Ask an Austinite about their favorite part of the city — a place that is undeniably Austin.
Some locals favor the South Congress Bridge and its noctivagant bat guests that make an appearance each night at dusk. Others will cite the numerous parks, such as Zilker Park and Auditorium Shores as their favorite place to take in the city.
Out of the many picturesque places around town, one of the choice spots to enjoy is a scenic lookout over Lake Austin at the 360 Bridge, also known as Pennybacker Bridge. Located along the Capital of Texas Highway, this legendary bridge fully connects the North and South sides of Austin. Everyday, upwards of 50,000 vehicles pass over Pennybacker Bridge, using the throughway for commutes to work, home and everything in between. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine just what Austin would be like without this historic bridge which was opened and dedicated in late 1982.
A great way to take in the entire scene is to hike high atop the overlook on the north side of the bridge. The imposing cliff is several hundred feet up rocky Texas terrain — mostly limestone and Cedar trees. While it’s known for being one of the best spots to snap a photo, it’s wise to come prepared in the form of comfortable walking or hiking shoes and a flashlight if you plan to visit at sunset. A trip to the top is an adventurous way to take in the subtle outdoor features of Austin, including the natural Central Texas wildflowers and wildlife. If you’re lucky enough to come when the Texas Paintbrushes or Mountain Laurels are in bloom, you’ll have another added layer of beauty to take in while you make your way to the overlook.
An interesting feature of the bridge is the weathering-steel style design that sets this edifice above others in town. Made popular by expert civil engineer Percy V. Pennybacker, this welded style was one of the first of its kind and transformed the way bridges were designed for decades to come. This new style of construction was instrumental in saving the State of Texas millions of dollars in the construction of municipal overpasses.
The entire bridge itself spans 1,150 feet and has 100 feet of clearance below for the hundreds of watercraft that pass under it every day. No part of the bridge touches the water, making this a modern marvel and a beauty to look at while you are perched high on top of the limestone cliffs just to the north of the road. Careful attention was given to the aesthetics of the structure; Pennybacker Bridge is set to oxidize over the years to blend with the natural sights of the surrounding area, making this platform a living piece of art right in the heart of West Austin.
Pack a Picnic, Carry the Camera
One of the main reasons I’m so fond of the 360 Overlook is because it holds a special place in my heart as one of the first “truly Austin” places I was taken (on a date). Hiking up the rocky path, we were rewarded with a starlit Lake Austin below, and a glowing downtown Austin in the distance. My first visit was in the evening, yet there were still dozens of visitors climbing to the top to catch a glimpse of the famous view. I don’t know how I safely made it back down that night, but I loved the spot so much that I insisted on an outdoor picnic on Valentines day, complete with our own snacks and blanket so that our stay would be a bit more hospitable.
There is always an opportunity to take outstanding pictures at the 360 Overlook, and if you’re in the mood to snap a few, bring your camera and a tripod for some unbeatable photos. It’s always tempting to visit at sunset when the afternoon heat has dissipated and the evening sky surprises you with its spectacular blues and oranges — but it’s fun to visit pretty much any time.
360 Overlook at the Pennybacker Bridge (map)
5300 N Capital of Texas Hwy
Austin, TX 78731