The first time I came to visit Austin, I read entirely too many of those "best things to see in Austin" and "top things to do in ATX" articles while planning. The problem is the majority of these posts are written by people who have only been here once or twice, or they just list the touristy spots that you see on every single other list. Well good news my friends, I live in Austin, and I am finally going to share my favorite things to do! Yes, some of these are things you will see on other Austin lists. However, I am ONLY including things that are actually worth your while vs tourist traps that I am including to fill space.
These are the things that helped me fall in love with Austin. Whether you are looking for things to do during SXSW or are planning a long weekend trip, I have included everything you need to know about one of the best cities in the U.S.!
1. DRINK A MEXICAN MARTINI
Everybody knows Austin has bomb Tex-Mex. What you may not know is what drink to order when eating it. Enter the Mexican Martini. You will be served with a martini glass and a full shaker to refill your glass to your heart's content. It is the drink that just keeps on giving, my friends.
2. CATCH A SHOW AT AUSTIN CITY LIMITS MOODY THEATER
IMHO this is the best live music venue in the city. It is intimate enough that even the seats in the last row still have a great view, plus the acoustics are awesome. You get an actual assigned seat and don't have to deal with being shoulder to shoulder next to sweaty strangers (def not my scene). Check out their website to see if there are any shows when you will be in town!
Pro Tip: Arrive while there is still some sunlight left & snap a pic with the Willie Nelson statue outside of the main entrance!
3. EAT GELATO
One of my favorite Austin discoveries is Dolce Neve, the cutest little gelato shop run by a sweet Italian couple. Everything is hand-crafted one individual batch at a time, so once a carton is done they replace it with a new flavor. No mass production here! For my vegan and dairy-free friends, they have sorbets and/or coconut based options as well!
This photo was taken on Spicewood Springs Road
4. TAKE THE SCENIC ROUTE
If you are planning on renting a car or driving to Austin, once you get into the city, set your GPS to avoid highways. Austin has absolutely gorgeous landscapes that every visitor should have the chance to see. Some of my favorite scenic roads are 2222 up to 620 (which brings you up to the Oasis/Lake Travis - see #7) and Spicewood Springs Road.
5. LOUNGE ON A ROOFTOP
There are quite a few rooftop pools and bars in Austin, but my favorite is the J.W. Marriott downtown. They have cabanas that are available to rent if you want to go swimming (otherwise the pool is reserved for guests only), or you can go for a drink and tacos! Either way, order the rum-soaked pineapple wedges + coconut whipped cream and thank me later.
6. EAT BRUNCH AT GOURDOUGH'S
One of my favorite brunch spots in Austin! Since everything on the menu involves a (huge) donut, share a meal with a friend unless you plan to take a recovery nap afterwards. The food coma is real, but so so worth it.
Photo by Austin Pixels
7. HAVE A BEER WITH A VIEW AT THE OASIS TEXAS BREWING COMPANY
Most Austin lists mention the Oasis, but tbh it is really overrated. Yes it has an amazing view, but the food is mediocre and the drinks are overpriced. Instead, go to the Oasis Brewing Company. It is in the same plaza as the Oasis Restaurant aka you get the same incredible view, but instead you can have better drinks and food for way less!
8. GRAB A DRINK AT THE DRISKILL
This is one of my favorite things to do in Austin. The historic Driskill hotel is situated in the middle of Sixth Street, but as soon as you walk inside you feel like you're stepping back in time. The decor and architecture will give you a taste of OG Texas, and they lowkey have some of the best cocktails in the city. If you are a history nerd like I am, be sure to read about the history of the building so you can fully appreciate it while you are there! It is also supposedly one of the most haunted spots in Austin.
9. PEOPLE WATCH ON SIXTH
When you go to New Orleans you have to go to Bourbon Street, and when you come to Austin you have to go to Sixth Street (at least once). There are plenty of bars to choose from, but my go-to spot is Maggie Mae's. They always have a great band and they have a rooftop patio that isn't insanely packed. Head upstairs, grab a drink, and people watch (Since Austin is the home of weird, you will see plenty of characters)! Other good stops: The Driskill (see #8), Easy Tiger for a late night snack, Esther's Follies (Highly recommend! Get tickets in advance), Jim Jim's (see #26), and Voodoo Doughnut (cash only).
Pro Tip: Go through a hidden door in the bookshelf of the Firehouse Hostel lobby to get into the best speakeasy in the city!
10. ZILKER BOTANICAL GARDENS
Pretty much every Austin list has Zilker Park on it. Zilker is cool if you want to get an awesome photo of the Austin skyline, but aside from that, it's just a big park. Snap a skyline pic and head over to the Botanical Gardens instead. There is a small entrance fee so bring cash, and it is pet friendly!
11. LISTEN TO LIVE MUSIC
Austin is the live music capital of the world, so you will inevitably find a live band at some point during your stay! But for those of you who are big music fans, there are so many awesome venues in town, you should try to check out at least one! For my favorite venue, see #2, and if you want to go full Texas, see #32. Other great venues to consider are Stubb's, Mohawk, Antone's, The Continental Club, Scoot Inn, and for you jazz fans, the Elephant Room.
12. STOP AND SMELL THE WILDFLOWERS
If you will be here in the Spring, a stop at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center should be on your list. Texas is home to so many beautiful varieties of wildflowers, and you can scope them all in one place here! Wear a cute outfit and bring a camera, there are plenty of photo ops!
13. WADE IN A CREEK
Something I truly love about Austin is that it has much more to offer than just the city. Head over to the Barton Creek Greenbelt or Bull Creek first thing in the morning for a hike. The water levels vary based on the rain, so wear a bathing suit just in case. The creeks are also lined with rocks that get pretty slippery, so stop and pick up some water shoes or cheap sneakers the day before!
14. GO FOR A HIKE
Staying with the nature theme, there are SO many good hiking spots! I love the River Place trails (these are up by Lake Travis/The Oasis). These trails are no joke though, so if you aren't used to/don't like large hills, this may not be for you.
15. EAT TACOS FOR BREAKFAST
Breakfast tacos are a way of life here. The best places in town usually come down to Tacodeli, Torchy's, Veracruz, and Tyson's. My vote? YOLO, try them all!
16. DRINK SOME DAMN GOOD COFFEE
Austin has so many bomb coffee shops if you drink Starbucks while you are here you are not doing it right, my friend. I am a huge fan of Mozart's (I mean come on I'm a musician of course I'm biased). They have a gorgeous outside patio on the lake, great coffee, and plenty of pastries and snacks to choose from! Other great coffee shops: Epoch, Apanas, Cuvee, Jo's, Cafe Medici, Merit, Houndstooth (right next to a Tacodeli!), Radio, Seventh Flag....the list just keeps going.
Lunch at Flowerchild at the Domain Northside
17. STROLL THROUGH THE DOMAIN
The best mall in Austin!
There are 3 primary sections, and all are worth checking out. There is the original section where you can find everything from cute boutiques to Tiffany's (definitely check out Lux Apothetique!), Rock Rose has all the cool bars and restaurants (see #18), and the Domain Northside which is where you will find me most weekends (this is where you will find the best Sephora in Austin along with plenty of fun walls to use for cute Insta shots). There are so many great places to eat over here, but my top picks are Culinary Dropout (go for happy hour), Flowerchild for healthier fare, Doc B's, and Surf n Turf Po'Boys. Be sure to grab a cupcake from the famous Sprinkles Cupcake ATM!
18. PARTY LIKE A LOCAL
There's Sixth Street and Rainey Street, but if you want to hang with locals, go to Rock Rose in the Domain. Definitely check out the rooftop at 77 degrees! A couple of the places have dress codes, so don't look like a heathen.
19. GO ON THE AUSTIN GHOST TOUR
If you are following along with my travel posts, you will notice a theme. Always take the ghost tour! These are such a fun and unique way to learn about the history of a city.
20. TOUR THE CAPITOL BUILDING
Everything is bigger in Texas! This building is absolutely beautiful, and even if you hate politics it is worth checking out. Park in the guest parking garage and hop on one of the free tours that departs every 30-45 minutes. Definitely bring your camera!
21.GET WEIRD ON SOUTH CONGRESS
South Congress is the place that sold me on moving to Austin. It is so quirky and fun, it is impossible not to love it. Lined with shops and restaurants to wander in and out of, I would definitely plan to spend half a day here. Arrive early to get parking and miss the line for a photo in front of the "I love you so much" mural on the side of Jo's. If the line for coffee at Jo's is already insane, walk down to Vespaio (get an almond cookie too, SO good). South Congress has so many amazing restaurants but my top picks are Guerro's, Hopdoddy, June's, and the South Congress Cafe.
22. EAT AT A FOOD TRUCK
Austin LOVES food trucks, and you can find them pretty much everywhere. My favorite food truck park is in Mueller, get something from Gravy! If you prefer to have the option to eat inside, there is a Via 313 food truck in the back courtyard of Craft Pride on Rainey Street (some of the best pizza in town) or you can get something from Luke's Inside Out which is right in front of the Gibson Street Bar. Both food trucks will serve your food to you inside the bars!
23. OPIE'S BARBECUE
This one is a drive, but you guys......this should be towards the top of your list.
First, the views. Opie's is located in Texas Hill Country, so your drive out there is just beautiful. Second, the SIDES. They have the most addictive potato casserole and creamed corn, definitely get your own because you won't want to share! If you go on the weekend, they also have out a huge pot of butter beans that you can help yourself to, and they are melt in your mouth good. Finally, the meat itself is cooked to perfection. My favorites are the brisket and sausage!
Photo by Mitch Clendening
24. HANG WITH THE BATS
It doesn't get much more Austin than this! Prime bat viewing time is typically from March to October. Head over to the South Congress bridge just before sunset and watch the millions of bats fly out from under the bridge! There are usually a ton of people lined up on the bridge watching, so it is hard to miss. If you prefer to watch from a different angle, there are quite a few bat boat tours as well! If you want to get good photos, definitely go the boat route.
25. BARTON SPRINGS POOL
If you are looking for a uniquely Austin swimming spot, Barton Springs is your place! Depending on the time of year you are visiting there may be a small entrance fee, so bring cash. It is also a federally protected habitat of the endangered Barton Springs Salamander, so keep an eye out for these little cuties!
26. JIM JIM'S
This is the Austin equivalent of Hansen's Sno-Bliz in New Orleans. Just like at Hansen's, make sure you get it stuffed with an ice cream scoop and topped with condensed milk! You're welcome.
27. WANDER RAINEY STREET
If you're looking for some fun nightlife near downtown that isn't overrun with college kids (ahemsixthstreet), you're looking for Rainey Street. It is lined with great bars, restaurants, and food trucks. It is also home to Banger's which is a great brunch spot. If you go, definitely order the manmosa, it has an entire bottle of champagne in it....sounds like winning to me!
28. JESTER KING BREWERY
This one is a bit of a drive, but it is very scenic! If you are a craft beer aficionado, this definitely needs to be near the top of your list! It is primarily outdoors, so if you are in Austin during the summer, don't forget sunscreen! They also have a bomb pizzeria on property that you can eat at if you get hungry!
29. STAY AT NATIVE HOSTEL
A great way to save money while traveling is to stay in a hostel. Good news, Austin has a new kid on the block and she is absolutely beautiful AND has great food! Win win, friends.
30. EAT POKE
Austin has recently entered into a Poke craze, and I'm not mad about it. There are quite a few solid options in town, but based on the quality of fish and variety and freshness of toppings, I like Pokeatery and Ola Poke the best! If you go to Pokeatery, definitely get a Dole Whip!
The Whole Foods Bar
31. EAT AT WHOLE FOODS
Austin is the birthplace of Whole Foods, and the downtown one is SO much more than just a grocery story. They have an awesome selection of craft beer and wines, plus an in-store bar. Pro tip, grab a drink to enjoy as you peruse! They have the standard hot bar portion, but they also have a multitude of other food stands within the store that you can eat at! My go-to's are a sushirrito or a BBQ plate (you get the most food for the $).
32. GO FULL TEXAS AT THE BROKEN SPOKE
When in Rome! It is one of the last original Texas dance halls. Check out their website and go for a Texas two-step lesson! You will be glad you did.
33. MOVIEHOUSE & EATERY
There are so many Austin lists that say see a movie at Alamo Drafthouse, so I felt like I needed to include this one. You guys, the best movie theater in Austin is Moviehouse and Eatery (near Lake Travis/The Oasis). They have huge leather recliners, a full bar, and for a movie theater, the food is pretty decent! TBH I hate the chairs at Alamo. Once you get a full leather recliner, there's just no going back. #luxe
If you have any ideas for future posts you would like to see, send me a message, I would love to hear from you!
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