30 Best Things to Do in Austin, Texas — From Nightlife to Barbecue Restaurants
As the state capital of Texas, Austin lures those from near and far with its vast array of culture and history. Known as the "Live Music Capital of the World," you're sure to find plenty of places here to grab a drink and hear some tunes, but you'll also find killer hiking trails, world-class art, and plenty of tasty food to keep you coming back time and time again. Here, the 30 best things to do in Austin, Texas.
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Watch the bats emerge at Congress Avenue Bridge.
From late March through early fall, the largest urban bat population in North America can be seen emerging from under the Congress Avenue Bridge every night. Thousands of bats flutter through the sky, eating bugs along the way, while bat lovers watch from the bridge or below on Lady Bird Lake.
Tour the Texas Capitol building.
Free, guided tours of the Capitol are a great way to immerse yourself in history. The Texas Capitol building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986 and is one of the largest capitol buildings in the country.
Have life-changing Tex-Mex cuisine.
You can't come to Texas and not try some Tex-Mex cuisine – a delicious blend of Mexican classics with Texas twists, found across the state. Austin has some real gems, including Matt's El Rancho, Juan in a Million, and Fonda San Miguel.
Every March, Austin welcomes creatives from around the world for film screenings, music, exhibitions, speakers, and all things tech, education, and culture. It's a great opportunity to bring your creative ideas to the table and turn that dream into a reality. Keynotes have included Michelle Obama, Willie Nelson, and Mark Cuban.
Visit the Blanton Museum of Art.
With more than 19,000 works in the permanent collection, the Blanton is known for its European paintings, modern and contemporary American and Latin art, and a wide range of prints and drawings. Don't forget to snap a picture of Ellsworth Kelly's "Austin," a stone building with colorful glass windows that's a must for your Instagram feed.
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Make a splash at the Barton Springs Pool.
Austin's favorite swimming hole is definitely Barton Springs, a three-acre pool fed from underground springs. The pool keeps an average temperature of 68-70 degrees, comfortable for year-round swimming. Recent years have seen record attendance, with visitor numbers almost at 800,000 people per year.
Spend some time on South Congress.
South Congress, or SoCo, is a lively district south of Lady Bird Lake full of great restaurants, boutiques, vintage shops, bars, and lots of live music. Visitors and locals alike love this part of the city. The famous "I Love You So Much" mural is found here at Jo's Coffee, and Monkey See Monkey Do is a treasure trove of vintage toys and gifts.
Buy a pair of cowboy boots.
If you're ready to hit the honky tonks, a pair of authentic cowboy boots is a must. Allen's Boots has a large selection, while Heritage Boot offers handmade, vintage-inspired cowboy boots. Want to customize a pair of boots to fit your style? Texas Custom Boots can help you out.
Shop the Austin City-Wide Vintage Sale.
Held at the Palmer Events Center almost every month, the Austin City-Wide Vintage Sale is the place to find anything and everything vintage and collectible. Since 1977, decorators, designers, college students, families, and anyone looking for unique items head to the sale for everything from furniture and kitchenware to vintage jewelry and art.
See art in nature at UMLAUF Sculpture Garden.
In 1985, 20th-century American sculptor Charles Umlauf and his wife Angie Umlauf donated their home, Charles' studio, and hundreds of sculptures to the city of Austin. Today, the UMLAUF is a museum in a garden setting complete with over 2,000 drawings and 273 sculptures by Umlauf.
Visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
On 284 acres in the Hill Country, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center boasts beautiful gardens full of Texas native plants, an arboretum, a savanna meadow where you can learn about karst landscapes, and trails. More than 143 species of birds, 15 species of mammals, and 1,800 species of insects have been seen here.
Lounge by Lady Bird Lake.
Paddleboard, kayak, or canoe your way across Austin's Lady Bird Lake for views of the skyline and outdoor recreation right in the city. Take a hike or bike ride along the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail, which border the lake, or take a float down the Lady Bird Lake Paddling Trail.
Austin is known for its live music scene, and Austin City Limits Music Festival, held in Zilker Park, is a must for music lovers. More than 100 performances take place across eight stages each year. Past performers have included Radiohead, Lionel Richie, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Head to Rainey Street.
In downtown Austin, this strip of bungalow houses turned bars is a popular destination for drinks, delicious grub, and of course, live music. Lucille Patio Lounge, Half Step, and The Container Bar are all great places for a cocktail or two.
Visit McKinney Falls State Park.
Within Austin's city limits is this outdoor oasis that's perfect for unplugging from technology and connecting with nature. Visitors can hike, bike, boulder, camp at one of 81 campsites, or swim in Onion Creek. Check out "Old Baldy" while you're here. It's one of the oldest bald cypress trees in Texas, and is more than 500 years old and 103 feet tall.
Cheer on the Longhorns at a game.
Texans are passionate about football, and Austin's University of Texas brings the school spirit every season. In a sea of burnt orange, enthusiastic fans cheer on the Longhorns with storied chants and the "Hook 'Em" hand symbol swaying through the air.
Hang out in Zilker Park.
Austinites love spending time in Zilker Park, located in downtown Austin near Lady Bird Lake. The park's 361 acres are great for picnicking, meeting a new dog friend or two, disc golf, hiking, biking, and even paddling. The Barton Springs Pool is also located here.
Learn your Texas history at the Bullock Texas State History Museum.
Known as the official history museum of Texas, the Bullock is the place to go to learn about the story of Texas. See the 300-year-old ship, La Belle, the last ship of French explorer La Salle that sank in Matagorda Bay; see numerous Native American artifacts; and more.
Have a night on Sixth Street.
While Sixth Street tends to be a bit rowdy, it's the place to party in Austin and has been for decades. Sixth Street closes to through traffic from Thursdays through Saturday nights, meaning lots of people parading up and down the street in search of cheap drinks, entertainment, and that late-night slice of pizza.
Go dancing at Broken Spoke.
Put your dancin' boots on and head to Broken Spoke, a dance hall that's been open since 1964 and has seen performances from legends such as George Strait, Garth Brooks, and Dolly Parton. They even offer dance lessons for those new to two-steppin'.
Visit the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum.
On the University of Texas campus, this library and museum houses 45 million pages of historical documents, 650,000 photos, and 5,000 hours of recordings from President Johnson's political career. There's also over 54,000 objects to see, such as the desk used for the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Hike Mount Bonnell.
See the city from above at Mount Bonnell, one of the highest points in Austin at 781 feet. After climbing 102 stairs, you'll be at the top where you can take in breathtaking views of downtown and the 360 Bridge. A pavilion and viewing deck allow you to rest up before descending.
Visit the Harry Ransom Center.
Hone into your intellectual side at the Harry Ransom Center, which houses almost 1 million books, over 42 million manuscripts, millions of photographs, and 100,000 works of art. Highlights include some of Einstein's unpublished notes and calculations on general relativity, original works by Frida Kahlo, and Jack Kerouac's notebook from writing "On the Road."
Eat craft barbecue.
Texas is known for its can't-be-beat barbecue scene, and Austin is home to some of the best 'cue in the state. Leroy and Lewis, Distant Relatives, Valentina's Tex-Mex Barbecue, and La Barbecue are just a few don't-miss places.
Visit a honky tonk.
For a true Texas experience, a honky tonk is a must, and Austin has some of the best. Strap on your boots and head to the dance floor for country music and a good time. The White Horse, Sam's Town Point, Giddy Up's, Last Chance Bar and Dancehall, and The Little Longhorn Saloon are all great for a boot-scootin' good time.
Stay in style.
While the live music and dining scene in Austin is thriving, the city is also home to some great hotels, and who doesn't love enjoying their hotel while vacationing? Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt, Heywood Hotel, and Austin Proper Hotel are all gorgeous, while Lake Austin Spa Resort stuns on Lake Austin.
Say cheers at breweries.
You can't be the "Live Music Capital of the World" and not have great beers to go alongside an evening of fun. Thankfully, Austin is packed with one-of-a-kind breweries across the city. Jester King offers up top-notch farmhouse ales in Hill Country, while Pinthouse, St. Elmo, and Austin Beerworks are just a few of the big hitters in town.
Go mural hopping.
Across the city, vibrant murals don the walls of buildings, displaying everything from Janis Joplin and Willie Nelson to an enormous golden-cheeked warbler. Take a mural tour to different spots around town and snap a selfie in front of your favorites.
Grab a glass at local distilleries.
Austin and the surrounding Hill Country area are home to a number of great distilleries, and many of them have excellent tasting rooms where you can relax and have a cocktail. Desert Door Distillery, Deep Eddy Vodka, and Garrison Brothers are all fantastic distilleries just outside of town.
See a show at the Paramount Theatre.
Since 1915, patrons have been coming to this storied theater to see performances from legends like Harry Houdini, Duke Ellington, and Katharine Hepburn. Today's shows include musical performances, magic shows, interviews, and more.