The secret is out. Everyone who visits Austin these days leaves with something great to say.
It’s no surprise that Austin ranks highly on many lists: fastest growing cities, best cities, even “hipster” cities. Not only is Austin the live music capital of the world with over 250 music venues and home of SXSW, but it also offers the perfect mix of downtown city life and the great outdoors. People are often surprised that Austin has so much nature so close to downtown, and it’s definitely something you must see for yourself!
Austin offers something for everyone, no matter what your interests are or whatever gets your engine running. Mostly they involve eating, drinking, and natural beauty. Here are a few things I’d recommend doing during your time in Austin!
Greenbelt: With over 12 miles of trails the Greenbelt is an oasis mere minutes from the city. There are plenty of swimming, hiking, biking, and on-leash dog adventures for you to take on! There are eight entrances to the Greenbelt all within 10 minutes from downtown. Gus Fruh is particularly my favorite entrance, as it has a big swimming area right towards the entrance!
Paddle Boarding: A great summer afternoon activity is paddle boarding on Lady Bird Lake! There are three great rental shops right on the lake that provide paddles and life jackets! You have the option to go out for just an hour or keep it all day. Dogs are welcome, too!
Graffiti Park at Castle Hill: This is one of my favorite features of Austin – I love how it is preserved, and the graffiti is embraced instead of being shut down. If you climb to the top, you have a perfect view of the city, and it’s only a few blocks northwest of downtown!
Mount Bonnell: About 8 miles outside of the city you’ll find a short hike to the top of the hill overlooking the beautiful, Pennybacker bridge. This spot is considered the highest point in Austin with stunning views of Lake Austin and the Downtown skyline in the distance. I’d recommend getting there about a half hour to forty-five minutes before sunset so you can get a good parking spot, and be able to relax and enjoy the entire sunset experience (the first time I went I underestimated the sun’s speed).
Walk South Congress Ave: When you hear the phrase “Keep Austin Weird,” take a walk down South Congress, also known as Soco, to get a taste of that weirdness. You’ll see the famous “I love you so much” wall on the side of Jo’s Coffee, very interesting little shops, and a great selection of food items. You will also get to see the amazing view that leads straight to the Capitol building!!
Zilker Park: Austin’s Central Park equivalent, Zilker is located conveniently in the center of the city. This has to be my favorite area in all of Austin! It’s the most dog-friendly place in town, and has the best view of the skyline by far! It’s home to several festivals throughout the year such as ACL, Trail of Lights, and is one of the best spots to view the fireworks! At Zilker, you are sure to see several acro yogis, over one-hundred dogs at any given time, some sort of recreational sport, and several picnics and sunbathers. It’s for sure an Austin gem!
Check out the bats on Congress Avenue Bridge: It’s home to the world’s largest urban bat colony. Truly one of the coolest things you’ll ever see from animals. Hundreds of thousands of bats sleep under the Congress Ave Bridge during the day, and around sunset they all fly off to Mexico consuming hundreds of pounds of insects. This is the largest urban bat colony in the world, and it’s one of the most incredible things you’ll ever see if you can catch it at the right time. Make sure to arrive early to get a good view!
Rainey Street: Combine a street full of houses and a lot of alcohol, and you’ve got Rainey Street! Great for day drinking all the way until 2 AM! Several of the bars have live music, are dog-friendly, and have outdoor games like corn hole! It’s definitely one of Austin’s greatest features. I mean, where else can you walk through a bar made out of shipping containers?
Now for the Yummy Stuff
OK, I’m definitely not a petite little guy, so let’s talk about food! Whooo Hooo, Austin is known for awesome food; whether you’re looking for a top notch steakhouse or you’re more my speed and appreciate a good ole food truck. Austin is a Foodie’s Nirvana; here are the top spots I’d recommend visiting!
If you’re a breakfast anytime kind of person, then I’d go for a Breakfast Taco. You can literally find breakfast tacos anywhere, I mean it! Check out: Veracruz, Taco Deli, Pueblo Viejo, Taco Joint, Torchy’s, and Paco’s Tacos to name just a few. Make sure you specify your preference of corn or flour and don’t forget rule #1: always say yes to tacos!
Torchy’s Tacos: Speaking of tacos, Austin’s most famous taco is the Trailer Park Trashy! They take a normal Trailer Park taco, ditch the lettuce, and add queso! Seriously, how can you go wrong? Fun Fact: When Barack Obama comes to Torchy’s he orders three tacos: The Republican, The Democrat, and The Independent.
OMG let’s talk BBQ! MEAT this is where the carnivorous southern boy comes out. There are way too many places to name where you can get some good BBQ. But there are only a few that rate as GREAT BBQ. I think Austin’s two most popular spots for BBQ are Franklin’s and The Salt Lick. Unfortunately, there are downfalls to both, but don’t let that stop you!
Franklin’s has some of the best BBQ, but you had better get up early. The line starts around 6 am every morning, and they only serve until they run out. It’s not a guarantee that you’ll get served, but it’s worth the wait. No set hours here, but it’s a great place to visit with locals while you wait for some damn good BBQ. So if you’re okay with waiting in line for a few hours or more, then this is a great option.
The Salt Lick, on the other hand, is about a 30-minute drive South of Austin. If you’re looking for a great experience and have a car, I’d definitely recommend making the trip through the Hill Country!
Amy’s Ice Creams: Although you can also find Amy’s in Houston and San Antonio, Amy’s roots have been in Austin since 1984. It’s safe to say that you’ll also be within a mile of an Amy’s no matter where you are within the city, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to get your ice cream fix! They have a few flavors of the day, so you never know what yummy options you might find; some even have alcohol mixed in them!
Home Slice Pizza: This is a walk up pizza place right on South Congress. They dish out nice, big slices and are very affordable! I would recommend stopping here right before you hit up the next featured food…
Hey Cupcake: Literally across the street from Home Slice are some of the best cupcakes you’ll ever enjoy. What is even better, is they serve you out of an Airstream! Hey Cupcake sits in front of a beautifully painted wall which proves to be a great photo opportunity!
Depending on when you’re in Austin here are a few other things to keep an eye out for: the Austin Marathon in February; Austin Food + Wine Festival and the Moonlight Tower Comedy Festival in April; Austin Film Festival in October; Fun, Fun, Fun Fest and Formula 1 US Grand Prix in November; and the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar in December.