Austin, Texas: known as an expanding city with good music, good beer and amazing BBQ. What was once a small college town is now a bustling city home to some of the biggest names within the tech industry. Yet despite being one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., the city has still been able to hold onto its unique country roots. Whether you visit for the food, the culture or the outdoor activities, Austin is sure to not disappoint. For a complete guide of the best that Austin has to offer, read on!
Where to eat & drink
If there is one place you need to eat while in Austin, it’s Franklin Barbecue. This is one of the only places I’ve ever visited that has 100% lived up to its hype. But I should warn you, actually getting to try the food is no easy task. The doors don’t open until 11 AM, but people start lining up hours before. On our first attempt to eat there we arrived at 10:30 AM to find out that they were already sold out. On our second attempt we arrived at 9 AM and the line was already half formed around the building. We waited in line through the on-again off-again rain and finally were able to receive and eat our food around 2 PM. The wait can be gruesome, but it’s so worth it. **Note: If you do plan on visiting, I recommend getting there early in the morning (read 7-8 AM) to snag some of their free chairs left behind by past visitors or plan to bring your own.
This Airstream donut shop is a true game changer when it comes to donuts. Each donut is cooked to order guaranteeing it’s hot and fresh. My favorite is the dirty berry donut with fudge icing and grilled strawberries and it turned out to be one of the best donuts I’ve ever had (if not the best)!
Juan In a Million
From the outside, this looks like your typical mom and pop Mexican restaurant. Inside, however, are some of the biggest and best burritos you’ll ever have. But what truly makes this place special is Juan himself. The moment you walk in the door you’re greeted with a loud welcome and Juan’s famous handshakes. I would rate the place an 10/10, but with Juan it’s definitely is a solid 11/10.
Famous for both the drinks it serves and the mural on the side of the building, Jo’s is a must see if you’re walking along South Congress. If it’s a hot Austin day, grab a famous Belgian Bomber from the walk-up window, listen to some local music on the patio and be sure to snap a quick souvenir photo in front of the “I love you so much” mural on the side of the building.
Looking for a great way to battle the Austin summer heat? Head over to to Austin Eastciders collaboratory (taproom) to grab a drink. This local cidery has expanded rapidly over the last few years and for good reason! If you’re new to ciders, pick a few that you’re interested in and try their cider flight. A few of my favorite flavors include the original, rose and watermelon.
One of the two infamous streets for Austin nightlife, 6th street located downtown, is lined with bars. Depending on what type of night you’re wanting, there’s bound to be a bar for you. The east side of the street, known as “dirty six”, is filled with cheap college bars and the west side has more upscale establishments, appealing to the slightly older crowd.
If you’re looking for a truly unique night out, head on over to Rainey Street. On this little stretch of road you’ll find old houses that have been converted into bars each with its distinct personality. A few popular spots are Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden, Unbarlievable, Container Bar and Lucille. But be warned, parking near this street can be hard to come by. My main two suggestions would be to either Uber there or if you don’t mind walking look up a nearby parking using SpotHero.
What to see & do
Bats Under The Congress Street Bridge
When many people think of Austin, they probably think about its famous food and culture. But the southern city is also famous for its bat population. The Congress Street Bridge is home to 1.5 million bats, the largest urban bat colony in North America. Between late spring and early fall, visitors can witness the bats fly out from beneath the bridge and ascend into the night sky. While times vary as to when the bats depart their home under the bridge, I’d recommend getting there between 7:30-8 PM.
State Capital Building
The State Capital offers free tours every day of the week. So if you’re running tight on the budget or just have a spare 45 minutes, this is definitely an interesting place to visit.
South Congress Avenue
This vibrant neighborhood south of Lady Bird Lake, is the epitome of all things Austin. From funky shops, to local restaurants, South Congress has something for everyone. A few popular Austin spots located on this infamous street include: Jo’s Coffee, the “I love you so much” mural, Hopdoddy, Home Slice Pizza, Hotel San José, Austin Motel, Amy’s Ice Creams, Güero’s Taco Bar and Allens Boots.
Barton Springs Pool
Located within Zilker Park’s 358 acres lies Barton Springs Pool, a unique swimming oasis near downtown. Surrounded by exposed stone both on the sides and floor of the pool, Barton Springs makes you feel a bit more connected to nature compared to your average neighborhood pool. Water from the pool is fed through underground springs averaging 70 degrees year-round, meaning it’s also the perfect escape from the mid-summer heat!
Austin Central Library
Visiting a library may not be the first activity you think of when visiting a new city, but Austin isn’t your average city and neither is its library. Opened in 2017, the 6 floor, 200,000 square foot building is specifically designed for the modern age. Equipped with an art gallery, cafe, rooftop lounge and 3D printing space, the space is so impressive it was awarded one of Time Magazines’s World’s Greatest Places in 2018.
“Greetings from Austin” Mural
If you’re looking for a spot to take your souvenir photo, head over to the Greetings from Austin mural located near South Congress. You can find the photo op at 1720 S. 1st Street.
Lady Bird Lake
After you’re done zipping around the city, take some time to enjoy all the nature that Austin has to offer. Lady Bird Lake is an excellent way to take in the views of the city, while getting to experience the epitome of Austin lifestyle.
I would definitely be ordering one of those donuts! I don’t think I’ve ever had one that was served hot before.
Great guide. This reminded me of my trip to Austin long time back. the downtown was so lively.
Austin is such a cool city! We love visiting (we are in Tulsa, OK). We have yet to haul our paddleboards there since we usually fly, but all the photos of everyone SUP’ing on the lakes is fuuuun! 🙂
I love that you started with the food. It’s the bit I usually scroll to first anyway, and it looks like Austin has a lot to offer. That donut though! Wow!
Wow, the food at Franklin Barbecue must be incredible for people to wait that long! It sounds worth the wait though and I’d love to try it! I also had no idea Austin had such a huge bat population! We have a handful of bats around our house and they are always fun to watch fluttering around. I’d love to spot some in Austin! Thanks for the great guide!
I love this guide. I had no idea about the spring pool and it looks so cool, thanks for letting me know about it, I will have to check these places next time I am in Austin.
This is becoming more relevant as New Yorkers move to Austin for work, so I’m sure it will be of good use! Thanks for sharing.
I love that you start off with what to eat because tbh I’m gonna go to Austin for the food! Definitely saving this list for later because it made my tummy rumble
I always considered Austin as a fun college town. Little did I know, there is so much more to do! Would love to visit soon.