The city of Austin in central Texas is one of the best places to visit in the United States. It’s world-renowned for its music scene, hosting festivals such as Austin City Limits Music Festival and boasting over 250 live music venues.
There’s far more to Austin than the live music. Here are 20 of the best things to do in Austin to help you plan your visit to this eclectic town.
The Best Things to Do in Austin
1. Check Out 6th Street
Rarely do you find an advertised destination that lives up to its hype, but Austin’s downtown 6th Street is the complete package. The city blocks off the street from traffic during the weekends to accommodate the crowds of people converging on the neighborhood.
The West Side has everything from the iconic Voodoo Donuts to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, but live music is the main attraction. Talented musicians flock to Austin, and you can find shows from nearly any genre on any given weekend. It’s a can’t miss destination for sure.
2. Take a Selfie Tour
Austin is bursting with murals and art exhibits. There are plenty of Instagram-able spots in the city, from the famous “Greetings From Austin” mural on South 1st Street to an iconic pink wall at Revival Coffee on 7th Street.
While on your selfie tour, stop at one of Austin’s locally owned and operated coffee shops. The refreshing drink will keep you fueled for your street art quest!
3. Visit Zilker Park
Zilker Park may lack the size and prominence of the historic Central Park in New York City, but it’s just as important to Austin. Located on the southwest side, Zilker sits on over 300 acres of park and provides spectacular city views.
The park is home to iconic music festivals, including Austin City Limits. However, it also hosts many additional events throughout the year, so Zilker Park will likely be showcasing an unforgettable extravaganza regardless of when you visit.
4. Relax in a Natural Spring
Barton Springs is a set of four natural water springs located within Zilker Park. The main draw is Barton Springs Pool, a three-acre pool fed from the underground springs.
The water temperature in the pool stays at a consistent 68-70 degrees all year round, which makes it perfect for a dip any time of year. There are no lifeguards on duty, so swim at your own risk and be sure to keep an eye on the kids.
5. Try Texas BBQ
A visit to Austin, Texas, would be incomplete if you don’t take advantage of the BBQ scene. A variety of local restaurants serve up delicious BBQ Texas Style, and sampling them is one of the top things to do in Austin.
There’s a Black’s BBQ Outpost on Guadalupe street, Franklin’s BBQ on the historic east side (which also offers cooking classes!), Iron Works Barbecue in the heart of downtown, and so many more. You can even get some great BBQ with your next fill-up at the gas station since Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q locations are all over the city!
6. South by Southwest
Held annually in March, the SXSW conference brings celebrities, movers, and shakers from all ends of the entertainment and technology industries. This iconic festival celebrates the convergence of technology, music, and film.
From filmmakers to musicians, budding artists of all types will want to score tickets to South by Southwest. Tickets for the most popular events sell out quickly, so make plans in advance if you plan on attending!
7. Blanton Museum of Art
Feast your eyes on the decadence of historical art with selections ranging from Old Master Paintings to today’s more recent Contemporary Art fixtures at the Blanton Museum of Art. Featuring over 18000 works to admire, the museum is a perfect place for a leisurely stroll and a break from the summer heat.
Thursdays are always free at the Blanton Museum of art, so it’s a perfect day to visit, especially if you’re looking for a budget-friendly trip.
8. Dig Up Dinosaurs at Austin Nature & Science Center
Become a paleontologist for the day in the Austin Nature & Science Center’s Dino Pit. Embrace your inner child or live vicariously through the kids by discovering your very own fossils!
The ANSC brings fun and exciting educational experiences all year round to Austin. They’re open Monday – Saturday 9:00 am- 5:00pm and Sunday 12:00pm – 5:00pm. You’ll likely dig this experience.
9. Check Out The Austin State Capitol
They say, “Everything is bigger in Texas,” and in this case, that’s true. The Austin State Capitol building is bigger than the United States Capitol building! However, if size doesn’t impress you, the history of Texas just might.
The Austin State Capitol has numerous exhibits, monuments, and historical insight on Texas traditions and legacies that are sure to keep your attention for hours. It also has 22 acres of beautiful grounds where you can enjoy a picnic on or just for sitting under a mighty oak tree contemplating the days of old on these fabled lands.
10. Explore South Congress Street
One of the best things about Austin is that it refuses to be something it is not. The city likes being weird and unpredictable. There’s no better example of this attitude than a weekend visit to the artsy side of South Congress Street.
The street morphs from a dull business district into a Bazaar-like market atmosphere you might find abroad without notice or expectation. Street vendors line the sidewalks next to eclectic shops that sell everything from Stetson cowboy hats to vintage clothing. Food is, of course, everywhere, so you’ll have a difficult decision deciding whether to grab a slice of pizza, sit down for sushi, or pop for some pulled pork before leaving this magical Brigadoon that seemingly appears out of nowhere.
11. Visit Two Very Different Cathedrals
The Cathedral of Saint Mary is one of the city’s oldest churches. It was built in the 1800s and is a magnificent sight, with gothic architecture and exquisite stained-glass windows.
On the other hand, the Cathedral of Junk is the epitome of “keep Austin weird.” Owner Vince Hannemann has been collecting random items for his Austin cathedral since the 1980s. It’s filled with old television sets, lawn ornaments, and various other junky items that come together to create a fascinating and artistic expression of man’s obsession with stuff. You need to call ahead to book a tour, and there’s a suggested donation of $10 per group.
12. Lady Bird Lake
Nestled between Zilker Park and downtown, Lady Bird Lake’s 10-mile activity path attracts thousands of visitors and residents each year. It’s the perfect place to seek refuge from the Texas heat or to bask in the shadows of the tall, plentiful trees.
There are numerous trails around the lake for walking, running, or biking, but the best way to enjoy the scenery is on the water. Rent a pontoon boat to spend your day enjoying Lady Bird Lake’s pristine waters. Adventurers may want to rent a kayak instead, but remember that swimming is prohibited here.
13. See The Bat Show!
Have you ever witnessed a million bats taking flight at sunset? This awe-inspiring spectacle takes place underneath the Congress Avenue Bridge every night.
The best place to witness this natural marvel is from the water. Many local boat rental businesses specialize in sunset bat show rentals, but if you are traveling on a budget, you can also gather atop the bridge with the crowd or view the show from afar on one of the many walking paths surrounding the lake.
14. Get Crafty
Austin is the #1 city for beer in Texas, claiming more than 40 of its total 275 breweries in the entire state! That’s a lot of beer! There are many different florals, body styles, and bitterness varieties in the craft breweries throughout the city.
One of the most famous craft breweries near Austin is the Family Business Beer Company. Though just outside the city, this brewery is definitely worth the trip. Jensen Ackles, star of one of the longest-running television shows in history, “Supernatural,” and his wife Danneel own the bar, with partner and brother on the show Jared Padalecki. The Family Business Beer Company sits on 15 acres just outside Austin in Dripping Springs and is suitable for the whole family.
15. Take A Peek at Mayfield Park
Mayfield Park is one of the few places in the US where you can get up close and personal with Peacocks. While you wander amongst the luscious plant life, koi fish ponds, and bathing turtles, you’ll be greeted by peacocks and peafowl whose bellies are kept sufficiently full by a group of committed volunteers each day.
Please don’t attempt to touch any of these beautiful & colorful creatures, but if you speak to them in a calming and pleasant tone, you can often entice them to come closer. If you’re fortunate, you might even catch the males showing off their glorious tale-feather display in an attempt to charm the nearby ladies.
16. Stroll Through the Edward Marcus Sculpture Park
Built in 1916, this gorgeous recreation of an Italian villa will transport you to a place far away from Texas with its romantic architecture and seemingly endless paradise of three-dimensional objects. When you find the tall, silver man looking up to the sky, take a minute and do the same. Close your eyes and enjoy the warm Texas sun on your face.
What’s great about this sculpture garden is that it’s only a portion of the full & complete museum duo that is “The Contemporary Austin.” In the heart of downtown Austin (700 Congress Ave), their location houses almost 8,000 square feet of thought-provoking installations, and the Laguna Gloria (3809 W 35th St) hosts the outdoor sculpture garden.
17. Visit Austin’s Many Lakes
Many folks who visit the Austin area for the first time are astounded to find so many lakes, rivers, and tributaries surrounding the city. The Colorado River (though not the same one that created the Grand Canyon) created these spectacular waterways eons ago.
The river created three significant lake ways. Lake Travis is the largest, but Lake Austin and Lady Bird Lake have their charms. Whether you’re into fishing, water skiing, or floating the day away on a pontoon boat, these lakes offer an abundance of scenic wonders as well as a glimpse into Austin’s rich and famous who own many of the multi-million-dollar homes dotting the lake’s shores.
18. Hike Mount Bonnell
Mount Bonnell, located in Covert Park, is the city’s highest point. The mountain is 781 feet tall and is a perfect place to get panoramic views of the cityscape below.
The Mount Bonnel Trail Hike is short yet invigorating. The gravel path is not wheelchair accessible and contains a 200-foot steep elevation change, posing a challenge for some hikers. However, the views are well worth the effort, especially at sunset.
19. Lake Travis Zip Lining
Lake Travis Zipline Adventures Boasts the “longest & fastest zip line in Texas!” Test your bravery with five world-class ziplines and see Lake Travis from a whole new perspective.
Those who prefer to keep their feet on solid ground can play games at the lodge or relax in a hammock on the private beach while waiting for their adrenaline-junky friends to return from the zip line.
20. Take a Day Trip to Texas Wine Country
The small town of Fredericksburg in Gillespie County is the perfect place for a day trip or weekend getaway. The epicenter of Texas wine country, the city, has over 50 wineries and tasting rooms to let you sample the sweet nectar produced in the state, and it’s only an hour away from Austin.
There’s far more than wine in this charming locale. Shoppers will enjoy the 150 stores and boutiques throughout the city, while fruit lovers will enjoy picking peaches in one of the many surrounding orchards. The town comes alive at night with a thriving restaurant and music scene.
Traveling to Austin
Austin is easily accessible by air and by road. Austin international airport is right outside the city and accepts flights from various major airlines. Interstate 35 runs through the town, and Interstate 10 is directly south of Austin.
Keep Austin Weird!
Visit central Texas and enjoy all the weird and wonderful things to do in Austin! Embrace the city’s motto and keep it weird!
This post originally appeared on Savoteur.
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world's problems. She's self-educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, art, gaming, and her cats.