One of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., Austin is making just about everyone's travel bucket list these days. Great food, a laid-back culture, and a large music, film, and tech scene are just a few stand-out features in the Texas capital. Whether you have a day or a week to explore the city, it's best to experience it like a local, to get a true authentic feel (and not look quite so obviously like a tourist). Though there are a dozen other things to add to this list (coffee at Mozart's, UT football game, thrift shopping on South Congress), here are the must-sees and must-dos for any Austin visitor. Just remember to keep Austin weird.
Eat Breakfast Tacos
Over the last several years, Austin has garnered a lot of attention for its burgeoning food scene. Delectable fine dining abounds at Uchi, Qui, Odd Duck, and Barley Swine. Then there are the famed barbecue joints — Franklin Barbecue, La Barbecue, and John Muellers. But if you really want to do Austin, breakfast tacos are a must; they can be as simple as potato and egg on a flour tortilla, or include sirloin steak, chorizo, avocado, and queso fresco. You can’t order wrong at Taco Deli, Torchy’s Tacos, or Veracruz All Natural. As a bonus, many places serve breakfast tacos all day long for the late risers (or into-the-wee-hours revelers).
Enjoy the Many Green Spaces
One of the benefits of warm Texas weather is that you can
spend most days outside. Barton Springs Pool, a spring-fed watering hole that
maintains a constant 68 degrees Fahrenheit, is a popular place to enjoy the outdoors. Though a godsend in summer, it can be a little too cold for a dip in other seasons, but just lounging in the surrounding grass can do a body good.
In the heart of the city is Lady Bird
Lake (aka Town Lake) and its surrounding 10-mile trail. Visitors can run or
walk along the reservoir or get right in it in a kayak or on a stand-up
Other green spaces include Zilker Park, home to the Austin City Limits Music Festival, and the adjacent Barton Creek Greenbelt, a roughly eight-mile-long trail great for biking, swimming, and climbing. Additionally, Mount Bonnell is a park where, once you climb the 100-or-so stairs, you can take in stunning views of Lake Austin and the downtown area.
Catch a Live Show
The self-titled Live Music Capital of the World, Austin has shows going on throughout the city at any given time. It’s also host to Austin City Limits Music Festival, an event that spans two back-to-back, three-day weekends; attendees can take in everything from small indie groups to big-name stars like Kanye West and Pearl Jam. But you don’t need to shell out a couple hundred bucks for a great show; just head to one of several music venues — Emo’s, The Continental Club, or ACL Live at the Moody Theater — or one of the many bars along Sixth Street. In Austin, you can catch a live band performing anything from acoustic country to hardcore metal on just about any night of the week.
Austin’s version of Bourbon Street is Sixth Street, a lively downtown road spanning several blocks that’s lined with bars and nightclubs. Referred to locally as “Dirty Sixth,” the famous strip of bars has raging clubs, low-key spots, and even a saloon-style bar with a mechanical bull; popular watering holes there include Blind Pig, Maggie Mae’s, and Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar. Further west on Sixth are less club-like bars; The Ranch, Rattle Inn, and Kung Fu Saloon, which has arcade games, make the list of locals’ favorites. Weekends do get rowdy, but cops restrict car access and police the area well.
If the club crowd isn’t your scene, don’t fret; there’s a nightlife scene to match your style. East Austin, on the opposite side of the I-35 highway, is known as the grittier, more hip alternative. There are plenty of bars to choose from, including East Side Show Room, Shangri-La, Violet Crown Social Club, and The White Horse.
Another unique area is Rainey Street, once a sleepy, historic residential area in downtown Austin that was revitalized by the introduction of bars and eateries. Renovated former residential homes now house interesting, low-key bars with outdoor areas. Icenhauer’s, Container Bar, and Javelina are just a few of the popular spots.
See Some Art
Galleries, museums, and outdoor art spaces are abundant in Austin. In typical Austin fashion, the Cathedral of Junk, built by one man in his backyard, epitomizes the phrase “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Another Instagram-worthy spot is the Graffiti Park at Castle Hills, also known as HOPE Outdoor Gallery; it’s a graffiti wonderland that has stunning views of Austin from the top.
When weather is less than ideal, head inside to The Harry Ransom Center to see a copy of the Gutenberg Bible and the first photograph; or venture to the Blanton Museum of Art for a wide range of works, or to the LBJ Presidential Library & Museum for a little history. If stagnant art doesn’t strike your fancy, ZACH Theatre is a wonderful venue for plays, and Ballet Austin has performances throughout the year.
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