The 15 Best Things to Do in Austin, Texas

Austin, Texas
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It's almost impossible to distill everything that's special about Austin into a single list, and everyone's bound to have opinions on the best things to do — the best park, the best taco place, the best swimming hole. But if you want to get a sense for the city's quirky, down-to-earth soul, these activities and places are a great starting point. Just a heads up that you’re not going to find suggestions like “Take a tour of the Texas Capitol” or “Hang out at Zilker Park” here. We'll assume that you've heard of some of the most touristy to-dos in Austin and are looking for more unique ideas.

01 of 15

Take a Dip in Barton Springs

Barton Springs Swimming Hole in Austin, Texas
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2201 William Barton Dr, Austin, TX 78746, USA
Phone +1 512-974-6300

Cool off your body and cleanse your spirit at Barton Springs, the city’s iconic spring-fed pool inside Zilker Park (often dubbed the “soul of Austin”). This sprawling three-acre swimming hole is kept at a cool 68 degrees throughout the year, which makes for an icy yet refreshing dip. The pool is surrounded by lush lawn and plenty of trees that provide coverage from the scorching Texas sun, making it a great spot to chill for hours. Don’t miss checking out the retro-fab, 70-year-old bathhouse, a state historic landmark listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

02 of 15

See a Film at the Blue Starlite Drive-In

Blue Starlite Drive In

Courtesy of Blue Starlite Drive In Theater

2015 E M. Franklin Ave, Austin, TX 78723, USA
Phone +1 707-374-8346

For a unique moviegoing experience, catch a flick at the Blue Starlite Drive-In. Featuring a mix of arthouse films, new releases, and Gen X and Y childhood classics, the Mueller location has seven screens in all, some of which can accommodate a small number of cars and some of which are for walk-ins only. You also have the option of adding a vintage-style drive-in speaker and concessions (classic movie theater candy like Runts and Whoppers, buttery popcorn, and old-fashioned sodas) to your order when you buy tickets.

03 of 15

Peruse Vintage Shops on North Loop

There are many vintage treasures to be found at the shops on North Loop, including kitschy-cool furniture, rare clothing finds, and other eclectic knick-knacks. Begin your shopping extravaganza by fueling up at Austin’s beloved Epoch Coffee, then hit up the shops next door, such as Room Service Vintage, Blue Velvet, Big Bertha’s Paradise, and Ermine Vintage. For a relaxing way to end your shopping spree, kick back with a local brew or two at Workhorse Bar, which has 50 beers on draft, over 30 of which are local Texas drafts.

04 of 15

Take Yourself on a Taco Tour

Brandon Rosenblum / Getty Images

You can’t go to Austin without sampling as many tacos as humanly possible. Some of the best taco joints in town include Nixta Taqueria, Rosita’s Al Pastor, Veracruz All Natural, Discada, Granny’s, El Mana, The Vegan Nom, and Pueblo Viejo — but this is by no means an exhaustive list. Come to town with an open mind—and an empty stomach—and prepare to consume your weight in homemade tortillas, salsas, and creative toppings.   

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05 of 15

Hike on the Barton Creek Greenbelt

Large Crowd Austin , Texas Greenbelt Summer Fun Barton Creek
RoschetzkyIstockPhoto / Getty Images
3755 S Capital of Texas Hwy B, Austin, TX 78704, USA
Phone +1 512-974-6700

A network of nearly thirteen miles of trails and over 800 acres of idyllic greenery in the heart of Austin, the Barton Creek Greenbelt is a must-see for outdoor lovers. There are multiple entry points throughout the city, where visitors can hike, bike, or splash around in natural pools. The Gus Fruh Access point is great for checking out lesser-known swimming holes, the Violet Crown Trail features caves and cliffs (and is a challenging hike, for those who want to log some mileage), Loop 360 offers access to pretty much every trail on the Greenbelt, and Trail’s End leads to a few secluded trails, including the awesomely pretty (and awesomely steep) Hill of Life trail.  

06 of 15

Catch a Show at the VORTEX

2307 Manor Rd #2135, Austin, TX 78722, USA
Phone +1 512-478-5282

The VORTEX is a long-standing gem in Austin's experimental theatre scene, with a wide range of acts that transgress conventional theatrical forms and embrace diverse communities. Expect multidisciplinary performances (past performers have included everything from fire dancers to puppeteers) and an inclusive, welcoming attitude. After the show, indulge in homemade cacio e pepe and carbonara at on-site food truck Patrizi’s, or grab drinks at Butterfly Bar — it’s all in the same complex.  

07 of 15

Hit the Dance Floor at Sahara Lounge

Sahara Lounge

Courtesy of Sahara Lounge

1413 Webberville Rd, Austin, TX 78721, USA
Phone +1 512-927-0700

One of the most iconic bars in the city, Sahara Lounge boasts a vibrant, diverse music scene. Every week at Africa Night, crowds of locals gather to listen to African-influenced bands and dance until the pre-dawn hours, taking breaks to dive into the complimentary buffet of red beans, rice, and spicy meatballs out back. On any given night, you can see live funk, hip-hop, Brazilian, Afro-jazz, blues, country, and other creative, talented performers take the stage.

08 of 15

Check Out East Austin Succulents

Succulents from East Austin Succulents

Courtesy of East Austin Succulents

801 Tillery St, Austin, TX 78702, USA
Phone +1 512-701-3448

For an Instagram-worthy plant moment, a trip to East Austin Succulents is in order. Here, stylish, prettily arranged houseplants abound — there’s a huge, near-overwhelming array of succulents and cacti (and, not to mention, a fabulous selection of pots) to explore. Even if you’re not planning on buying any plants, it’s fun to simply wander around this bright, colorful, perfectly curated space.     

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09 of 15

Stroll Around SoCo Avenue and South 1st

Texas Allows Businesses To Open At 100% Capacity
Tamir Kalifa / Getty Images

Some of the best stuff on SoCo and South 1st happens when you fly (slightly) under-the-radar. For instance, if you stop by Jo’s Coffee to snap a picture by the “I love you so much” mural, make it a point to also pop into next-door Hotel San Jose, where you can sip a frosé in the peaceful, bamboo-lined courtyard, away from the tourist hordes. Off of South 1st, take a tour of Casa Neverlandia, a whimsical playscape of a home, with fire poles, secret passages, an elevated footbridge, and more (all tours must be arranged in advance). Peruse homemade tinctures and salves at The Herb Bar, a cozy, ivy-covered neighborhood nook. Finally, end the evening with a rollicking soul or R&B show at funky C Boy’s.

10 of 15

Explore the Mexic-Arte Museum

Two women looking at a filled wall with art

Courtesy of the Mexic Arte Museum

419 Congress Ave., Austin, TX 78701-3619, USA
Phone +1 512-480-9373

A fixture on the local arts scene for over 30 years, the Mexic-Arte Museum showcases Mexican, Chicano, and Latin American art that spans many forms. The permanent collection includes sculpture, traditional ritual masks, photographs from the Mexican Revolution, and fascinating contemporary works from local artists, just to name a few. This is also a great spot to find community events, like the annual Young Latino Artists showcase. Note that the Mexic-Arte is small, so you could feasibly combine a visit here with the nearby Contemporary or Blanton museums, if you’re really looking to get your art fix.

11 of 15

Book a Tour with Bike and Brew ATX

1710 E 2nd St, Austin, TX 78701, USA
Phone +1 832-773-4012

One of the best ways to see the city is by touring Austin’s (many, many) craft breweries on your very own custom bike. Bike and Brew ATX is the city’s most well-regarded operator of its kind, thanks to their dynamic tour offerings, which vary in location, duration, and difficulty, so you truly get the experience you want.  

12 of 15

Go Two-Stepping at The White Horse

500 Comal St, Austin, TX 78702-3315, USA
Phone +1 512-553-6756

Two-step ‘til your feet hurt at The White Horse, a casual-yet-hip East Austin honky-tonk with reliably great live alt country and blues tunes — and free dance lessons for those who need to work on their footwork. Be prepared to dance: the crowd here is made up of equal parts tattooed hipsters and old-school cowboys posted up by the bar, just waiting to take you for a spin. The cheap whiskey shots and Lone Star tallboys flow like water if you need some liquid courage. 

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13 of 15

Channel Your Inner Bookworm at BookPeople

603 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78703-5413, USA
Phone +1 512-472-5050

Spend some time wandering the well-curated aisles of BookPeople, the city’s best (and biggest) independent bookstore, where the vibe screams, “We REALLY love books.” Reading the lovingly crafted staff pick cards sprinkled throughout the store is one of the highlights of this special place. There’s also always a packed lineup of author readings and signings, as well as regular monthly book clubs that are free and open to the public. 

14 of 15

Wander Around Mayfield Park and Laguna Gloria

Mayfield Park Austin Texas hiking trail with a variety of plants
jennifer m. ramos / Getty Images
3505 W 35th St, Austin, TX 78703, USA
Phone +1 512-974-6700

Mayfield Park is simply replete with charming, romantic amenities. Beyond the 1870s-era cottage at the entrance, there are ponds filled with koi and lily pads, walking trails, flower gardens, palm trees, and most notably, tons of peacocks. These spectacularly colored birds are everywhere, roosting in the trees, strutting around the grounds, and showing off their plumage — much to the delight of visitors. Combine your visit to Mayfield with a stroll around nearby Laguna Gloria, which features contemporary outdoor sculptures on a beautiful property right on the water.   

15 of 15

Get on the Water at Town Lake

Lady Bird Lake Austin, Texas
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Lady Bird Lake, Austin, TX, USA

One of Austin’s favorite collective pastimes involves getting out in the water, in any capacity, on Lady Bird Lake (that’s ‘Town Lake’ if you’re local). You can rent SUP boards, kayaks, or canoes from the Rowing Dock, Texas Rowing Center, Zilker Park Boat Rentals, or any of the other outfitters scattered around the lake. If you want to be on the water but don’t want to exert an ounce of effort, book a dinner or lunch cruise with Capital Cruises or Lone Star Riverboat (both of which offer bat-watching cruises, too). Other points of interest on the lake include the boardwalk (where the views of the skyline at sunset are lovely) and pup-friendly Auditorium Shores.

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The 15 Best Things to Do in Austin, Texas