The 12 Best Things To Do in Austin, Texas, According to a Local

Between tacos and two-steps, check out some of these Austin hot spots.

Austin, Texas, is a city that moves to its own groove. The Texas state capital has become known for its relaxed, laid-back vibe and vibrant live music scene, attracting droves of young professionals, retirees, and everything in between. Whether you're shopping in South Congress or taking in the fine arts, paddleboarding, or touring the capitol, Austin promises endless days of fun.

Among similarly sprawling Southern cities, Austin stands out for its widely popular outdoor activities. From the Barton Springs swimming hole to Lady Bird Lake—its glossy water is often dotted with paddleboards and kayaks—the city's prolific green spaces and waterways are a surprising and wonderful addition to the urban landscape.

To get a real pulse on the city, I partnered with Senior Social Media Editor Brennan Long, an Austin local, to round up some of the can't-miss spots in the live music capital of the world. Between tacos and two-stepping, check out some of these Austin hot spots. Here are the top 12 things to do in Austin, Texas.

Gueros Dancing
courtesy of Visit Austin

Swim at Barton Springs

This outdoor swimming hole in Zilker Park is entirely fed by natural springs, making it the perfect spot to cool down during hot Texas summers. It's surrounded by a picturesque grassy area, and on hot summer days, it seems as if all of Austin is there to cool off. (The visitor count has approached 800,000 in recent years).

Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park
courtesy of Visit Austin

Visit the Blanton Museum of Art

This University of Texas museum is naturally one of the largest university art museums in the country. Pro tip: Entry is free every Thursday. Don't miss Ellsworth Kelly's Austin.

Blanton Museum of Art

Take a Capitol Tour

Get a quick lesson in Texas history with a free tour of the Capitol building. Seasonally, they also can offer themed tours, including one dedicated to Women in Texas History.

Shop on South Congress Avenue

The walkable district of South Congress is home to many of Austin's iconic boutiques. Some favorite spots include Allens Boots (its collection exceeds 4,000 boots!), Parts & Labour (a mix of fun souvenirs from local artisans), and South Congress Books (a used bookstore with quite a few signed editions and collectibles). Cool off after an afternoon of shopping with a scoop from Amy's Ice Cream, a charming walk-up stand serving over 350 flavors.

See the Bats on the Congress Avenue Bridge

Each night, spectators line the Congress Avenue Bridge to watch the world's largest urban bat colony—we're talking 1.5 million bats—fly out from a roost beneath the bridge. Don't fear: Bats are gentle animals, and the city appreciates that its bats "eat from 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of insects, including agricultural pests."

courtesy of Visit Austin

Learn How to Two-Step

Stop by The White Horse in East Austin for free dance lessons from different genres, or visit legendary spot Broken Spoke for lessons and live music, Wednesday through Saturday evenings. When in Texas, learn to two-step!

Spend a Sunny Afternoon at Breweries

On a sunny day, get a taste of the Hill Country with a drive out to Jester King, a brewery, kitchen, and farm just 30 minutes outside Austin's city center. Come for the exciting beer varieties, stay for the wood-fired pizza made with Texas grain.

If you're looking for something within city limits, check out Austin Beerworks, The Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co. (the ABGB), or Live Oak Brewing Company.

Go Mural-Spotting

In a city known for its street art, wandering around to find some of the city's signature murals proves an ever-entertaining activity.

Stroll Along the Hike-And-Bike Trail

Take in the downtown skyline as you bike or run along Lady Bird Lake on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail. You may have to do a double take to believe that this idyllic trail is right in the heart of the city.

Paddle Board or Kayak on Lady Bird Lake

Hitting the lake is simply an essential Austin experience. You can rent kayaks, canoes, or stand up paddleboards from the Rowing Dock.

Kayaking on Lady Bird Lake in Austin
courtesy of Visit Austin

Explore the Culinary Culture

It's no secret that barbecue and tacos reign supreme in Austin, Texas. Experience an epic mashup of these Austin specialties at Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ, or test out some of our other favorite spots to eat in Austin right now, including the famed Matt's El Rancho Tex-Mex, taco truck Discada, and La Barbecue for Texas brisket.

Experience the Music Scene

As the live music capital of the world, Austin has a diverse music scene that spans genres and decades. Here are a few of our favorite spots for taking in the tunes.

The Continental Club, fondly dubbed "the granddaddy of live music venues," is one of the most celebrated live music venues in Austin. You feel like you're living part of history when you're there. Next door to Continental Club is its upstairs sister property, the Gallery. The shows here are smaller and the set-up almost feels like you're listening to music in someone's living room.

The Moody Theater at ACL Live is a great place to see big name shows—think Kacey Musgraves, Martina McBride, and Jason Isbell. Even in the balcony, the acoustics make the 2,750-person theater feel intimate. C-Boys Heart & Soul is another South Congress venue that caters to blues, soul, and country music fans.

With these top 12 Austin bucket list items, your itinerary is already booked.

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