Named after the father of Texas, Stephen F. Austin, the Texas state capital has become one of the hottest destinations in the United States. Austin offers travelers the history typical of a state capital but also a music and dining scene befitting of the city’s personality and college scene.
Travelers will live a life of multiple personalities as they experience all the things to do in Austin. By day, you’ll be wandering through the city’s many urban parks and protected lands. Escaping the sun to swim in natural pools before drying off and exploring the numerous museums and galleries.
After dark, the neon lights flash and out comes one of the best nightlife spots in the US. Choose between multiple exciting districts, which all combine into one exceptional live music scene.
In this post, we'll cover:
17. Blanton Museum of Art
On the campus of the University of Texas is a world class art museum. The Blanton Museum of Art comprises almost 20,000 works from the Europe, the United States and Latin America.
The pieces of art span centuries, going as far back as the height of the Roman Era. Visitors will discover a range of historic Roman pottery and gaze upon alluring works from the Renaissance. Afterwards, admire the amazing collection of contemporary Native American art and one of the most complete assortments of Latin American work in the United States.
But perhaps the highlight of the Blanton Museum of Art is a design by Ellsworth Kelly, called Austin, which can be found on the exterior grounds.
16. Mayfield Park
Out of the many parks we have written about, the Mayfield is arguably the most historic. It’s next to the gorgeous Laguna Gloria estate in west Austin and was established in the 1870s.
Back then, it was just a beautiful cottage with cozy lawns that we encased with stone wall. Over time, the grounds have expanded, and the park now features a large preserve and botanical garden.
The cottage is now a popular event space, and there are miles of hiking trails guiding you throughout. After taking in the ornate gardens, wander by koi ponds, under palms trees keeping an eye out of the park’s many peacocks.
15. University of Texas at Austin
With more than 50,000 students, the University of Texas has become more than just an education institution. Home to the Texas Longhorns, the school is a must visit. There’s much to see on campus, including the DKR Texas Memorial Stadium. The arena has a capacity of over 100,000 people and packs out for football in the fall.
Alongside the stadium is the Texas Memorial Museum, a part of the school’s fascinating Natural Science Center. Here, you can explore the history of Texas from a natural and cultural perspective. Other attractions, include the Blanton Museum of Art and the 307-foot UT Tower, which provides panoramic views.
Taking over the mantle from the Austin Children’s Museum, Thinkery is now the place for young minds to be inspired. In the family-friendly Mueller district, north of downtown, Thinkery is all about interactive experiences.
If the young ones are restless or it’s a rainy day, take them here and let their creativity run wild. Each exhibit is based upon science, engineering, math, arts, and technology. It makes learning fun, as the kids are in control and solving problems every step of the way.
Highlights include the Kitchen Lab and Currents, and the giant outdoor playground where the kids can blow off some steam before exploring more exhibits.
13. McKinney Falls State Park
Although Austin features a number of great local parks, it’s also surrounded by beautiful scenery. A great example of this is McKinney Falls State Park, home to a spectacular waterfall.
Just ten miles southeast of Austin is an extensive natural space that feels every bit away from the city. Splicing the state park is Onion Creek, which cascades down mini limestone cliffs through the green forest. Visitors can escape the Texan heat at both the lower and upper falls.
If it’s not too hot, walk along the Onion Creek Hike-and-Bike trail through old-growth forest and by historic ruins. Combine this with the Homestead Trail to see the former limestone of William McKinney.
12. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
A brief 15-minute drive southwest of Austin, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, was established to great fanfare in 1982. Lady Bird Johnson and Helen Hayes created the park to showcase a vibrant range of native wildflowers in a place now includes 970 unique species.
Visiting the center is both aesthetically pleasing and educational, as you learn about the different habitats needed to sustain the number of flowers. The center is home to 20 distinct habitats which you can visit on the four-mile trail system. Embark on a free guided each day at 10am or explore on a whim.
11. Zilker Metropolitan Park
After several days of exploring and long night outs, you’ll be seeking a place to unwind. Austin is home to many great parks and the best of them is Zilker Metropolitan Park. It’s an enormous natural space flanked by the flowing Barton Creek and Colorado River.
Zilker Park is the perfect place to kick back under a shady oak and watch the world go by as you wait for the hangover the reduce. After, you’ll find endless lawns to hang out on, to picnic and play games with friends.
Once you’re up for it, wander down the walking trails to disc golf, volleyball and the botanical gardens. Those with young kids will also enjoy the mini-train that roams the park.
10. Mount Bonnell
For the best views in town, put on the hiking boots and trek to the summit of Mount Bonnell. Austin’s many urban parks offer some splendid hiking, but none quite reach the height of Bonnell, which stands at 775 feet. It’s the highest elevation in Austin.
But first, hikers have to make their way up more than 100 stairs. Despite this roadblock, it’s a steady and not an overly arduous climb. A popular time to complete the hike is at sunset, when you’ll watch golden hour above the city skyline and the Colorado River. Come at sunrise for a similar view without the crowds.
9. SoCo District
Across the bat-filled Congress Bridge, south of downtown, is the bulk of Austin’s quirky personality. It’s here that SoCo, named after South Congress Avenue, showcases the city’s eccentricity through shopping, food, and music.
The district now finds itself alongside Sixth Street and downtown as the place to hang out in Austin. During the day, you can wander along South Congress to find endless local boutiques, thrift stores, art galleries, and soaring murals. At night food trucks come to play, offering mouthwatering cheap eats. While live music tunes float through town.
One place not to be missed is the Continental Club for country music and a proper Texan evening.
8. The Driskill
One of Austin’s architectural institutions, the Driskill, is the oldest still-operating hotel in the capital. Since 1886, it has stood on the corner of Brazos and Sixth Street, welcoming guests from around the state and all over the world.
It’s been a place of historic events, including where President Johnson and Lady Bird went on their first date. Johnson also watched the results from the 1964 election here.
Even if you aren’t staying at the opulent hotel, you should still explore the lobby’s luxury, featuring sparkling marble floors, and embellished columns. For date night, make a reservation at the hotel’s Driskill Gill.
7. Sixth Street
Known endearingly as the Dirty Sixth, Sixth Street (especially East 6th) is the place to go for live music and mouthwatering Tex-Mex. On any given night, the thoroughfare that splits Congress and the interstate is teeming with happening bars, providing some of the best live music in town.
From Thursday to Saturday, the busiest nights on the Dirty Sixth, the street is close to traffic, making it a haven for pedestrians. If you’re on the lookout for a pub crawl, it will likely start and end right here as you venture from bar to bar, club to club. Along the way keep an eye out for Maggie Mars, Esther Follies and Flamingo Cantina.
6. Bullock Texas State History Museum
Austin is more than just music and late nights. As the state capital, it’s also the best place to explore the story of Texas. At the Bullock Texas State History Museum, you can do just that, as you venture back to the very beginning.
Make your way through the timeline of the Lone Star State, through a collection of hands-on exhibits and multimedia displays. A highlight includes the Story Of Texas, which focuses on defining events. You can discover the hull of La Belle, a 17th century shipwreck, while also learning about Tejano culture, the Alamo and the state’s oil industry.
5. Lady Bird Lake Hike-and-Bike Trail
Not to confuse first timers to Austin, but Lady Bird Lake is, in fact, a part of the Colorado River. The lake and waterfront area is the crown jewel of Austin’s urban green spaces offering ample water sport, hiking and biking opportunities.
For those who wish to stay on land, the highlight of Lady Bird Lake is the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail. The easy trail extends for ten miles along the edge of the lake. 10% of the trail is boardwalk, a section the provides travelers with exceptional downtown views. It’s a great way to explore Austin, leading you to parks, bridges and Barton Springs.
4. LBJ Presidential Library
The whirlwind story of the Lyndon Johnson presidency is on full display at our next attraction. The LBJ Presidential Library is a thorough collection of his political career and first opened in 1971. In 2013, the library was revitalized, providing visitors with the best experience yet.
Lyndon Baines Johnson was born in Stonewall, Texas, just an hour out of Austin, the city he holds in such high esteem. So, it’s appropriate his presidential library is here, on the campus of the University of Texas.
Combining over 45 million documents, artifacts and photos, the library takes you through his ascension from Vice President to the leader of the United States following the tragic assassination of JFK. Explore his six years in office, including the important issues of the time such as the Civil Right Movement. You can also see the Oval Office exactly as it was when he was in charge.
3. Barton Springs Pool
Austin’s southern weather helps make it a year-round destination. In the height of winter, the temperature rarely drops below 60. In summer, visitors will have to make do with heat in the high 90s. So, at any time of year, you’ll be searching for a way to cool off while in town. The perfect place to do that is at the Barton Springs Pool.
Lady Bird Lake may be aesthetically pleasing, but swimming is not allowed. Therefore, the springs in Zilker Park have become a hot ticket. The natural pool stems from Barton Creek and offers visitors a balmy 70-degree temperature at all times of year.
The picture-perfect water is great for swimming and the lush green surrounds will have you feeling a world away from Austin. Check the pool’s schedule in advance as they close once a week for cleaning.
2. Texas State Capitol
In the streets of downtown Austin, the Texas State Capitol and its surrounding grounds strike a dominant presence. The building is home to the Governor’s office along with the state’s legislature chambers and was built before the turn of the 20th century.
Although it remains the centerpiece of state politics, the eye-catching capitol is a National Historic Landmark. It’s one of the tallest state capitols in the country with its embellished dome and spire giving it a height of over 300 feet. This makes the Texas State Capitol even taller than Washington D.C.’s U.S. Capitol.
The building is open every day for free guided tours (aside from holidays), and you’re also able to explore on your own terms. Afterwards, admire the striking facade of the capitol from the lush grounds, that are also great for picnics in the heart of Austin.
1. Congress Avenue Bridge
Austin may be renowned for its live music and food scene, but did you know the city plays host to the largest urban bat colony on earth? 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats reside under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge and every night they set flight.
The bridge crosses over the Colorado River, connecting downtown Austin to South River City and the fabulous SoCo District. It’s a lovely walk during the day, offering beautiful river and city views. However, come nightfall, there may be no better place to watch the sunset.
The bats live under the bridge from March until November every year. There are several ways to watch the spectacular event. Those include from the safe confines of Lady Bird Lake, on a kayak paddling along the river, or from the Statesman Bat Observation Center. Brave souls, however, take their spot on the bridge itself. It can take 45 minutes for all the bats to fly out and in combination with the colorful sunset, it’s an unforgettable experience.