The Best Things to Do in Austin – Your Ultimate City Guide

The Best Things to Do in Austin Your Ultimate City Guide

One Year in Austin Texas

We’ve all come to Austin for the business opportunities, best barbeque, hiking spots, bars, coffee, outdoor activities and, of course, the food. After one year living here, we have curated the best things to do in Austin.

Texas?! Texas??

Yes. We moved from California to Texas. Like many of the people you meet in Austin, no one is from around here.

Many of the places we list we’ve been to so you don’t have to wonder if they are good or not or we just listed them just because. Many of these places listed in this guide have become our favorites.

All of the locations and activities listed here we’ve experienced personally. We’ve eaten at all of these restaurants and done all of the activities. Don’t worry about this just being a roundup post because we didn’t include anything on this list that sucks.

This Austin Travel Guide is filled to the brim with things to do, and they are all awesome!

Things to Do in Austin

You don’t have to be worried about being bored in this city, there are plenty of things to do in Austin! There is something fun going on every weekend and, of course, you always have the option to listen to live music! This list has an array of fun activities, from food to fitness. Some are suitable just for adults are others are fun for the whole family. These are the best things to do in Austin!

Go Hiking in Austin

When we first arrived here we were in awe of the greenery that went straight through the city. You don’t need to drive far to spend some time among nature and enjoy the great outdoors. These four Austin hiking trails are unique in their own way, from water to views to a ton of stairs, these are the best hikes around Austin.

Austin Greenbelt (aka Barton Creek Greenbelt)

The Barton Creek Greenbelt is minutes from the center of downtown and has various access points. We got lost the first couple of times searching for the entrance as it’s confusing, since the Austin Greenbelt goes straight through the city. We thought this can’t be it, we’re right next to an office complex, but yep there it is, right off of the highway.

Once you find your way and you’re on the path there are various activities that the Austin Greenbelt offers. Of course, there is hiking but there is also mountain biking, rock climbing, and in the summer there are swimming holes where you can cool off.

Overall this trail is pretty easy. You’ll see young and old, families to couples here throughout the year. If you’re visiting Austin in the Spring or Summer get there early if you want to avoid the crowds. During the winter time December – February, it’s pretty quiet.

Mount Bonnell

The Mount Bonnell Hike gives you one of the best views around because it’s the highest point in Austin. The trail itself is pretty easy and short. You’ll spend about 30 minutes getting to the top, and you’ll spend more time admiring the view than hiking in this case.

Once you climb the stairs to the top you’ll get a gorgeous panoramic view of the city. Enjoy views of Lake Austin, downtown, and the hill country. Make sure to bring a camera!

360 Bridge Austin

This short 5-minute hike presents you with another breaktaking view of hill country. The overlook gives you a view of Lake Austin, the Pennybacker Bridge, and downtown Austin off in the distance. It’s super short but worth the trip if you love views and grand photos. If it’s a workout you’re looking for then the next hike is for you.

River Place Nature Trail

This is one of the most difficult hikes in Austin. The River Place Nature Trail is about 20 minutes from the center of downtown and is located in a suburban area. There are a ton of stairs in this hike, and if you’re looking for more than just a pretty view this hike is it. It’s not a loop so you’ll need to park at the top or at the bottom and go in one direction and once you reach the end turn back.

We parked at the top of the trail and hiked down, and didn’t go back through the trail but instead walked through the neighborhood to get back to our car. We thought it was going to be easier but it wasn’t. In the dead of summer, this hike is not only difficult, it’s super hot.

You could also park at the bottom of the trail and hike up to the other entrance and hike back down.

Either way, it’s difficult. Make sure to bring water and wear sunscreen and a hat if you’re hiking in the summer.

Visit the Texas State Capitol

This might not first come to mind of things to do, but we’ve visited the State Capitol with almost everyone that came to visit us and they enjoyed the building, history, and the gorgeous interior. Plus you get to take a fun photo in front of this pretty impressive building.

See the Austin Bats at Sunset

If you’re visiting Austin anytime from early Spring to late October you need to see the Austin bats! It might sound a little crazy, bats in downtown Austin? Yes! They fly out in swarms a little after sunset under the Congress Bridge. Large crowds of people gather at Congress Bridge (aka The Bat Bridge) to see the hundreds of thousands of bats fly out at dusk. It’s a sight to see in person, even if you don’t like bats.

Don’t worry, the bats won’t attack you. They all fly out in one direction over the water and into the distance.

Take a Dip at Barton Springs Pool

Located at Zilker Metropolitan Park, Barton Springs Pool is a three-acre underground spring. This public natural pool is a hotspot during the summer months in Austin. With the average temperature of 68-70 degrees, it’s a great pool located right downtown to cool off in.

Experience the Craziness of Sixth Street

Sixth Street (aka Dirty Sixth) is similar to Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Each time we took a guest visiting us to Sixth Street they said the same thing: “It’s a very lively and slightly dirty street, thank you for showing us but let’s go somewhere else.” Hahaha.

Sixth Street is lined with cheap bars and quick eats. If for some reason you need to get drunk on the cheap, this is the street to do it on.

If after some mixed drinks or shots, you have a craving for something sweet, grab some Voodoo Donuts! They only accept cash and on busy nights there is usually a line.

Bar Hop on Rainey Street

We know this street well, not because we spend all our time in bars but because we lived in an apartment complex on this street. Rainey Street is like a block party and everyone is invited. This famous street is also lined with bars, but this is a lot more toned down from Sixth Street.

Rainey Street consists of homes that were turned into hip and chic bars with a casual cool vibe. You can find live music here every weekend and there’s a mix of cocktails, beer and hard alcohol, if that’s your choosing.

If you want some nibbles here on a late evening after some drinks, head to Craft Pride and get a Detroit Style Pizza from Via 313. The Cadillac Pizza is freaking delicious.

Spend Some Time on the Water at Lady Bird Lake

Lake Bird Lake is right in the middle of downtown. The awesome thing about this lake is that while you’re in the water you have a great view of the skyline as well. During the summer months the lake is dotted with people kayaking, paddle boarding, canoeing, and doing lots of other interesting water sport activities.

There are a lot of locations along the lake where you can rent equipment. We’ve rented a canoe and a couple of paddleboards from the Rowing Dock and a kayak from Congress Avenue Kayaks. They charge by the hour and are pretty affordable.

Hang Out at Zilker Metropolitan Park

This massive 351-acre park located in South Austin has a lot of activities and fun events throughout the year. We frequent this park, run past and through it every week during our runs. At the park you can hangout and have a picnic, sit back and enjoy the city skyline, play volleyball, enjoy the Botanical Gardens, or take a dip at Barton Springs Pool.

There are also various events here, like the famous Austin City Limits Music Festival. We’ve also gone to Blues on the Green and Trail of Lights (more on that below).

Have Some Delicious Food From Austin Food Trucks

The food truck scene in Austin is huge! There are various locations throughout the city where the food trucks are located. These food trucks also team up with bars, if you get hungry there is usually a good truck near by.

Whatever your favorite food is, there is a food truck you can go to for some delicious bites, serving everything from breakfast to dessert, from comfort food to healthy bites.

Listen to Live Music

There is no shortage of live music in Austin, it’s been dubbed the live music capital of the world because it has more live music venues per capita than anywhere else in the nation. A walk down Rainey Street on a Thursday or Saturday and you’ll find live music at almost every bar. The same for Sixth Street. If it’s not the weekend and you want to listen to some live tunes just do a little research and you’ll be sure to find something.

Listen to Live Music in Austin Texas

Explore South Congress

South Congress (aka SoCo) is lined with interesting shops, cafes, bars, clubs, and restaurants. While walking or driving down this street make sure to turn around because you’ll have a gorgeous view of the state capital.

There are many shops, restaurants, bars you can go to on South Congress, so here are a few of our favorites and locations you should make some time to check out.

Allens Boots

If you’re in Texas you need to go into a boot store and why not one of the biggest boots stores, Allen’s Boots in Austin! There will be no shortage of boots options here, from traditional to colorful, from ankle boots to knee-high boots. There’s a boot for everyone here and they also have boots for children!

Uncommon Objects

The name fits this store perfectly, they have many uncommon and some common vintage objects. The store is set up in a U formation so you walk in and go in one direction. It’s also color coded so there is one area where all the uncommon objects are blue, another area that yellow, and so on. We went into this store maybe 4 or 5 times, we never actually bought anything, but we took guests that visited us here because they have such an interesting setup.

Lucy in Disguise

This is a Halloween fanatics dream store. I can’t say that it’s just a Halloween headquarters because it’s open year-round.

Hopdoddy Burger Bar

If you want to have the best burger ever, go to Hopdoddy Burger Bar. During the weekend at lunch and dinner you’ll see the line wrap around the building! Yes it’s that good. Austinites will wait for food. If you’re short on time and don’t want to wait in a line for an hour or more, go at an odd time, the in-between hours, and usually there is only a line inside. This was one of our favorite restaurants, I’ve also listed it below.

Perlas Seafood & Oyster Bar

The seafood here is fantastic, we’ve eaten here at various times and we’ve enjoyed them all. They have a very nice outdoor patio where you can enjoy dinner or just some drinks. They are on the pricier side, so if you order drinks, an appetizer, and two entrees it will be $100+.

South Congress Cafe

We came here for the brunch. Brunch is a big deal in Austin, which is why there is an entire list below on the best places to brunch in Austin! This restaurant is right in the middle of it all and usually there is a wait on the weekends like most good restaurants in Austin.

Cafe No Se

We ended up going to Café No Sé because we saw a review on it for the best burgers on the Food Network Channel. I was like what, we have to go there! So this burger is not like a regular burger, which is why I say that the Hopdoddy Burger is still the best burger. Café No Sé created a shrimp burger. Yes, a burger made out of shrimp! Crazy I know. I ordered it of course, it was good and interesting. If you really like shrimp I would recommend checking it out.

Fun Things to Do Just Outside of Austin

If you have a little extra time to explore things to do right outside of Austin, then these are your top three! Many people would include Enchanted Rock and Fredericksburg on this list but since thy are over an hour and a half drive away and the fact that we’ve never even gone and we’ve lived here for a year is why they are not on this list!

Visit Hamilton Pool Preserve

In order to visit this designated nature preserve during the high season (May 1 – September 30) you need to make a reservation. If you know you are visiting Austin during those months, make sure you go online and book your reservation ASAP because they fill up fast.

We went one morning in August and made the reservation 2 months in advance! You have a choice to go either in the morning time slot of afternoon time slot. We selected the morning because we wanted to be the first ones there. We wanted to see this gorgeous place when it wasn’t filled with people, and we did. We were the first ones to arrive and it was peaceful and serene. We quickly took a lot of photos and not too long after we arrived a lot of people started filling up the small beach area.

The Hamilton Pool Preserve is a large natural swimming pool, the water is very cold and there is a waterfall that falls into the pool year-round. Once you park in the limited parking area, it’s a short hike to the pool, a directional wooden sign guide the way. The mini hike is a treat unto itself, with a little stream, natural steps, and high stone walls along the side of the trail. Once you cross a little wooden bridge and hear the noise of water in the distance you’ve made it. The large collapsed grotto captures your attention and all you can think is “wow.”

Hang Out at or on Lake Travis

We made the short trip to Lake Travis so many times, we even love the drive to the lake because of its winding roads and pretty views. There are a lot of things to do here, including tons of water activities, great restaurants, bars, gorgeous sunset views, and they also have zip lining and hiking trails!

Party at Lake Travis Devils Cove

There is this particular spot on Lake Travis called Devil’s Cove where a lot of boats get together and have a boat party. It got so busy during the summertime that there was a limit put on how many boats could connect and party in this cove.

If you don’t have a boat, there are plenty of places where you can rent one and bring all your friends along.

Watch the Sunset at Lake Travis

Sunset at Lake Travis is the best! Get there about two hours before sunset to enjoy some craft beers at Oasis Texas Brewing Company and some delicious appetizers to match. Throughout the summer there is live music and it gets very busy, so be warned. If you’re planning on having dinner at The Oasis plan on waiting 45 minutes to over an hour and a half. If you can sneak into the bar and grab a drink, enjoy the view and company while you wait for a table.

To be honest I would recommend having dinner at the Oasis, just have a drink, enjoy the view and head elsewhere.

Make sure you’re at a place where you can see the sunset and admire the gorgeous view with many local Texans.

Go Wine Tasting

Yes you can go wine tasting in Texas. There are not hundreds of wineries around Austin but there are some nice ones to visit if wine tasting is one of your favorite things to do. This is the perfect thing to do after you go have barbeque at Salt Lick. This is what Peter and I did with some of our friends. We had lunch at Salt Lick BBQ and then went wine tasting and enjoyed a gorgeous day outside with some beautiful views of the countryside. We enjoyed a beautiful Saturday afternoon enjoying some wine at Bella Vista Ranch, Duchman Vineyard, and Wimberley Valley Winery.

Another popular area to go wine tasting near Austin is Fredericksburg but it’s about an hour and a half away. The wineries near Salt Lick BBQ are about 30 minute drive from Austin.

Best Restaurants in Austin

Austin is, without a doubt, a foodie town. There’s the great barbecue, authentic Mexican food, famous chefs, a bevy of food trucks, and variety galore. You will never go hungry and price points range from the downright cheap to off-the-charts expensive.

Our Favorites

During the course of our year in Austin, we had the opportunity to try out restaurants all over the city. Some we found by accident, some recommended, others we read about and had to try. You won’t be disappointed by any of these, although you may need either a reservation (if they take them) or have to wait in a line to get in to eat – either way they are worth the effort.

The Hightower
Odd Duck
Ramen Tatsu-Ya
Buenos Aires Cafe
Via 313
Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden
Emmer & Rye
Justine’s Brasserie

Best BBQ in Austin

New Orleans is known for its beignets and gumbo, Chicago for its deep dish pizza, Philadelphia for its cheesesteaks, and Austin is known for its barbeque. Smoked meats are a way of life here and no matter your preference, you can find it here. Ribs, chicken, brisket, pulled pork, sausage, and those tasty burnt ends all have a place on the menu, along with some really fantastic side dishes. You won’t walk away hungry, and in fact, we recommend you always order a little extra to take home for a late-night snack!

La Barbecue
Franklin Barbecue
Salt Lick BBQ
Terry Blacks

Best Brunch in Austin

As I mentioned before, brunch is a big deal in Austin and there are plenty of restaurant to choose from when it comes to the weekend’s mid-day meal. You’ll find sweet and savory dishes, specialty coffees and cocktails, buffets and sit-down meals with white tablecloths. During the warmer months, you can enjoy brunch outdoors, often with live music, which just improves the experience.

Banger’s Brunch
Kerby Lane
South Congress Cafe
Magnolia Cafe
Bouldin Creek Café

Downtown Austin Restaurants

While almost every neighborhood has a great place to eat, sometimes you just want to head into the thick of things in downtown Austin and enjoy the revelry and all the city has to offer. While the variety is amazing, we culled the list down to our four favorites, which will not disappoint. From the outdoor patio at the Corner to the woodfired grill at The Roaring Fork, you’ll have some memorable meals and often a wonderful view to boot.

The Roaring Fork
Grove Winebar
True Food Kitchen

Bars and Breweries in Austin

Austin is definitely not a dry town, and it has a great mix of divey bars, brew pubs, bars with live music and upscale cocktail establishments. In addition to being our favorite, the Austin Beer Garden Brewing Company (ABGB listed below) won the Great American Beer Festival Brewpub of the Year for the last two years, so you know you can’t go wrong.

The Austin Beer Garden Brewing Company
The Bars on Rainey Street
Live Oak Brewing Company
St. Elmo Brewing Company
Friends and Allies Brewing

Austin Events

One of the things we really enjoyed about Austin during our year there was exploring all the events that the city has to offer. The diversity of the city makes for a wealth of activities and we were never lacking for something to do. We made the most of our time there and were able to attend a number of events and festivals (full listing of Austin events here), we’ve put down our very favorites. We think they will be yours too!

Trail of Lights

This annual holiday festival in Zilker Park is an Austin mainstay, attracting 400,000 visitors from all over the state. It runs every night for two weeks in December and features more than 40 displays and over 2 million lights, making it a true jaw-dropping spectacle. We loved seeing the joy on the children’s faces, listening to carolers, and noshing from the food trucks. We promise you will not be disappointed, just remember to dress warmly!

South by Southwest

South by Southwest, aka SXSW, is an annual conference and festival, featuring everything from emerging technology to film to music. What we love about it is its somewhat eclectic nature, kinda weird like the city itself. The conference is always cutting edge and features stars of the literary, technology, and entertainment fields. The music festival portion of the 10-day event is now the largest of its kind in the world, making it a bit intimidating. But, like us, you’ll get over it when you see the line-up of performers—both well-known and up and coming. The same can be said about the film festival, which premieres both blockbusters and indie films. You get to rub elbows with people from all over the country (and a few famous ones as well), learn about some very cool and innovative technology, hear nothing but great music, and see films before the rest of the world. It’s an event we plan on attending in the future, even though we no longer live in Austin.

Austin Marathon and Half Marathon

You don’t have to be a marathoner to enjoy Austin’s Marathon. Held every February, this event has grown to add a half-marathon, a 5k and even a 1-Mile (called the Manzano Mile). While the event does attract an elite field of runners for the marathon—it’s a qualifier for the Boston Marathon—we found ourselves running with people of all ages, as well as teams (some decked out in unusual costumes). The course runs through downtown, across the river (twice), along the edge of Zilker Park and ends at the Governor’s mansion near the Texas State Capitol. You get to see a whole lot of the city and enjoy live bands performing all along the route, which certainly helped liven our pace. If you’re wondering we ran the half marathon!

Austin City Limits Music Festival

This music festival, held over two weekends in October, is held in Zilker Park and has a little something for everyone. With eight stages and 140 bands encompassing the 6 days, they have everything from rock to country to hip hop, with everything in between. It is a well-attended festival (450,000 at last count), so it can get a bit crowded, but you won’t get bored. In addition to music, we got to see local artists at the art market and ate some great food at Austin Eats. They even have a mini-festival for kids with an area for them to play, so it’s good for the whole family.

Blues on the Green

It doesn’t get much better than free concerts in the summertime! We loved taking a picnic basket and blanket and hanging out once a month at Blues on the Green, also held at Zilker Park. Hosted by a local radio station, we experienced not only blues, but country, rock and Latin music. It’s a great family friendly event and a great way to kick back and relax.

Rodeo Austin

We couldn’t live in Texas without experiencing a rodeo, and you know this one’s special when it bills itself as “Where Weird Meets Western.” This annual event, held in March, features all your favorite rodeo events (bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, and more), as well as a stock show, fair, and live music. We put on our boots and moseyed on over to experience this quintessential Texas event, and we were not disappointed. We thoroughly enjoyed the “official sport of Texas,” especially the mutton busting, where kids get to test their mettle riding on sheep out of the chute into the arena.

Best Time to Visit Austin

I’d like to say that the best time to visit Austin is any time of the year, and it would be true. But it does get hot in the summertime, so for those of you who are averse to extreme temperatures, your best bet is September/October/November or March/April/May. During those months you can avoid the intense heat and most of the rain. In fact, you’ll see temperatures in the high 60s to low 80s during those months, perfect for exploring Austin and all it has to offer.

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