They say everything is bigger in Texas, and that includes the fun! While it is the state capital, Austin isn’t all boot spurs and two-stepping — though there will be plenty of time to bust a move at one of the city’s renowned honky tonks.
Austin benefits from the University of Texas campus keeping youthful energy buzzing around its streets. Their presence ensures that hipster enclaves and old-school barbecue can co-exist.
Considering the unofficial motto of the city, “Keep Austin Weird,” it’s plain to see what the citizens value.
23 Best Things to Do in Austin in 2023
It shouldn’t be hard to keep a city this beautiful and musical a little weird. We’ve taken nature lovers and oddball artists into consideration to bring you the 23 best things to do in Austin.
1. Congress Bridge Bats
One of the most popular and awe-inspiring sights in Austin, the Congress Bridge plays host to thousands of bats that fly across the Texas sky at dusk.
Generally best seen during spring or late summer, the bats take flight thirty minutes before sunset each night to search for food. Don’t worry, they’re just looking for mosquitos!
There are several ways to view the bats. While many gather near or on the bridge, consider renting a small boat or kayak or booking a ride on a tour boat to watch them emerge from the water.
2. Sixth Street
Sixth Street is a must-see for visitors looking to bar hop their way through the best of Austin’s local music scene. It can get rambunctious and rowdy, but that’s part and parcel of the rock and roll and drinking culture that Sixth Street has cultivated.
On a Friday or Saturday night, Sixth Street is cleared of all traffic, allowing the Austinites and tourists to bounce safely from one bar to another. Whether you’re looking for a cheap tall can or a craft cocktail, Sixth Street is an essential stop on any trip to Austin.
3. Cathedral of Junk
Visitors looking for the weird version of Austin should check out south Austin’s Cathedral of Junk. The three-story-tall art installation is a remarkable intersection of art and engineering.
The quirky materials used to build the structure are as fun to post on Instagram as it is to explore. The Cathedral of Junk resides in the artist’s backyard, so call ahead to see that the display is open.
The hours vary to mitigate tourist traffic through the residential neighborhood. The Cathedral of Junk is free to the public, though donations are accepted.
4. SXSW Festival
Every March, over one hundred thousand people descend upon Austin for the world-famous South by Southwest Festival. What started in 1987 as a modest music festival has grown into a 10-day extravaganza that boasts a film festival and technology conference and over 2,000 live performances.
If you’re traveling to Austin for SXSW, save time and trouble by purchasing passes ahead of time.
Several tiers allow access to different venues and types of events. A little planning ahead of time will ensure that you see every emerging band and buzzworthy indie film your heart desires!
5. Breakfast Tacos
The breakfast taco is an essential staple of any Austinite’s diet, so if you want to eat like the locals, you’ll need to be sure to indulge in the cheesy morning fare.
Like cheesesteaks in Philly or slices of pizza in New York, everyone will give you a different answer when it comes to the best breakfast taco spot. The good news is there isn’t a bad breakfast taco in the city.
Whether you want to indulge in a Tex-Mex BBQ brisket breakfast taco from Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ or keep it light and get a tofu option from The Vegan Nom, it’s a great way to start the day.
6. Take a Mural Tour
Austin is full of colorful murals, from life-affirming graffiti messages to paintings encompassing entire buildings. The vibrant pieces of public art are great for selfies, and since they span across the city, making a day to find your favorites is a fun way to explore the entire city.
Many of these murals celebrate the culture of Austin or their specific neighborhood, making them more than just an Instagram photo opp. Photographers, art lovers, and travelers on a budget will love finding these works and the parts of the city they expose.
Wonderspaces is an interactive art space that allows visitors to immerse themselves in a world of hypnotic and psychedelically themed rooms. Each piece has a dedicated space where visitors can lose themselves in swirls of light and color.
Wonderspaces is a unique spin on an art museum, offering visitors a chance to interact with the space and fully engage with art.
Not only is it a feast for the eyes, but the full bar offers craft cocktails that will put you in an artistic mood. This is a great experience any time of year but serves as an especially great way to beat the heat of the summer months.
8. Mount Bonnell
Visitors to Austin’s Covert Park will find stunning views of the Colorado River and the city after hiking up the 102 steps to get to Mount Bonnell’s scenic overlook. The peak’s 775-feet make it one of the highest spots in the city and an ideal spot for watching the sunset.
While the trek to the top is short, the gain in elevation is nearly 200-feet and will not accommodate strollers. But if you aren’t on wheels and don’t mind getting your heart rate going, this nearly two-centuries-old tourist destination is a must-see.
9. Texas Two-Step at The White Horse
When in Texas, do as the Texans do and learn the Texas Two-Step. This traditional country western dance is practically a rite of passage in The Lone Star State.
Even if you have two left feet, learning at The White Horse means you’ll be enjoying cheap drinks and live music at one of Sixth Street’s most renowned bars.
Lessons run at The White Horse from 7 pm to 8 pm every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. Be sure to grab their shot and beer special if you need a little courage before dusting off your dancing denim!
10. Austin City Limits
Austin City Limits first aired on PBS in 1975 with its pilot episode featuring Willie Nelson. Over 900 episodes later, it has since become a musical institution and American television’s longest-running music program.
The show’s taping takes place at The Moody Theater, fittingly located on Willie Nelson Blvd. Be sure to check out who is playing while you’re in town, as The Moody’s intimate setting and fantastic acoustics ensure that you’ll never hear your favorite band sound better.
11. Allens Boots
Take a trip down Congress Street and keep your eyes peeled for the brick building with a giant, bright red cowboy boot hanging above its awning. This is Allens Boots, Austin’s go-to purveyor of cowboy wear for over four decades.
There isn’t any smell quite like the inside of a cowboy boot shop. Even if you aren’t in the market for western wear, browsing the minimal and rustic feeling store feels as comfortable as a perfectly worn-in pair of blue jeans.
12. Gospel Brunch at Stubb’s BBQ
You don’t have to be religious to enjoy live gospel music with your brisket, and Stubb’s BBQ is serving both in heaping helpings every Sunday morning.
Whether you want a unique church experience or a little hair from the dog to recover from a wild night on Sixth Street, eating world-class barbecue along with Southern gospel music will feed your body and soul.
Seating is limited, so be sure to reserve a table well in advance. And make sure you bring your appetite because this brunch is all you can eat!
13. Bullock Texas State History Museum
History enthusiasts should set aside an afternoon for a visit to The Bullock Texas State History Museum. With artifacts ranging from a spacesuit worn by a Texan on the moon to a 16 thousand-year-old human-made projectile, the museum offers an in-depth look at how Texas became the Lone Star State.
Travelers with antsy kids will appreciate watching a documentary in the 4-D Texas Spirit Theater or the Bullock Museum’s IMAX screen — the largest in Texas. Plan your visit on the first Sunday of the month for free admission!
14. Darrell K. Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium
Football is serious business in Texas. Sports fans visiting Austin during the fall will love going to a University of Texas Longhorns football game. Not only is the team a perennial contender in college football’s Big 12 Conference, but they play in the world’s ninth-largest stadium.
Wear orange to blend in with the crowd of over one-hundred-thousand spectators. Don’t be alarmed by Smokey the Cannon, the cannon that blasts after every touchdown.
And before you mistake the game for a Metallica concert, those aren’t devil horns that the students are making with their hands. They’re Hook ’em Horns.
15. Peter Pan Mini-Golf
Owned and operated by the same Austin family since 1948, Peter Pan Mini Golf has become an unlikely institution in The Live Music Capital of the World.
Over seven decades, generations of Austinites have putted their way through first dates or family outings here. The grounds boast two 18-hole mini-golf courses that twist through towering statues of tennis shoes, dinosaurs, and tacos.
Come early and bring the kids for a magical round of golf to start the day, or come late on a weekend night and BYOB to have a surreal drinking session outside the bar.
16. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
With over 284 acres of gardens, two miles of hiking trails, and 970 species of plants and flowers, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a nature lover’s paradise.
Named after President Johnson’s wife, this serene and meditative spot offers a relaxing respite from the hustle and bustle of Austin’s busy city center.
The Wildflower Center has a rotating schedule of educational programs for art and gardening and offers unique after-hours events that feature live music, drinks, and food trucks.
17. Alamo Drafthouse
While Alamo Drafthouse Cinema now boasts 36 locations across the US, the original drinks and dinner second-run movie theater originated in Austin in 1997.
Renowned for its eclectic and eccentric tastes, Alamo Drafthouse takes the movie-going experience seriously. They are notorious for kicking out patrons for talking or texting.
Film buffs will appreciate Drafthouse’s unique programming, which often features quirky-themed events and guest speakers to introduce or, in some cases, roast the film. Even if you don’t know much about the silver screen, you’ll love having drinks and popcorn served to you from the comfort of your seat.
18. Waterloo Records
There’s a good chance that if you’re visiting Austin, you love music. Whether you’re trying to catch an intimate in-store performance or dig through thousands of national and Texas-centric albums, Waterloo Records is the iconic record shop of The Live Music Capital of the World.
Open for over 40 years, Waterloo Records is the quintessential music shop with its knowledgeable staff and deep catalog. The filing system eschews genre in favor of a democratic alphabetization that allows a free-form browsing experience that music lovers will revel in.
19. Mexic-Arte Museum
The Mexic-Arte Museum is a Mexican and Latin American art museum that celebrates the culture’s roots and influence on the formation of Texas.
The museum’s permanent collection of visual art, photographs from the Mexican Revolution, and ritual masks help tell the story of Texas through the intersection of art, history, and ethnicity.
Art lovers and history fans will appreciate this small but vital museum. In addition to selling works by local artists, the Mexic-Arte Museum also hosts live music and visual art performances by the Latin American community.
20. Franklin Barbecue
Many spots in America claim they have the best barbecue, but no one does barbecue like Texas. Instead of the sticky and sweet sauce you get elsewhere, the Lonestar State goes with simple rubs and smoke, making sure the barbecue tastes like meat.
Traveling to Austin and not getting some brisket is borderline blasphemy. You’re bound to find great barbecue wherever you go, but Franklin Barbecue is the best.
It’s the kind of place that attracts famous chefs like Anthony Bourdain when they’re in town. Be prepared to wait in line – this spot is always hopping.
21. Zilker Park
Take a break from all the eating and drinking to relax in the sun like a true Austinite at the Zilker Metropolitan Park. Situated across the river from downtown Austin, Zilker’s 351-acres feature swimming holes, botanical gardens, and the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden and Museum.
There’s no shortage of the activities you’ll find here. The park also hosts several festivals throughout the year, including Austin City Limits Music Festival, ABC Kite Festival, and the Zilker Summer Musical.
Whether you’re looking for a spot to jog, a tanning session, or a dip in the pool, Zilker Park is every Austininte’s backyard.
22. The Contemporary Austin – Laguna Gloria
Art lovers of all stripes will find a second home at The Contemporary Austin. Two different locations encompass the museum. The first is The Jones Center, a traditional art museum in downtown Austin. It features rotating exhibitions of modern art, even using its own building as a canvas for murals.
The Laguna Gloria section of The Contemporary Austin features the Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park, which visitors can browse while walking along a lakeside path. The grounds are a quiet and meditative way to experience art. Both feature free admission every Thursday.
23. Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library
History buffs and political junkies visiting Austin should not miss the LBJ Library. Lyndon B. Johnson was president during a tumultuous time in American history.
His political career saw the assassination of John F. Kennedy Jr., the rise of the civil rights movement, and the controversial Vietnam War. Even visitors with a passing interest in politics will enjoy the LBJ robot.
The animatronic version of the 36th commander in chief tells some of the president’s favorite jokes while gesturing at visitors. It’s a uniquely surreal exhibit that sets the LBJ library apart.
Things to Consider
Austin can be incredibly hot and humid. Visitors should take extra precautions to stay hydrated and wear light-colored, cool clothing. This also means packing sunscreen and a bathing suit. While you might not plan on swimming, you might change your mind and try to beat the heat by taking a dip!
If you aren’t traveling to Austin for the South by Southwest or Austin City Limits Music Festivals, you might want to avoid the city during these peak seasons. Thousands flood the streets for these iconic festivals, making Austin hard to traverse.
While Austin is full of iconic spots for music and food, the options are endless. You can hear great music across the city and get a life-changing breakfast taco from a truck outside of a gas station. Embrace the weird!
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the most frequently asked questions of travelers before visiting Austin:
What is Austin best known for?
Austin is famous for its music, particularly it’s world-renowned South by Southwest music festival every March. Food also ranks high on the list, particularly breakfast tacos and barbecue. It’s hard to decide which one Austin does better because they’re both bursting with flavor.
What is the best month to visit Austin?
Visiting Austin during the heat of the summer isn’t advised for those unaccustomed to the heat. Generally, March to May or September to November are pleasantly warm and generally stay out of the high 90s. Keep in mind that exacerbating Austin’s heat is the high humidity.
What is the coldest month in Austin?
Austin is a dream for those that love hot weather, but even Austin gets chilly in the winter. Though temperatures seldomly drop to freezing levels, January is typically the coldest month of the year. Expect the post-holiday average low temperature to hover above forty degrees.
Do I need a car in Austin?
Austin isn’t a sprawling city, but it’s big enough that walking, especially in the heat, isn’t always a viable option. A car is convenient, but given the pain of parking and the density of people in the city during one of Austin’s many festivals, it’s best to utilize Austin’s public transportation.
Is one day in Austin enough?
One day isn’t enough time to get a sense of all Austin offers. Between its nightlife, nature, and museums, the Texas state capital is hard to drink in after just 24 hours. Spending a weekend will allow visitors to get a better feel for the city’s culture.
Over to You — Book Your Trip to Austin Today!
The best part of visiting Austin is experiencing a feast for the ears, eyes, and stomach all at once. The Live Music Capital of the World incorporates art into every inch of the city.
Whether you’re shopping, munching on an eggy breakfast taco, or people watching on Sixth Street, Austin stays weird, delicious, and musical. Happy travels!