See also: Where to Stay in Austin
The capital of the state of Texas, Austin is a legendary city and is known for its vibrant live music scene as well as its love for mouthwatering meat and Mexican dishes. This city has given the start to singer Janis Joplin’s career and has served as a location for many iconic films such as Boyhood, Miss Congeniality and Kill Bill. Moreover, the city’s unofficial slogan since the year 2000 has been ‘Keeping things weird’ and you will understand why once you finish reading this list. Here are more than 30 things to do while you’re in Austin, Texas:
Cool Off at the Barton Springs Pool
The Barton springs pool is the place where actor Robert Redford learned to swim when he was 5 years old and even today, this pool attracts over 800,000 people of all age groups. This is considered a landmark of Austin and is a three acre pool which is supplied with clean water from underground springs all year round. The Barton springs pool is also home to the endangered Barton springs salamander.
Beware of Bats at the Congress Avenue Bridge
This location is also known as the Ann W. Richards congress avenue bridge and is named after the 45th Governor of Texas. The majestic bridge crosses over the stunning lady bird 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 entire world as almost 1.5 million bats lounge around here in the summer season and they are mostly Mexican free-tailed bats. Let’s hope Donald Trump doesn’t try to deport them.
Lounge Around the Lady Bird Lake
The lady bird lake is a river-like reservoir of the Colorado River 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 as well as view the lake in all its glory from every angle. Recreational activities are also practiced here such as kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding. The area is especially busy 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.
Climb Uphill to Mount Bonnell
Mount Bonnell is the largest and tallest hill in all of Austin and if you want to see spectacular views of the city then, you must have the courage to walk for 30 minutes while climbing more than a hundred stairs to reach the top of the hill. This will all be worth it when you 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 all the way through but remember to carry a bottle of water, a few hearty sandwiches and a camera.
Eat Some Tex-mex at the Polvos Mexican Restaurant
Your trip would be incomplete if you travel to Austin and not try Tex-Mex food which is basically a fusion of Texan and Mexican cuisine. No one does Tex-Mex more justice than the Polvos Mexican restaurant which serves up delicious fajitas, enchiladas, nachos and has its own salsa bar for you 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
This is a distinctive cinema house chain which is an all time favorite of Cinema greats such as directors Quentin Tarantino and Richard Linklater. The reason for its uniqueness lies in the fact it has 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 waiters will come and take your order during the screening.
Admire Art at the Harry Ransom Center
The Harry Ransom center is situated in the premises of the University of Texas and is home to 36 million literary manuscripts, 5 million photographs, 10,000 works of art and more than 1 million rare books. It was founded by Harry Ransom in 1957 and since then, has been a beacon of literary and artistic fervor of 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.
Appreciate the Work of a Legend at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden
Art among 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 who was 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.
Visit the Bullock Texas State History Museum
Turns out Austin loves its Governors as another important site such as the state history museum has been named after a former Governor of Texas Bob Bullock and was opened in the year 1999. The 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.
Live Your Fairytale at the Hamilton Pool
Hamilton pool preserve is a natural pool which is fit for any fairytale story due to its location of being surrounded by large limestone slabs and a waterfall flowing from a half-dome like structure which covers the pool. You can find Ashe Juniper trees and an endangered bird called the golden-cheeked warbler as well as bald cypress trees emerging at various intervals. This is a protected natural landmark of Austin and must be visited at all costs.
Meat Happiness at the Franklin BBQ
Franklin BBQ on their website have declared that their barbeque is the best in the known universe and one cannot ignore this level of arrogance without actually trying their food. Reviews have noted that a visitor may have to stand for up to 4 hours in waiting but you can pre-order a week before and forget the hassle of standing in a line. The most loved recommendations of this restaurant are the perfectly cooked Brisket, pulled pork, the chopped beef, their unusual bourbon banana pie and the famous Franklin steak.
A Shrine of Consumerism, the Cathedral of Junk
The cathedral of junk should not be mistaken for a pile of rubbish instead it is a gigantic sculpture which is made up of every material object known to human kind such as toilet parts, dolls, car parts, baskets, tires, mannequins, bells, beads, tools and toys among innumerous others. The curator and creator of this sculpture is a man named Vince and this ‘cathedral’ is situated in his backyard. He makes sure to add in new items every once in a while and if you want to visit, you must make an appointment in advance.
Watch a Live Performance at the Paramount Theatre
The paramount theatre is known for its stunning architecture which is 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.
Take a Hike at the Austin Nature and Science Center
The Austin nature and science center is situated inside the lush environs of the Zilker Park and is an outdoor educational and recreational facility situated 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 which 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.
Nature Galore at the Mayfield Park
The Mayfield Park and nature preserve is an outdoor oasis lined with numerous palm trees and is covered with large green gardens as well as lily plants and koi fish ponds. This park is also home to a number of peacocks and has a 21 acre hiking trail which serves its educational purpose by introducing the visitors to its plant species as well as provides scenic views and a picturesque location to enjoy a quiet picnic with your loved ones.
Visit an Ancient Cave at Longhorn Caverns
The longhorn caverns state park’s main attraction is an underground cave like structure which was created thousands of years ago due to the dissolving and cutting action of a river. Even today, the caverns have retained their historical ruggedness and rustic beauty which cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. The Longhorn caverns 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 most unique natural creations.
Feel the Power at the State Capitol
The 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 the large brass doors as well as a smooth marble floor coupled with 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.
Stop and Smell the Flowers at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
The lady bird Johnson wildflower center was established in the year 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 entire country which is 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.
Catch a Fish or Two at the Mckinney Falls State Park
As the name suggests, the McKinney falls state park has beautiful limestone ledges over which the Onion creeks flows and splashes with gusto in the pools. The magnificent park is perfect for a number of outdoor activities including biking, hiking and mountain climbing or just choosing to spend a quiet day having a picnic. The park also houses the Onion creek hike and bike trail as well as the option of fishing. The transcendental beauty of the state park will make it extremely hard for you to leave.
Watch Modern Vaudeville at Esther’s Follies
Esther’s follies is a contemporary vaudeville theatre which packs in a number of distinct acts such as comedy sketches, juggling, dancing, singing and even, magic acts. 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. You can also relish in some Texas cuisine coupled with cool drinks while watching the acts.
Too Much to See at the Zilker Metropolitan Park
The only way to end this epic trip is by visiting the humongous Zilker metropolitan Park situated in downtown Austin and right in the center of the area, the Barton springs pool is located. If you’re looking to get some exercise, then you must hike around the greenbelt trail which is 800 acres long and the lakes which provide for numerous water activities such as canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding. 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 an outdoor seating.
Refuse to Grow Up at the Peter Pan Mini Golf
Just like the fictional character of Peter Pan who was terrified of growing up, this mini-golf course 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
Austin takes the first meal of the day very seriously as evidenced by their love for a sumptuous 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 mouth watering 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 which takes into consideration gluten free and vegan tacos for its visitors.
Eat Healthy Food at the Veggie Heaven
Veggie heaven has been highly recommended by all food influencers from Austin and its food is based on Taiwanese flavor as well as pan-Asian but the most unique part about it is that the food is all vegan. From the sweet bun to the homemade spicy Kimchi and the Bamboo tofu as well as the Ramen Rumble, the food here is delicious while remaining extremely healthy and nutritious.
Get Competitive at the Pinballz Arcade
Pinballz arcade is as entertaining as it is fulfilling in its experience because it not only contains 150 pinball machines which is 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 every now and then for a bloody Mary.
A Bar for the Modern Age at the Liberty
The liberty is one of the oldest bars in the city and yet, has moved with the times as its décor looks as though it is the brainchild of a millennial hipster. 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.
Live Your Country Dreams at Allens Boots
What is a visit to the city of Texas without buying a pair of classic cowboy boots? Allen’s boots don’t just grant your wishes but grant them in abundance as it is family owned store started in 1977 and contains 4,000 cowboy boots, hats, southern inspired clothing as well as accessories. If you want to fulfill all of 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.
Go on a Shopping Spree at the Austin City Wide Garage Sale
The Austin city wide garage sale was started in the year 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 which hold a 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 all the while retaining its affordable prices.
Break a Leg at the Broken Spoke Club
The broken space is the perfect way to begin your trip as you will be introduced to authentic Texan culture including the Texas two-step dance which will have you giggling and jumping all around the room. The broken spoke is a legendary dance club as many country music’s 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.
Weird is the New Cool at Uncommon Objects
The commercialized world has compelled us all to buy the same materials over and over again without any unique quality in them. This cycle can be dismantled by shopping at an antique store called uncommon objects. This was established as an antique collective in the year 1991 and ever since, twenty four dedicated antique collectors have been selling quirky and one-of-a-kind products for their dedicated consumer base. Hence, say good bye to mass produced items and say hello to inimitable possessions.
Austin has a place for everyone such as a diehard foodie or a nature lover and even, an antique collector. The city puts its music and live performance culture on a pedestal and has been declared as the best city to live in the United States by U.S news and world report in the year 2017. The best way to enjoy your visit is by putting your worldly worries aside and letting your hair down while waiting for the waiter to bring you a plate full of sumptuous meat.