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?
Wow, I’m very impressed with everything you managed to cover in your trip to Austin! I lived there for two years and I’d give anything to move back. Unfortunately, my husband’s career has us stuck in Houston :(
The overcrowding is starting to be a big problem, however, so that definitely impacts the quality of life. You probably noticed traffic is a nightmare and many restaurants have a long wait and parking is hard. It’s funny that you mentioned the cranes, because when I lived there I was convinced that every crane in America was in Austin.
Franklin BBQ is amazing and worth the wait. Salt Lick is my other favorite, though, so I’m glad you hit that one up. The atmosphere there is so nice, too. For BBQ that’s closer to town and where you won’t have to wait 4 hours, I recommend Rudy’s.
The list of sights and activities you did is the perfect Austin itinerary in my opinion. But if you ever go back, I highly recommend the following:
1. Chicken Shit Bingo at Ginny’s LIttle Longhorn Saloon- Every Sunday afternoon the greatest little honky tonk in Texas hosts this silly bingo game. You buy squares on a big plywood grid and a chicken walks around on the grid and whichever square it poops in wins the pot.
2. Master Pancake Theater – Most Friday and Saturday nights, a few comedians sit in the front row of The Ritz theater downtown and make fun of a terrible movie. You’ll hurt yourself laughing!
Wow so great to read this from a resident!! Chicken Shit Bingo?? I gotta play that!! Also the Pancake Theater sounds hilarious I’ll pass that on to my cousin she and her husband are always looking for fun things to do, thanks so much!!
If your synopsis of Austin didn’t convince me to visit (it did), Catherine’s comment sure did! You DID say Austin has a sense of humor ;)
Yes it does!! Quirky cool humor everywhere :)
You missed the BEST -Rollin’ Smoke BarBQue Food truck on east 6th….beats Franklins & you don’t have to wait.
Nooooo don’t say that!! LOL gotta come back to try it :)
There is a new Asian smokehouse on South Lamar called Loro. It was opened by two James Beard Award winners (chefs from Franklin’s and Uchi). Laguna Gloria and Mayfield Park (free roaming peacocks!) are worth visiting (both are near Mount Bonnell). Hamilton Pool is beautiful and a short drive outside Austin. There are also some really good hiking trails in the greenbelt. Peter Pan mini-golf is located near Zilker Park. It’s been open for decades and has the original statues. It is BYOB and has a healthy mix of families and adults playing.
BYOB mini golf?! I love it! I drove right past Peter Pans but didn’t go in – great tip on new places to eat and explore, thanks!!
I am so glad you enjoyed Austin. Chuy’s is my most favorite TexMex restaurant! Did you ask for the Creamy Jalapeno dip? It is to die for!!! We have a Chuy’s up north where I live and they know me up there and know to bring me a big bowl of it!!! Another one of my favorite food trucks is Chilantro. It is Korean BBQ and really good. Their truck travels, so I’m not sure where it goes, but I know it is in downtown Austin, and they also have 2 restaurants. I love Allens Boots, I used to work at the one on Congress many, many years ago (before SoCo was a cool place!). If you ever come back, you need to venture out to the hill country (around Fredericksburg area. The scenery is just beautiful. And it really isn’t that far of a drive, just a couple of hours. For some really fabulous bbq, you need to go out to Llano, Tx to Coopers. They have been in business for years, but it is a long drive (in the hill country), Llano is a quaint hunting town, and the BBQ is fabulous (so is the cobbler!).
I had the dip at Chuys, amazing!! Thanks for the tips on what to see next time I come I really do want to come back soon!!
Thank you for the grand tour! Austin looks like a really fun place and you should be elected the president of their chamber of commerce. The most fun looks like boating down the river.
Ha ha thanks Katy, yep that boat trip was great!!
This was so timely!! My hubby and I are about to head to Austin for our first real getaway since our first kid was born 11.5 years ago. So many great ideas here, thank you!
Have a blast, you’ll love it!!
I am so glad to hear that you had fun while visiting Austin! I have lived here since 2000 and have seen sooooo much growth since then. There is so much to do downtown and I am glad that you stopped at all the hot spots. If/when you go back check out Jacoby’s (great burgers), Torchys Tacos (best queso and tacos in town), Viva 313 (deep dish pizza), Uchiko (sushi) and of course no trip to TX would be complete without a little BBQ at Salt Lick! ZIlker botanical garden is also really beautiful in the spring and summer. Also a trip up to Northwest Austin to the Oasis to catch the sunset on Lake Travis is a great way to end the night. They have delicious drinks and on the weekends live music.
I read about Torchy’s so sad to have missed it! You listed all the reasons to return, thanks so much for sharing!