I floated on my surfboard under the beating sun as Joel, my instructor, told me a few adjustments to make on the next wave. I glanced over at Jacob on the shore, as he waved and shot a few more photos. As I readied my board, I looked back to watch the coming wave, and for a moment I thought to myself “I never thought I’d be surfing in Austin!”
After living in Portland for a year, we were excited to spend a few days exploring Austin. The two cities are often compared and like to compete on which city is weirder. We found ourselves cliff jumping at a swimming hole, eating BBQ, watching hundreds of thousands of bats flying around, and even taking a surf lesson.
Last Updated: May 10, 2018 Originally Created: August 18, 2017
- Austin Helicopter Tour
- ATX Sculpture at Whole Foods
- Austin Aquarium
- Austin Brewery Tour
- Austin Zoo
- Cathedral of Junk (unique and eclectic art structure)
- Circuit of The Americas (Auto Race Track)
- Driveway Austin Motorsports (Drive Experience)
- HOPE Outdoor Gallery – the grounds are open to the general public but you need a permit to paint.
- Horseback Riding
- Lake Travis Zip-lining
- Lone Star Riverboat Cruises – Take a sunset tour on the Colorado River. If you come in the summer, you can do a bat watching tour.
- Murals – I love you so much, You’re my Butter Half, Love from Austin, Greetings from Austin, SprATX Art, and more (full post coming soon!)
- NLand Surf Park – great place to learn how to surf since the waves are consistent. Joel was a great instructor and helped me understand what I was doing right or wrong.
- The Oasis – dining over Lake Travis. A beautiful restaurant that’s all over Pinterest.
- Pennybacker Bridge – Local Tip: best photos are from the NE cliff or NW cliff.
- Pinballz Arcade – personal pinball collection turned into an arcade
- Stevie Ray Vaughan Statue, Auditorium Shores – Auditorium Shores is a nice place to shoot the skyline too
- Texas State Capitol Building + Visitor Center – really beautiful architecture.
- University of Texas – Littlefield Fountain + UT Tower in the backdrop is picturesque. You can also see a UT home football game in the fall.
MUSEUMS + MEMORIALS
- Austin Nature and Science Center
- Blanton Museum of Art
- Bullock Texas State History Museum
- Harry Ransom Center at UT – archive, art, library, and museum.
- LBJ Presidential Library
- Mexic-Arte Museum
- Museum of the Weird
- Museum of Natural and Artificial Ephemerata
- O. Henry Museum
- Radha Madhav Dham Temple
- Sitagu Buddha Vihara Temple
- Sparky Park – electrical sub station turned into eccentric art
- Texas State Cemetery
- The Contemporary Austin at Laguna Gloria / the Jones Center / The Contemporary Austin Jones Center (Your $5.00 admission also gets you into the Laguna Gloria)
- Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum at Zilker Metropolitan Park- look for the bamboo forest
- Xiang Yun Temple (also called the International Buddhist Progress Society / IBPS)
- Zilker Botanical Garden at Zilker Metropolitan Park
photo: Erin & Caroline
URBAN PARKS + OUTDOORS
- Ann and Roy Butler Hike & Bike Trail – trails run along the lake and take you through Zilker Park, Butler Park, Auditorium Shores, and Long Center for the Performing Arts.
- Austin Bouldering Project
- Barton Creek Greenbelt – Great for hiking, bouldering, and climbing. You can also swim at Twin Falls, Campbell’s Hole and swimming holes along the Gus Fruh Trail. Sculpture Falls is a one-mile hike and used to be more hidden but is now packed. Check out Seismic Wall aka Maggie’s Wall and see other popular climbs here.
- Commons Ford Ranch – lakefront park on Lake Austin.
- Deep Eddy Pool – It’s the oldest swimming pool in Texas. It’s a spring-fed pool, not as crowded as Barton Springs Pool.
- Barton Creek Spillway – free alternative to the popular Barton Springs. Local Tip – water is rushing sometimes, which means you want to be a strong swimmer. Bring river shoes and goggles.
- Barton Springs Pool – natural spring fed swimming pool. Local Tip: Upper Barton Springs is free and way less crowded. It’s 1200 ft upstream from Barton Springs Pool.
- Bob Wentz Park – a popular spot for scuba diving, windsurfing, sailing, and swimming in the summer. See park fees here.
- Bull Creek Greenbelt – There are lots of great secluded swimming holes, hiking trails, and a short, wide waterfall.
- Emma Long Metropolitan Park – swimming hole with a true beach off Lake Austin. See entrance fees here.
- Hippie Hollow Park – great swimming and the only legally recognized clothing optional public park in Texas. Must be 18+. See park fees here.
- Mount Bonnell, Covert Park – Great photo spot and a view of the city. It’s 102 steps from the parking lot but overlooks Downtown, Lake Austin, and hill country. Best enjoyed at sunrise or sunset.
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
- Lady Bird Lake (aka Town Lake by locals, also the former name) – Go on a cruise, kayak, or SUP. It’s illegal to swim, and there is a $150 fine. If you want to photograph Lady Bird Lake and the skyline, popular spots are at the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, the Hike-and Bike trail boardwalk near Joe’s Crabshack entrance, and the Lamar Street Bridge.
- Longhorn Cavern State Park (Limestone Cave)
- Mansfield Dam Park on Lake Travis – popular boating and swimming spot. See park fees here.
- Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve – look for the peacocks!
- McKinney Falls State Park (Swimming Hole) – Has a waterfall, 700 acres of hiking trails, and camping. Travel channel it one of the top 10 swimming holes in the US.
- Red Bud Isle Park, let your dog off-leash here! It’s a great place for dogs to swim in Lake Austin but not dog owners.
- St. Edwards Park for more swimming hole fun, hiking, biking, and running.
- West Lake Beach – great for families. It has a roped off swimming area of Lake Austin. Local Tip: Call ahead. It’s often rented out for private events.
- Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center
- Allens Boots – has more than 4000 boots on display plus cowboy hats and clothing.
- Antonelli’s Cheese Shop
- Big Top Candy Shop
- City Wide Garage Sale – Austin’s famous vintage market
- East Austin Succulents
- Feather’s Boutique Vintage
- Kick Pleat
- Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds (Costume Store)
- Stag Provisions for Men
- Tesoros Trading Company (Folk Arts and Crafts)
- Texas Custom Boots
- TOMS Austin + Cafe serving TOMS Roasting Co
- Uncommon Objects (Antiques)
- Waterloo Records & Video
SHOWS, EVENTS, VENUES
- Antone’s Nightclub (Blues)
- Austin City Limits or ACL Live at the Moody Theater (Live Music)
- Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In
- Broken Spoke – last of the true Texas Dance-halls
- Carousel Lounge (Circus-themed lounge)
- The Continental Club – legendary South Congress club with local rock, country, jazz, and blues acts.
- Donn’s Depot (Piano Bar with Live Music)
- Ego’s (Karaoke)
- The Elephant Room (Underground Jazz bar)
- Esther’s Follies (Comedy)
- Historic Scoot Inn (Live Music) – usually eclectic indie bands
- Little Longhorn Saloon – Play Chicken Shit Bingo
- The Long Center – home to the Austin Symphony Orchestra, Austin Lyric Opera, Ballet Austin, and more. It frames downtown nicely for photos.
- Mohawk Austin (Live Music)
- One World Theater (Music + Theater)
- Paramount Theater – Very underrated. They play a classic movie series in the summer.
- White Horse (Live Country Music)
- Reimers Ranch Park, Dripping Springs (29.6 mi NW / 38 mins away) – Has a nice beach area to swim and sunbathe plus good limestone sport-climbing. See popular climbs here and park fees here.
- Hamilton Pool Preserve, Dripping Springs (30.7 mi NW / 43 mins away) – a natural grotto and swimming hole with a waterfall. Reserve ahead of time ($16 fee) and bring hiking shoes.
- Krause Springs, Spicewood (36.4 mi NW / 46 mins away) – There are 32 springs on their private property. See fees here. Since it’s private, 21+ can drink here.
- Pace Bend Park, Spicewood (35 mi NW / 54 mins away) – Pale Face is a popular cliff jumping spot. You can also find great camping, lake recreation, mountain biking, deep water soloing or water bouldering. See popular climbs here.
- Jacob’s Well Natural Area, Wimberley (36.4 mi SW / 48 mins away) – It’s a popular swimming hole with the biggest underwater cave system. Recreational diving is no longer allowed. Local Tip: Make reservations ahead of time. If they’re already booked, keeping checking back since there are cancellations.
- Blue Hole Park, Georgetown (28.5 mi N / 33 mins away) – another popular swimming hole
- Blue Hole Regional Park, Wimberley (37.7 mi SW / 46 mins away) – scenic swimming hole with green foliage, clear water, and grassy areas for picnics. open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. See admission fees and hours here.
- Pedernales Falls State Park, Johnson City (41.9 mi E / 1 h away) – Great photography spot. See fees here.
- Devil’s Watering Hole at Inks Lake State Park, Burnet (68.7 mi NW/ 1 h 22 min away) – Known for its cliff jumping and swimming. See entrance fees here. Local Tip: water is deep, so bring floaties.
- Guadalupe River State Park, Spring Branch (78.3 mi SW / 1 h 30 min away) – great tubing, swimming, canoeing. See entrance fees here. Local Tip: The Guadalupe River can feel like a giant frat party, whereas San Marcos River and Comal River are less crazy.
- Congress Avenue Bridge Bat Flight (Summer around sunset): There are 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats living under the Congress Ave Bridge. Local Tip: It’s easiest to see the bats if you’re looking up at them from the river level versus on the bridge. You can rent a kayak or go on a sunset Bat Cruise with Lone Star Riverboat (what we did), Capital Cruises, or sunset kayaking. If it rains, they will come out before or after to avoid the rain. Watch out for guano! Wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.
- SXSW (Mid-March)
- Bluebonnets in Austin (Spring) – Peak of bloom season is usually around the first weekend of April but can vary year to year. These are the best places to see them.
ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR FIRST TIME VISITORS
- Peak season is spring and fall because you get the best weather and there are plenty of festivals. If you’re visiting in peak season, plan ahead and book your hotels early. If you want to avoid the crowds, December to February is a great time to visit with mild temperatures.
- The Capital Metro is easy to use and has routes all over the city.
- Parking options are limited to metered parking or parking garages. Meters are generally $1 per hour with a 3-hour limit but read signs carefully. Parking garages average at around $3 per half hour or $18 a day.
- Topo Chico Mineral Water is all the rage! You see them everywhere, and we tried our first one at the Visit Austin offices.
- On Fridays, you can find free art hidden throughout to the city and it truly is a finders keepers.
- If you’re looking for a Rental Car, check here for prices!
- Looking for the best food spots? Check out our Austin Food Bucket List here.
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“Discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” – M. Proust