Austin is a cultural city full of coffee shops, casual eats, outdoor dining, chill bars, and live music. People had told us that Austin was a great city to visit, and it was absolutely true. We couldn’t get enough of it.
If you’re heading to Austin for SXSW or even just to check out the city for a few days, here are 12 Texan experiences and things to do in Austin!
1. DRINK LOADS OF COFFEE
If there’s one thing Austinites are great at, it’s making a damn good cup of joe. A few of the coffee shops that we checked out in East Austin were Flat Trak Coffee (a combination coffee shop and bike repair store) and Fleet Coffee Co.
My favourite was Seventh Flag Coffee in South Austin, as they had their own house-made almond milk. We also walked by Jo’s Coffee on South Congress Ave which features the popular ‘I love you so much’ mural on the outer wall.
2. HANG OUT IN SOUTH AUSTIN
South Congress Ave in South Austin is a great place to hang out. This area has some lovely boutique stores and also the famous Allen’s Boots, where you can stock up on your cowboy/cowgirl gear.
The best thing to do in South Austin is eat as there are loads of food options. We started at South Congress Cafe, which had a fabulous brunch menu and refreshing cocktails.
We also sampled veggie burgers and truffle fries at Hopdoddy Burger Bar. This place also had a great selection of craft beers, and apparently it has mind-blowing milkshakes. Hopdoddys is insanely popular, so expect a long line in peak times.
Another place to check out is Homeslice Pizza, which serves New York style pizza late into the night.Where to stay: The Fairview
3. VISIT RAINEY ST HISTORIC DISTRICT
Rainey Street is located on the outskirts of downtown Austin and is where many of the young people go for nightlife. The patio of Craft Pride was our fave hangout in this area. This bar had a large range of craft beers which were sorted from light to dark on the menu above the bar.
On a weekend night this area will be pumping. Just take a walk down the street, pick a bar, buy yourself a cocktail, and enjoy your beverage while sitting in one of the outdoor patios.Where to stay: Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt
4. EAT AT A FOOD TRUCK
Eating at a food truck is not a difficult thing to achieve in Austin, as food trucks are seemingly positioned on every corner. You’ll even find little collections of food trucks on empty lots about the place, and outside many bars.
We stumbled upon the Via 313 food truck on Rainey St, where we consumed a killer Detroit-style pizza (similar to a Chicago deep dish but square shaped and 100% more delicious).
Another food truck that we were recommended but didn’t get the chance to try is Torchy’s Tacos. This famous taco truck has numerous locations all over the city. It is expected that you consume a breakfast taco at least once while in Austin.
5. GO BAR HOPPING IN EAST AUSTIN
If you haven’t had enough of all the bars just yet, then head over to East Austin for some more. We spent New Year’s Eve at The White Horse. It was a great place for us to get acquainted with the Texas bar scene and watch couples doing the ‘Texas two-step’ to country music.
Another drinking hole in East Austin is Blue Owl Brewing. This is actually a brewery and not a bar, but they have a “tasting room” (ie. a bar) at the front where you purchase a branded glass which includes 4 tastings of their sour beers.
To find more bars in this area, walk along E 6th St or E Cesar Chavez St.Where to stay: Guild East 6th Austin
6. TRY THE LOCAL SPECIALTIES
There are a few foods that we were told we absolutely had to eat in Austin, and queso was the first. Kerbey Lane Cafe is the number one spot to get queso in Austin, so we drove to one of the locations to consume the melted cheese dip. Be prepared for a wait time as this place is very popular.
Aside from Tex-Mex (to state the obvious, it’s Texan-Mexican fusion), the other local specialty that you should try in Austin is Texas BBQ.
7. SEE THE STATE CAPITOL BUILDING
As we’d already ticked off 3 state capitol buildings on our southern road trip (Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana), we decided to top it off with the Texan State Capitol.
The Texas Capitol Building is located in the middle of downtown. It has a large grassy park surrounding it and the exterior architecture is very photogenic. We didn’t go inside but there was a great long line of people waiting to go in, so I guess it’s pretty nice in there, too.
After we left, I found out that you can go up to the base of the dome for awesome views of the city. D’oh! Missed an opportunity there – now I have a reason to go back to Austin.Where to stay: Omni Austin Hotel
8. WANDER AROUND DOWNTOWN
Be sure to stop in at The Driskill. This historic hotel was built in 1886 and has a guest room on the 5th floor which is rumored to be haunted. Take a quick wander through the lobby and check out the grill on the mezzanine level as the interiors are decorated with marble, leather chairs, and gold trimmings – it’s all very lavish.
If you continue walking east along 6th Street, you’ll come across some bars, restaurants, and a few shops. In my opinion, the best thing to do around here is to grab a Voodoo Doughnut. We discovered this donut chain back when we were in Portland, and have been addicted ever since.
9. EXPLORE ZILKER PARK
I never expected that Zilker Metropolitan Park would be such a highlight of our trip to Austin. This park is huge, and has plenty to do. Here’s a few options:
10. GO SWIMMING
Swimming is a staple activity for any trip to Austin, and the best swimming hole in the city is Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park.
Entry is free for most of November to February, or $8 at all other times of the year. The swimming hole is fed from underground springs and was very refreshing.
If you’re keen to get out of the city, then head to Hamilton Pool as apparently this natural spring is a really neat place to go swimming. If you decide to head out, check the website first as sometimes the pool can be closed due to weather, and during the summer the wait times can get pretty long.Where to stay: Hyatt Regency Austin
11. SEE THE BATS
Unfortunately we visited Austin at the wrong time of year to see this, but from April to October you might be lucky enough to see the daily flock of bats that fly out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge just before sunset.
There are 1.5 million bats that live under the bridge. You can can find more info on the bats and the timing of their flights here.
12. VISIT HOPE OUTDOOR GALLERY
Austin has one of the weirdest and coolest street art displays I’ve ever seen. The HOPE Outdoor Gallery is an empty lot on a hill with a bunch of crumbling concrete walls that are literally smothered in graffiti. It’s very odd and weird and colorful. I really loved it.
There were plenty of artists decorating the walls with spray paint when we visited. If you walk up to the highest point in the lot, you’ll also be treated to some nice views of the city.Where to stay: Brava House Bed and Breakfast