Texas Longhorns Football: Travel Guide for a Game in Austin

Darrell K Royal - Texas Memorial Stadium
James Thompson

Austin is seen as one of the best up-and-coming cities in the country, but it’s also home to the great Texas Longhorn football program. Charlie Strong is rebuilding the program, but that hasn’t stopped the energy the locals have for their boys in burnt orange. There are many reasons to head to Austin for a Texas football game. For starters, Texas historically has historically been one of the most successful programs in the Big 12. Darren K Royal Stadium is also the eighth biggest stadium in the country and the biggest in the Big 12.

It makes for a great experience when you put Texas football with everything Austin has to offer including great food (especially barbecue), nightlife, and music.

When to Go

Since the Big 12 only has 10 teams instead of 12 now, Texas alternates playing home and road games against eight teams in the conference. It’s not nine because they play Oklahoma on a neutral field in Dallas. Oklahoma is their biggest rival, so it’s unfortunate that the Longhorns never see them come to Austin, but the neutral site game has a great experience in and amongst itself. As far as its home games are concerned, Texas hosts Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech in odd-numbered years.

Baylor, Iowa State, TCU, and West Virginia come to town in even-numbered years. Given that the quality in the Big 12 shifts on a regular basis, you’ll have to see who’s good in a given year before you plan your trip. Currently, Baylor and TCU are the two best programs and would make for the most enjoyable game.

Being that they’re a major program, Texas also plays some great non-conference games in the coming years. Notre Dame comes to town in 2016, USC arrives in 2018, LSU shows up in 2019, and Ohio State in 2022. Those opponents make for some high-end games in Austin.

Tickets

As you’d expect, tickets aren’t the easiest things to come by. You generally won’t be able to find tickets on the primary market through the University of Texas because most tickets are sold to alumni or students. You’ll likely end up having to look at secondary ticket options like StubHub or a ticket aggregator (think Kayak for sports tickets) like SeatGeek and ‎TiqIQ. Craigslist is another option for deal-making but doesn’t have the same security of knowing you’re buying real tickets. You can also try working the tailgates or walking up and down Martin Luther King Jr.

Blvd (maybe even walking into the south side of campus) before the game to see if anyone’s selling, but it’s probably worth securing the tickets earlier if you’re traveling all that way.

Getting There

Getting to Austin is very easy as it has an airport with numerous flights coming and going every day. Flights to Austin are offered from most major cities including Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. Flights will be on the airlines that service those departing airports specifically, like Delta with Atlanta and American Airlines with Chicago. Austin is also driveable from the other major cities in Texas. It’s a little over an hour from San Antonio, two and a half hours from Houston, and three hours from Dallas.

The easiest way to look for flight is a travel aggregator like Kayak or Hipmunk unless you specifically know what airline you want to travel on. There’s also train service from Dallas and San Antonio via Amtrak. (The train line will also take you from places further than Dallas, but chances are you’ll prefer flying from there rather than taking the long train ride.) You can grab a bus with companies like Greyhound or Megabus from the other major cities in Texas.

Where to Stay

There are plenty of places to stay in Austin since it’s more of a city than a regular college town. There is numerous options downtown with brand names like Hampton Inn, Hyatt, Hilton, Four Seasons, Radisson, and W. You’re better off staying at one of those and taking a short taxi ride up to campus for the game. They’re also within walking distance to a majority of bars and restaurants in town. There are a couple options closer to campus like Doubletree and Hampton Inn. You won’t get too strapped on pricing at any hotel in town since there are so many options.

Austin, however, is notorious for jacking up the rates when a sporting event is in town, so be prepared to spend a little bit.

You can also look for a house or an apartment to rent and you’ll be spoiled for choice as people look to make a quick buck off a football weekend. Again, you’ll be better served to find something close to downtown if possible, so that going out to restaurants and bars won’t be an issue. You should constantly be checking websites like Airbnb, VRBO, or HomeAway to find the best deals.

Tailgating

Unlike other college football experiences, Texas doesn’t use any of their large open green spaces for tailgating. The majority of the tailgating happens in the parking lots south of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Unfortunately, many of the best tailgating spots go to former Longhorn players and big boosters. Spots cost $40 and need to be reserved in advance in most places. There are some areas that are first come, first serve to start at 6:00 p.m. on the night before a home game.

Tailgate Guys can help you out if you want to go the extra step. They’re the only company allowed to organize a tailgate on the campus grounds just north of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. They’ll prepare everything for you based on your party’s size including chairs, drinks, food, tents, and even a TV setup. The tailgate won’t be as rowdy as the two commercial options because it’ll only be your group in the contained area, although you’ll be next to other tailgates. POW Tailgating offers a similar experience in the public tailgating area if you’re looking for some more excitement.

While it’s fun to do your own tailgate, the better idea might be to get involved in someone else’s tailgate. There are a couple of commercial ways to get it done. Longhorn Tailgaters and Horn Ball Texas Tailgaters are located right next to each other in a parking lot south of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd on Congress Ave. Both offer all you can drink alcohol and a little bit of food. The food situation isn’t great, but it allows you to just enjoy the experience without the hassle.

Finally, there’s Scholz Beer Garten and Posse East, which are the only two bars around the stadium. Scholz gets packed before and during games as fans will even hang out there instead of heading into the stadium.

Food

Leaving Austin without sampling the barbecue is an absolute crime. The #1 game in town is Franklin Barbecue. People get in line outside of Franklin starting at 6 a.m. in the morning even though the doors don’t open until 11 a.m. It’s not such a bad waiting experience if you bring chairs and beers with you and turn it into a tailgate. Franklin keeps serving until they run out of food, which is usually around 3-4 p.m. It’s the best brisket you’ll ever have and the pulled pork, ribs, and sausage aren’t too shabby either.

La Barbecue isn’t too far behind Franklin on taste and doesn’t have the same daunting process to eat it although there still are lines. They don’t serve alcohol, but they do have a free keg for people waiting. The keg runs out quickly, so you might need to B.Y.O.B. as you wait to eat. Places like Freedmen’s, John Mueller Meat Co, Micklethwait Craft Meats, and Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew are nice fall-backs if you don’t want to wait too long. Don’t waste your time driving out to The Salt Lick. It’s more scene than food at this point as you enjoy a nice outdoor experience, but the food doesn’t compare to what you can get at the best places downtown.

Those looking for something closer to campus should head to Bert’s BBQ, where loyalist enjoy the T-Man (cubed brisket, sausage, beans, and barbecue sauce), especially when they add Fritos. Don’t be alarmed that it’s attached to a gas station.

There’s also plenty of good Mexican food since you’re in Texas. El Naranjo, La Condesa, and Takoba are all good in their own right. There’s also the Tex-Mex scene with Joe’s Bakery and Coffee Shop and Tamale House East being the two most convenient locations to downtown and Trudy’s being the choice near campus. Both are really good breakfast options as well. If you’re looking for a more standard breakfast, Counter Café and Magnolia Café are the places for you. Counter Café also has a really good cheeseburger on a sourdough bun if you’re there at lunchtime.

Casino El Camino was featured on Man vs. Food for its burgers and while they’re pretty good, it’s their wings and chili cheese fries that are must-haves. There are almost too many good burger places in Austin to name, but you’ll be happy if you end up eating one at Bartlett’s, P. Terry’s Burger Stand, Salt & Time, Wholly Cow Burgers, or Hopdoddy.

The best pizza in town can be found at either Bufalina Pizza or The Backspace. Noble Sandwich Co. offers some of the best sandwiches you’ll find in America, but the drive may not be worth it for you. Top Chef winner Paul Qui has an eclectic menu at his restaurant Qui, but you’ll know why he won after you eat there. If you’re really in the Texas Longhorn mood for the weekend, you should grab steaks at Vince Young Steakhouse. (Yes, that former Texas quarterback Vince Young.) ALC Steaks is another local favorite for beef.

And when it comes to late night food, you should either be eating at any of the food trucks on 4th and Brazos St. or head over to 24 Diner.

Bars

There are plenty of bars in Austin with the scene broken up into three areas. East 6th Street is where the college kids and younger crowd hang out. The scene reminds you someone of Bourbon Street in New Orleans as the strip of bars is closed off to anything but walking traffic. The street is filled with people and music is pumping out of all the bars. Many of them have roofs, which is great considering the weather is generally warm. Most places are the same on “Dirty Sixth,” but the most popular places are Blind Pig Pub, Maggie Mae’s, and Churchill’s.

You’ll find a slightly different vibe on the other side of 6th St.

West 6th street is a slightly older and less college part of town for bars. They satisfy the young adult crowd with a good nightlife scene that you’d expect from a growing city. The Ranch bar in Austin offers two floors of fun with the second floor featuring good music and dancing in an open-air space. The rooftop at Rio is Austin’s version of a club, which tells you that you can find that kind of scene anywhere. J Black’s, right next to the Ranch, is slightly less intense. If beer is your thing then the Brew Exchange, which offers over 100 beers, might be where you want to head.

The third area of bars in Austin is on Rainey Street. It’s a much more low-key vibe than the previous two scenes. People go to The Blackheart for a nice whiskey cocktail or Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden for some outdoor drinking at picnic tables. Lustre Pearl also offers a nice outdoor drinking experience in its backyard. There isn’t much of a scene near campus, but Cain & Abel’s is generally recognized as one of the best college bars in the country. Grab a Texas Tea and see why the college crowd enjoys hanging out there so much.