Austin, Texas, is well known for its live music scene, mouthwatering Tex-Mex cuisine, and quirky, relaxed vibe. But there’s much more to experience in this fast-growing capital city– from outdoor adventures to cultural musts, Austin truly engages everyone who visits. These are some of the best things to do in Austin, Texas.
1. Take a Dip in Barton Springs Pool
This spring-fed swimming hole stays a refreshing 68 degrees year-round, offering a calm oasis amid the often sweltering Texas summers.
Barton Springs Pool measures three acres across, with the actual springs bubbling up from underground caverns at one end. The pool features a gradual slope, with depths ranging from just a few inches for wading to over 18 feet deep nearer the springs. Grab takeout tacos and enjoy a picnic on the lawn, or relax poolside.
2. Eat at Torchy’s
Austin is a taco lover’s paradise. Austin has developed a distinctive taco culture with a thriving food scene and influences from Mexican culture and Texas barbecue traditions. Enjoy fusion tacos with unexpected fillings, like The Peached Tortilla’s Chicken Pad Thai Taco, to Tex-Mex tacos overflowing with classic ingredients. There’s no shortage of fantastic options to satisfy any taco cravings.
At the heart of Austin’s taco culture are its famous food trucks. Serving huge flavors from their compact kitchens, a stop– or several–at these taco trucks is necessary while visiting. Torchy’s Tacos first launched from a trailer in 2009 and has since expanded to popular brick-and-mortar locations. You can still visit the original Torchy’s trailer on South 1st Street, though.
There’s no bad taco at Torchy’s, though favorites include the Fried Avocado taco, Trailer Park taco, and Brush Fire taco. Don’t forget the chips and salsa! The chips and salsa are considered the main event at Torchy’s, and you won’t be disappointed with an order of their homemade salsa verde. Another local favorite is Papalote Taco House, where crisp, chargrilled corn tortillas cradle tender carne asada, refried beans, cotija cheese, and pico de gallo for flavorful tacos you can’t help but crave.
3. Try a Breakfast Taco
Breakfast tacos are a thing in Austin. This city obsesses over the morning meal, and breakfast taco joints slinging out tasty tacos are on just about every corner. These aren’t California breakfast burritos– think homemade tortillas with scrambled eggs, or migas, eggs scrambled with tortillas, then topped with cheese, potatoes, bacon, and various salsas.
Veracruz All Natural serves breakfast tacos made with fresh-pressed tortillas, and Tacodeli whips up award-winning breakfast tacos alongside specialties like their sublime Doña sauce, a creamy jalapeno sauce that will have you clamoring for more.
4. Explore Lady Bird Lake
Right in the heart of downtown Austin, Lady Bird Lake offers a break from the city with easy access to outdoor recreation. With 10 miles of trails, you can explore by walking, jogging, or renting a bike.
Or, head into the water in a canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard. You’ll find various outfitters near the lake with all the necessary gear. Its convenient location to downtown makes exploring the area an easy add-on for any trip.
5. Watch Live Music
Austin is a must-visit music destination with the state’s highest concentration of live music venues. Known as the “Live Music Capital of the World” title, it has an array of multiple venues citywide. But no area better shows off the vibrant music scene than downtown’s famed 6th Street. 6th Street boasts more than a dozen clubs featuring nightly live music, all within a few blocks. Not sure what you’re in the mood for? Head into one of the many blues, rock, country, funk, or jazz bars to catch a few tunes; stay or wander into the next venue until you find what you like.
Try iconic venues like Esther’s Follies, a vaudevillian-style show blending comedy, magic, and music, or the Flamingo Cantina, with funk and reggae beats. Street performers also line up on 6th Street to showcase their skills in hopes of building their following. You might even catch an impromptu drum circle jam session pounding infectious Afro-Cuban rhythms.
6. Hike McKinney Falls State Park
Just 12 miles southeast of downtown Austin lies McKinney Falls State Park, with 745 acres of nature for when you need to escape downtown.
Lace-up your boots, pack a picnic, and head to the Upper Falls Trailhead for a moderate, 3-mile loop into the heart of the park. As the name suggests, the trail leads you to Upper McKinney Falls, a 41-foot waterfall. Further downstream, cross over Onion Creek to the lower section of the path to glimpse the Lower Falls.
Not in the mood to hike? McKinney Falls allows camping, mountain or road biking, geocaching, and bouldering. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek. However you spend time at McKinney Falls State Park, it’s the perfect Austin antidote when you need to recharge in nature.
7. Eat Some ‘Que
Mouthwatering smoked meats, tangy sauces, and succulent ribs drenched in spice rubs—you’re in Austin, Texas. In true Texas fashion, barbecue stands proudly at the culinary heart of Austin. From storied joints dishing out classics to new school smokehouses putting creative spins on tradition, Austin offers plenty of barbeque for devotees and casual fans alike.
A stop at Franklin Barbecue is a must, though be prepared to wait hours in line for a taste of their smoked brisket, which consistently ranks among the best nationwide. Nearby and slightly less popular, La Barbecue also smokes brisket and beef ribs for the patient, and their lines still queue down the street. Crowd favorites include jalapeño sausage and pulled pork.
Or, head into East Austin to check out Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ. Their barbacoa carnitas tacos topped with cilantro deserve special mention. Similarly, LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue from pitmaster Evan LeRoy epitomize Austin’s bold, inventive barbecue spirit.
Need help deciding between tacos and barbeque? Local favorite Sam’s BBQ offers melt-in-your-mouth brisket tacos on house-made corn tortillas and staples like smoked turkey, sausage, and ribs.
8. Hike to the Top of Mount Bonnell
At 775 feet, Mount Bonnell reigns as the highest point in Austin. This iconic overlook offers panoramic views of downtown and the surrounding Hill Country. Reaching the summit is simple via a short, moderate uphill hike that takes under 30 minutes.
Head to the Mount Bonnell parking area in the Covert Park section of West Austin. You’ll spot stairs carved into the limestone almost immediately, though a less steep dirt path to the right provides another option to the top. Follow this tree-lined route as it winds gradually upward. At the top, gaze east at downtown Austin’s skyline; the State Capitol and UT Tower are identifiable from a distance.
9. Watch Bats From the Congress Bridge
If you are in town from March to November, take advantage of the bat show at dusk most nights. About 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge en masse from underneath the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, which is quite the sight.
Arrive before sunset on the south side of the bridge overlooking Lady Bird Lake for the perfect viewing spot. Just as the sky darkens, the first flurry of bats starts to come out from underneath the bridge, and then, almost all at once, the rest fly out.
The display lasts roughly 20 to 30 minutes as hundreds of thousands of bats take to the air. Several local companies offer bat-watching boat tours. Or, rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard to head out on Lady Bird Lake to watch from below.
10. Stroll South Congress
Displaying Austin’s funky, eclectic spirit, South Congress Avenue, known as SoCo locally, stands as one of the city’s quirkiest, coolest commercial corridors just south of downtown. Running over a mile through the Travis Heights neighborhood, explore a mix of boutiques, eateries, food trucks, cafes, music venues, and art galleries.
Start just north of Monroe Street and pop into Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds to try on wild costumes and accessories perfect for living out your cosplay or Halloween fantasies. Sample olive oils at Texas Hill Country Olive Co., then venture into Tesoros Trading Co., overflowing with global home goods and textiles, before browsing quirky reads at Austin Books & Comics.
Take a photo at the famous Austin Motel, with its neon-lit retro vibe. Further south, eat at one of the many SoCo’s offerings. Taco Deli has some of the best breakfast tacos in the city, while food trucks supply everything from pho to pizza. Home Slice Pizza has authentic NY-style pies by the slice or whole 28-inch giants.
11. Wander Through the LBJ Presidential Library
History and political buffs will want to stroll through the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library on the University of Texas campus. As the official presidential library and museum of the U.S. president, the expansive complex details the life and administration of native Texan Johnson during his presidency.
Standouts include a full-scale replica of the Oval Office during his administration, where you can sit behind the former president’s desk. An animatronics LBJ also delivers his “We Shall Overcome” speech, recreating the 1965 voting rights address to Congress. The iconic presidential limousine used by the Johnsons is also on display alongside gifts from visiting dignitaries.
Whether you enjoy live music, incredible food, outdoor adventures, or quirky good times, you can be sure there are plenty of things to do in Austin, no matter your preferences.
Sarah Gilliland is a travel journalist and managing travel editor for Wealth of Geeks with over ten years of experience writing, editing, and producing content related to family travel. She freelances for other online outlets in addition to her role as the managing travel editor at Wealth of Geeks. Sarah’s beats include theme parks, family travel, cruises, and road trips. When she isn’t traveling or writing freelance columns, Sarah can be found on her website, On the Road with Sarah, or binging the latest geeky thing on Netflix or Disney+.