One Great Weekend: 21 Tips for Your First Trip to Austin, Texas
Austin, Texas is one of the hottest cities in the country and for good reason. Whether you know it as the state capital of Texas, the Live Music Capital of the World, a growing tech hub or the home of the University of Texas; Austin has a little something for everyone. World class BBQ? Check. Miles of outdoor trails? Yup. One of the hottest music scenes in the country? You betcha. Simultaneously an oasis from the rest of Texas and proudly Texan, Austin is a city that marches to the beat of its own drum. Politicos and hippies, cowboys and musicians; there’s room at the bar for everyone. With so many options it can be hard to narrow down what to do in Austin. Here are a few of my recommendations for things to do in Austin, Texas.
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- To make the most of your time in Austin one of the first things you should do is take The Real Austin Tour with Austin Detours. This 2 hour tour is a great introduction to Austin’s major tourist draws as well as some of the eclectic, offbeat neighborhoods that “keep Austin Weird”.
- Barbecue in Austin is practically a religion and in my opinion no other city even comes close when it comes to smoking meats. The notoriously long lines for both Michelin-starred Franklin Barbecue and La Barbecue are worth it, get up early and join the party-like atmosphere(La Barbecue offers free beer to those in line) while waiting for the best barbecue of your life. Masterfully cooked brisket and handcrafted smoked sausages are a revelation and will change your mind about just how good barbecue can be. Micklethwait Craft Meat and Kerlin BBQ are also solid BBQ choices in Austin while the Salt Lick and Louie Mueller Barbecue are worth the drive out to Texas Hill Country.
- Get the full story of Texas at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. With over 5,000 artifacts spanning over 13,000 years you’re sure to find a side to Texas you didn’t know existed.
- Welcoming visitors since 1886 the Driskill Hotel is Austin’s premier historic hotel. Take a stroll through the lobby with its marble columns and magnificent glass dome or enjoy a drink at the Driskill Bar, recently named the best cocktail bar in Austin. I recommend the Batini, the Driskill’s signature cocktail, sweet from the hibiscus with a spicy kick of ginger.
- In recent years cheaper rents have attracted much of the creative class to East Austin. The result? A slightly hipper, edgier neighborhood with some of the city’s best restaurants that still is unabashedly Austin.
- As far as I’m concerned the some of the best tacos in the US can be found in Austin. Torchy’s tacos is a beloved Austin institution that is perfect for fueling up for (or recovering from) an evening of bar crawling; but if I had to choose one place to get tacos from for the rest of my life it would be Veracruz All Natural. Named as one of the top 5 tacos in the US by Food Network the migas breakfast tacos (an addictive combo of eggs, tortilla chips, avocado, pico de gallo and montery jack) with a mango agua fresca may be the best way to start your morning in Austin.
- Not only a seat of higher learning, the University of Texas is also home to 7 museums including the Blanton Art Museum which houses the largest art collection of any university. Sports more your thing? The Longhorns may be best known for their football program but their basketball (both men’s and women’s), baseball and softball teams also play a heck of a game. Hook em’!
- The pink granite dome of the Texas State Capitol is an iconic part of Austin’s rapidly changing skyline. Built in 1888 the Texas Capitol is the largest of all the state capitols and is open for self guided tours during normal operating hours.
- Austin prides itself on being the live music capital of the world and no trip to Austin is complete without catching a show. The Continental Club on South Congress Avenue is host to some of the best rock, jazz and swing bands in the city while over in East Austin the White Horse, a hipster honkey-tonk offers up live music, libations and dance lessons 7 nights a week. If you’re lucky you may even score tickets to….
- Austin City Limits. Both the long running show on PBS, which has hosted everyone from native son Willie Nelson to the Foo Fighters, and the often sold out music festival in October (showcasing national headliners and upcoming indie acts over the course of two weekends) are two of the best music draws in the country.
- The same creativity that inspires Austin’s musicians can be seen in Austin’s vibrant street art. Nearly 100 murals grace the sides of everything from gas stations to Chinese restaurants.
- In the spring Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center for the field filled with bluebonnets.
- From April to October join the crowds gather at sunset along Austin’s South Congress bridge to watch a cloud of over 750,000 Mexican free-tail bats leave their roost under the bridge to fly into the night sky. You can also opt to view this sunset bat spectacle from the water on a boat cruise or SUP tour.
- When not serving as the site for the Austin City Limits Music Festival Zilker Park serves as a communal backyard for all of Austin. In addition to over 10 miles of trails and green space you can stroll through Zilker Botanical Gardens or engage in hands-on learning at the Austin Nature and Science Center.
- Bring your swimsuit and stop by for a dip at Barton Springs Pool, located with Zilker Park, this 3 acre natural spring fed pool remains at a constant temperature of 70 degrees F making it perfect for swimming year round.
- Also located in Zilker Park, Lady Bird Lake is beloved by both locals and visitors alike. A popular spot for water sports of all kinds, on any given day you can find kayakers and paddle boarders sharing the water with boaters and fisherman.
- Looking for funky, eclectic shops, club and restaurants? Look no further than the South Congress Ave (SoCo) neighborhood. Here you can find everything from artisan jewelry to antique European thrones and everything in between.While perusing the shops of South Congress Avenue a stop at Allen Boots is a must. This mecca for all things western wear has cowboy boots in every color, size and style imaginable. If you can’t find your perfect pair of boots here, they don’t exist. Inevitably you’ll get hungry and South Congress has you covered here too; South Congress Cafe for brunch and Hopdoddy’s for ridiculously good burgers are a few of my personal favorites.
- The Hope Outdoor Gallery, once an abandoned construction project, now invites anyone and everyone to leave their creative mark.
- Have a car? Great. Get in, roll down the windows and throw on some Willie Nelson and explore the beautiful Texas Hill Country. About 30 minutes southwest of Austin the suburbs give way to rolling limestone and granite hills covered with sagebrush, cedar and Texas live oak. Winding past sprawling ranches stop at one of the state parks for some hiking then refuel with some BBQ at the famous Salt Lick in Dripping Springs. Hill Country is also home to several good wineries such as Duchman Family Winery and Driftwood Estate Winery.
- While you’re out exploring Hill Country a stop at Hamilton Pool is a must. A quick hike leads you to the beautiful crescent shaped grotto, a waterfall feeding the emerald green pool below. Be sure to check the Hamilton Pool Preserve website prior to your visit to see if swimming is allowed that day.
- Amy’s Ice Cream is an Austin institution. Whether you go with their famous Mexican Vanilla or one of their other 350 rotating flavors make sure to get a good bit of praline sauce (a gooey, butter caramel sauce spiked with pecans) on top. You can thank me later.
Where to stay in Austin
The Driskill Hotel is steeped in history and is blocks from the Texas State Capitol Building
Treat yourself at The Four Seasons Austin, this five star hotel boasts a prime location on Ladybird Lake and one of the top spas in the city.
The hip South Congress Hotel is where to rest your head after a night of partying like a rock star.
- Find flight deals to Austin here