Welcome to the vibrant and eclectic city of Austin, Texas! Known for its live music, mouthwatering cuisine, and warm hospitality, Austin offers an unforgettable experience for every traveler. In this post, we’ll dive into the heart of this bustling city and uncover the top things to do in Austin, from exploring its iconic landmarks to indulging in its unique cultural experiences. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned local, we’ve got you covered with an array of must-see attractions and hidden gems that will make your Austin adventure memorable. So, let’s dive in and start exploring the best that Austin has to offer! Be sure to let me know what I left off in the comments.
Congress Avenue Bats
If you visit Austin anytime from March to October, you can’t leave the city without seeing the bats living under the Congress Avenue Bridge. Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in the world, with over 1.5 million Mexican Free-Tailed Bats residing there. The bats leave the bridge nightly, right around sunset, which is a site to see. They fly around in a circle, and once enough bats gather, they all head out from the bridge along the water. Get there about 30 -45 minutes early to get a good spot to watch them from. Also, note that they only come out if it is warm enough and it is not raining. Another great way to see them is on a sightseeing cruise, our next recommendation.
Lady Bird Lake Sight Seeing Cruise
I recommend doing the cruise that will take you to see the bats from the water at the end. But if you visit when the bats are not there, it is still worth taking the cruise along Lady Bird Johnson Lake at sunset. These cruises are well-priced and take you down the water slowly. Along the way, the guide will tell you the history of the bridges, the lake, and downtown Austin. It is a fun way to learn about the city and to experience the beauty of Lady Bird Lake. Plus, if you take a bat cruise, you get to watch the bats fly out from under the bridge while you sit at a great vantage point on the water.
LBJ Presidential Library and Museum
LBJ Presidential Library and Museum is an interesting spot to learn more about the 36th president, a famous Texas resident. His ranch is located in the Texas Hill Country, about an hour outside of the city, if you want to see that as well. The library and museum are situated on the UT Campus and have a great collection of photographs and documents from the president’s time in office. It also has a replica Oval Office on the top floor and Lady Bird Johnson’s office which looks out over the city right next to it. The most impressive part was the large archives area which you can see from the main hall. It is imposing and not something you often see in the more modern presidential libraries.
Bullock State History Museum
The Bullock State History Museum is a must-visit spot in Austin if you are a fan of Texas history. The museum is large and interactive, with many great exhibits on everything from the Alamo to Texas ranching and the Austin City Limits Theater. You can spend a few hours here walking the different floors and watching the educational videos they have on many of the most vital pieces of history. There is even an entire ship sitting on the museum’s first floor, which gives you a little understanding of the museum’s size. Don’t forget to take a photo with the 35-foot-tall bronze star outside the building when you are done.
Peter Pan Mini Golf
If you visit Austin with younger children, then consider a visit to Peter Pan Golf. This mini golf course has been here since 1948 and has two courses of different difficulty levels. Peter Pan Mini Golf is known for the sculptures that stand on many of the various holes with everything from a clown head to a t-rex. While it is not difficult, it was a fun way to spend an hour in the city.
McKinney Falls State Park
McKinney falls State Park is a beautiful natural area only 15 minutes outside of the city with many miles of hiking trails. The park has an upper and lower falls area with the water cascading over limestone rocks into pools below. These waterfalls are only around 10-15 feet tall, but they are still beautiful to see when flowing. Plus, when the water level is low, you can cross over and see an old homestead that has been preserved in the park. It is a great way to get out in nature while in Austin.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Alternatively, if you are visiting in the spring then you should consider going to Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Named after the famous first lady, a well-known advocate for nature preservation, this area is one of the most beautiful botanical gardens I have ever seen. It seamlessly integrates with the nature surrounding it and has miles of hiking trails through many different fields of flowers. Be sure to climb the tower to view the entire center from above and visit in the spring when the bluebonnets bloom.
Situated in the beautiful Zilker Park and fed by underground springs, Barton Springs has cool and clear waters that forms a unique public pool. The small concrete dam that created the pool was built in 1918. I have never gotten a chance to swim there, as it has always been too cold, but the pool is historic and a fun summer meeting place for Austin, and the water is around 68 degrees year-round. Surrounded by lush greenery, it’s an idyllic escape from the bustling city life while still being in the heart of Austin.
Offering breathtaking panoramic views of the Austin skyline, Colorado River, and surrounding hill country, a visit to Mt Bonnell is a must for nature lovers and photography enthusiasts. The walk to the top of the 775 foot tall mountain is via a series of stone steps. It can be a little steep on the way up but once you make it to the top you can walk the ridegline and take in many fantastic views of the surrounding area. It’s an ideal spot for a leisurely hike, a romantic sunset, or an invigorating morning workout.
Penny Backer Bridge
Known for its distinctive arched design and scenic setting, the Penny Backer Bridge is an iconic Austin landmark. While it is fun to drive across it, the best views are from the hiking trail on the north side of the bridge. There are about a dozen spots here for cars along the side of the road, and the hike up is not official, so it can be steep and slippery. The views from the top of the cliffs below, the bridge, and the Colorado River are amazing though. Note that I saw a good amount of glass on the ground when I was there, so I wouldn’t recommend leaving anything of value in your car during the short hike.
Sparky Pocket Park
This charming little park is a hidden gem in the heart of Austin. Featuring a unique art installation that covers an electrical substation, Sparky Pocket Park is just an interesting example of art and a public park changing the look of an otherwise dull and unused part of the city. Not worth the visit by itself unless you are in the area, but I thought it was a lot of fun, and I love finding unique things like this in a city.
Zilker Botanical Garden
A visit to the Zilker Botanical Garden offers an enchanting experience for all ages. With its diverse collection of plants, themed gardens, and picturesque landscapes, the garden is a haven for nature lovers, photographers, and those seeking a peaceful retreat in the city. The park has over a mile of trails, and I loved the way that they integrated art throughout the garden. It is a beautiful place to explore for the whole family and one of the most relaxing places I have been in Austin.
Lady Bird Lake Walking Path
While we talked about getting out on the water at Lady Bird Lake earlier, you should also walk, bike, or simply experience the lake from the shore. The path that runs along the south side provides stunning views of the city skyline and has lots of fun attractions like the Stevie Ray Vaughn statue. I love the portion with an elevated walkway that goes out over the water and have seen everything from turtles to abundant birdlife while strolling along the lake. It is a fantastic place to unwind, exercise, or enjoy a stroll.
Austin Downtown Murals
The vibrant and ever-evolving street art scene in Austin adds a unique charm to the city. The murals are situated all over the city, and you can find maps online that will take you to some of the most popular. My favorites are the Austin mural near 6th Street and the pizza astronaut, which might only be there for a short time as the business it was situated behind has closed. Exploring the downtown murals offers an opportunity to appreciate the local talent and add a colorful twist to your Austin visit.
Museum of Weird
Next up, for a quirky and offbeat experience, visit the Museum of Weird in Austin. This small museum has an array of oddities, curiosities, and unusual artifacts that are sure to pique your interest. The museum can be seen in less than a half hour, but it is situated on three floors with many different pieces to interact with and enjoy. I love things like this, so it was a highlight for me in Austin, and I am sure it would be a memorable and fun stop for those who appreciate the unconventional.
Texas State Capitol
The Texas State Capitol is the government home for the state and an architectural marvel that offers free guided tours, allowing visitors to learn about the Lone Star State’s rich past. The building was built in 1888 and has been update a few times over the years. It is stunning to explore, especially the large rotonda in the middle of the lobby. You can climb multiple floors and see it from a few different angles. Also, the beautiful Capitol grounds are perfect for a relaxing walk or a picnic.
South Congress Avenue (SoCo)
No trip to Austin is complete without a visit to SoCo. SoCo is a vibrant and bustling cultural hub that showcases Austin’s creative spirit. Here you can explore Austin’s funky and eclectic side by strolling down the unique shops, restaurants, food trucks, and live music venues. A few of my favorite places here are Jos Coffee, Home Slice Pizza, and the Continental Club. There are some great murals to see in this part of Austin as well.
Blanton Museum of Art
Next, the contemporary Austin Museum of Art showcases a diverse collection of artworks from local, national, and international artists. The museum is located on the University of Texas campus, and it has over 21,000 pieces of art in its collection. It is a great place to spend a few hours or longer if you are an art enthusiast. Be sure to also see the Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin building outside of the main museum. This stunning piece is especially beautiful when the light is shining in the colorful windows.
Austin is a fantastic city for foodies, so I will cover many food recommendations in a separate video. That’s it for my top spots in Austin, be sure to let me know what I left off in the comments.