when you are up here, there’s not nearly as much variety in terms of how you can compose your shots as you get at the Loop 360 Bridge.  It’s pretty much one view.  It’s a nice one, but it’s one.
  3. The Oasis - Yes, I know they call this The Sunset Capital of Texas.  Yes, I know it sits right on Lake Travis and you have that big, wide view of the lake.  And yes, I have captured sunset there several times, and one of them was flipping fantastic.  However, kind of like Mount Bonnell, it’s pretty much one shot.  There’s no variety.  You climb up to the viewing platform next to the restaurant and fire away.  It’s great, but it’s limited.  Sure, you can turn a little and look out over the lake (instead of facing The Oasis Restaurant), so maybe this is two shots instead of one.  Still.  On the plus side, you CAN get margaritas here.  ;-)

So, does that mean you shouldn’t go to these other places?  Nope, not at all.  They are nice.  Great, even.  In fact, I included them all in my eBook.  I love to shoot them, and they are definitely worth seeing.  However, since I wrote this about the BEST place to watch sunset in Austin, and I can only choose ONE PLACE as the BEST, then the Loop 360 Bridge gets my vote for that.

Between the dramatic setting up above the bridge, the commanding view of the river, and being able to watch the sun descend over the distant hills, it’s the best sunset view in Austin.  Pack a picnic and enjoy the view!  Bring a bottle of wine and your significant other.  It's beautiful!  I’ll see you up there sometime!

Agree?  Disagree?  Have more to add?  Feel free to leave your thoughts in the Comments below.