In the domestic travel category, I planned to visit three new cities in the States this year, and I’m happy to have checked Austin, Texas off my list. What a fun place! There’s no shortage of super cool things to do and see in this town! My cousin Lisa and her family have lived in Austin for 15 years, so they were kind enough play tour guide the first day. After that I ventured out on my own to discover the hidden hot spots that locals love.
To get around Austin, you have several options. Electric scooters and bicycles are available for rent in different places if you stay in the downtown area, that was one mode of transportation I used. I also had a rental car that helped me explore, since my Airbnb cottage was a 5 minute drive from city center. I also used Uber to get around when my feet were tired or where I knew parking would be tricky (downtown and on popular Rainey St).
Brewery Scene – E. 6th St
Being beer lovers, this was one of our first stops after a plate of BBQ (see below). Austin’s population is growing rapidly and the brewery scene is keeping up, offering many local brews to sample. East Sixth Street is a hot spot for food trucks and breweries where a lot of locals and university students hang out.
Food Trucks Galore
Food trucks are a huge thing in Austin, so many city lots turned into parking spots with picnic tables in the middle. They’re everywhere, so grab a bite from one that appeals to you, you’ll never go hungry in Austin. :)
State Capitol & Governor’s Mansion
These two buildings are right next to each other in the heart of the downtown and worth the visit. The pink granite building has in impressive dome inside, and the governor’s mansion is picture perfect on the outside.
Swim & Kayak/Canoe in Barton Springs
Locals all know the beauty of Barton Springs, but for an out-of-towner like me I was very impressed by this natural spring turned swimming hole. I went on a weekday so it was less crowded, and soaked up the sun for an hour, loved this spot!
Kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards are available for rent a short walk from the entrance, so my cousin Lisa and I spent an hour canoeing down the Colorado river to Ladybird Lake under the Austin bridges.
My cousin and I laugh about this picture, we rented canoes and they handed us lifejackets. We assumed they were mandatory to wear as part of the rental, but they’re not, LOL. You just need to have them in the kayak or canoe you rent. Note these waters are shallow and if you’re a decent swimmer, no life jacket required. :)
This is such a pleasant outdoor activity, one of my favorite experiences, we canoed down the river and got a great view of the downtown, notice the cranes? So much construction is happening in Austin to keep up with growth. Say hi to my cousin Lisa!
There’s a couple of cool eateries on Barton Springs Road, so after you’ve worked up an appetite pay a visit, I ate enchiladas at Chuy’s and the Shady Grove is great for burgers. I loved the funky airstream parked out back, made me smile.
Explore South Congress (SoCo) Scene
Cross Congress bridge and park near James Street for a stroll down the street where you’ll find all sorts of quirky boutiques and cafes and shops that sell everything from local artisan goods to hip home decor to western wear.
The Instafamous “I Love You So Much” is in SoCo on Jo’s Coffee wall and the Willie for President mural, around the corner from Amy’s Ice Cream.
Sixth Street Bar Hopping
This bar and music scene is one of the big draws to Austin. My cousin and I went downtown on Saturday night to hear the live music and check it out. Austin is proclaimed “live music capital of the world” and every bar on this street lives up to this and they’re there to entertain you, day and night.
It gets crazy later in the evening when the street becomes pedestrian only. It reminded me of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, where people love to par-tay like crazy! We still had a great time people watching, enjoying a few cocktails and the cool music scene.
If you want to go drinking with a group of friends, hire one of the many pubcrawlers and peddle your way around the city.
Rainey Street Bars
The bungalows along Rainey Street near Highway 35 have been converted to an entertainment district, here you’ll find homes turned into bars along the street and bands playing, it was hipster scene, and a fun place to hangout in the afternoon and evening hours having a beer and listening to music.
Congress Bridge Bat Colony
Over a million bats live in a colony under this bridge and the emerge at sunset, so hundreds of people gather each night in warm weather to witness it. It’s a spectacle, you’ll see people in boats on the water watching it too. It’s not a far walk to the bridge from Rainey Street.
Eat A Whole Lotta BBQ
There ain’t no shortage of BBQ joints in Austin, you can’t visit them all as a tourist. Franklin’s BBQ is famous and people wait so.many.hours in line but I didn’t have the time so I found my brisket in other places. I had lunch at the County Line, I also ate at Salt Lick, and had brisket tacos from a food truck. All excellent.
This article by Visit Austin is a great guide with tons of information listing where you can find amazing BBQ in Austin!
Embrace the Quirk
All over town you’ll spy all sorts of laugh out loud expressions, so keep your eyes open, Austin has a sense of humor.
Get Cultured with Sculpture
Feel the zen with a visit to the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, it’s next to Barton Springs and Zilker Park, so you can visit all three in a day. This quiet and shaded outdoor gallery features beautiful sculptures from a single artist Charles Umlauf, a professor for 40 years at the University of Texas. You can walk the gardens in under an hour but don’t rush, it is a special place with a calm and cultured vibe.
Mount Bonnell at Sunset
You’ll need at least two nights in Austin, one to see the bats at sunset on Congress Bridge (see above) and another to hike up a short staircase to see the views from Mt. Bonnell. It’s an easy drive. You’ll be impressed by the million dollar homes along the water and the view of the downtown Austin skyline.
My lesson learned from my four day trip to Austin: get out there and enjoy the outdoors, the beer, barbeque, and live music, and stay weird! Most of my exploration was concentrated downtown, but there are other things to do outside of Austin like visit the wineries in Fredricksburg or Fixer Upper fans can drive to Waco and visit the Magnolia silos.
Locals, what else would you suggest? Do you have a favorite BBQ joint or food truck you love?