Austin might be the “Live Music Capital of the World” (it has more venues per capita than anywhere else in the world), but there’s more to it than that. Come through for summer swimming holes, Texas-sized nightlife, and more food trucks than you could try in a year.
What to do in Austin
Festivals are prevalent here in Austin. Try one of these:
- Austin City Limits. Oct 6-8 & 13-15. With an AWESOME line-up (Gorillaz (on their first tour in seven years), Jay-Z, Chance the Rapper, and so many more), ACL is not to be missed. Come for the music and stay for the food.
- South By Southwest. Mar 9-18, 2018. SXSW is massive. Spanning 9 days, the festival brings together thousands of musical performances, hundreds of films, and the latest creative technologies. Check out our full guide for the festival panels and parties.
- Austin Food & Wine Festival. April 2018. A weekend filled with artisanal food & wine, demos & tasting sessions stocked full of kitchen secrets, rubbing elbows with famous chefs and live music all night long.
Explore the city
- Wander the UT area. Even if you’re not still an undergrad, the University of Texas neighborhood just north of Downtown is worth checking out. Hike up and down Guadalupe Street (“The Drag”) for 24/7 activity, hip live venues, eclectic shops, and fun restaurants.
- University of Texas Football. While you’re in the area, try to catch a Longhorns game. Texas takes its football seriously so you’re sure to have a good time.
- Circuit of the Americas. At the edges of Austin lies this 3.5-mile long motor course designed for Formula One races that is sure to be a gearhead’s dream. Besides the many Grand Prix events it holds throughout the year, visitors can get on the course themselves with the Audi Driving Experience.
- Formula 1 US Grand Prix. Oct 20-22, 2017. And what better way to see the Circuit in use than with an actual Formula One race? The world’s most exciting race comes to the US in October. Book in advance because these tickets go fast.
- Texas State Capitol. As they say in Texas, the bigger, the better. This capitol building was once the tallest in the nation and while others have surpassed it, it is still a sight to be seen. Jump into one of the free tours and marvel at the architectural details.
- Blanton Museum of Art. Located on the UT campus, the Blanton holds art from across the ages: everything from ancient Greek pottery to abstract impressionism. Hot tip: every third Thursday is free.
- The Domain. A shopping center that features everything from high-end boutiques to more traditional retailers as well as a wide array of restaurants.
- South Congress. Looking for something a bit more eclectic? Head to SoCo. It has vintage boutiques, knick knack shops, antique stores, you name it. And if you don’t have a pair of cowboy boots, it’s okay–Allen’s Boots will quickly fix that situation.
- Zilker Park. Even when it’s not hosting awesome festivals (like ACL), Zilker Park is an Austin must-see. 350-acres of land boasting water sports, a dog park, a swimming hole (more on that below), festivals, a botanical garden and more.
- Outdoor activities on Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake). Just next to Zilker Park lies Lady Bird Lake, a center for outdoor activities in Downtown Austin. Rent a paddle board or kayak or bike along the 10-mile Ann & Roy Butler hike-and-bike trail.
- Hit the water:
- Lake Travis. This reservoir is one of the most visited recreational vacation spots in the state of Texas. Hang out at one of the lake’s many parks, rent a motor boat for the day, or have some fun at one of the many restaurants and shops (see Oasis Brewing below!).
- Barton Springs Pool. Located inside of Zilker Park, this spring-fed swimming hole is a city oasis in the summer. An at only $8 for non-residents, more than worth it.
- Hamilton Pool. A natural pool created when the dome of an underground river collapsed, Hamilton Pool is not only fun to swim in, but an awesome sight to see (during high waters, a waterfall cascades off the top). Hike up to this grotto for a day of relaxing fun.
- Hike up Mount Bonnell. A short but steep climb just north of Downtown Austin will lead you to the best view in the city. See Austin, the Colorado River, and everything surrounding.
Experience the night-life
- Sahara Lounge. This Eastside gem can feature funk one night and Brazilian the next. But no matter the music du jour, you can expect to be in the midst of one raucous dance crowd.
- The Continental Club. Perhaps one of the city’s most famous venues, the Club hosts some of the finest country and swing bands around. It’s not fancy and doesn’t pretend to be.
- Firehouse Lounge – People come to firehouse for both the ambience (secret bookstore entrance? check) and the craft cocktails.
- Midnight Cowboy – A speakeasy bar that moonlights as a massage lounge. Midnight Cowboy has a menu of fancy rotating cocktails but the bartenders can also serve up whatever you have on your mind. Hot tip: if you didn’t make a reservation, walk past the front. If the light bulb is on, that means they have a spot open!
- Summit Rooftop. An outdoor rooftop club. Come to dance to DJ sets under the stars.
Where to eat & drink
Austin’s food scene has established the city as a foodie haven. In addition to authentic tacos & classic Southern BBQ, you’ll find farm-to-table restaurants and a food truck on practically every block.
- Franklin Barbecue. A lot of good restaurants have long waits. Those waits do not compare to that of Franklin’s. 6 days a week, hundreds of people wait in line for 3 – 6 hours to taste some of the best smoked beef brisket in America. And it’s worth it. Moist, tender, delicious.
- Red Ash. Fine Italian food in the heart of Downtown Austin. Get the fresh & creamy burrata as an app and if you’re feeling adventurous, the smoky grilled octopus.
- Emmer & Rye. A trendy farm-to-table restaurant that caters to Austin’s foodie crowd. Expect dishes to both look & taste out-of-this-world. You really should get the pork carnitas.
- Fonda San Miguel. This upscale Mexican restaurant definitely does not serve “Tex-Mex.” Get the Cochinita Pibil (a specialty from Yucatan of pork baked in a banana leaf) and the Tres Leche cake for dessert.
- Torchy’s Tacos. If you could only eat at one place in Austin, go to Torchy’s (it’s like what In-N-Out is to California—it even has a secret menu). Cheap, flavorful, and well-stuffed tacos. Also, that queso.
- Odd Duck. This farm-to-table spot has an ever-changing menu that will keep you coming back. Odd Duck’s comfort-style take on tapas means items like fried wagyu skewers, chorizo-spiced squash quesadilla, and smoked pork belly with Texas-Thai caviar. Your tastebuds will thank you.
- Top Want Wingy. This food truck serves up perfectly crisped wings in nine unique flavors. Spicy pineapple? Chile Lemon? Choosing is the hardest part.
- Wu Chow. Want a non-traditional brunch? Head to Wu Chow for Chinese dim sum. Definitely get the soup dumplings (no dim sum is complete without them).
- Second Bar + Kitchen. Spend a night lounging on Second Bar’s patio while sipping Texas rosé and noshing on their amazing Avocado Fundido (basically broiled cheesy guacamole, yum).
- South Congress Cafe. After a night on the town, you’re going to want a healthy-sized brunch, so head to South Congress Cafe. They serve up all your favorites alongside some potential new faves (Carrot Cake French Toast anyone?).
- Perla’s Seafood & Oyster Bar. An awesome place to grab brunch and sit on the patio under red-striped umbrellas. Don’t leave without trying the oysters (it is an oyster bar after all).
- Salt Lick BBQ. While this BBQ joint isn’t exactly in Austin (in fact, it’ll take you a half hour drive to reach it), the food is so worth it. Just inside the door lies the massive BBQ pit from which comes juicy pork ribs, tender brisket and flavorful turkey sausage.
- Paperboy. While the menu at this food truck is relatively small (usually 4-5 items), you’re sure to find a breakfast item you’ll love. Our go-to is the BEC (bacon, a sunnyside-up egg, & pimento cheese on brioche).
- The Oasis. How does a front row seat to the sunset over Lake Travis sound? Post up with a beer or a margarita.
- 77 Degrees Rooftop. This swanky rooftop bar will make you feel as if you’re on vacation at a resort. Complete the picture with a Jamaican Sun (rum, mango puree, lime, all topped with prosecco).
- HandleBar. Rooftop bar that bills itself as an adult wonderland. Which it is: playground equipment, giant Jenga, and some stiff drinks.
- Rock Rose. This district within Domain is one of Austin’s newest hot spots. Featuring a vibrant blend of upscale bars & restaurants and weird Austin charm.
- Rainey Street. Rainey is full of former bungalow homes that have been converted to bungalow bars, complete with outdoor patios & food trucks. Come here for a night full of great drinks, live music, and an even livelier atmosphere.
- 6th Street. 6th Street hosts a city-sponsored multi-block party every weekend. After 11pm the street is open to pedestrians only so it’s ready-made for you to have one of the best pub crawls around.
For coffee (because caffeine should be a food group too)
- Houndstooth Coffee. Houndstooth is an independent coffee shop that delivers more than just a cup of joe. We’d recommend a pour over to taste the full flavor of the beans or a cold brew to cool you down on a hot day.
- Halcyon Coffee. A cozy coffee spot where you can roast s’mores right at your table. Halcyon can be enjoyed by day or by night.
- Jo’s Coffee. Come to Jo’s for some humble coffee and a breakfast taco. Plus, the location on Congress has that famous “I love you so much” mural outside so you’re sure to see some good people watching (Instagrammers galore).
- Cuvée Coffee. A chill restaurant with high-quality coffee. Get the nitro cold-brew–it’s so thick and creamy, you’d think there was milk in it.
- Hay Elotes. A Mexican food truck serving up fantastical fruit-centered creations. Our fave is the Mango Hill (pictured below): a slushie made of mango purée and stacked high with fresh strawberries & a drizzle of chili sauce.
- Cow Tipping Creamery. Just get one of the Stackers–you will not regret it. These sundaes are made with alternating layers of homemade toppings, baked goods, and soft serve. Pictured below is “It’s Your Birthday” (funfetti cake chunks, birthday cake crumble, rainbow sprinkles, and white chocolate sauce).
Where to stay