Austin is a welcoming city year-round, but you’re more likely to have a fun time if you factor the weather and major events into your planning. In general, spring and early fall are the best times to visit Austin.
The long, hot summer usually releases its grip on Austin in early October. That’s why the Austin City Limits Music Festival is typically scheduled on the first two weekends of October. Unlike SXSW, ACL doesn’t have a huge impact on the entire city. It does increase the traffic around Zilker Park, and city buses are a little more crowded. The Austin Film Festival, in late October, has a slightly larger footprint, holding events in several locations, but most of them are in downtown. The Formula 1 Grand Prix is also held in October.
Though the race itself occurs in southeast Austin, the downtown area is also a hub of activity during the weekend of the race. Daytime highs in October are generally in the 80s F, and rain is infrequent. Whether or not you’re participating in these big events, October is the best overall time to visit Austin.
Sadly, climate change may soon threaten October’s status as Austin’s near-perfect weather month. In addition to causing higher temperatures, climate change is affecting rainfall. While October has always had periods of heavy rain, in October 2018, a catastrophic flood event occurred northwest of Austin, causing docks and even houses on the Colorado River to be washed downstream. Even though this flooding did not hit Austin directly, it affected the city’s water supply, which comes from Lake Austin (a dammed portion of the Colorado River).
The mud and other sediment churned up by the flooding created a situation where Austin’s water treatment plants could not keep up with the increased workload. Though no contaminants had been found, city leaders ordered a citywide boil-water notice that stayed in place for six days.
Austin's second-best weather month is March, although it can be a little unpredictable. It's a pack-for-everything kind of month: The typical high temperature is a near-perfect 72 F, but colder temperatures occasionally linger into March. Torrential spring rains also fire up in March from time to time.
The South by Southwest Music Festival occurs in March, and it truly affects the entire city. The most obvious impact is downtown, but there are concerts and other ancillary events in every part of the city. Some locals actually leave town during SXSW to avoid the traffic and other chaos that happens during the festival.
April is another near-perfect weather month, with highs in the low 80s F. There is an increasing risk of heavy rain in April, and an extremely high risk of misery if you’re an allergy sufferer. As trees, grasses and flowering plants spring back to life, the air is chock full of pollen. At times, the oak pollen is so thick that it covers cars with a yellow, powdery film. For non-allergy sufferers, this is a glorious time to visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center or take a drive through the hill country to see wildflowers.
You may even want to take a side trip to enjoy all the scenic drives the hill country has to offer.
The temperatures begin to rise a little more in May, with daily highs in the high 80s and low 90s. Flash flooding in May can be life threatening and occur with little warning. In central Austin, the area around Lamar and 9th Street is the spot that is most prone to street flooding, due to its proximity to Shoal Creek. When it’s not raining, however, May is an ideal time to go for a swim in Barton Springs or enjoy many of Austin’s other outdoor attractions.
During the Christmas season, Austin starts to feel like a small town again. Congress Avenue from the capitol to Lady Bird Lake is draped in sparkly garlands and lights. The state capitol building itself and the surrounding grounds are also lavishly decorated. At Zilker Park, the annual Trail of Lights is a beloved family tradition. You can walk through a tunnel of lights and see popular Christmas characters all dressed up for the season. One of Austin’s moonlight towers at Zilker is adorned with lights to make it look like a giant Christmas tree.
The tradition at the tower is to join hands with complete strangers and run in a circle until someone falls down, usually laughing.