Blake Walsh

35 Best Things to Do in Austin, TX

  • Published 2023/01/31

See also: Where to Stay in Austin

Austin, the capital of Texas, is a legendary city known for its vibrant live music scene and mouthwatering meat and Mexican dishes.

The city has been a location for many iconic films, such as Boyhood, Miss Congeniality, and Kill Bill.

Moreover, the city’s unofficial slogan since 2000 is ‘Keeping things weird’ –and you will understand why once you finish reading this list.

Interested to know more about this stunning place?

Here are the 35 best things to do in Austin, Texas:

Cool Off at the Barton Springs Pool

Aerial view of Barton Springs Pool

Mike Holp /

Barton Springs Pool is where actor Robert Redford learned to swim when he was five.

This is considered a landmark of Austin and is a three-acre pool that is supplied with clean water from underground springs all year round.

Barton Springs Pool is also home to the endangered Barton Springs Salamander.

People swimming at Barton Springs Pool

Alizada Studios /

Watch a Performance at ZACH Theatre

Exterior of ZACH Theatre

Philip Arno Photography /

Austin, Texas, is home to ZACH Theatre (the Zachary Scott Theatre Center), a professional theater company with a complex of theater facilities.

It produces intimate theatrical experiences connecting the community, sparking creativity, and uplifting the soul.

Over 125,000 Central Texans are served by ZACH annually, of whom around 55,000 are children and teenagers taking part in their educational and outreach initiatives, motivational camps, and workshops.

The theater complex features three stages, offices, schools, and event areas.

The three stages and a few other facilities within the theater are available to be rented out privately.

See the Bats at Congress Avenue Bridge

Silhouette of Congress Avenue Bridge during sunset

Kushal Bose /

Congress Avenue Bridge is named after the 45th Governor of Texas.

The majestic bridge crosses over the stunning ladybird lake and is loved by all for its striking views from the bridge.

It was built in 1960 and is home to the largest urban bat colony in the world, as almost 1.5 million bats lounge around here in the summer season and are primarily Mexican free-tailed bats.

Hundreds of bats over Congress Avenue Bridge

Pascal Franck /

Admire the Exhibits at The Blanton Museum of Art

Interior of The Blanton Museum of Art

Faina Gurevich /

Among the top university art museums in the nation is the Blanton Museum of Art, situated at The University of Texas at Austin.

In Central Texas, The Museum boasts the biggest and most complete collection of artwork.

More than 21,000 pieces make up The Blanton’s permanent collection, known for its European paintings, extensive prints and drawings, and modern and contemporary art from the United States and Latin America.

Exterior of The Blanton Museum of Art

Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ancient Greek pottery and abstract expressionism are both on display at The Blanton.

The Blanton offers a year-round calendar of touring exhibits so art enthusiasts can find fresh and time-honored classics.

Art exhibit in The Blanton Museum of Art

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Lounge around the Lady Bird Lake

Lakeside trail at Lady Bird Lake

Sean Pavone /

Lady Bird Lake is a Colorado River-like reservoir and was built as a cooling pond for a city power plant in 1960.

The Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail takes the visitor around the lake and helps the visitor get some exercise and view the lake in all its glory from every angle.

Recreational activities such as kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding are also practiced here.

Swan boat on Lady Bird Lake

EQRoy /

The area is bustling during the holiday season, such as Christmas and spring break.

Remember to put on extra sunscreen and tie the shoelaces of your joggers as tight as they can be.

Aerial view of Lady Bird Lake

Roschetzky Photography /

Meet the Animals at Austin Zoo

Alpacas at Austin Zoo

Scott218, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Austin Zoo welcomes locals and tourists from all over the world who want to learn and know more about animals up close, exercise, and have lots of fun.

Austin Zoo presently occupies around 15 acres of property and owns 40 more acres, so there is plenty of space for growth as the zoo expands.

At the Austin Zoo, more than 300 animals of 100 different species exist.

Their collection comprises animals from other institutions, animals confiscated in animal cruelty incidents, retired laboratory research animals, and exotic pets for which individual owners wanted to find new homes.

Annual attendance at the Austin Zoo exceeds 237,000 people, including field trip participants like kids and instructors.

Climb Uphill to Mount Bonnell

Summit of Mount Bonnell

Roschetzky Photography /

Mount Bonnell is the largest and tallest hill in all of Austin, and if you want to see spectacular views of the city, you must have the courage to walk for 30 minutes while climbing more than a hundred stairs to reach the top of the hill.

It will all be worth it to witness the iconic Pennybacker Bridge and the vast Colorado River from the top.

Mount Bonnell is lined with oak trees, mountain laurel, and Ashe juniper, but remember to carry a bottle of water, a few hearty sandwiches, and a camera.

A couple admiring the views from Mount Bonnell

Scott Biales DitchTheMap /

Dine at the Polvos Mexican Restaurant

Your trip would be incomplete if you travel to Austin and not try Polvos Mexican Restaurant’s food, a fusion of Texan and Mexican cuisine.

No one does Tex-Mex more justice than the Polvos Mexican restaurant, which serves delicious fajitas, enchiladas, and nachos and has a salsa bar to choose from.

Don’t forget to let loose and drink a few frozen margaritas with your second serving of nachos.

Watch a Movie at the Alamo Drafthouse

Exterior of the Alamo Drafthouse

Tim Patterson, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Alamo Drafthouse is an all-time favorite of Cinema greats, such as directors Quentin Tarantino and Richard Linklater.

The reason for its uniqueness lies in its cabaret-style tables with chairs for audiences to sit on while they watch the film instead of the cushiony seats.

Unlike the unusual cinema halls, there is no self-service here as servers will come and take your order during the screening.

Entrance to the Alamo Drafthouse

Ricardo Garza /

Admire Art at the Harry Ransom Center

Exterior of Harry Ransom Center

Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0.

Harry Ransom Center, situated on the premises of the University of Texas, is home to 36 million literary manuscripts, five million photographs, 10,000 works of art, and more than one million rare books.

It was founded by Harry Ransom in 1957 and, since then, has been a beacon of literary and artistic fervor in Latin American and European culture.

The most unique works of art here are the view from the window at Le Gras, which is the first successful photograph ever taken of nature, and the Gutenberg bible.

Facade of Harry Ransom Center

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Book a Tour around the Neill-Cochran House Museum

Exterior of Neill-Cochran House Museum

Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The sole remaining slave quarters in Austin are found at the Neill-Cochran House Museum historic site, which also houses one of Austin’s oldest homes.

The Museum is committed to providing a detailed history of the location and all the free and enslaved people who have lived and worked there.

The rooms are furnished with items representing the story of the site’s development from its inception in 1856 through to 1930, featuring items present in the house during the Cochrans’ 60-year residence.

Interior of Neill-Cochran House Museum

Michael Brockhoff, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The two original buildings on the site, the main house and the slave quarters, are included in their guided and self-guided tours.

Support for the Museum’s operations is provided through the venue rental program.

Appreciate the Work of a Legend at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden

Daytime view of Umlauf Sculpture Garden

Faina Gurevich /

Art in nature can be liberating and amusing all at the same time, and Umlauf Sculpture Garden is the best example of art existing in the natural habitat.

Even though there are rotating sculpture exhibitions by contemporary artists, the garden primarily houses the work of Charles Umlauf, a master of bronze sculptures.

You can see a multiplicity of forms here, ranging from abstract to neo-classical, as well as an array of native plants and a breathtaking waterfall.

A sculpture at Umlauf Sculpture Garden

Faina Gurevich /

Dine at Cannon + Belle

Austin-based restaurant Cannon + Belle perfectly nails the flavor and texture of the eccentric city that everyone adores with a cuisine that is as bold, creative, and surprising as Austin.

Austin’s response to Texas-fresh is Cannon + Belle’s bar, indoor Biergarten, and lively kitchen, which features the Bourbon Bar Experience and creative cuisine crafted with locally sourced food items.

They aim to provide inventive cuisine, inspiring surroundings, and luxe service daily to the local and worldwide communities.

They are committed to obtaining their products and wines from Texas farmers wherever feasible in the interest of authenticity and sustainability.

Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., indulge in a lineup of various live bands.

Visit the Bullock Texas State History Museum

Exterior of Bullock Texas State History Museum

GSPhotography /

It turns out Austin loves its Governors as another important site, such as the Bullock Texas State History Museum, which has been named after a former Governor of Texas Bob Bullock.

Bullock Texas State History Museum will tell you all about the detailed story of Texas by turning back the clock to 16,000 years ago when it was first discovered.

This vast history includes civil rights, oil, ranching, technology, art, and space exploration done in the state.

Floor rotunda of Bullock Texas State History Museum

Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Dine at Franklin Barbecue

Signage of Franklin BBQ

Travel_with_me /

Franklin Barbecue is the best in the known universe.

Reviews have noted that a visitor may have to wait for up to 4 hours, but you can pre-order a week before and forget the hassle of standing in line.

The most loved recommendations of this restaurant are the perfectly cooked brisket, pulled pork, chopped beef, their unusual bourbon banana pie, and the famous Franklin steak.

People lined up outside Franklin Barbecue

University of College /

See Different Artwork at the Cathedral of Junk

Daytime view of the Cathedral of Junk

PiercarloAbate /

The Cathedral of Junk should not be mistaken for a pile of rubbish.

It is, in fact, it is a gigantic sculpture made up of every material object known to humankind, such as toilet parts, dolls, car parts, baskets, tires, mannequins, bells, beads, tools, and toys, among innumerous others.

Looking up inside the Cathedral of Junk

PiercarloAbate /

The curator and creator of this sculpture is Vince, and this ‘cathedral’ is situated in his backyard.

He makes sure to add new items every once in a while, and if you want to visit, you must make an appointment in advance.

Stairs in the Cathedral of Junk

Dollar Travelers /

Watch a Live Performance at the Paramount Theatre

Exterior of Paramount Theatre

Philip Rozenski /

Paramount Theatre is known for its stunning architecture, built in the classic revival style in 1915.

Since its inception, the majestic theatre has witnessed a number of notable performances from the Marx brothers, the famous Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova, and the sexually explicit performer Sally Rand.

Many legendary films have been screened here, such as Dracula, gone with the wind, the wizard of Oz, and King Kong.

It has also witnessed its fair share of live performances from Dolly Parton and Billie Joel.

Exterior of the Paramount Theatre

4kclips /

Take a Hike at the Austin Nature and Science Center

Entrance arch of Austin Nature and Science Center

Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Austin Nature and Science Center is situated inside the lush environs of Zilker Park and is an outdoor educational and recreational facility located in the center of Austin.

Here, you can survey an array of wildlife and dig deep to find fossils, as well as attend a naturalist workshop that will give you hands-on training about the botanical aspects of the nature and science center.

You can also hike around the Zilker nature preserve and produce some well-needed endorphins.

Go Hiking at Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve

Trail lined with trees at Mayfield Park

Faina Gurevich /

Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve is an outdoor oasis lined with numerous palm trees and is covered with extensive green gardens, lily plants and koi fish ponds.

This park is also home to a number of peacocks and has a 21-acre hiking trail that introduces the visitors to its plant species, and provides scenic views and a picturesque location to enjoy a quiet picnic with your loved ones.

A peacock at Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve

StephanieFarrell /

Go on a Shopping Spree at the City-Wide Garage Sale

City Wide Garage Sale started in 1977 and has been selling second-hand, antique, and unique items on multiple weekends of the year.

Here, you can forget the same old usual materials and survey a variety of goods that hold history in them while remaining true to their market value.

You can get everything from furniture and clothes to toys and statues made by locals while retaining its affordable prices.

Take Pictures of the Texas State Capitol

Aerial view of Texas State Capitol

Ryan Conine /

Texas State Capitol is a vision to behold due to its grandiose red granite building coupled with numerous monuments situated around it.

The state capitol building contains splendid architecture, such as large brass doors, a smooth marble floor, and four flights of stairs.

You can get a guided tour of the building and learn about the intensive history of the state of Texas while eating at their restaurant and shopping at the souvenir shop.

Interior of Texas State Capitol

Kokoulina /

Smell the Flowers at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Flora at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Jacqueline F Cooper /

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center was established in 1982 and is named after the former first lady of the United States, Lady Bird Johnson.

The wildflower center prides itself in having the most comprehensive database of native plants in the country, evidenced by its collection of more than 9,000 American native plants and other wild species.

The center includes a research center, educational exhibits, a gift store, and a café.

A flower at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Danita Delimont /

Catch a Fish or Two at the Mckinney Falls State Park

The waters of Mckinney Falls State Park

Daniel Mullins /

As the name suggests, Mckinney Falls State Park has beautiful limestone ledges over which the Onion creeks flow and splashes with enthusiasm in the pools.

The magnificent park is perfect for several outdoor activities, including biking, hiking, and mountain climbing, or just choosing to spend a quiet day having a picnic.

Waters at Mckinney Falls State Park

Flamelily /

The park also houses the Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail.

The ethereal beauty of the state park will make it extremely hard for you to leave.

The grounds of Mckinney Falls State Park

Collier C /

Watch Modern Vaudeville at Esther’s Follies

Exterior of Esther’s Follies

Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Esther’s Follies is a contemporary vaudeville theatre that packs several distinct acts, such as comedy sketches, juggling, dancing, singing, and even magic shows.

The versatility of Esther’s follies is where its strength lies, and the live performances will provide you with an authentic theatrical experience unlike any other you’ve ever seen before.

While watching the acts, you can also relish some Texas cuisine and cool drinks.

Shop at Uncommon Objects

Exterior of Uncommon Objects

LoneStarMike, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The commercialized world has compelled us to buy the same materials repeatedly without any unique quality.

This cycle can be dismantled by shopping at an antique store called Uncommon Objects.

This was established as an antique collective in 1991.

Since then, twenty-four dedicated antique collectors have been selling quirky and one-of-a-kind products for their loyal consumer base.

Explore the Zilker Metropolitan Park

Aerial view of Zilker Metropolitan Park

Trong Nguyen /

Visit the Zilker Metropolitan Park in downtown Austin, right in the center of the area the Barton springs pool is located.

If you’re looking for exercise, you must hike around the greenbelt trail, which is 800 acres long, as well as the lakes, which provide numerous water activities such as canoeing, kayaking, and paddle boarding.

Train ride at Zilker Metropolitan Park

BrigitteT /

A visitor can also see the Zilker botanical garden and ride the Zilker zephyr train, which takes you around the park in 25 minutes.

End the day by watching a play at the hillside theatre, which is family-friendly and has outdoor seating.

The grounds of Zilker Metropolitan Park

Mwyzykowski0821, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Play a Round of Golf at Peter Pan Mini-Golf

Just like the fictional character of Peter Pan, who was terrified of growing up, Peter Pan Mini-Golf is designed for your inner child to relive the mirth of youth.

This is a legendary mini-golf course as it was started in the year 1948 and has witnessed countless chaotic children’s birthday parties.

Here, you will find adorable statues of bunny’s, castles, turtles, and a life-size sculpture to honor the memory of J.M Barrie, the author of Peter Pan.

Have a Hearty Breakfast at Tacodeli

Tacos from Tacodeli

Austin takes the day’s first meal very seriously, as evidenced by their love for a great breakfast taco with a side of ranch dressing.

Tacodeli is the premier location to eat the perfect tacos in the entire city.

Make sure you order a mouthwatering beef and chicken taco with spicy salsa, and the best part is the affordable price range, which ranges from 5 to 15 dollars.

They are an all-inclusive restaurant that takes into consideration gluten-free and vegan tacos for its visitors.

Vegan tacos at Tacodeli

Stephanie from Austin TX, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Play at the Pinballz Arcade

Pinballz Arcade not only contains 150 pinball machines, the largest collection in all of Texas, but also has a restaurant and a bar for you to enjoy.

This arcade also hosts birthday parties, corporate events, and, most importantly, happy hours.

You will not stop smiling as you go from one machine to another, competing with your friends while stopping now and then for a bloody Mary.

Dine at The Liberty

Exterior of The Liberty

Chris Owens /

The Liberty is one of the city’s oldest bars.

There is an indoor space where you can play pool or if the weather is suitable, take a picnic table outside where you can choose from local food trucks such as the OG east side king, which serves Japanese food.

The Liberty’s price range is cheap and affordable as it is meant for the forever-broke generation Z.

Neon sign of The Liberty

Chris Owens /

Shop at Allens Boots

Facade of Allens Boots

Bokehboo Studios /

What is a visit to Texas without buying a pair of classic cowboy boots?

Allens Boots don’t just grant your wishes but grant them in abundance, as it is a family-owned store started in 1977 and contains 4,000 cowboy boots, hats, southern-inspired clothing, and accessories.

If you want to fulfill your Texan fashion dreams, remember to visit this shop with a group of people who will help you pick out the perfect pair of boots.

Exterior of Allens Boots

Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Have Fun at the Broken Spoke Club

Broken Spoke Club is the perfect way to begin your trip, as you will be introduced to the authentic Texan culture, including the Texas two-step dance, which will have you giggling and jumping all around the room.

The club is a legendary dance club as many country music legends have performed here, like Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and George Straight.

There is also a ‘tourist trap’ room which contains memorabilia of country music’s photographs and hats

Other Things to Do Nearby

Live Your Fairytale at the Hamilton Pool

The waters of of Hamilton Pool

Fotoluminate LLC /

Hamilton Pool Preserve is a natural pool that is fit for any fairytale story due to its location being surrounded by large limestone slabs and a waterfall flowing from a half-dome-like structure that covers the collection.

You can find Ashe Juniper trees, an endangered bird called the golden-cheeked warbler, and bald cypress trees emerging at various intervals.

This is a protected natural landmark of Austin and must be visited at all costs.

Scenic view of Hamilton Pool

Wisanu Boonrawd /

Visit an Ancient Cave at Longhorn Caverns

Interior of Longhorn Caverns

IrinaK /

Longhorn Cavern State Park’s main attraction is an underground cave-like cave-like structure created thousands of years ago due to a river’s dissolving and cutting action.

Even today, the caverns have retained their historical ruggedness and rustic beauty, which cannot be seen anywhere else in the world.

Longhorn Cavern State Park was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and here, you can hike around a hill country trail while witnessing some of the unique natural creations.

Structures in Longhorn Caverns

Warren Price Photography /

Final Thoughts

Get ready to explore everything that this fascinating and captivating city has to offer.

Whether you’re searching for great music, must-see museums, traditional Texas food, magnificent outdoor excursions, or family-friendly activities, Austin certainly has something to offer everyone.

Austin is waiting for you, so get your suitcases and passports ready!

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