When I say Texas you think of cowboys, guns, and right wing nuts, correct? Wrong! Say hello to Austin – the hipster, colourful, anti-Texas city in The Lone Star State. Get your shades on and tatts out; here is the definitive list of 10 things to do in Austin today (which are awesome!)
The taxi driver told us, one day he drove past Juan’s and couldn’t understand why it was suddenly queued out the door – the restaurant had featured in the infamous Man versus Food and this naturally brought a spike in business.
This is ‘thee’ place for breakfast tacos and boasts of a Mexican authentic mix of native and Spanish traditions. Now us Scots / Brits would assume that tacos are hard shells, they are for some meals but for breakfast tacos they are a soft tortilla type wrap. We did queue but only for a short period of time, this restaurant is is big. You will be greeted with Juan’s special handshake; he’s a local celeb now. I went for the Don Juan El Taco Grande ($4.60) minus the bacon. I can’t see how anyone can clean the plate. Adam from Man v Food was invited to try the Juan in a Million Don Juan Challenge – to eat eight. He managed four and a quarter. How many did you throw down the hatch?
- Address: 2300 E Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX 78702, USA
- Contact: +1 512-472-3872
2. Stroll the Austin Riverside
I was really happy with our choice of stay at the HI Hostel during our first stay in Austin. We were in the city for the music portion of the festival South By Southwest and yes, this Austin accommodation is a half hour walk from the centre of town but that was a blessing for getting some sleep and the views on the walk to town are gorgeous. Housing on the riverside starts at $1150 per month, I would consider that! It’s bustling with bikes, dog walkers, and runners pounding the well-developed path. Kayaks, boats, river bikes, birds and turtles dominate the water.
3. Make a Splash at Barton Springs
This place is cool. Barton Springs is a natural spring for the public to sunbathe around, kayak, and swim in. Or sunbathe on your kayak as I saw some girls do. There are two options, the first is to pay $3 (locals) $12 (visitors) to use the swimming pool style spring which has a nice grassy hill to sunbathe on. The sun can get pretty powerful so remember your factor 30. I don’t holiday without a luxury factor 60 face moisturiser if can afford it.
Second option is to use the neighbouring (there is just one fence that separates the two) spring for free. Don’t make the mistake we did, take the turning before the bridge, there is a concrete hill you can lie on, we were stuck on the muddy and stony ground but that was fine with a towel. The locals will laugh and ask if you went into the water… It was national puppy day when we went so there were heaps of cute dogs to coo over. We walked there from the HI Hostel (along the riverside, very pretty, approx. 50 mins) and cycled back. Save some cash a pack a picnic. Don’t forget the collapsible cups and wine.
UPDATE: We stayed in this area for our wedding in Austin using Airbnb. We lived in a hipster garden shed in a shaded neighbour. We ate tacos the night before we wedded and Craig even found an Irish (not Scottish!) breakfast the morning of get the big day while I got the best beehive you’ve seen this decade.
Address: 2201 Barton Springs Rd, Austin, TX 78704
Contact: +1 512-867-3080
Website: Barnton Springs Pool
4. Wander Along South Congress (SoCo)
Dirty 6th is a cool, messy street full of filthy bars and definitely one of your first stops for things to in Austin at night but if you are looking for a street that is laden with seriously gorgeous looking people (everyone has fully committed tattoos, even saw a girl with a leg sleeve), see SoCo. South Congress is lined with lots of vintage shops and delicious eateries. On Saturdays, a pop up market sells artwork and jewellery. Look out for the topless cowboy on a horse. Yes. Don’t forget to pack a water bottle save money and the environment!
5. Shop for Sweets at Big Top Candy Shop
Aka heaven for me! This circus themed candy shop also sells ice cream and floats on South Congress (yes, I adore this area). Not just one of things to do in Austin with kids, it’s for big kids too right?
6. Get Snap Happy – Graffiti in Austin
There is a lot street art in Austin. Mooching along the hipster street of South Congress is a good place to start. Follow the strong smell of spray paint to the Graffiti Park of Castle Hill for an abandoned area aka an artist’s (and photographer’s) dream. We loved this spot so much we went back the year later for our wedding elopement pictures. Add this to the list of free things to do in Austin. We never made it to Cathedral of Junk but if you like art and trash it might be worth a quick visit if passing by (it’s smaller than most people imagine).
Back at South Congress, you’ll see a large gathering at the end of a shop – this is the ‘I love you so much’ wall. Story has it, the artist spray painted the message on her girlfriend’s shop wall after they broke up. We took cute polaroid snaps too with a vintage camera, a photo says a thousand words!
Not up for all that smooshy love bug crap, well Austin has something for everyone. There is an alternative message, the ‘I hate you so much.’ Not a direct response from the shop owning girlfriend thankfully! The message was ruined but you can see a third version (the second was put on wood but warped) on the wall in Bungalow (bar) on Rainey Street.
- I love you so much wall: 1300 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704, USA
- I hate you so much wall (3rd version): Bungalow 92 Rainey St, Austin, TX 78701, USA
7. Cool Things to do in Austin: Rainey Street
If you are looking for things to do in Austin at night head to Rainey Street. We ate curry at G’raj Mahal Cafe which is a typical (for the area) wooden house style restaurant decked out in not so typical bike wheels and umbrellas. A starter samosa, two curries and two naan came to $44.59. If you are having a few beers, remember it gets hot come March (check out how sweaty we are!) Stay hydrated and consider packing these electrolytes for the next day, there’s nothing worse than a hangover in the heat. A British doctor in Cuba recommended them as a hangover cure.
PS – this area has exploded in the last year! You heard it here first. Rainey Street is now laden with places to eat in Austin. It’s also a go to area if you are seeking out the free South By Southwest music events (like us! Read more about it here).
8. BBQ, Austin Texas Style!
Do it like Texans do! We planned to queue from 9am for Franklin’s BBQ until a taxi driver suggested Blacks in the Barton Springs area. On our search for Blacks, two different locals recommended Green Mesquite so we settled for there. No need to settle, Green Mesquite serves up a decent plate of two meats and two sides! This Austin restaurant is very close to Barton Springs so you could bathe and then BBQ, just don’t burn baby.
We returned the day after the wedding to feed hangovers! Try the Mac & Cheese side.
- Address: 1400 Barton Springs Rd, Austin, TX 78704, USA
- Contact: +1 512-479-0485
9. Hire a Bike
Like many cities (in London they call them ‘Boris bikes’ as the initiative was started by the mayor, Boris Johnson), Austin has bike stations where you can hire a bike for short distances around the centre of the city. To do so, you insert your credit card into the machine, it takes off $12 per bike for 24 hours and as long as you dock it every 60 mins (to avoid people not returning them throughout the day I suppose) you will not incur any other charges (unless you crash into the river). They are ideal if you are buzzing about the centre. We used them from Barton Springs to South Congress as that was the closest station to our hostel. They are pretty clunky; take it for a spin on a pavement before you hit the road. We used the designated bike lanes and felt safe enough. They have cute baskets for you belongings and a bell to warn walkers. Naturally, Craig carried his travel speaker in his basket, he never travels without this thing.
Get the Guides!
10. Stay in an Airstream
A what?! All over Austin you will see silver food trucks in little clusters of outdoor food courts or standing proud individually (like food trucks, check out Oregon’s Portland). Well, some homeowners take these food trucks, remove the cooking equipment and kit it out with kitsch home stuff and let you stay in them! We found three on Airbnb (a rental website – if you book through us here you can get £30 off your first stay, and we get credit too). We stayed with Alexandria in East Austin near 11th Street. The airstream sits in her back garden and you have access to your own bathroom, which is attached to the house. It was cosy and just what we needed to end our stay in awesome Austin!
GET HITCHED IN AUSTIN!
Craig and I loved Austin Texas’ points of interest SO MUCH we went back the following year and eloped! We headed back to the riverside and married at Lou Neff Point, took photos around the city, ate Italian, and then partied to Junior Boys at Mohawk.
➙ Here is our wedding story – an Austin elopement
Image by Corey Mendez Photography I Castle Hill, Austin
Accommodation in Austin
We’ve stayed in five different areas of Austin over the two years that we visited for SXSW. We totally lucked out on our first year, bagging a private room at the HI Austin. This hostel is super modern and in the loveliest of locations along the river. Strolling along the water into the city is honestly one of the nicest things to do in Austin on a sunny day. I am not lying when I say this experience is what prompted us to wed at Lady Bird Lake. The HI has a kitchen, free breakfast, large social area and friendly staff.
➞ Check availability and rates here.
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We have no affiliations with any of the places mentioned in this things to do in Austin Texas article. It’s all out of love!