Editor’s Note: This guide to visiting Austin Texas is part of our travel guide series. A series of articles aimed at exposing great locations that any avid traveler should visit in his or her lifetime. I have been a resident of Austin for the past 3 years. This Austin Texas Itinerary offers an ideal plan for visiting Austin Texas from a North to South perspective. Learn about things to do in Austin that are ideal for the traveler passing through for a day or two.
Itinerary for Visiting Austin, Texas
Austin is a city that’s currently at a cultural crossroads. With over 80,000 new residents, both foreign and domestic, moving to the city annually, there’s obviously an appeal here that’s unmatched by many other US cities currently. That’s due to a number of reasons, and they range from the fact that Austin IS the live music capital of the world (challenge me on this, please ;), to its innovative food culture. It’s also a hipster-esque subculture in and of itself. Austin’s main slogan is, “Keep Austin Weird.” Its meaning touches on a variety of concepts, but namely to promote Austin’s small business scene while at the same time encouraging a subculture that’s unique and artistic. One could also get away with saying “Keep Austin Local.”
With this in mind, I wanted to put together a brief, yet detailed guide to the traveler who’s visiting Austin for a short period of time. No, you won’t be able to experience all that Austin has to offer in just a couple of days, but you can at least touch on the essence of what makes this city special. We’ll start up North, where the population is expanding rapidly due to the fact that demand downtown can’t keep up with the supply. You can click here if you want to skip to things to do in South / Downtown Austin.
Things to do in North Austin
Note: You may not be able to complete all of the below activities in one Austin day trip, so feel free pick and choose your favorite activities depending upon your personal situation.
North Austin, just a mere 15 minute drive from downtown, is worth a visit in an effort to experience the beauty of the Colorado River, go hiking, go shopping and experience both great food and nightlife.
1. Eat, Drink & Stay at The Domain in North Austin
The Domain is a relatively new concept implemented a few years back to revitalize the North Austin area. The Domain offers Austin travelers an opportunity to shop at both upscale and budget retailers, while also getting a fun gastronomic experience. There are some really fun bars, restaurants and attractions worth visiting in and around The Domain in Austin.
Eat at The Domain
Below, we list off some of our favorite places to eat, drink and hangout at The Domain in Austin. Checkout this post to get more background on any of the below locations mentioned.
- The Steeping Room
- Kona Grill (Sushi & Drink Happy Hour all day on Sunday’s!)
- The Daily Grill
Drink at the Domain
Hang at the Domain
- Stop by “The Lawn”
- Shop around Century Oaks Terrace
- Walk Around
2. Checkout the 360 Overlook
After you get your fill of food and drink around The Domain, let’s head West and checkout one of the most beautiful, and for the most part somewhat unknown scenic areas in North Austin. Many first time visitors to Austin just assume Texas is this big, flat dry piece of land that doesn’t have much to offer from a scenic perspective. I was once guilty of this mindset. It wasn’t long until I discovered there are vast, picturesque rivers, cliffs and hiking trails intertwined with the city that make it a mecca for any discerning outdoor enthusiast. The 360 Overlook, which sits above the Colorado River and Pennybacker Bridge, is one of these epic sights.
Located at the intersection of two of Austin’s main highways – 183 and Mopac Route 1, the 360 Overlook sits along Capital of Texas Highway. Exit off of 183 and head west on Capital of Texas Highway. As you cruise for a few miles, you’ll be blessed with green mountainous valleys and deeply cut limestone gorges. Eventually, you’ll a red-mettalic bridge appear in front of you. There’s a stop light just before the bridge, which you should use as a marker since you’ll be pulling over on the side of the road just before going over the bridge.
We recommend going late afternoon, before sunset, since recently this location has been getting a bit more notice as of late. Pull your car off the side of the road and park on the gravel. There’s a little cutout in the trees which you can follow up along the limestone shelf. Note that getting to the top of the overlook will require a brief 5 minute, relatively steep hike. Don’t be intimidated – my mom who just had a knee replacement was able to do it. Make sure you wear shoes with some sort of tread as the limestone can be slick in some areas. I won’t describe the view when you finally emerge at the top of the cliff — I’ll let the view speak for itself. You can view the picture to the right for a taste ;).
Austin in general is unique in that it’s both a city and outdoor enthusiasts paradise. While it may not have the ocean, there are a wide array of hiking trails intertwined with the urban atmosphere. For instance, I was able to access Great Hills Hiking trail, simply by walking to the end of my apartments parking lot and hopping on the trail. Below, we list a few of our favorite trails in North Austin. North Austin lies at the edge of Hill Country, making for some fun uphill (and also flat hikes), complete with flowing rivers and creeks — as long as there’s been some recent rain!
- Great Hills Park
- Bull Creek
- Riverplace Nature Trail
- Colorado Wilflife Sanctuary
- Walnut Creek Trail
- St. Edwards Hill Trail
If you want to get a fresh taste of what North Austin is really all about, look no further than The Oasis by Lake Travis. Take a short ride through North Austin and stop at this literal Oasis for some Tex Mex and American style food atop their multi-tiered decks. The Oasis offers great margaritas and cocktails and an unmatched view of the Texas Hill Country sunset.
5. Eat at Rudy’s Outdoor Barbecue
When you’re visiting Austin, or even Texas for that matter, you should probably stop for some barbecue. Rudy’s is actually a chain, and it’s also frequently built into a Shell Gas Station. That being said, don’t let the setting scare you away. Step inside and get in line, grab a beer while you wait and observe the menu. The staff are incredibly friendly, and they slice the delectable brisket right in front of you. Make sure you load up on their homemade BBQ sauce and grab a side of the creamed corn and or delicious potato salad. My go-to meat choices are usually their lean brisket, hot jalapeño sausage and extra slices of bread. There’s outdoor and indoor seating. We prefer to sit in the outdoor area on the wood picnic tables. There’s a Texan authenticity here that reminds you you’re really in the heart of Texas.
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1. Visit ‘Dirty’ Sixth Street
This is not for everyone, but if you like cheap drinks, college girls, rooftop bars side-by-side, speakeasy’s, live music everywhere and streets that are so crowded they’re cordoned off Thursday through Saturday at night, just because it’s the weekend — Dirty 6th may be for you.
2. See Live Music at The Parish
While on Dirty 6th, Checkout austinshowlist.com and see if any of your favorite bands are playing in downtown Austin. For me, I like the jam and funk scene. The Parish offers frequent shows at their upstairs stage which frequently includes bands in these genres. It’s a nice open layout that offers great views of the stage and easy access to two different bars. During my tenure in Austin, I found that the Parish had the most intimate live music setting and the best bands on a consistent basis. There are other great venues, and while small, they attract great bands.
3. Visit Blind Pig
Also located on Dirty 6th, Blind Pig, no matter what age you are, will take you back to that feeling of being in college. This is a great spot to grab cheap beers and mixed drinks. It’s a two-floored establishment, with an epic rooftop patio that overlooks East 6th Street. Complete with live music and a huge dance floor.
4. Go to Stubb’s and see Live Music
Stubb’s is one of my favorite outdoor music venues in Austin. It’s also a barbecue joint. The stage is fantastic, and the way the outdoor setting is positioned allows for channeling optimal sound throughout the crowd. You’ll be standing on top of authentic Texan dirt, sipping on a Lone Star (The National Beer of Texas) and gleaning an epic view of any number of major (and also local) bands. Checkout the upcoming schedule at Stubb’s here.
5. Visit West 6th Street
If you want a breather from the craziness of East / ‘Dirty’ 6th Street, consider hitting the other side of the famed Austin 6th Street. West 6th offers bar-enthusiasts an opportunity to try a few different settings, while also catering to more of the young professional crowd. Checkout any of our recommended bars below. While drinks are a bit more expensive on this side of 6th, bar hopping is a blast on West 6th.
- Brew Exchange
- Kung Fu
- The Ranch
6. See The Bats
One of the most unique tourist attractions in the entire world, Downtown Austin offers travelers a chance to witness the largest urban bat colony in the United States in action. During the summer, tourists and locals alike gather along the edges of Congress Avenue bridge to witness over 1.5 million bats emerge from their day-time hide out underneath the bridge. On queue, at sunset, the bats begin to flutter and spiral out from beneath the bridge to consume over 20,000 pounds of mosquitos and other pesky insects in the area. A must see!
7. Visit South Congress Avenue
South Congress gives both long time Austin residents and visitors alike a great sense of what Austin is all about. With loads of delicious restaurants and coffee shops positioned up and down the Avenue, it makes for a great half day trip if you want to get the Austin feel while getting some solid eats and doing some shopping. Food Trucks are often positioned throughout the street, with spontaneous group dance sessions and solo guitar artists playing music along the sidewalk. Everything from boutique shops, to haberdasheries and Texan inspired gift shops can be found on South Congress. Allens Boots is also a popular shop if you want to take a little piece of Texas home with you. Authentic leather cowboy and cowgirl boots are available to all ages. (They are pricy, but will last you forever and there are numerous styles).
South Congress also makes for an ideal brunch stop. Conversely, if you’re checking out the bats on Congress bridge, you can stop by for dinner at any number of great restaurants along the strip.
Visiting South Congress? Here’s a brunch tip — checkout the South Congress Cafe Menu.
On a related note, music is everywhere in Austin. Here’s a video we shot just walking around South Congress.
8. Kayak or Paddle Board on Ladybird Lake
Ladybird Lake, located just off of Barton Springs Road in downtown Austin, makes for an ideal day trip if you want to get outdoors and get some exercise while visiting. Both kayak rentals and paddle board rentals are available near the junction of Barton Springs where the river flows into Ladybird Lake. You can learn more about renting kayaks, canoes and paddle boards at Zilker Park Boat Rental.
9. Hike / Run Around Downtown Austin
Fitness and outdoor enthusiasts rejoice! You may now be in the heart of Downtown Austin, but that doesn’t mean you need to be completely surrounded by a concrete jungle. Downtown Austin offers numerous hiking trails and scenic walking and running routes available to the masses. Not far from Congress Avenue where you saw the bats, you can hop onto the Ladybird Lake / Barton Springs running trail. It runs for a few miles around the area and offers a cool perspective of the downtown area. You can also jump on the Barton Springs trail, not far from Zilker Park.
Zilker Park is one of my favorite attractions in the Downtown Austin area. With over 350 acres to explore, within walking distance of Barton Springs, Zilker Park is a great place to take in the sights and also get some exercise. The park is vast, and many Austin residents take their dogs and a picnic basket for the day to hangout. Pickup soccer and flag football games occur daily, and it’s also an ideal spot to go for a run around the park. There are also several sand volleyball courts on the lower side of the park. The Downtown Austin skyline is clearly visible from any point in the park too!
Zilker Park is more than just a beautiful park, it’s also the location where the annual ACL Music Festival takes place. It’s also used for numerous other live music and festival style events throughout the year. Including Blues on the Green and the Austin ABC Kite Festival.
Free Yoga sessions are also offered at Zilker Park during the summer months right next to Barton Springs.
Barton Springs is one of the most notable attractions in Downtown Austin Texas. At around 3 acres, it’s essentially a large, outdoor pool, except it’s fed by an underground natural spring. Thus, Barton Springs maintains an average temperate of 68 degrees fahrenheit. An incredibly refreshing temp if you’re visiting Austin in the summer — where temperatures can easily exceed 110 degrees. Depth throughout the Springs ranges from a couple of inches to over 15 feet.
If you want to visit Barton Springs, it’s important you time it right. Daytime visits on Thursday won’t work, as the area is closed for cleaning between 9am and 7pm.
FREE SWIMMING TIMES AT BARTON SPRINGS
During the following hours, daily, visitors can get inside the Barton Springs gates at no charge.
- 5am – 8am
- 9pm – 10pm
If those hours don’t work for you, Life Guards observe the Springs between 8am and 9pm daily. Resident adults are charged $3, while non-resident adults are charged $8. Note that swimming fees may only be paid in cash. For a complete list of fees and hours, visit the Barton Springs website or call the Barton Springs hotline at 512-867-3080.
Fun Fact: With all the attention Austin as a city has been getting, Barton Springs now receives over 750,000 visitors every year.