Whether you’re a football fanatic, a barbecue enthusiast or a freewheeling nature lover, Austin has a little bit of something for everyone. Next time you plan a visit to the Texas capital, be sure to check these 10 essential attractions off your list.
This sprawling 350-acre park pulses with the heartbeat of the city. The 10-mile Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail, Austin’s most popular running path, loops around Ladybird Lake, where kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders glide across the smooth surface alongside turtles and herons. Barton Springs, Austin’s most iconic spring-fed pool, attracts year-round devotees to swim in its consistently 68-degree, mineral-rich waters.
And even when it isn’t bustling with revelers during Austin City Limits or the Kite Festival, Zilker is where friends and neighbors gather for picnics and team sports — like sand volleyball and kickball — with the city skyline as a backdrop.
South Congress Avenue
A visit to South Congress, Austin’s most famous shopping district, is essential. Browse independent boutiques, vintage shops, bookstores, and be sure to leave with a pair of custom cowboy boots from Allens Boots.
During the warmer months (roughly March through October), walk down to the Congress Avenue Bridge at dusk to see millions of majestic bats emerge from underneath.
Though dance halls used to be found all over Texas, these days they are few and far between — particularly in the cities. For this reason and many more, Broken Spoke is a treasure that must be cherished. Get to the South Lamar honkytonk early for a serving of chicken fried steak (a Texan delicacy), then boot scoot to the dance floor for free two-stepping lessons before the live music begins.
Texas State Capitol
No matter your political leanings, a trip to the Texas State Capitol is in order. Free 30-minute guided tours are led through this architectural masterpiece daily, or take a self-guided gander through the winding halls. Be sure to spin around under the decorative dome in the rotunda, as per Texas tradition.
Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium
Each fall, the University of Texas campus lights up for a new Longhorn football season. Join the diehard fans and catch a game at the stadium.
Pop into an innovative speakeasy-inspired cocktail lounge, like Garage, Small Victory or Midnight Cowboy (which is tucked away in the middle of busting Sixth Street) or head to Rainey Street, where a row of bungalows has been transformed into a place for bar-hopping.
Perhaps you’ve been to a movie theater that serves food and drink. Maybe you even have an Alamo Drafthouse in your own city. But there’s nothing like seeing a movie at the Alamo in the city where it all began.
Though the original theater on Colorado Street is no more, the Alamo Ritz —right on Sixth Street — is the next best thing. For a true Austin experience, reserve tickets to one of its kitschy sing-alongs, a multi-course feast or a Terror Thursday screening.
East Austin BBQ Belt
A trip to Austin isn’t complete without a barbecue meal — or three. While Franklin Barbecue is undoubtedly the city’s most famous stop for smoked meat, there are plenty of other great spots, and most of them reside on the east side of town.
Micklethwait Craft Meats is known for it innovative, handmade sausage offerings, while Kerlin BBQ draws a crowd for pork shoulder and meat-filled kolaches. And though La Barbecue’s one- to two-hour line isn’t quite as long as the four- to five-hour wait at Franklin, many ’cue aficionados think La’s brisket and ribs are just as good — if not better.
During Austin’s lengthy summer, a visit to the lush Greenbelt is as essential as a dip in Barton Springs. The seven-mile network of hiking and mountain biking trails, swimming holes and limestone bluffs is accessible through several different points. And, while most of the popular spots are mapped online, it’s always best to go with a local in the know, as some of the entry points can be a bit tricky to find.
Once the best place in town to see a vaudeville show or silent movie, the historic Paramount Theatre is now home to film and comedy festivals, artist and author talks, musicals, plays, film premieres and more. The summer classic film series is a great way to beat the heat and appreciate classic cinema on the big screen.