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When I say Texas, you think of cowboys and Conservatives, right? Wrong! Say hello to Austin – the hipster Texas city in The Lone Star State.
Just over 950,000 people reside in Austin, and during our three visits, we’ve met around 30 of them, and one even married us. Yes, you heard that right.
We love this city so much we got hitched by Lady Bird Lake on Lou Neff Point.
Here’s our guide to unique things to do in Austin today, which are awesome!
Are you visiting for Christmas? Here’s our festive guide, too.
Get Your Bearings
The main areas in which you will most likely spend time during your trip to Austin are the Downtown, Red River, 6th Street, East 6th, Rainey Street, South Congress, and Zilker.
While some of these Austin activities are not unique in Austin, they are unique to Austin.
Where else in the world can you eat Tex-Mex and drink craft beer while listening to any genre of music possible?
Unusual Things to Do in Austin
1. Eat Breakfast at Juan in a Million
The first thing to do in Austin is to grab a Tex Mex breakfast, and Juan in a Million (2300 E Cesar Chavez St) is the legend you get to meet.
Not only does the ex-high school teacher, Juan Meza, sell no-frills, great homemade food, but he also greets every single customer at the door with his signature handshake!
Now, that is a personal welcome.
Our taxi driver said one day he drove past and couldn’t believe the size of the line, Juan had just made it to the big screen.
Casey Webb from the notorious hit TV show Man v Food had taken on the challenge of eating eight Don Juan tacos stuffed full of eggs, potatoes, bacon, and cheese.
Think you can make it on the ‘Juan of Fame’? Webb managed four and a quarter…
Please tell us how many you manage in the comments below!
2. Mimosas + Tacos at Ciscos
You are not hard-pressed to find breakfast tacos in Austin, but Cisco’s (1511 E 6th St) is an iconic diner on East 6th Street.
When you sit next to the cute tiled wall, a friendly server will hit your table with glasses of water, salsa, and delicious taco chips.
Breakfast tacos with eggs, cheese, and meat and a liquor license are just what the doctor ordered after a night of partying in Austin.
Lots of visitors also hit up the popular chain Torchy’s Tacos. Check out Torchy’s secret menu recipe.
Guys! You can buy my T-shirt (below) here. ‘Guid’ means good in Scottish.
3. Stroll Along Lady Bird Lake
Austin’s hike and bike trail is bustling come spring/summer.
What better way to blow the city cobwebs away than to hire a bike and pedal along the Colorado River?
This 2-hour sightseeing tour is done via bike and includes a ride along Lady Bird Lake.
Even better, why not hire a paddle board and get in?
Kayaks, boats, river bikes, birds, and turtles dominate the lake.
A stroll by the lake with the sun on your face is one of the more romantic things to do in Austin, so much so that we returned in 2016 to say ‘I do’ with the lake as our backdrop.
We eloped to Austin! Read our wedding story here.
4. Make a Splash at Barton Springs
Barton Springs (2201 Barton Springs Rd) is a natural spring where the public can sunbathe, kayak, and swim. Or sunbathe on your kayak, as I saw some girls do.
Located in Zilker Park, there are two options for the pool. The first is to pay to use the swimming pool-style spring with a nice grassy hill to sunbathe.
Love the water? Check out our guide to the best beach towns Texas has to offer.
The second option is to use the area next door for free.
Don’t make the mistake we did – take the turning before the bridge and use the concrete hill for sunbathing.
We were stuck on the muddy and stony ground, which was fine with a towel.
The locals will laugh and ask if you went into the water…
5. Cool Off at High Heights
The Azul Rooftop Bar and Lounge (310 E 5th St) at the Westin Hotel allows non-members to use their rooftop swimming pool (as well as towels) free of charge.
However, do expect to pay skyrocket prices for drinks.
I think it is worth the hit on your purse as the cold slush cocktails and summer vibes music was just what we needed to chill out after the madness of South By.
Azul features in our most Instragrammable places in Austin guide.
6. Seek Out The Speakeasies
There are a handful of prohibition-era style bars around the city, such as Midnight Cowboy, which is said to be the original.
Take advantage of the intimate setting during a date night!
7. Get Crafty
To Craig’s delight, there is now an explosion of craft beer breweries in Austin.
One of his most recommended is Lazarus Brewery on East 6th Street.
Expect an audience of all ages, drinking flights and wine while listening to live music playing outside on the bandstand. Furry friends welcome.
8. Catch a Band
Across the road from Lazarus is Zilker Brewing Company, which also puts on shows.
These two craft breweries are just two of Austin’s over two hundred live gig venues.
Some say that Austin is the musical capital of the world. You can see a show any night of the week in different areas around the city.
There is always something going down on Dirty 6th, but please be warned that the street gets messy on weekends.
Other notable venues include:
- Cheer Up Charlies.
- Hotel Vegas.
- Stubb’s Bar-B-Q.
Want more music? This three-hour music tour led by a musician sells out fast.
9. Be Cute at Austin’s Rainbow House
I’ve died and woke up in social media photography heaven.
Cute Nail Studio (1211 E 7th St) actively encourages you to see their bright and awesome salon!
This unique rainbow building just off East 6th is a wonder to behold.
Clever marketing by the Cute team, and they are kick ass on Insta too.
If you’re quite into unique architecture, check out our guide on treehouses in Texas that you can book!
10. Up For Swinging?
There are two spots where you can climb into a hammock while you drink an alcoholic beverage or coffee.
First up is the area outside of Revival Coffee Shop (1405 E 7th St), which is shared with a food truck.
The next hammock stop can be found at the food trucks on East 6th, across from 1660 food trucks.
11. Food Trucks
You can’t go to Austin and not eat from a food truck.
What do you want? Colombian? Brazilian? Tacos? Burgers? Pizza? Poke Bowls?
You name it; there’s a truck that does it.
We even saw Peruvian desserts being sold near Barton Springs.
Now that’s niche!
12. Sinful Desserts by Nuhas
The seven deadly sins result in diabetes at this food truck next to Terry Black’s BBQ on Barton Springs Rd.
The brownie is to die for.
13. BBQ, Austin Texas Style!
Do it as Texans do! Some of the most popular Austin attractions are the BBQ houses.
On the east side, Franklin BBQ is the most talked about BBQ joint.
Therefore, you must arrive fast (11 am opening) and expect to wait in line.
It closes when the food is gone.
During our trip, a taxi driver recommended Blacks (Guadalupe St); on our way there, we stopped for directions, and a local pointed out Green Mesquite, so we settled for there.
No need to settle, Green Mesquite serves up a decent plate of two types of meat and two sides!
This Austin restaurant is close to Barton Springs so you can bathe and then BBQ.
We’ve now dined at Blacks and the Copper Pit and have to say that we prefer Mesquite.
If you have time, head out to Lockhart to try Kreuz BBQ. Those are the best green beans I’ve tasted.
Find out more in our road trip guide.
14. Wander Along South Congress (SoCo)
Dirty 6th is a cool, messy street full of filthy bars and one of your first stops for things to do 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 jewelry.
Look out for the topless cowboy on a horse. Yes, that happens.
You may also like our guide to free things to do in Austin.
15. Biscuits at South Congress Cafe
Biscuits melt in your mouth.
South Congress Cafe (1600 S Congress Ave) made it to our best restaurants post.
Find out who else managed to take a spot on our Austin foodie bucket list.
16. Shop for Treats 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 the things to do in Austin with kids, it’s for big kids too, right?
Their stock will fill you with nostalgia as well as sugar.
You can even buy seasoned bugs! We took some home for my eleven-year-old cousin to try.
17. Get Snap Happy – Street Art in Austin
Austin has a lot of street art, but unfortunately, much is spread quite far apart. Close to downtown, you can catch:
- The I Love You So Much Wall on So Co (see below).
- Let’s Band Together Heart on East 6th Street.
- Historic 6th Mural at 5582 N Interstate 35 Frontage Rd, 78701.
- Ninja Style graffiti on Lamar Boulevard Bridge.
- Tau Ceti triangle at Brazos and Second.
A little further afield is the famous:
- Jeremiah the Innocent at 21st and Guadalupe.
- You’re My Butter Half at 2000 E Martin Luther King Jr Blvd (Alamo St.)
We were disappointed that Hope Outdoor Gallery at Castle Hill has now closed.
This is where we got our wedding photos taken.
Rumour has it that Hope will be reopening at a spot near the airport.
We never made it to the 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).
Some murals are quite spaced out, so this electric bike tour can cover more ground than by foot.
Back at South Congress, you’ll see a large gathering at the end of a shop – the ‘I Love You So Much’ wall (1300 S Congress Ave).
As the story goes, the artist spray painted the message, I love you so much, on her girlfriend’s shop wall after they broke up.
Mural hopping is a cute date activity.
18. Rainey Street
If you are looking for things to do in Austin at night, head to Rainey Street.
This area has exploded! Rainey Street is packed with bars and places to eat in Austin, taking over the historic bungalows.
It’s also a go-to area if you are seeking out the free South by Southwest music events.
19. Hire a Bike or Scooter
Be like a local and hire an electronic scooter or bike to get around town.
Companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Lime have dumped e-scooters by the side of the road, and you just use an app to activate and then scoot.
Be cautious of cars, and don’t drink and drive.
20. Stay in an Airstream
A what?! All over Austin, you will see silver food trucks in little clusters like outdoor food courts or standing proudly individually.
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!
21. Attend South by Southwest
It is a fun nine days full of free parties, gigs, and swag.
Catch intimate music shows with big artists, watch movies in Austin’s cute theaters, and get lost in the madness.
You will need a holiday after this festival!
22. Head to Big Bend
If you can find enough time to build an Austin to Big Bend National Park road trip for your visit, I highly recommend it.
We did this 11-stop West Texas itinerary over four nights, ate the best BBQ, saw art installations, stargazed, and hiked in Big Band among the dusty roads and bluebonnets.
BONUS: GET HITCHED IN AUSTIN!
Craig and I loved Austin, Texas’s points of interest so much that we went back the following year and eloped!
We headed back to the lake, married at Lou Neff Point, took photos around the city, ate Italian, and then partied with Junior Boys at Mohawk.
Best Austin Tours
- Cycle Tour – See the city on two wheels
- E-bike landmark tour – Cover more ground, pack more in
- Downtown Ghost Tour – visit haunted locations like The Omni Hotel
- Amazing Hill Country Day Tour – LBJ Ranch, European-looking Fredericksburg and local Luckenbach.
Austin Packing List
You can’t survive a trip to Austin without:
- Warm layers, it was freezing when we arrived in March and didn’t heat up until a few days into SXSW
- A waterproof coat like this Marmot Precip US / UK
- Comfortable walking shoes and hiking boots – I swear by Salomon Ellipse trek shoes US / UK
- Sunglasses for the sun and hiding behind.
- Tattoos, you won’t fit in without one.
- Camera and battery
- Battery pack for your phone – I vouch for Anker’s range US / UK
- Osprey bag cover US / UK
- Eco water bottle as there are heaps of places to fill up for free – the practical Tree Tribe US / UK
- Filter and purifying water bottle like Water To Go [quote TSA15 at checkout for 15% off]
- Bamboo cutlery set US / UK – So annoyed at the use of plastic at the BBQ joints.
- Skross universal travel adaptor with USB slots US / UK
- Pacsafe safety net US / UK
- Hydration tablets US / UK if participating in some Austin boozing!
I know what you are thinking – where are the bats?
We’ve never actually managed to experience over a million bats flying from Congress Avenue Bridge.
We’re still happy with what we’ve accomplished in Austin, the city that will always have a special place in our hearts!