- There’s nothing like getting travel advice from a local.
- I’ve lived in Austin, Texas, for 12 years and there are lots of fun shops, music stores, bars, and more.
- From hanging out in Zilker Park to strolling down South Congress Avenue, here’s what you should do in Austin.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
If you’re planning a trip you’ve probably consulted with some visitors guides and must-see lists but there’s nothing like hearing recommendations from a local.
I was born and raised in Austin and go back often, these are the things I do and see whenever I’m home.
Hang out in Zilker Park.
Zilker Park is Austin’s biggest park and an excellent place to spend the day.
The park is home to tons of events like the ACL music festival in October, Trail of Lights in December, and Blues on the Green during the summer. But even on days when no special events are going on the sprawling park is a veritable playground that includes the Umlauf Sculpture and Zilker Botanical Gardens, kayaking and other water activities on Lady Bird Lake, and a choo choo train for kids.
It’s also adjacent to Barton Springs which means you can hang out in the park during the day and then take a dip in the springs to cool off.
Cool off in Barton Springs Pool.
Austinites flock to Barton Springs all summer long both to entertain themselves and ward off the grueling Texas heat.
If you’re visiting in the warmer months make sure to stop by. The pool is fed by natural springs with an average temperature of 68-70° Fahrenheit so the chilly water makes for a perfect way to cool off after a day of ogling at tourist attractions.
See world-renowned works at the Blanton Museum of Art.
Austin is big on graffiti and outdoor installations but also offers a more traditional way to appreciate art through the Blanton Museum of Art.
Exhibitions are always changing so there’s always something new to see but make sure to visit permanent attractions like Ellsworth Kelly’s stone building, “Austin.”
Take a stroll down South Congress Avenue.
South Congress is the heart of Austin’s downtown scene and a walk down the bustling street is a must on a trip to the capital.
On SoCo, as it’s known locally, you’ll find plenty of boutiques and iconic Austin stores like Allen’s Boots (a cowboy boot emporium), Lucy in Disguise With Diamonds (a costume wonderland), and Parts & Labour (a shop filled with products by local artisans).
Of course, there are also plenty of bars where you’ll catch great live music – Austin isn’t known as the Live Music Capital of The World for nothing. Oh, and in case you were wondering, SoCo is also the place where that famous “I Love You So Much” wall is, so be sure to be photo ready when you visit.
Grab a drink on Rainey Street.
You may have heard that 6th Street is the place to go bar hopping but that’s really only the case if you’re looking for a drunken college student experience.
For a much more upscale bar crawl, head to Rainey Street where ranch-style homes have been converted into chic bars with great backyards. All of Rainey Street’s bars offer a little something special, but don’t miss brunch at Banger’s where you can order and try to finish their famous “Manmosa,” aka a liter of champagne with a splash of OJ.
Find old treasures at Uncommon Objects.
It used to be much easier to get to Uncommon Objects back when it was conveniently located on SoCo, but unfortunately, high rent prices drove it off the beaten path. Still, in my opinion, it’s one of the Austin stores that embodies the motto “keep Austin weird” and a great place to stop if you have the time.
The cooky antique shop offers up plenty of baubles ranging from people’s old photos and diaries to old-school anatomical models, one-of-a-kind furniture, and precious vintage jewels. The store itself can’t be easily described so it’s best if you just go – but be warned, it’s easy to spend hours in there ogling everything they have to offer.
Explore the lake via stand up paddleboard.
There are many ways to experience Austin’s lakes but the best one, in my opinion, is by stand up paddleboard.
Rent one for an hour or a day from the Texas Rowing Center and spend hours paddling away like a local. For the more adventurous, and well balanced, there’s even the option to try paddleboard yoga, which is a very Austin thing to do.
Catch a stunning sunset at Mount Bonnell.
As the highest point in the city Mount Bonnell offers incredible sunset views. It can get crowded so try to get there early and stake out a spot before the selfie-obsessed arrive and sunset engagement proposals begin.
Visit the Texas State Capitol.
We say everything is bigger in Texas and the capitol is no exception. Standing a whole 15 feet taller than the Washington capitol, the building is a huge point of pride for locals. If you want a closer look at the architecture and what goes on tours are available and touch on everything from the basics to women in Texas history.
Take a swim in Hamilton Pool.
It’s out of the way of all the main Austin attractions but Hamilton Pool still a worthy watering hole to visit.
The natural pool is stunning and will not only make for a great Instagram photo but it’ll also make you feel like you’re in a much more exotic location. Make sure to make a reservation before you go and call on the day-of since the pool is sometimes closed for swimming.
Get your cards read at Native Hostel.
I’ve yet to make it to Native Hostel but it’s a place all my Austin friends all rave about.
The spot is equal parts an upscale hostel, concert venue, and contemporary restaurant. Check out their event calendar before you go, they host everything from concerts with local musicians, to vintage and local-goods market and tarot readings.
Appreciate some ever-changing graffiti at HOPE Outdoor Gallery Wall.
Austin loves its graffiti and there’s no better proof than the HOPE Outdoor Gallery Wall.
The outdoor art space started out as an abandoned construction site turned graffiti haven and it’s since evolved into a favorite local and tourist destination for new and evolving art.
The gallery is moving to a new location and re-opening in the summer but I have no doubt it’ll be as cool and weird as the original.
Learn about Texas’ rich history at the Bullock Texas State History Museum.
Texans are proud to be from Texas so it would do you well to visit the Bullock Texas State History Museum and learn more about why locals are such fans of their state. At the Bullock Museum, you’ll find centuries of Texas history complete with artifacts and interactive activities to give you a sense of Texas’ rich history.
Swing by and learn more about everything from Texas’ time as its own country to the reigning years of the Bush family.
Get into Austin’s famous live music scene.
Austin truly lives up to its moniker as the Live Music Capital of the World and boasts tons of music venues – seriously, you’ll always find a concert going on in Austin.
While there are many spots to choose from to catch a good show, a few standouts are The Continental Club (located on South Congress, so you’ll probably be close by at some point), Antone’s, and Stubb’s Bar-B-Q to name just a few.
Grab a beer in one of the east side breweries.
Austin’s east side is booming and it seems like new restaurants, bars, and venues are popping up all the time.
One of the biggest draws are its many taprooms. As the craft-beer capital of Texas, Austin has many taprooms for beer aficionados to choose from including Blue Owl Brewing (they’re big on sours), Hops & Grain (known for their iPAs and lagers), and Zilker Brewing Co. (they’ve got a little bit of everything).
Find great music at Waterloo Records.
For vinyl fans, Waterloo Records is a must on a trip to Austin.
The giant store has everything you need for your record collection, from new releases to rare finds you’ve been trying to track down, there’s no shortage of great music at this store.
Bonus: The shop is located adjacent to Austin icon, Amy’s Ice Cream, so you can check out two Austin classics in one stop.