Your Trip to Austin: The Complete Guide

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Live music is often the main attraction for many visitors to Austin, but there is so much more. There are more than 20,000 acres of parkland in Austin, and natural treasures like Barton Springs and Lady Bird Lake are in the heart of the city. The city’s lesser-known art and theater scenes offer inspiring experiences at reasonable prices. And food? Whether you’re looking for breakfast tacos or farm-to-table fare, you won’t leave this town hungry.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: Spring and fall offer the most reasonable temperatures, with lows in the 50s and highs in the 70s (Fahrenheit). If you love to see roadsides covered in wildflowers, visit in April or May. Be aware that torrential rain and flash flooding often occur in late May and early June. July and August are brutally hot, with temperatures often reaching 100 degrees. Winter is Austin’s most unpredictable season, with daytime temperatures ranging from the 40s to the 70s. Winter weather can seem almost spring-like between cold fronts.

Freezing temperatures usually occur only about five nights a year.

Language: English. Due to the large Latino population and the proximity to Mexico, many people speak at least rudimentary Spanish.

Currency: U.S. dollar

Getting Around: Mass transit in Austin consists only of buses and a single light-rail line. If you don’t have a car of your own, you can use Uber, Lyft, Ride Austin (ride-hailing service run by a local nonprofit) or Yellow Taxi. Within downtown, pedicabs can take you short distances in exchange for tips. The latest addition is electric scooters from companies like Bird and Lime.

Travel Tip: If you’ll be in town during one of Austin’s major annual events such as the South by Southwest Music Festival or Austin City Limits Music Festival, try to find a place to stay that’s as close as possible to your primary destination. The ride-hailing services and the bus system often cannot handle the huge crowds, leading to long wait times. You’ll have a much better overall experience if you stay within biking or scootering distance of the festival.

Things to Do

No visit to Austin would be complete without visiting 6th Street, checking out the bats, chowing down on Mexican food or barbecue, and visiting the Texas State Capitol. If the weather’s nice, you should also go swimming in Barton Springs and take a stroll around Lady Bird Lake.

  • For a quick intro to Austin’s music scene, pop into the Continental Club, the Saxon Pub or one of the other top music venues.
  • Even if you’re not a fan of flying mammals, you’ll want to check out Austin’s bat bridge to see what all the fuss is about.
  • To cool off in any season, take the plunge at Barton Springs Pool.

Explore more attractions with our articles on the best things to do with kids, things to do in downtown and free activities.

Where to Eat and Drink

Mexican food and barbecue make up the broad lower level of Austin’s food pyramid. You can find nearly infinite variations of both, including interior Mexican cuisine, cheesy Tex-Mex, hipster-approved brisket and roadside BBQ for the masses. A growing population of young vegetarians and vegans has led to a boom in restaurants focusing on meat-free dishes.

As for fine dining, several Austin restaurants are named as James Beard semifinalists every year, but only a few have won one of the prestigious awards. In true Austin style, Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue was the first pitmaster to earn a James Beard Award, receiving the coveted Best Chef in the Southwest award.

Barley Swine was named the best restaurant in Austin for 2018. The restaurant is known for making masterful dishes with ingredients produced almost exclusively by local ranchers and farmers. The food truck phenomenon has injected a whole new level of creativity into the Austin food scene. Many young chefs open food trucks and experiment with various styles for a few years before opening brick-and-mortar restaurants.

If we’re being honest, Austin may love bars and drinking just a wee bit too much. There are at least four entertainment districts that are primarily populated by bars and nightclubs: 6th Street, 4th Street/Warehouse District, Rainey Street and Rock Rose at the Domain. And yet another is currently being built in south Austin at The Yard/St. Elmo Market. While there’s no shortage of bars focusing on the hard-drinking crowd, many also employ knowledgeable mixologists who can whip up an Old Fashioned, a Moscow Mule or creative concoctions of their own.

Where to Stay

To pick the best hotel or AirBnB for you, consider where you’ll be spending most of your time and what types of activities you prefer. If you love shopping for antiques and vintage clothing, consider staying at one of the boutique hotels on and around South Congress Avenue. South Congress is also a popular place to spot celebrities during SXSW.

If you want to party all night, just about any downtown hotel will be walking distance from 6th Street and Rainey Street. In fact, with the opening of the luxurious Hotel Van Zandt, you can book a room overlooking Rainey Street. North Austin business travelers may want to stay at the Domain, which offers a wealth of eating, drinking and shopping options. If you want to imagine life as an Austinite, an AirBnB in east Austin will offer a glimpse of neighborhoods that are a mix of old and new. Fitness buffs may want to stay near Lady Bird Lake and its 10-mile hike and bike trail along the water.

The hills of west Austin are home to luxury hotels such as the Lake Austin Spa Resort. If you’re attending a conference at the University of Texas, look for a room or garage apartment to rent in the historic Hyde Park neighborhood just north of the campus.

Getting There

The only major airport in town is the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA). The mid-sized airport is about 20 minutes southeast of downtown Austin. The only Greyhound bus station in the area is in north Austin, about 20 minutes north of downtown. Drivers within Texas often arrive via I-35 from Dallas or via Highway 71 from Houston. If you plan to thoroughly explore Austin, your best bet is to rent a car. While there are several ride-hailing services, mass transit is minimal.

Culture and Customs

Depending on one’s political leanings, Austin may be known as the “liberal oasis of Texas” or “the people’s republic of Austin.” Austinites tend to be more liberal than other Texans, but the distinction may be lost on people from other states or countries. Those from more formal cultures may sometimes be surprised by just how laid-back some Austinites can be. For example, it’s not unusual to see someone wearing shorts and a T-shirt at an upscale restaurant.

Generally speaking, Austin is a very safe town, and the downtown area is relatively small and pedestrian-friendly. If you plan to visit 6th Street, however, consider heading home by around 1 a.m. After the bars close at 2 a.m., fights occasionally break out as people leave the bars and walk back to their cars or wait for rides. Your best bet is to clear out of the area before the drunken hordes emerge from the bars.

People from outside Texas may also be concerned about “gun culture” in Texas. While many Texans do love their guns, most use them for deer hunting, and only about 3 percent of the population has a license to carry a gun in public. Most gun owners keep their weapons concealed, so you probably won’t ever see them unless you happen to be at the Texas State Capitol during a gun-rights protest.

Newcomers may be confused by the way Texans pronounce many of the street names, particular those of Spanish origin. Essentially, they’ll take the Spanish word and pronounce it as if it were an English word. So if you speak a little Spanish and try to pronounce the following street names the correct way, your driver won’t know what you’re talking about: San Jacinto, Rio Grande, Brazos, Guadalupe.

In addition, many street names around town are in the process of being changed because they were originally named after historical figures from the Civil War. For example, Robert E. Lee Road was recently named Azie Morton Road after the nation’s first African-American treasurer. She was also well-known locally for insisting on swimming in Barton Springs at a time when the pool was still officially segregated. Street names in Austin also have a bad habit of changing their names even as you're driving on them.

Ranch Road 2222 abruptly becomes Koenig Lane in west Austin. The part of Highway 71 that runs through Austin is also known as Ben White Boulevard, but only for a small stretch of the highway. Mopac, which is one of only two major north-south freeways in Austin, is also known as Loop 1. But here's the thing: it's not a loop. It's a straight shot from south to north Austin.

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