If you had only one day to see Austin, this is how you should spend it:
Wake early and treat yourself to breakfast tacos at either Torchy’s Tacos, Tacodeli, or Veracruz All Natural on Cesar Chavez. Not only are breakfast tacos something you can’t leave Austin without having, but these will give you sustenance to power through the rest of your jam-packed day (well, until lunch).
From here, it’s a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure. There are always plenty of Segway tour groups zipping around town and the Land and Lake Duck Adventures tour takes you on an amphibious tour of downtown and Lake Austin. If this is your cup of tea, it could be a great way to see more of the city and learn about the history from someone whose job it is to tell you about it. (But be warned: the latter is more touristy and noisy — the guides hand out duck beak noise makers for all participants to use at will.)
If you are not so much the touring type, opt to walk off those tacos with a self-guided tour of the Capitol, followed by a stroll down South Congress, where there are shops aplenty and great people watching. If you’re there until lunch, Hopdoddy is a great burger bar, and Perla’s has fantastic seafood.
By the afternoon, you’re going to most likely need a swim to cool off. Barton Springs is another must-see for out-of-towners. The spring-fed canal remains an invigorating 68 degrees and the tree-shaded hills are perfect for lounging and reading to the tune of bongos, guitars and sometimes even a didgeridoo, if you’re lucky.
After a shower (and potentially a quick nap, if needed), it’s time to change for dinner and a glimpse of Austin nightlife. But first: watching the world’s largest urban bat colony take flight for food is an activity that’s not to be missed. This mass bat exodus happens around sundown, usually between 8 and 8:30 p.m. It can be viewed from the Congress Bridge, an adjacent viewing area or from a bat tour boat.
For dinner, Trace is close to the bat bridge, and is an impeccable choice that focuses on local ingredients. Do be sure to make reservations ahead of time.
Afterward, choose an area to get drinks (West Sixth Street is preppy, “Dirty Sixth” between Congress and I-35 is wild coed central, the Warehouse District is gay and clubby, Red River/Seventh is a grungy crossroads for live music, hipsters reign on Sixth Street east of I-35, and Rainey Street is a newer district that attracts mostly pseudo-hipsters). But since they all run into each other, why not take a stroll through downtown for the full scenic tour? (On weekends, Dirty Sixth is on par with the likes of Bourbon Street. It’s definitely worth taking a gander, if only for novelty purposes.)