There are so many cool things to do in Austin, but let’s face it…
…this is a kind of a tourist’s city now. A lot of ideas out there with the “things to do in Austin” are full of tourist traps.
Enter: this guide.
Here are 25 things to do in Austin that locals actually do. None of these are tourist traps (promise!) or a waste of your time. Some things might look gimmicky from the surface (like number 1) or kind of geeky (number 17), but just read the descriptions and you’ll see: everything here is worthwhile.
1. Stand in line at Franklin Barbecue
Ok, hear me out: the line is long, it’s on every list of “best things to do in Austin,” AND it’s absolutely one of the best things to do in Austin, if you have the time.
Franklin Barbecue is theeee most iconic barbecue in Austin. It’s won pretty much every award out there, including a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest (Aaron Franklin in 2015) and top spots on Texas Monthly’s Best BBQ list.
If you have time for it, show up to Franklin Barbecue eeeaaarly in the morning to get one of the good spots in line. You’ll wait all morning (bring a few chairs and a cooler of beers!) until the door opens. Often, Aaron Franklin himself will open the front door and greet the first few guests! Enjoy a huge plate of barbecue and then head back to your hotel for a well-deserved nap.
2. Shop on South Congress
South Congress is the primary tourist, shopping, and restaurant street in south Austin. Again, this is one that’s on a lot of lists of the top activities in Austin.
Old-school Austinites will tell you that South Congress has changed too much in the past decade...
...and while that’s true, there are still lots of fun things to do on South Congress!
Take pictures by some of the iconic murals, like that famous “I love you so much” sign on the side of Jo’s Coffee. Enjoy some shopping (lots of the original Austin shops are gone, but there are still a few independent stores in addition to the big chains (Lululemon) and luxury stores (Hermes). And of course, eat at some of the amazing Austin restaurants on South Congress. Here’s a guide to all the best ones!
South Congress Ave, Austin
3. Get tickets to an Austin FC game
Grab a pair of tickets to a soccer game!
Q2 Stadium in north Austin is brand new and a beautiful place to grab some local food (Valentina’s and One Taco are two amazing food booths at Q2 Stadium) and cheer on the Austin Verde.
Austin FC has a really loyal and energetic fan base, so come ready to cheer and shout!
Psst: if you want to go all out, get tickets in the “supporter section” and be prepared to cheer nonstop during the entire game. Austin’s first professional sports team is doing pretty well in the 2022 season.
4. Swim at Barton Springs Pool
Barton Springs is an outdoor pool that’s fed directly from a spring - Barton Spring, in fact. 😉 The pool is 3 acres in size and stays around 68 degrees year round, which means it’s a cold dip in the water even when it’s 100 degrees outside.
Barton Springs is actually one of the coolest places to visit in Austin! It’s right next to Zilker Park, in the center of the city, so it’s incredibly convenient to visit. When you’re done eating, head over to Terry Black’s BBQ on Barton Springs road.
5. Eat breakfast tacos...but not at Torchy's
There are so many amazing breakfast tacos in Austin. Here’s a map of the best ones! People who don’t know Austin very well will tell you to definitely check out Torchy’s, but honestly…there are way better breakfast tacos. Sure, Torchy’s is an Austin original, but at this point it’s a national chain.
Instead, try seeking out a small, local taco truck like El Primo or go to a fun and unique spot like Lazarus Brewery, which also roasts their own coffee and serves breakfast tacos in the morning.
There are so many AMAZING breakfast tacos in Austin, so don’t waste your time going to Torchy’s.
(PS: you definitely SHOULD go try the queso at Torchy’s, though. All of the Austin locals completely love it.)
6. Paddle board on Lady Bird Lake
Lady Bird Lake is the portion of the Colorado River that’s next to downtown. It’s dammed up to create a lake, and you can walk around it (on the Hike and Bike Trail) or paddle board/kayak in it. It’s a really fun thing to do in Austin because you get an unobstructed view of the beautiful Austin Skyline!
Austin Paddle Shack (website) is a great place to rent kayaks and paddle boards. It’s right on the water, and the staff is always friendly and helpful.
7. Visit a craft brewery
Austin, more than any other city in Texas, has seen a massive growth in the craft brewery movement. With so many award-winning breweries here, the hard part is choosing which brewery to visit! Here are 3 good options to get you started:
- Hold Out Brewing - it’s in downtown Austin, has a HUGE free parking lot, and makes amazing beers + food.
- ABGB - it’s in south Austin, about 2 miles south of downtown, and has won all sorts of international awards for its Pilsners. They have delicious pizza + live music on their indoor stage!
- Meanwhile Brewing - they’re new(ish) in Austin, but they’ve already won some gold medals at World Beer Cup and Great American Brewing Festival. This east Austin brewery has a giant outdoor playground for little ones, some amazing food trucks, and a soccer field!
8. See the view from Mount Bonnell
Mount Bonnell is a “mountain” (basically a hill…) that overlooks the Colorado River.
Walk up the 102 stone steps, and you’ll get one of the best sunset views in the entire city. From the top of Mount Bonnell you can see the Austin Skyline, the Colorado River, and all of the amazing mansions built along the water.
It’s a kid-friendly thing to do in Austin, too! The steps only take about 3 minutes to climb, and there’s lots of space to wander around and climb at the top. Be careful with very young children, though…there are a few places that would be easy for them to wander off the trail and get close to the edge of the cliff, so keep an eye on them.
3800 Mount Bonnell Rd; Austin
9. See a movie at Alamo Drafthouse
Alamo Drafthouse is a movie theater chain that started in Austin, and it’s the best movie experience in the country!
They show everything from big blockbusters to small indie films to throwback movie experiences (like sing-along holiday favorites in December, or classic horror movies near Halloween). They offered themed menus, local craft beer, and lots of the theaters have reclining seats to make your movie experience oh-so-comfy.
The servers bring the food and drink to your seat so you never have ot get up during the movie. Oh, and you can rent out entire theaters for events, too!
10. Go to Austin City Limits Music Festival
If you’re lucky enough to be in Austin in October, you have to get tickets to Austin City Limits Music Festival!
It’s a 3-day fest with 2 weekends, 8 stages, and 130 bands. The festival takes place at Zilker Park, so in addition to listening to some awesome music, you get a beautiful view of downtown Austin all weekend long.
The ACL Food Court offers some of the best food Austin has to offer from local restaurants, and there’s even an “Austin Kiddie Limits” with kid-friendly music and activities for the little ones.
11. See live music at Moody Amphitheater
This brand new epic amphitheater in Downtown Austin is epic!!
So, if you can’t swing a trip to Austin during ACL Fest, you at least have to get a ticket to listen to some live music! Austin is the live music capital of the world. While that used to mean you’d find small bands at hidden gem venues or guitar players on random street corners, it now means that Austin has some brand new music venues designed for the big acts that come through town.
One of the coolest new venues is an amphitheater right in the heart of downtown Austin! It’s called Moody Amphitheater, and from the audience you get a view of the Texas State Capitol. It’s located in a gorgeous green space called Waterloo Park. Moody Amphitheater is one of the coolest places to listen to live music in Austin.
12. Take your kids to the Alliance Children's Garden
Looking for things to do in Austin with kids? You have to take them to Alliance Children's Garden! It’s a brand new, $6 million, 2-acre playground, nature centure, and cultural space at Butler Park.
There are giant cement slides, tunnels, a climbing wall, a splash pad, and an AMAZING view of downtown Austin! It’s located at 1000 Barton Springs Rd. (Psst: for more on the best playgrounds in Austin + parking info, read here.
13. Bar hop on East 6th St (NOT Dirty Sixth)
Is East 6th the same thing as Dirty Sixth? Nope. “Dirty Sixth” is the portion of East 6th on the west side of I35, and East 6th is the portion on the east side of I35. Confusing…
Here’s the simple stuff: if you want to visit some legit cool cocktail bars, restaurants, and local craft breweries, stay on the east side of I35. (If you want to get wasted with all the tourist bachelor parties and college bros, go to Dirty Sixth.)
A few places worth visiting on East 6th: Via 313 Detroit-Style Pizza, Liberty Bar dive bar, Zilker Brewing craft brewery, and Whisler’s cocktail bar.
16. Go out to brunch
You can’t visit Austin without going out for an amazing brunch! With so many great restaurants in Austin, the hardest part is just picking a spot.. Use this map to narrow down your choices to the best brunch spots in Austin. A few tips:
- Popular brunch spots in Austin fill up early, so make reservations in advance!
- If you forget reservations, there’s a section on this map of brunch spots in Austin that don’t take reservations. You can just walk in.
- Looking for a good brunch spot in Austin for a big group, like a birthday party or a bachelorette party? Here ya go! These spots all cater to big brunch groups in Austin.
17. Walk through the Austin Public Library
TIME Magazine called it one of the Greatest Places In The World, and we agree! The Austin Public Library in downtown Austin has breathtaking views overlooking Lady Bird Lake and Shoal Creek. It’s a $125 million project with 6 floors, and underground parking garage, a cafe, an art gallery, a rooftop garden, and 37-foot clock hanging in the atrium.
Whether you spend 10 minutes doing a quick walk-though or you camp out for a few hours of reading, it’s well worth a visit.
18. Get tickets to the Blanton Museum of Art
If you’re an art buff (or you just enjoy beautiful museums), a visit to the Blanton Museum of Art is one of the best things to do in Austin.
Located at the University of Texas at Austin, it’s one of the largest university art museums in the country.
You should plan on about 1-2 hours to walk though (although you could definitely spend much more time, if you wanted.) There are more than 21,000 works in the permanent collection alone!
19. Take a hike at the Barton Creek greenbelt
This gem in Austin is one of the best things to do in Austin, year-round! Hiking in Texas is more like a walk than a hike, but the greenbelt has a few hills, some hidden swimming holes, and miles of trails.
Try the entrance on Spyglass right next to Tacodeli so you can grab some delicious tacos after your swim! This Tacodeli location is at 1500 Spyglass Dr Suite B, Austin, TX 78746. You’ll see the greenbelt entrance right across the street - you can’t miss it.
20. Visit Mayfield Park
Mayfield Park is a historic cottage, garden, and nature preserve that has live peacocks wandering around!! It’s so cool to stop by, go on a walk, and see the peacocks. (Note that you can’t bring pets, due to the freely wandering peacocks.)
What does Mayfield Park cost? Nada! It’s free! Pair this with your visit to Mount Bonnel (another free thing to do in Austin) because they’re right next to each other!
21. Go two-stepping at the Broken Spoke
NOT a tourist trap - promise! The Broken Spoke is about as old-school Austin as it gets. It’s a little dance hall that’s been around since 1964, and everyone from Dolly Parton to George Strait to Willie Nelson has played there.
And while Austin isn’t necessarily known as a country western town, two-stepping goes way back in any Texas city. So if you want to put on some boots in ATX, the Broken Spoke is the best place to go dancing.
This tiny little red building is tucked between all the sparkly new high rises. But it’s still going strong! They offer two-step lessons every Wed-Sat night from 8-9 pm, and live country music so you can dance afterward.
22. Watch the bats emerge from the Congress bridge
If you visit Austin in the summer months, this is for SURE one of the most unique things that you can only see in Austin! Be sure to go to the Congress bridge and watch the largest urban bat colony in the world emerge for their nightly feeding.
Whether you stand on the bridge or below it (or rent a paddle board and watch from the water), you’ll see 1 million bats fly out from under their bridge. They go all around Austin at night and feast, and then return home in the morning. You can see them every night from mid-March to early November, but the best viewing months are June-August.
Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704
23. Visit the LBJ Presidential Library
If you’re a history buff, schedule a half day to walk through the LBJ Presidential Library. (Psst: Admission is half price on Tuesdays.) This 14-acre library and museum houses 45 million pages of historical documents.
24. Shop at BookPeople
Texas’ largest independent bookstore has been around since 1970, and if you enjoy literature you definitely need to stop by! There’s a coffee shop inside, so you can buy a few new books and then sit and enjoy them while you sip a latte. The staff is so awesome, and they tag their favorite books in each department. You can wander around and read the staff recommendation cards to find some fun new reading material.
Since this is the largest indie bookstore around, it’s where authors typically stop for their international book tours. Check out their events calendar to see if any of your favorite authors are stopping by for a talk + book signing!
25. See a show at the Paramount Theatre
Over 100 years old, the Paramount is a historic theater in downtown Austin. It was built in 1915 and it’s still fully active. There are always great acts coming through!
During the holiday season you can watch popular holiday movies, and during the rest of the year you can see live music, comedy shows, and more. Here’s the events page, if you want to check it out.
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