South by Southwest — or “South by” as the Austin locals call it — isn’t the only reason to visit this decidedly unique Texas town. In fact, Austin offers plenty to see and do. Not only is it arguably the live music capital of the world, but it has a thriving creative class and a growing urban center. Austin encourages everyone to ‘Keep it weird.’ We encourage you to experience it to the fullest.
Everybody knows that one of the best parts of Austin is its natural beauty, so it’s an absolute must to make some time to get physical at Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake). The lake itself serves as a popular recreational area for kayaks, canoes, dragon boats, and rowing shells. Its banks are bounded in a complete circuit by the Ann Roy Butler Trail, one of the oldest urban Texas hike and bike paths. Plus, the people watching here is top notch!
If you’re still craving some nature and wildlife, don’t miss dusk at the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, home to North America’s largest urban colony of Mexican Free-tailed Bats. At sundown from March through September, Austin locals and tourist alike line the bridge to take in the dramatic flight of some 1.5 million bats streaming out in their nightly quest for nosh.
But if you want to be wild in a totally different way, beeline to the bars on either of Austin’s infamous spirited thoroughfares. 6th Street and its environs are the urban epicenter of Austin and one of its most iconic spots for bars, clubs, music venues and shopping destinations. Nightlife options are more than abundant, but some of our favorites include the well hidden speakeasy inside the Floppy Disk Repair Co. (119 E 5th St), Midnight Cowboy, a reservations only cocktail bar with character to spare (313 S. 6th St.), and Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar (421 E. 6th St.). Rainey Street is 6th Street’s alter ego, a laid-back street of historic homes that have been renovated into bungalow bars. Here, sip in your cocktails with character… and probably a little drunk dancing. We love The Blackhearts, once named one of the top 20 bourbon/whiskey bars in the country.
Just a few miles outside the city – but well worth the trip – you’ll find peace, serenity, and a great place to picnic at the intimate grotto and natural jade green waters of Hamilton Pool. It’s a true marvel as the natural pool was created when the dome of an underground river collapsed thousands of years ago. Note that as it’s a popular place for swimming, Hamilton Pool may require reservations in the summer months.
Another great swim spot by day becomes a scene stealer by night. Azul, on the rooftop of the Westin Austin, not only delights with amazing city views, but you’ll love coming here to take in some live tunes as you experience bottle service redefined… Strum along as you sip on your 80 oz shareable boozy concoction, which comes in a kitchy plastic guitar.
Love live music? Of course you do if you’re visiting Austin! In that case, the Continental Club is a required visit for rock, country, jazz and blues. This legendary club on South Congress opened in 1957, and has since made the careers of many musicians. Go to this retro relic for live music and history… or maybe to imagine that you’re a talent scout who discovered The Petersen Brothers (who play their regularly).
Austin has vintage shopping galore: Favorites include Feathers, Charm School Vintage, and Monkies Vintage Thrift. But you might not know the city has an unbelievable designer outlet as well. If you’re looking for the best kept secret in fashion — not just better brands, but truly luxe labels at bargain basement prices — you cannot let yourself miss out on the newest outpost of United Apparel Liquidators. U.A.L. only has a handful of locations, and the shopping at this Austin spot is insane!
If you have even a little political geek in you, the LBJ Library should surely be a major stop on your schedule. This official Library and Museum dedicated to the 36th President of the United States has a variety of artifacts and exhibits, but its the 7/8ths scale replica of the Oval office as it was during Johnson’s term that really draws you into the Presidential period.
So many spots get the nod for great ‘que in Austin, but the La Barbecue truck is our top choice. This food truck has all of the mainstay meats — beef brisket, sausage, chicken, ginormous ribs, and more — smoked slow and long, then carved to order and sold butcher style by the pound. They’re served dry, which really lets the meat shine through. Accompaniments worth waiting for include La Barbeque’s chipotle slaw, pinto beans, and potato salad. Are you hungry yet??!
Take time to explore Austin’s street art about town. Along with some iconic imagery — like the i love you so much outside Jo’s Coffee or the Deep Eddy mural project near the beloved swimming pool — new pieces are popping up all the time. According to Austinot.com: “If the music scene is the 2000 pound gorilla of Austin’s cultural landscape, then the street art community is its little brother.” Not only do they beautify the city, but as even Pierce Brosnan knows, they make for some insta-worthy memories. Stop and admire!
And an extra! For a town that has no professional league teams, Austin certainly has sports fever. It seems UT fans live for Fall football weekends, but the University of Texas has a number of popular spectator sports that attract attendance, spirit, and pride. Soak in some of the excitement and hook on to the Longhorn tradition. The stadium holds over 100,000 fans! Just make sure to wear burnt orange to show your support for the hometown team.