Once the dust settles from your move, you may be wondering, what are the top things to do in Austin? Austin is a city brimming with activity and culture – from live music events that attract people by the droves to the citizens that Keep Austin Weird, there are plenty of people and things to keep you entertained. Here we unpack our top ten favorite things to do and see in this fast-paced, hipster town:
1. Hike, Bike, or Kayak Lady Bird Lake
Now referred to as “Lady Bird Lake”, native Austinites still lovingly refer to this stretch of the Colorado River as “Town Lake”. It boasts 10 miles of hike and bike trails that loop around the lake in varying increments. You can choose the 3, 4, 5, or 10-mile loop depending on your level ambition. Though it’s generally quiet in the early mornings, except for the crew teams that are usually out practicing before the sun comes up, the trail can get really crowded in the evenings and on weekends. If paddling is more your speed, there are a few docks that rent out kayaks, SUP boards, and canoes. With the amount of activity you’ll see around town lake, you’ll see for yourself why Austin is consistently ranked among the fittest cities in the U.S.
2. Climb the Stairs at Mount Bonnell
Though you have to climb over a hundred steps to get to the top, Mount Bonnell will reward you with some of the best views in Austin. At 775 feet above sea level, you have a sweeping view of Lake Austin, and can peek around to the ever-growing downtown skyline in the south. A popular hangout for local high school kids, this place also attracts couples taking in the sunset over a picnic, athletes who run the stairs in circuits, and droves of families with little ones.
3. Go to an event in Zilker Park
Zilker Park is an oasis in the midst of the urban sprawl. Here you’ll find Barton Springs, a cold gem that beckons swimmers to its 68 degree waters year-round. Zilker Park also hosts a number events and festivals throughout the year – the mile-long Trail of Lights at Christmas, SXSW Music events in the Spring, the kite festival, theatre events at the hillside amphitheatre, and Austin City Limits music festival in the fall, just to name a few.
4. Trek the Greenbelt
Just off of Zilker Park is the start of the Barton Creek Greenbelt that curves 7.2 miles through the hills near downtown and into West Austin. There are several places to hop onto the trail, near the Taco Deli at Spyglass Drive and close to the intersection of Mopac and 360 being among the most popular. Occasionally after heavy rain, the creek is high enough for a kayak or canoe, but most just use the greenbelt for hiking, cycling, and rock climbing.
5. Watch the Congress Bridge Bats Fly
Nestled under the Congress Bridge that crosses over Town Lake, you’ll find (and smell) the world’s largest urban bat colony. All summer, people crowd the Congress Bridge and Austin-American Statesman property around to catch a glimpse of the bats as they wake up and fly off for the night. Watching 1.5 million bats fly off in one cluster is a pretty amazing sight to see.
6. Go Honky Tonkn’
It wouldn’t be Texas without a little honky tonk. The Broken Spoke on South Lamar has the oldest two-stepping tradition in town. The walls are plastered with pictures of and memorabilia from the hundreds of country acts that have graced the place since the doors opened in 1964. Most nights, you can shuffle your way around the dance floor to live music. If you’ve never two-stepped, you may want to check out the lessons offered most evenings prior to the dance floor officially opening.
7. Explore the state capitol and nearby Bob Bullock Texas History Museum
Of course everything is bigger in Texas, and the capitol certainly doesn’t disappoint. Measuring in at five feet taller than the nation’s capitol, this mammoth structure was built with pinkish granite quarried from right here in central Texas. When the house is in session, spectators can watch representatives battle it out from the balcony of the expansive and impressive house chamber. If you don’t get your fill of history at the Capitol, just a couple of blocks away stands the Bob Bullock State History Museum that is filled with everything you’d ever want to know about this great state.
8. Roam SoCo
Congress runs from the south side of the Capitol, across Lady Bird Lake, and finally ends at Hwy 71. South of the river, South Congress and the surrounding 78704 zip code is one of the hippest places to live and play in Austin. Along with iconic landmarks like the Austin Motel, there are tons of quirky and chic shops as well as delicious Austin eateries like HomeSlice and Guerros.
9. Feast On BBQ
Austin offers an abundance of places to get great Texas brisket, among them, the renowned Franklin’s, where barbeque fanatics stand in line for hours hoping there will be enough to go around. Just outside of Austin, in the little town of Driftwood, the Salt Lick dishes up a decades-old barbeque tradition. Here you can actually see the pit where all the meat smokes and you can feast family style on some of the best brisket, sausage, ribs, and sides for miles around. The Salt Lick recently added a vineyard to the estate and also has a BYOB policy in the dining room.
10. Visit Laguna Gloria
This historic Italian-style villa was built in the 1910s by the Driscoll familly and overlooks Lake Austin. Now, more than 100 years later, the property is part of The Contemporary Austin art museum. The main villa doesn’t hold more than some administrative offices upstairs, but the rest of the property displays some interesting sculpture, and an art school built on the far east side of the property offers a variety of classes to both young and old. Along with events and festivals, this is a popular venue for Austin brides. Picnicking in the grass overlooking the lake, one could almost imagine he is on a quiet European vacation. That is, until a boat screams by full of rowdy passengers pumping loud jams, and you realize you’re in one of the best places on earth – Austin, TX.