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The aerial drone view of Austin Downtown, Texas, USA

Austin Travel Guide

By Meena Thiruvengadam
March 02, 2021

Austin is the Texas state capital and the Live Music Capital of the World, with more than 250 live music venues in this sprawling central Texas city. More than 2,300 recording artists call Austin home. Among them? Willie Nelson, who moved from Nashville to Austin in 1972 and never looked back. 

Austin is a college town, home to the University of Texas, and it's as big as you would expect the capital of Texas to be. The city limits cover 232 square miles encompassing more than 300 parks, including the nearly 360-acre Zilker Park. Austin is America's 11th largest city and one of its fastest-growing.  

They say that everything is bigger in Texas, and the state Capitol building—14 feet taller than the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. —is no exception. Neither is the bat colony that roosts under Austin's Congress Avenue Bridge from April through October. It's the largest urban bat population in North America, home to between 750,000 and 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats. 

Between the great outdoors, local art, music festivals, quirky neighborhoods, and a seemingly endless list of restaurants and bars, there's plenty to do in Austin whatever your fancy and whatever your budget. This guide is designed to help you make the most of your time in Austin, an evolving city that's successfully upholding its mantra to "Keep Austin Weird."

Time Zone

Central Standard Time. Daylight Savings Time is observed seasonally.

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Best Time to Go

March and October are particularly good times to catch live music in Austin. In March, the city hosts SXSW, a music and multimedia festival, and the Urban Music Festival, a celebration of R&B, jazz, funk and reggae. Austin City Limits, a two-weekend festival that brings more 130 acts to eight stages, happens each October. The Austin Rodeo, with nightly concerts, is held in March. 

To wander down an iconic Austin street and get a feel for its bohemian roots, visit in May when the Pecan Street Festival takes over 6th Street. If you're looking to skip out on snow and ice, Austin can make for a temperate winter escape, but beware if you head to town in July or August. Texas summers can sizzle.

Things to Know

In Austin, tacos are a breakfast item, and suits and ties are few and far in between. Flip-flops are acceptable footwear for many occasions, and there's never really a need for stilettos. 

Austin is among the most walkable cities in Texas, but you'll want to take Uber or Lyft or rent a car to make the most of your time. Austin is big, and it's going to take you longer than you think to get where you're going. 

Austin is an Instagrammer's paradise. The city has public art you've probably seen on your social feeds, including an I Love You So Much wall on South Congress, a Greetings from Austin postcard mural on South 1st Street and an atx sculpture at 5th and Lamar. 

Lady Bird Lake isn't actually a lake. It's a river-like reservoir on the Colorado River created by the city in 1960 as a cooling pond for a new power plant. 

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How to Get Around

Cap Metro is Austin's public transit system serving a population of more than one million in its 535-square mile service area. More than 1,600 bus stops and 82 routes include MetroRail, MetroRapid, and High-Frequency Route Network. Weekend service may be limited.

Lyft, Uber, and an emerging light rail system (Cap Metro) have made it easier to get around. Austin is walkable and bikeable, but a rental car is a great convenience there.

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Pool at the Carpenter Hotel in Austin, Texas
Credit: Alex Lau/Courtesy of Carpenter Hotel

Best Hotels

Pool at the Carpenter Hotel in Austin, Texas
Credit: Alex Lau/Courtesy of Carpenter Hotel

The Hotel Carpenter

Address: 400 Josephine Street, Austin, TX 78704
Phone: (512) 682-5300
Website 

This quirky hotel, among Travel & Leisure’s favorite new properties, is partially housed in a low-slung brick building that used to be a meeting place for union woodworkers. The hotel’s owner has kept its original wood-paneled floors, teller window reception area and cork boards intact, creating a modest welcome to this minimalist space. 

JW Marriott

Address: 110 E 2nd Street, Austin, TX 78701
Phone: (512) 474-4777
Website

This luxury hotel in downtown Austin is an easy walk from 6th Street, Austin City Limits, the Capitol, and the Austin Convention Center. The hotel has ample event space, and it’s popular with conference goers and football fans in town for University of Texas Longhorns games. 

Doubletree Suites

Address: 303 W. 15th Street, Austin, TX 78701
Phone: (512) 478-7000
Website

The Doubletree Suites, an all-suite hotel a stone’s throw from the Texas Capitol building, is well suited for long stays and families. Each suite has a full-size refrigerator, microwave, and dishwasher. Some are two-bedroom, two-bathroom, and many have views of the Texas Hill Country or the Capital. 

Hyatt Regency

Address: 208 Barton Springs, Austin, TX 78704
Phone: (512) 477-1234
Website

The Hyatt Regency in downtown Austin is a short walk from the bars on 6th Street, the Austin Convention Center, and the bats that live under Congress Avenue Bridge. Some rooms in this pet-friendly contemporary hotel have river views and patios. 

Hampton Inn

Address: 200 San Jacinto Blvd, Austin, TX 78701
Phone: (512) 472-1500
Website

Austin is home to several Hampton Inns that offer comfortable affordable accommodations, but the chain’s downtown outpost is the most convenient for visiting the city’s sights. The downtown Hampton Inn is just a short walk from the bars on 6th street, Austin’s seasonal bat colony, the Texas State Capitol, and one of Austin's best eateries—Stubb's BBQ.

Fairmont Austin

Address: 101 Red River Street, Austin, TX 78701
Phone: (512) 600-2000
Website

The Fairmont Austin is a 37-story luxury hotel with more than 1,000 guest rooms, many with views of Lady Bird Lake. The hotel, located in Austin’s central business district, is conveniently connected to the Austin Convention Center. 

W Austin

Address: 200 Lavaca Street, Austin, TX 78701
Phone: (512) 542-3600
Website

This four-star hotel in downtown Austin includes both a Tequila bar and a record room, perfectly suited for the Live Music Capital of the World. The W Austin's Record Room houses a collection of more than 8,000 records, making it the perfect place to begin a night of hopping between local live music shows. 

East Austin Hotel

Address: 1108 East Sixth Street, Austin, TX 78702
Phone: (737) 205-8888
Website

This unique entrant to the Austin hotel scene has rooms for under $100 a night on iconic Sixth Street if you’re willing to share a private bathroom with your neighbors. More expensive rooms with private bathrooms also are available at this trendy boutique hotel that’s brimming with East Austin pride. 

Omni Barton Creek Resort

Address: 8212 Barton Club Drive, Austin, TX 78735
Phone: (512) 329-4000
Website

This luxe Austin resort offers six restaurants, a spa with an adults only pool, four golf courses, four swimming pools, and golf clubhouse. The 4,000-acre property is located west of downtown and away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

The Driskill

Address: 604 Brazos Street, Austin, TX 78701
Phone: (512) 439-1234
Website 

The Driskill is the oldest operating hotel in Austin, named for Jesse Driskill, a cattle baron who aimed to build the finest hotel south of St. Louis. The hotel has long been popular American presidents. It's where Lyndon B. Johnson watched returns of the 1964 presidential election and where Bill Clinton stayed during his 1999 visit to Austin. 

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Exterior of Torchy's Tacos on South Congress Ave in Austin, Texas
Credit: Courtesy of Torchy's Tacos

Best Restaurants

Launderette

Address: 2115 Holly Street, Austin, TX 78702
Phone: 512-382-1599
Website

Launderette is a neighborhood cafe with a North African-inspired Mediterranean menu that includes dishes like fried shrimp, beet hummus, and steak. Launderette’s burger has been called the best in Austin. Launderette's desserts, which include Hibiscus Poached Pears and Birthday Cake Ice Cream Sandwiches, are especially popular. 

Franklin BBQ

Address: 900 E 11th Street, Austin, TX 78702
Phone: (512) 653-1187
Website

Franklin BBQ started in a humble trailer but has since grown into an empire where President Barack Obama, Anthony Bourdain, and Jimmy Kimmel have dined. James Beard Award winning Pitmaster Aaron Franklin wrote “Franklin Barbecue, A Meat Smoking Manifesto” and launched a PBS barbecue show. 

Home Slice Pizza

Address: 1415 South Congress Avenue, Austin, TX 78704
Phone: 512-444-PIES
Website

If you’re looking for a slice in Austin, Home Slice Pizza is where to find it. This New York style neighborhood pizza joint is one of the few places in Austin that serves pizza by the slice.

South Congress Cafe

Address: 1600 S Congress Avenue, Austin, TX 78704
Phone: 512-447-3905
Website

This retro hotspot, known for boozy brunches, carrot cake French toast, and jalapeño venison meatloaf, was a pharmacy back in the 1940s. Today, it’s the place for a Texas-size shaded patio, happy hour, and the perfect spot for lounging on breezy days. 

Hula Hut

Address: 3825 Lake Austin Boulevard, Austin, TX 78703
Phone: 512-476-4852
Website

Hula Hut, a lakeside TexMex restaurant with a Polynesian twist, is a tiki bar that fancies itself a surfer’s paradise. One of its most popular menu items is the Kawaikini Stuffed Avocado, a Hass avocado filled with roasted chicken, green chilis and more, then fried and served with hatch green chile and queso blanco.

Salty Sow

Address: 1917 Manor Road, Austin, TX 78722
Phone: (512) 391-2337
Website

Salty Sow is all about swine, wine, and beer. Its menu focuses on meaty dishes like triple fried duck fat fries, bacon and gruyere roasted bone marrow, candied pork belly, and slow-cooked beef shoulder. It's a very Austin restaurant with its focus on mindfully sourced local ingredients and creative hand-crafted cocktails. 

Contigo Burger in Austin
Credit: Courtesy of Contigo

Contigo

Address: 2027 Anchor Lane, Austin, TX 78723
Phone: (512) 614 - 2260
Website

For an authentic Texas ranch-style dining experience without leaving the city, head to Contigo. Designed to feel like a country ranch, the restaurant serves menu items like crispy green beans, rabbit & dumplings, Texas quail, and a bone-in ribeye that serves three to four.  

Exterior of Torchy's Tacos on South Congress Ave in Austin, Texas
Credit: Courtesy of Torchy's Tacos

Torchy’s Tacos

Multiple Locations 
Website

Torchy’s Tacos started as an Austin food truck, and it’s now best known for creative tacos. Among them is the Trailer Park—a combo of chicken fried steak, bacon, green chile queso, cotija cheese, and pico de gallo in a fresh flour tortilla. The Brushfire includes Jamaican jerk chicken, grilled jalapenos, mango sour cream, and cilantro with diablo sauce. They serve breakfast tacos all day.

Kemuri Tatsu-ya

Address: 2713 E. Second Street, Austin, TX 78702
Phone: (512) 803-2224
Website

This Austin restaurant’s menu is a mashup of Texas barbecue and traditional Japanese izakaya. Think BBQ tsukemen, sticky rice tamales, and edamame smoked over cherry wood. The restaurant’s founders are self-described Japanese Texans who brought Austin its first Ramen joint in 2012. 

Ramen Tatsu-ya

Address: 8557 Research Blvd #126, Austin, TX 78758
Phone: (512) 893-5561
Website

Ramen is their specialty, and they offer a variety along with sides, extra noodles, toppings, small bites, and even instructions on the best way to enjoy their ramen.

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Aerial drone view looking down on Barton Springs Pool
Credit: Getty Images

Things to Do

Texas State Capitol

Address: 1100 Congress Avenue, Austin, TX 78701
Phone: (512) 463-4630
Website

One of the nation’s most distinguished state capitols, the building is surrounded by 22 acres of statues and monuments. Several historic sections of the capitol can be seen on a free guided tour covering Texas history and the building itself.

LBJ Presidential Library

Address: 2313 Red River Street, Austin, TX 78705
Phone: (512) 721-0200
Website

This presidential library chronicles the life of Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th president of the United States. Johnson was born and died in central Texas, not far from the University of Texas where this library is housed. Visitors to the LBJ library can listen in on LBJ’s calls from the White House, step inside a replica of the Oval Office, and experience interactive exhibits. 

Flock of bats flying in downtown Austin,Texas
Credit: Jodi Jacobson/Getty Images

Austin Bats

Address: 305 S. Congress Avenue, Austin, TX 78701
Website

Head to the Congress Avenue Bridge around sunset to see North America’s largest bat colony. A renovation in 1980 turned the bridge into the ideal bat cave, attracting a colony of Mexican free-tailed bats. The bats typically emerge between 7:30 pm and 9:45 pm, and visitors start lining up just before sunset, facing east for the best views. 

Aerial drone view looking down on Barton Springs Pool
Credit: Getty Images

Barton Springs Pool

Address: 2101 Barton Springs Road, Austin, TX 78746
Phone: (512) 974-6300
Website

Barton Springs Pool is the crown jewel of Austin's sprawling 358-acre Zilker Park. The man-made pool measures three acres, drawing its water from underground springs with an average temperature around 68 degrees. The pool is open year round and hosts a polar plunge each January. 

Bullock Texas State History Museum

Address: 1800 N. Congress Avenue, Austin, TX 78702
Phone: (512) 936-8746
Website

This Austin museum chronicles Texas history and the people who made the state what it is today. It houses an original NASA Mission Control console from the 1960s, cattle branding and oil field tools, and an AT-6 “Texan,” the World War II-era training airplane flown by the trailblazing Women Airforce Service Pilots. 

Harry Ransom Center

Address: 300 West 21st Street, Austin, TX 78712
Phone: (512) 471-8944
Website

The Harry Ransom Center is a humanities research library and museum with 41 million items, including one of five copies of the Gutenberg Bible in the U.S. The museum also houses the Niépce Heliograph, considered the earliest surviving photograph made with camera obscura, the archive of playwright Arthur Miller, and childhood writing from authors including Charlotte Brontë and David Foster Wallace.

Ellsworth Kelly's Chapel at Blanton Museum of Art, Austin
Credit: Getty Images

Blanton Museum of Art

Address: 200 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Austin, TX 78712
Phone: (512) 471-5482
Website

The Blanton Museum of Art is the largest university-owned art collection in the U.S. The museum’s key piece is Austin, a highly Instagrammable temple of light created by American artist Ellsworth Kelly. The 2,715-square-foot stone building features 33 mouth blown colored glass windows set in three different patterns, a totem made of salvaged wood, and 14 black-and-white stone panels representing the Stations of the Cross. 

Play Golf at the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa

Address: 8212 Barton Club Drive, Austin, TX 78735
Phone: (512) 329-4000 
Website

Austin’s warm weather and 300 days of sunshine a year make it an ideal golf destination, and the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa’s four championship golf courses are the perfect place to play. 

The Paramount Theater

Address: 713 Congress Avenue, Austin, TX  78701
Phone: (512) 472-5470
Website

The Paramount Theater is everything you’d imagine an opulent downtown theater to be. Opened as a vaudeville house in 1915, the theater now hosts live performances and movies. Houdini, Katharine Hepburn, Amy Schumer, and Sheryl Crow are among the performers who have graced the Paramount’s stage. 

ACL Live at the Moody Theater

Address: 310 W. Willie Nelson Boulevard, Austin, TX  78701
Phone: (512) 225-7999
Website

The Moody Theater is home to Austin City Limits Live, the longest running music series in American television history. The Moody Theater hosts about 100 concerts each year and offers tours every weekday. 

Antone’s Nightclub

Address: 305 E 5th Street, Austin, TX 78701
Phone: (512) 814-0361
Website

Antone’s Nightclub, open since 1975, is an iconic  blues venue in Austin. The club has hosted B.B. King, Ray Charles, Muddy Waters, James Brown, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. 

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The Domain in Austin, Texas
Credit: Getty Images

Best Shopping

SOCO - South Congress Avenue

Address: South Congress Avenue, Austin, TX 78704
Phone: (512) 441-2444
Website

This strip just south of Lady Bird Lake is where Austin’s hipsters, politicos, and students come to peruse antique shops and vintage stores. It’s also home to Allen’s Boots, which stocks thousands of pairs of boots as well as snap shirts, belts, buckles, and anything else you might need for your first rodeo. 

2nd Street District

Address: 2nd Street to 4th Street,  between Colorado and Guadalupe streets, Austin, TX 78701
Website

This is Austin’s original downtown pedestrian shopping district and includes the first ever brick and mortar ModCloth. The 2nd Street District is home to independent retailers and chains including Urban Outfitters and Loft. 

The Domain in Austin, Texas
Credit: Getty Images

The Domain

Address: 11410 Century Oaks Terrace , Austin, TX 78758
Phone: (512) 795-4230
Website

The Domain has 700,000-square feet of luxury shops, mainstream stores, and restaurants, including Austin’s first Neiman-Marcus, a Tiffany and Co., and a Louis Vuitton store. 

South First Street

Address: South Austin, Austin, TX 78704
Website

If you’re looking for retailers you won’t find elsewhere, head to South First Street between Barton Springs Road and Oltorf Street. You’ll find designer and vintage clothing, neon art and a whole lot of other things you likely won’t see anywhere else. 

BookPeople

Address: 603 N. Lamar Boulevard, Austin, TX  78703
Phone: (512) 472-5050
Website 

BookPeople is a behemoth of an independent bookstore. It’s the largest independent bookstore in Texas and hosts regular signings and readings. BookPeople opened in 1970 and has hosted Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.  

Waterloo Records

Address: 600 N Lamar Boulevard, Austin, TX 78703
Phone: (512) 474-2500
Website

Waterloo Records has been part of Austin's music scene since 1982. It's an independent music and video store known for its vast selection of vinyl records, its knowledgeable staff, and its support of Texas music. Waterloo Records hosts live music, and past performers include Willie Nelson, Nirvana, Spoon, Cheap Trick, and Norah Jones. 

Neighborhoods to Know

SoCo: South Congress, known as SoCo, is a collection of small shops, restaurants, music venues, and art galleries just south of Lady Bird Lake. It's a great spot to find food trucks, shop for quirky souvenirs, and take in postcard views of the Texas State Capitol. 

Rainey Street: This once sleepy residential neighborhood has become a hub of Austin nightlife. Many of the old bungalows on this historic street have been converted into bars, restaurants, and live music venues. With its expansive porches and comfortable yards, it's a top spot for Sunday fundays. 

Red River Cultural District: Austin may be the Live Music Capital of the World, but the Red River Cultural District is the live music capital of Austin. Once the domain of metal and punk fans, this area has evolved to become an ideal place for a live music crawl through genres. 

Sixth Street Historic District: Sixth Street Historic District is perhaps Austin's best known neighborhood. It's home to the historic Driskill Hotel and a seemingly endless array of bars, clubs, and restaurants. The street occasionally closes to traffic for tailgating and other events. 

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Weather

Texas summers can be hot and humid, but winters are mild, and snow or ice are rare. Severe weather most commonly occurs in the spring when there can be heavy rain, flash flooding, and occasional tornadoes. 

The following are average Fahrenheit lows and highs by month.

January 42 - 62
February 45 - 65
March 51 - 72
April 59 - 80
May 67 - 87
June 72 - 92
July 74 - 96
August 75 - 97
September 69 - 91
October 61 - 82
November 51 - 71
December 42 - 63

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Apps to Download

Park ATX: Pay for street parking in Austin 
iOs |Android 

Cap Metro: Trip planning, online ticketing, real-time arrivals
iOs |Android 

Bird: Electric scooters 
iOs |Android 

Lime: Electric scooters 
iOs |Android