Austin, Texas is a lively city that prides itself on keeping things weird. The city is a rich infusion of cultures and vibes that offers something for everyone. The towns close proximity to waterways and Hill Country makes it a dream destination for nature lovers while art buffs and culture enthusiasts will love the city’s vibrant atmosphere and live music venues. Discover the best of Austin with this guide to the city’s must-see attractions and activities.
The Best of Austin: 15 Must-See Attractions
There’s no shortage of things to do in Austin. From finger-licking BBQ at places like La Barbecue and Tex-Mex favorites at spots like the Peached Tortilla, it’s easy to eat your heart out in Austin. But this city isn’t just about incredible food. There’s something for everyone here, whether you’re into art and fashion or nature and adventure. Plus, the nightlife is unparalleled with live shows at the ACL and fests like SXSW you can’t find anywhere else. Here’s the best of Austin including 15 must sees and things to do when visiting.
1. Catch a Football Game at the University of Texas
The Lone Star state is home to the University of Austin, Texas. The football program here has won more championships than any other team in the Big 10 Conference. If you’re lucky enough to visit during a game, head over to the stadium to join thousands of other fans as they cheer on the longhorns with hook ’em horns and orange and white attire.
2. Enjoy Live Music
Austin is called the live music capital of the world. Here, you’ll find dive bars like the Broken spoke where music greats like Willie Nelson and Garth Brooks have performed. You’ll also find dozens of local bars and restaurants that feature local artists and musicians. Austin is also home to the South By Southwest (SXSW) music festival that draws thousands of music lovers each year.
3. Dive Into the Food
Austin is a well-established culinary hub that offers everything from Tex-Mex breakfast tacos and BBQ to Asian infusion, food trucks, and classic American fare. The city offers dozens of award-winning restaurants that serve farm-to-table fare and focus on local ingredients and high-quality preparation. No visit to Austin is complete without visiting at least a few of the cities best restaurants. Check out the brisket at Franklin Barbecue —owned by Aaron Franklin, the winner of the James Beard award— the Mexican at Contigo, the ramen at Ramen Tatsu-ya, or the sushi and Japanese fare at Uchi.
No trip to Austin is complete without trying foods like queso, migas, and burnt ends. There are also classic eateries serving Italian, seafood, and Korean dishes as well as plenty of watering holes. Grab a craft beer from one of the many breweries in town or order a craft cocktail from one of the best Austin restaurants. Don’t forget to order dessert like the homemade ice cream at Cow Tipping Creamery featuring exotic toppings or the incredible array of cakes and sweets from Sugar Mama’s Bakery.
4. Brunch With Friends
After indulging in some of Austin’s tasty restaurants and happy hours, make time for a luxurious brunch. The city offers amazing brunch spots with everything from breakfast tacos and city-favorite migas to French-inspired dining.
5. Watch the Bats Take Flight
Austin is home to the largest urban colony of Mexican free-tail bats. Each March through November, you can watch the bats as they take flight each evening from the Congress Avenue Bridge. The best viewing spots are from kayaks or one of the tour boats on the river. For easier viewing, just head to the Congress Ave bridge about half an hour before dusk.
6. Paddleboard on Lady Bird Lake or Lake Austin
Austin offers several water options for taking out a kayak or paddleboard. You can bring your own equipment or rent some from the lakefront shops. Pack a picnic and enjoy a snack while taking in the cityscape view and the sun as it glistens on the smooth waters.
7. Cool off In Barton Springs Pool
Barton Springs is quite possibly the most famous sight in the city of Austin. The natural, spring-fed pool is the perfect way to cool off in the summer heat. The pool is 68 to 70 degrees year-round and is one of the best ways to enjoy the natural side of Austin.
8. Run or Bike in Zilker Park
Zilker Park features 350 acres of land to run, bike, and hike. Start off on the Lady Bird Hike and Bike Trail which offers 10.1 miles of trails through the lush, green gardens. The park also hosts special events from kite festivals to live music throughout the year.
9. Explore the Nightlife on 6th Street and Rainey
Austin is a popular destination for bachelorette parties and group getaways. For a truly raucous experience, head over to Dirty Sixth Street where you can grab dollar shots at one of the many dive bars. For something a bit more laid back, try the nightlife on Rainey Street.
The Rainey area was rezoned from a residential district to a commercial one in the early 2000s. The result is dozens of old bungalows that have been converted to bars and dining locales. Today, many of the bars and restaurants feature cute patios or backyard areas to relax and enjoy good food or a few drinks.
10. Take A Tour of the State Capitol
Austin is the home of the Texas State Capitol. You can opt for a guided tour or a self-guided tour through the legislative offices. The Senate offices offer the chance to glimpse the original desks from the very first Senators and you’ll learn more about how laws are made and passed in the state.
11. Hike Mount Bonnell
Mount Bonnell is the highest peak in the Austin city limits. It offers the perfect vantage point for viewing the sunset while enjoying a small picnic. The hike is fairly easy but involves hundreds of stairs so make sure to wear appropriate footwear. There are also plenty of other hiking trails in the area and at nearby state parks to check out.
12. Learn About Texas History
Learn more about Austin’s place in southern United States history with a visit to the Bullock Texas State History Museum. Here, you’ll discover more about the founding of the city and the role of prominent Texans throughout history.
13. Adventure Through The Neighborhoods
Austin is home to an array of diverse neighborhoods that offer everything from nightlife to food enclaves. The east side of Austin is rapidly expanding and considered the hipster heart of the city. East Austin is also one of the livelier parts of the city with new restaurants and sights going up every day. Downtown Austin is home to some of the best live music venues while South Austin offers the opportunity to get off the beaten path and enjoy the city without all the tourists.
14. Shop on South Congress
Known as SoCo, this street is one of the best places to buy unique items from local boutiques. You can shop till you drop as you visit name-brand stores and locally owned boutiques in your search of retail delights.
15. Get Cultured at Museums
Check out the Blanton Museum of Art for contemporary pieces or take a stroll through the Umlafu Sculpture garden for an outdoorsy take on art viewing. The city also offers several history museums and children’s museums to keep the whole family entertained.
Explore the Best of Austin
From South Congress Avenue to North Austin, you’ll never run out of things to do in this weird city. From starting the day at a mellow coffee shop to wrapping it up with a raucous happy hour on Thursdays, you’ll be entertained no matter when you visit. Be sure to check out the best of Austin by heading to these 15 attractions.