Welcome to Austin, Texas, the Live Music Capital of the World! There’s no denying that Austin stands out from the crowd. I mean, for one, it’s a liberal city smack dab in a very conservative state. Talk about awkward. Here in Austin, you’ll find the food is incredible, there’s funky street art everywhere, and if you haven’t heard of the live music scene, you must have been living under a rock. ? Austin is definitely a free-spirit, and it’s no secret that the city motto is “Keep Austin Weird”. Well Austin, we wouldn’t dare mess with your weirdness. It’s kinda why we love you so much. ?
But don’t take my word for it, come see for yourself. Here’s the top things to do in Austin, Texas, enjoy!
Top Things to Do in Austin
Where to Stay in Austin
Before we get into the details of what to do, let’s talk about where to stay while in Austin. I like to keep my travels budget friendly, so for this trip I opted to stay at the Firehouse Hostel. The location was perfect, right smack dab in Austin’s downtown. It’s next to 6th street, and walkable to the Texas Capital and the Colorado River. It is also close to a paid parking garage on Trinity and 7th Street, which is great if you have a car. Overall it was a great hostel and I would recommend it. 🙂
Other places to stay in Austin:
- HK Austin – Located in Austin’s east side, this hotel is a pretty cool experience. It’s close to eclectic bars and restaurants, and also walkable to Austin’s downtown and Rainey Street.
- Kimber Modern Hotel – Located near South Congress Ave this hotel is a fan favorite and has been dubbed Austin’s “coolest” hotel.
- Brava House Bed and Breakfast – If you’re wanting a quainter Austin experience, you won’t be disappointed at the Brava House. You can expect charming large rooms in a historic home and neighborhood.
Austin’s Most Popular Streets
Welcome to “Dirty Sixth Street”. 6th street located in Austin’s urban downtown and is most likely where you’ll be headed for a lively night out. It’s one of the most iconic streets in Austin, and is the street that popularized Austin’s “live music scene”. Around 11pm the street is blocked off for pedestrians, and it’s here you’ll find a plethora of food, entertainment, and bars…and a bit of drunken rowdiness as well.
Places to check out:
- The Parish – One of the best music venues in Austin!
- Buffalo Billiards – So perfectly Texan, donning a “Wild West” themed bar
- Midnight Cowboy – Modern day speakeasy that has a reservation-only cocktail bar
Honestly, South Congress (or SoCo as its commonly referred) is my kinda place. It’s hip and trendy filled with unique, local shops and boutiques #YES. You’ll also find a lot of the “Keep Austin Weird” types of goodies here such as the famous antiques store, Uncommon Objects. And let’s not forget about the food. You came to Austin to eat, right? Here you’ll find food options such as diners, coffee shops and lounges, as well as those famous Austin food trucks that was a serious “must do!” for me.
Places to check out:
- Yard Dog Art Gallery – Quirky vibe with contemporary American folk art
- Home Slice Pizza – Mainly take-out pizza with authentic New York style pizzas
- Perla’s Seafood & Oyster Bar – Popular seafood spot with a fun ambiance
To be completely honest, I had intended on only checking out the night life on 6th Street. However, once I got to Austin, everyone was telling me to ditch 6th and head over to Rainey Street. So, what is Rainey Street? Picture a quaint, neighborhood-y street with houses that are actually bars. Throw in some outdoor patios with café lights strung overhead, some food trucks, awesome beer, with some cocktails. Yes, my friend, I am now sold. The only downside is Rainey Street is a bit tucked away, as it’s near Lady Bird Lake. However, I would recommend going regardless. It’s famed for being the locals favorite, and is a nice twist from the usual over-crowded spots.
Places to check out:
- Craft Pride – Lots of craft beer options
- Bangers – Famous for the “Manmosa”, a beer stein filled with an entire bottle of champagne and a splash of orange juice
- Lucille – Has outdoor games and even hammocks to relax in
Best Austin Tours
If you’ve read a few of my guides, than you know I’m not always the biggest fan of tours. However, for specific things I would definitely recommend them. Here’s a few stand out ones that I definitely give the thumbs up for that you should try. 🙂
- Stand Up Paddle Boarding – This is a must! Paddle boarding is such a fun way to see Austin and cool off from that Texas heat.
- Austin Live Music Crawl – This tour is great! You’re lead by a guide who is a local musician to two or three venues to hear some great music.
- Austin Bat Watching Kayak Tour – Watching the fats fly out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge at sunset was a highlight of my entire trip!
- Austin Segway Tour – Okay, I love a good Segway tour. If you’ve never done it, then you need to. At least once in your life. 🙂
- Austin Bike Tour – This tour is great because you can see all the highlights of Austin and ride at your own pace.
- Paddle Board Experience in Austin
- Price: $45.00
- Austin Live Music Crawl
- Price: $54.13
- Congress Avenue Bat Bridge Kayak Tour in Austin
- Price: $55.00
- Capitol of Texas Segway Tour
- Price: $53.04
- Austin in a Nutshell Bike Tour
- Price: $49.00
Wonderfully Weird Things to See in Austin
Castle Hill Graffiti Park/HOPE Outdoor Gallery
If you love street are and graffiti, Castle Hill Graffiti Park is your spot. It’s one of Austin’s most flashy and popular attractions! On top of that, it’s one of the most successful public art projects in Texas. Bring a can of spray paint and go to town! Anyone can spray-paint their own masterpiece; however, you must register and obtain approval from the gallery for whatever you want to paint.
Also, climb up to the top to see an awesome view of the downtown from the top of the hill.
Cathedral of Junk
The Cathedral of Junk is exactly what you’d imagine it is; a giant pile of junk. Seriously! And it’s also a popular Austin attraction, I’m not even kidding. The Cathedral of Junk is unassumingly located in a local resident’s suburban back yard in South Austin. The owner started making it in his backyard because, and I quote, “I just liked it”. After a few years people began supplying him with their unwanted goods (ie junk), and the monument of junk grew. Since the Cathedral of Junk is located in someone’s backyard, you do have to phone the resident (512-299-7413) to make an appointment. The owner asks for a $5 donation per adult for a visit.
Museum of the Weird
Austin is proud of their motto, “Keep Austin Weird”, but just how weird is it? The Museum of Weird goes there. See shrunken heads and the Minnesota Iceman, as well as acts such as sword swallowing and electricity shocks.
Congress Bridge Bats
If there’s one thing you just can’t miss in Austin, it’s seeing the Congress bridge bats. Like, seriously, it’s so cool! It only occurs during “bat season” which is every year from March to November at sunset. But a word to the wise, come before sunset because the bridge can get packed. Walk to the middle of the Congress Avenue Bridge, and slowly at sunset, you will see them emerge. It looks like a cloud of black dust coming out from under the bridge. Such an amazing sight! You can also opt for a sunset and bat tour river cruise for an even better experience.
South Congress Shops
South Congress Street is amazing, but also a haven for Austin’s weird shops. Browse through Uncommon Objects and Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds for some of the classics. Big Top Candy Shop for new and vintage candy, and Allen’s Boots for aisles and aisles of boots in every color.
The Spider House Café is one of Austin’s legendary hotspots, and is super eclectic to say the least. This patio bar and café is a truly Austin experience. It has a laid-back patio vibe (like super laid-back…as in service can be abysmally slow) decorated with loosely strung Christmas tree lights and mismatched vintage furniture. Come for coffee, lunch, or beer and cocktails, and relax and enjoy the live music or comedy shows.
Austin’s Famous Murals
So, if you thought Castle Hill Graffiti Park was all Austin had as far as street art goes, you were wrong. Austin has lots of street art, so much that they’re just speckled around everywhere and its super fun to stumble upon them.
But the most iconic ones are:
- You’re My Butter Half - 2000 E. Martin Luther King Jr Blvd Austin, TX 78702
- I love you so much - 1300 S. Congress Ave Austin, TX 78704
- Greetings from Austin - 1720 S. First Street Austin, TX 78704
Non-Weird Things to See in Austin
The Texas State Capital Building
The Texas Capital Building is definitely worth a visit. I didn’t go inside, but I’m assuming it’s nice in there, too. The Capital Building is located in the middle of downtown Austin, and is surrounded by a large grassy park. It’s the perfect spot to relax or enjoy a picnic. My favorite, however, was the view of the capital as you walk along the walkway-lined trees leading up to the entrance.
River Cruise along the Colorado River
Taking a river cruise is the perfect way to see the city! You could do a sightseeing tour, a bat watching and sunset tour, a lunch or dinner cruise, and more!
Some cruise options:
Outdoor Swimming Spots
If you visit Austin, you will quickly find that Austin HOT. Like, I need to take a dip in a pool right now…kinda hot. Public spring pools also happen to be really popular in Austin, so definitely take advantage.
- Barton Springs Pool - The most famous of Austin’s spring pools is Barton Springs. Located within Zilker Park, the pool is three acres in size, and is fed from underground springs with an average temperature of 68-70 degrees. So, it’s perfect for year-round swimming! The hours change depending on the time of year, but there are lifeguards available generally from 8am – 6pm. Also depending on the time of year (March – end of September), there is a fee of $8.00 charged.
- Hamilton Pool - Hamilton Pool is a popular natural pool located about 45 minutes from Austin. It is so popular that reservations are required (512-264-2740) in order to enter during peak summer months, May – September. There is an entrance fee of $15 per vehicle and they only take cash and checks. Credit or debit cards are not accepted. Note that there is not a lifeguard on duty, so swim at your own risk, the hours are 9am -5:30pm.
- Hippie Hollow Park - Hippie Hollow Park is Austin’s optional clothing swimming spot. It’s located roughly 30 minutes away from Austin along the shore of Lake Travis. It is $15 per vehicle and there are not lifeguards on duty, so swim at your own risk.
- Hike up to Mount Bonnell - Hiking up to Mount Bonnell is one of the most popular things to do in Austin. It’s an easy hike, and here you’ll get a 360 view of the whole city. Come at sunset for a beautiful sunset over the Colorado River.
- Lady Bird Lake Hike & Bike Trail - The Lady Bird Hike and Bike Trail is THE place in Austin for anything running, jogging, walking, biking, kayaking, canoeing, and stand up paddle boarding. Because of Austin’s moderate climate all year round, you can partake in these activities at any time of year! However, just about the only thing you can’t do is swim in the lake.
- Zilker Park - I personally didn’t spend a ton of time in Zilker Park (besides going to Barton Springs) but purely due to a lack of time. I know people who claim it’s the highlight of their trip, so definitely check it out if you have the time. :)
Things to do in Zilker Park:
- Barton Springs Pool
- Zilker Botanical Garden
- Umlauf Scultpure Garden and Museum
- Austin Nature & Science Center
Food Food Food
Okay, this is probably the part that most of you are the most excited for. Where should you be eating in Austin??? To visit a place as “foodie famous” as Austin, I hope you brought you appetite!
- Franklin BBQ - Yes, we’re starting with Franklin’s. In case you didn’t know, Franklin’s is “that bbq place” you’ve heard over and over again as a must eat spot in Austin. Should you go? Well, here’s a quote straight off the Franklin’s website from Anthony Bourdain, “It is the best. It is the finest brisket I’ve ever had”.
Note: Franklin’s is amazing, and I would 100% recommend it. However, there is a ridiculously long line at all times of day to go (I’m talking like 4-5 hours), and I am not sure if that is worth it. Especially if you have limited time in Austin. Also, it is not the only amazing BBQ in Austin, so let’s read on.
- Salt Lick BBQ - Salt Lick BBQ is amazinggg!! Request the burt ends, and you will be in heaven. But unfortunately, there is a downside (why does there always have to be a downside?). It’s located about 45 minutes outside of Austin in Driftwood, TX. Yes, I’m so sorry. However, if you wanted to make the drive, you wouldn’t regret it.
- La Barbecue - This place has great BBQ! Like all good spots, there can be a bit of a wait, but go early around 10am and you’ll be set. J There’s also live music, and free beer on Sundays.
- Micklethwait Craft Meats (MCM) - Say Micklethwait Craft Meats three times fast. This place is great and you might experience a wait, but it’s hit or miss. The brisket is the winner here. No sauce required and BBQ’d to Texas perfection.
I mean, there are so many. Austin is famous for them, but here’s a few to try out. :)
- Chilantros - a Korean-Mexican fusion. Try the kimchi fries topped with bulgogi, you won’t regret it.
- Gourdough’s – Yummy delicious donuts! Try the Flying pig (topped with bacon and drizzled with maple icing) or Miss Shortcake (cream cheese icing and fresh strawberries)
- Paperboy – Delicious breakfast food and coffee with a seasonal menu for the freshest produce from local farms and bakeries.
- Juana Taco – Fresh and authentic Mexican food made with flavorful ingredients
- Big Fat Greek Gyros – Come for delicious, you named it, gyros! But there’s loads of other food available on the menu too.
As you might know, I love coffee, and coffee loves me. We have a very happy relationship going. :) Here’s some good Austin coffee shops to try:
- Fleet Coffee Co – Cute little hipster coffee spot that serves great coffee.
- Vintage Heart Coffee – Fun coffee shop with unique mixes like “bulletproof”, coffee with coconut oil, butter, collagen, cacao, and cayenne.
- Monkey Nest Coffee – I kinda just love the name, but it also has good coffee, too. :)
- Jo’s Coffee – Located on South Congress Ave and on the side of the wall you’ll find the iconic “I love you so much” mural.
Other Food Places Worth Mentioning
- Voodoo Donuts – A popular donut chain started in Portland and is incredible! The décor alone is worth a visit.
- Blue Dahlia – Cute little boutique brunch spot. I love the outdoor patio seating option.
- Le Politique - Amazing brunch spot with amazing food. Go for the croque madame, or Legation burger.
Austin Food Tours
If you were ever going to take a food tour, Austin would definitely be the place to do it. I mean, Austin and good food go hand in hand. You need to take advantage.
- Food is my Best Friend Tour - Literally everything you could want in a food tour. You're going to start with Texas BBQ, then tacos and queso, dessert, and more!
- Austin Brewery Tour - If you're into beer than you'll love this tour. It's a 3-hour craft brewery tour by pedicab!
- Wine and BBQ Tour - Wine and BBQ? This is a match made in heaven. On this tour you'll leave Austin and explore the Texas hill country where the vineyards and wineries are.
- Food Is My Best Friend Tour in Austin
- Price: $96.34
- Austin Brewery Tour
- Price: $45.00
- Austin's Salt Lick and Winery Shuttle
- Price: $54.13
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Did I miss anything? What did you do in Austin, Texas? Love to know in the comments below!