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Wondering about the best things to do in Austin? You’re in luck. We recently combed through the best attractions in the area to help plan your next trip. From a thriving arts scene to unique culinary staples, there are lots of things keeping Austin weird—and worth visiting.
Fun fact: The popular slogan “Keep Austin Weird” was inspired by comments made by Red Wassenich after pledging some money to a local radio station. Following the interview, he began making bumper stickers and even published a book titled Keep Austin Weird: A Guide to the Odd Side of Town.
That was back in 2000. Beforehand, Austin was better known as “The City of the Violet Crown” to honor the colorful glow that hits the surrounding hills just after sunset. Conveniently, there are locations across the city to enjoy the view, but we’ll get into all of that soon. For now, keep reading to learn more about the city along with the best places to visit when in town.
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Refer to this Austin city guide for information on popular destinations during your next visit. Whether you’re in search of some Texas history, live music venues, or tips on the best local cuisine, we’ve got you covered.
One of the best ways to kick off your time in Austin is by exploring its downtown. You can refer to the Austin Visitor Center for all the information needed to embark on a self-guided tour. In addition to free maps and brochures, the center also offers clean bathrooms and a place to charge your phone.
Downtown Austin features some of the best shopping in the city, arts and cultural institutions, and tons of places to eat and drink. You can also expect a good majority of places to provide specialty cocktails, craft beers, and live music.
While the city isn’t known for its walkability, its downtown remains the most accessible to individuals traveling on foot. It also helps that the area is home to clusters of restaurants, shops, and housing. Walkers should make it a point to visit Sixth Street during the weekend—the area is actually closed to traffic Thursday through Saturday nights.
Zilker Metropolitan Park has been dubbed “Austin’s most-loved park.” The 358-acre plot also contains one of the city’s most celebrated attractions, the Barton Spring Pool. The pool itself spans about three acres in size. Filled with water that flows in from underground springs, it maintains an average temperature of 68-70 degrees, all year round.
In the past, the area has attracted visitors from all walks of life, from legislators mapping out state laws there to topless sunbathers turning heads in the ’70s. It’s even where Robert Redford learned to swim!
Today, the area is listed as a federally protected habitat and serves as home to the endangered Barton Springs Salamander. The pool, which gets as deep as 18 feet, is surrounded by grassy areas where visitors can play, picnic, or sunbathe. The grounds also contain an educational exhibit that details the history and biology of Barton Springs. Canoe and kayak rentals are available as well.
If you’re looking for a little more outdoor fun, you can always head over to the Austin Nature and Science Center. Its mission is simple—to increase awareness and appreciation of the natural environment.
Conveniently located next to Zilker Nature Preserve, the attraction provides hands-on exhibits, education programs, and recreational activities for visitors of all ages. Visitors can hike and explore the area on their own, but we suggest sticking to the formal activities for a more guided tour of the area. Other highlights include a fossil dig, wildlife exhibits, and a naturalist workshop.
Sure, bat watching may not be for everyone, but if you’re at all interested in these animals, this is definitely something worth doing.
The Congress Avenue Bridge, which connects downtown to south Austin, is home to some 1.5 million Brazilian free-tailed bats. It’s actually the structure’s concrete beams that attract the bats to this area. Not only do the beams provide dark, quiet areas for the animals to reside, but they also serve as thermal heat sinks, offering the ideal temperature ranges for rearing young.
The bats are rumored to have arrived in the area soon after the bridge was constructed, back in 1982. Almost immediately after, a citizen petition was started to have the bats eradicated. In response, Merlin Tuttle, PhD, an ecologist and wildlife photographer, started a foundation to halt the initiative.
Thanks to his incredible knowledge of the subject and non-confrontational approach, Tuttle won his campaign to save the bats. Today, the critters are credited with making major ecological contributions to the city. The bats eat upwards of tens of thousands of insects per day, including moths that lay eggs that eat crops as well as the corn earworm that attacks corn, cotton, and tobacco.
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The Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail is an all-natural path located alongside the beautiful, stone-clad shores of Lady Bird Lake. It’s a fantastic place to walk, hike, bike, or simply sit and enjoy nature.
The 10-mile trail serves as a popular tourist destination, attracting over 2.6 million visitors a year. It also provides an alternative transportation route for commuters going in and out of the city.
In 2008, the city appropriated funds to add a boardwalk portion to the trail. The 1.3-mile gap provides an additional viewing area, along with an ADA-accessible pier, and perhaps most importantly, a clean trailhead restroom!
If you’re not already on Instagram, now’s a good time to download the app. One of the most photographed areas of the city, the “Greetings From Austin” mural was inspired by a 1940s postcard containing images of popular landmarks like the Congress Avenue Bridge, the University of Texas Tower, and Barton Springs.
You can find the image located on the side of the Roadhouse Relics art gallery. Gallery owner Todd Sanders created the mural alongside fellow artist Rory Skagen.
Pro tip: Stand in front of the capitol building fountain and to the left of the word “Capitol” for the best shot.
If you want to see an incredible view, head to Mount Bonnell. The landmark stands 775 feet above sea level and is considered to be the highest point within the Austin city limits. The area has served as a popular sightseeing destination since the mid-19th century and continues to attract tourists, locals, and hikers to this day. The peak is also surrounded by a 5.1-acre park, with a history dating back to the 1830s.
Though challenging, the trek can be completed by hikers of varying abilities. All you need to do is climb the 100-step limestone staircase to enjoy panoramic views of Austin landmarks like the Pennybacker Bridge, Lake Austin, and the surrounding Texas Hill area.
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Austin is famous for its craft beer scene, so it would be a shame to miss out on the city’s many celebrated breweries. Having achieved that status is actually pretty impressive, given the state’s position during the prohibition. Even before that era, Texas maintained some of the most strict liquor laws in the country, dating back as far as the 1840s.
While things have certainly evolved since then, it wasn’t until after the 2008 economic crisis that Austin’s affinity for craft beer seemed to really take off. Today, the city is home to over 55 breweries that offer a wide range of locally brewed beers and specialized pours.
Some of the most popular spots within the city include Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden, Live Oaks Brewing Company, and Central Machine Works.
What originally began as a goat ranch has now evolved into the 15-acre Austin Zoo, attracting over 237,000 individuals each year. Its animals include wild cats, primates, large reptiles, and other domestic animals.
The collection includes animals from other facilities that have been retired due to age, health, or other issues. The zoo has also helped rescue creatures subject to animal cruelty and laboratory research, along with abandoned exotic pets.
Founded back in 1982, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center now serves as the Botanic Garden and Arboretum of Texas. Efforts to inspire the conservation of native plants are carried out by way of garden development, research, education, and outreach programs.
The organization also maintains a comprehensive database of native plants for North America. Their experts have put together different resources that aspiring gardeners can access from home. Whether you need to find a local supplier or identify more bee-friendly plants for your garden, we promise the staff over at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has got you covered!
As the live music capital of the world, it’s pretty important to see a show when in town. Of course, with over 250 venues to choose from, it shouldn’t be too difficult to plan.
Live music is so widespread in Austin, that you’re almost guaranteed to encounter a performance—even at the airport! Seriously, the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport has live music performances scheduled at different gates every Monday through Friday.
Of course, you’ll want to head downtown to experience the city’s most beloved venues, which include the Scoot Inn, Antone’s, and Stubbs Bar-B-Q. Or roam around neighborhoods like South Congress until you find a place you like. The area is a major contributor to Austin’s live music culture, housing some of the oldest venues in the city.
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If you’re craving another spot to swim, keep reading. Located just 45 minutes outside of Austin in the surrounding Texas Hill Country, Jacob’s Well contains the longest underwater cave in the state. We will note that to help preserve the area, the county limits the number of people allowed in at a time, so it’s important to make reservations before your visit.
In total, the area spans just over 81 acres. The artesian spring releases thousands of gallons of water a day. The source comes from the Trinity Aquifer, which travels down from an extensive underground cave system. In certain areas, the cavern system runs 140 feet deep.
Be sure to bring appropriate footwear if you plan on making the trek. It’s a 15-minute hike from the parking lot to the swimming area. The area surrounding the well can also be steep and slippery.
Though the original Texas State Capitol Building burned down back in 1881, the newer structure was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986. The 392-room building is accompanied by the Goddess of Liberty statue, made out of 80 pieces of welded zinc. Today, it is recognized as one of the most distinguished state capitols in the country.
It’s also open to the public seven days a week. Guided tours are available to individuals interested in a more historical rundown of the building and its most significant spaces.
Don’t forget to explore the grounds, either. The capitol lawn is decorated with a range of monuments, from Hood’s Brigade to the Heroes of the Alamo, a miniature Statue of Liberty, and more.
Austin food truck culture can be traced back to a single hot-dog stand that popped up in the ’90s. Today, there are entire parks dedicated to service, offering different types of cuisine across the city.
These refurbished Airstreams and concession trailers give talented chefs the ability to showcase their most popular dishes in affordable and unpretentious ways. In total, there are over 1,200 mobile food vendors stationed in Austin. That range means visitors can enjoy a wide variety of food, from contemporary Mexican cuisine to Korean BBQ, classic Italian, and tons more.
The idea for a Texas Memorial Museum first emerged back in 1936, when politicians planning for Texas Centennial celebrations realized that there was no state museum in Texas. Plans to preserve the state’s natural and cultural treasures were soon underway.
In 1939, the museum finally opened to the public with dioramas of Texas history, rare exhibits of Texas insects, plants, and animal life, and displays of anthropological objects from around the world.
The building itself was constructed entirely of Texas limestone in the popular 1930s Art Deco style, standing 75 feet high, 116 feet long, and 80 feet wide. Today, the museum contains holdings from over five million specimens. Fossils, gems, minerals, and meteorites are displayed through a variety of engaging and immersive experiences.
Austin’s South Congress neighborhood is located just south of Lady Bird Lake and has become a popular hangout for locals and tourists alike.
Its quirky culture is evidenced by an eclectic collection of boutiques, eateries, and art galleries lining South Congress Avenue. The area, dubbed SoCo, is also home to some of Austin’s most celebrated street art, including the “Mr. Rogers Portrait” and “I Love You So Much” mural.
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The Blanton Museum of Art contains over 21,000 permanent pieces, ranging from ancient Greek pottery to more modern works of abstract expressionism. It remains the largest and most comprehensive collection of art in Texas.
The museum serves as an extension of the University of Texas at Austin and maintains a team of educators consisting of volunteers, graduate teaching fellows, and professional artists that provide learning experiences to visitors throughout the year.
The museum is also home to the Ellsworth Kelly Temple for Light. The structure serves as Kelly’s final work and only building.
The Zilker Botanical Garden is located within the Zilker Metropolitan Park in downtown Austin. The garden stretches over 28 acres and is home to heritage live oaks, sunny lawn areas, and Koi-filled ponds. The area also provides amazing panoramic views of the city skyline.
While ideas for the city garden were born back in the 1950s, it wasn’t until 1964 that work finally began on the conservancy.
The Isamu Taniguchi Japanese Garden finally opened to the public in 1969, with the ponds in the first half of the garden spelling out the word “Austin.” Other themed gardens include the Riparian Streambed, the Hartman Prehistoric Garden, and the Mabel Davis Rose Garden.
The Mayfield Park and Preserve originally served as a summer house and weekend getaway for prominent Austin political figure and former Texas Secretary of State Allison Mayfield.
In 1922, Mayfield’s daughter and her husband inherited the 23-acre plot. Soon thereafter, she began work on the 30 garden plots while he oversaw the building of the property’s signature stone walls, ponds, and garden features.
In 1935, the couple was given a few peacocks, whose descendants still roam the property today. By 1971, both owners had passed away. The home and acreage were left to the City of Austin to be used as a park.
If you’re into sports, then you’ll probably want to partake in this Austin tradition. Head over to the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium (formerly War Memorial Stadium, Memorial Stadium, and Texas Memorial Stadium) for a chance to see the Austin Longhorns play.
Located on the University of Texas campus, the stadium is now in its 92nd season of operation. It also contains several other facilities including a state-of-the-art gymnasium, strength complex, and nutrition center.
The Barton Creek Greenbelt is an important part of Austin’s green space initiative. It’s also home to the Barton Springs Pool and Barton Springs Nature Park, the only natural springs and nature preserve in Austin, respectively.
In addition to the many hiking opportunities it presents, the area is also known for rock climbing, mountain biking, birdwatching, swimming, and picnicking.
The city has even selected the Greenbelt to host some of Austin’s most famous events, including the Austin City Limits Music Festival and the Texas Conservation Corps training programs.
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Ok, so it isn’t a cathedral in the traditional sense, but the next destination on our list is definitely worth a visit. The infamous “Cathedral of Junk” stands unassumingly in the backyard of a suburban neighborhood on Austin’s south side. It’s not even visible from the street.
The structure was created by Vince Hannemann, who began work on the project back in 1988. Today, it contains over 60 tons of junk and stands over three stories in some areas. The Cathedral also contains multiple stairways, vaulted ceilings, observation platforms, and an infamous “Throne Room,” where visitors can ask questions of its creator.
We will note that you’ll need to call to make an appointment to visit the Cathedral. There’s also a requested $10 donation. While street parking is available, you’ll probably have to park a few blocks away if things get crowded.
The Broken Spoke is one of the most talked-about honky-tonks in Austin. Famous musicians like Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, and Dale Watson have all performed on its stage. Perhaps even more famously, the venue provides two-step dance lessons every night, Wednesday through Saturday (instructor Terri White was even featured on the sixth season of Netflix hit Queer Eye).
The move, also known as the Texas Polka, is taught along with Western Swing and the Cotton-Eyed Joe—the only line dance allowed on the dancefloor!
And don’t forget, there’s a full menu waiting for you after the lesson. Patrons will enjoy a variety of plates, from steak dinners to Mexican staples, BBQ plates, and more. Draft beers and wine are available as well.
The Little Longhorn is another famous Austin honky-tonk. The saloon offers dancing, cold beer, and live music six nights a week.
It’s also the original home of something called Chicken S*** Bingo, where crowds gather to watch chickens poop on numbered squares. While it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the event has been going strong for over 15 years. Someone even created a soundtrack to play to.
Located just over 10 miles from downtown Austin is McKinney Falls, one of the most popular state parks in Texas. Visitors travel from all over to see the water from Onion Creek, a tributary stream of the Colorado River, flow over natural limestone ledges.
Popular activities include fishing, boating, and swimming. The area also provides lots of opportunities for some on-land fun, including hiking, biking, camping, and even geocaching—a web-based real-world, outdoor adventure game.
History buffs will be excited to hear that humans began occupying the area some 8,750 years ago. Artifacts found in the park indicate a long history of Native Americans in the area. Many are believed to have become part of modern Texan tribes, like the Tonkawa.
According to their website, the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In was ranked “one of the coolest outdoor movie theaters in the world” by Conde Nast. If that leaves you at all intrigued, you’ll probably want to add it to the itinerary.
The boutique theater has been in business for over 11 years now, concentrating on drive-in classics, childhood favorites, indie films, and art house cinema. The venue only allows 15-40 cars per night, so you don’t have to worry about things getting overcrowded.
There are also different screens to choose from, some complete with dining table seating and lounge chairs. The business has even set up a two-screen set on a local rooftop, providing movie-goers with a 360 city view.
Private rental options are also available. You can even bring your dog, so long as they remain leashed and quiet throughout the show.
Austin may be known as a liberal enclave within a more conservative state, but it’s still plenty western. Allen Boots has had a presence in the city since 1977. Located on the popular shopping strip along South Congress Ave, the store boasts an impressive collection of authentic western gear, including boots, hats, and belts.
Once inside, you’ll see thousands of leather boots lining the walls, along with photos of famous guests who have visited in the past. If you’re not in the neighborhood, you can always try stopping by the second location in Round Rock, Texas.
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That’s a wrap on the best things to do in Austin, but be sure to check back in with us soon! Travelicious, supported by Best Life, is committed to helping you find your next adventure. Sign up for our newsletter to enjoy expert-backed tips for navigating our favorite U.S. destinations!
With some of the nation’s most celebrated arts and cultural institutions, along with a thriving nightlife scene, there are plenty of things to do in Austin for couples. Some of our favorite activities are listed below:
People flock to Austin from all over the world for its nightlife, live music, and food culture. Adults in Austin can head over to the Broken Spoke for drinks and dancing or the Little Longhorn Saloon for a game of Chicken S*** Bingo.
For more outdoorsy activities, think about biking around Zilker Park or entertaining swimming and boating opportunities at Barton Springs Pool.
Austin is also brimming with arts and culture, from the many murals located around the city to world-class arts institutions like the Blanton Museum of Art and the Umlauf Sculpture Gardens.
Austin also happens to be an incredibly family-friendly city. Parents traveling with small children should consider the following activities: