12 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, paddle boarding or touring the capitol, Austin promises endless afternoons of fun (and, likely, lots of sun).
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 often dotted with paddleboards and kayaks, the city’s prolific green spaces and waterways are a surprising and wonderful addition to the urban landscape. Austin resident Brennan Long says that, on walks along the Hike-and-Bike trail (which overlooks Lady Bird Lake and provides a sweeping view of Austin’s skyline), she often has to pinch herself to remember that such natural beauty exists within the bounds of her city.
To get a real pulse on the city, I partnered with 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-steps, check out some of these Austin hot spots.
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).
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 and on the third Thursday of every month the museum is open until 9pm. Don’t miss Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin.
Take a Capitol Tour
Get a quick lesson in Texas history with a free tour of the Capitol building. They also offer themed tours, including one dedicated to Women in Texas History.
Shop on South Congress
The walkable neighborhood of South Congress is home to many of Austin’s iconic boutiques. Some favorite spots include Allen’s Boots (the collection exceeds 4,000 boots—we’ve never seen so many boots in one place!), 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.”
Learn How to Two-Step at the White Horse
Stop by the White Horse, an Eastside bar, for free dance lessons from different genres, six nights a week. When in Texas, learn to two-step!
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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.
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.
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 (hyperlink).
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 the 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.