This city isn’t like the rest of Texas. Austin may be a big city now (as the nation’s eleventh most populous), but it has the feel of a small town by priding itself on everything local. You might even say the city has a bit of a flair for the dramatic, or at least the artistic.
Take the worry out of cramming enough activities into three days by following this 72-hour itinerary hand-crafted by an Austinite.
With its central location and direct flights, Austin is easy to reach by plane. Austin–Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) is a mini-hub for Delta and a popular Southwest destination, so roundtrips can be had for under $300.
For those in a car, I-35 is the only interstate that goes through the city and connects to Dallas and San Antonio.
Austin, TX, USA.
Eating, Shopping, Music
Austin is located in Central Texas in Texas Hill Country. I-35 runs straight through the city giving easy access to Dallas (about 3 hrs north) and San Antonio (1.5 hrs south). If you’re coming from the west or east (Houston, for example), you’ll have to leave the interstate to hop onto Texas State Highway 290. It’s not a particularly difficult drive; just be aware that portions of the highway are divided while others aren’t.
As Austin’s population booms, so does the size of its airport. AUS is the 3rd busiest in the state and has regular non-stop flights to most large metro areas and even international destinations. Try booking your flight to arrive before or around noon to maximize your weekend excursion. It will also cut down on any delays from afternoon storms that may pop up.
There are three main options for getting to downtown Austin from the airport:
- Public Transportation: Capital Metro is the public bus system. Route 20 is about a 40-minute trip into downtown at a cost of only $2.50. Cap Metro has a great app with a simple-to-use trip planner, and you can buy tickets right on your phone.
- Rideshare/Taxis: Your traditional rideshare and taxi options are available. It takes about 20 min. to get into downtown for around $25.
- Car Rental: As Texas’s 3rd-largest airport, Austin–Bergstrom has the typical array of rental car companies offering their services. Downtown is walkable. But, outside of that immediate area, Austin is a car-centric city. It’s the easiest way to get around.
Where to Stay
Austin is the political heart of Texas and a new burgeoning tech hub. As such, there is no shortage of accommodation options from budget to super-lux and business-focused to purely leisure. If you’re a rewards member of a specific hotel chain, you’re sure to find a member of that chain in the downtown area.
We’d like to shout out Hotel Van Zandt, part of the IHG group, as a chain hotel worth considering. Rooms start around $200/night, which is about middle-of-the-road for downtown. Besides the chic design of the lobby and rooms, they are pet-friendly (with no extra charge or pet deposit). There is also a pool deck that offers great views overlooking Lady Bird Lake. One of the city’s best restaurants, Geraldine’s, is also located inside. Their weekend brunch is *chef’s kiss*.
Since Austinite’s have an independent and quirky streak, maybe you want your accommodations to embody that spirit also. If so, the historic Austin Motel is the place for you. Occupying the same location (and featuring the same sign!) since 1938, this retro motel features unique mid-century modern designs. The courtyard and pool are nice escapes from a day of shopping along South Congress. The price (starting around $160/night) is just right for the center-of-the-action location.
Important Note: Austin hosts many music festivals throughout the year. If you aren’t traveling specifically for them, you may want to avoid South by Southwest (early March) and Austin City Limits (early October). Hotel rooms and short-term rentals will be in short supply, and prices will be at their peak!
Friday Afternoon: South Congress
Roam the downtown area south of the river for a glimpse of Austin's heart. There are tons of shops offering local art and vintage goods. Uncommon Objects, Tesoros, and Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds are all close to some great restaurants and food trucks. A short walk away is Parts & Labour, with a ton of Texas-made goods that are so far beyond the phrase "local gift shop" that the phrase barely applies. The striking pop-culture art by Tim Doyle is a particular standout here.
Friday Night: Trudy's
Everybody thinks they want to hit up 6th Street, but you don't. You really, really don't. Not unless you want to feel like an extra in a George Romero flick where all the zombies are replaced by dead-eyed, shuffling college students. You're going to Trudy's.
You're going early because happy hour ends at 7:00 p.m., and the Mexican Martini is everything you ever wanted in an Austin bar experience. They cut you off after two drinks, but you're going to be fine with that. The company is much less obnoxious here than on 6th street, and the stuffed avocado is incredible.
Saturday Morning: Juan in a Million
Depending on whether you availed yourself of the happy hour at Trudy's, you may be in the market for a lot of protein and grease right about now. The best way to do that is with the Don Juan, a monstrous breakfast taco at Juan in a Million, just north of the river. This gorgeous mountain of potato, egg, bacon, and cheese costs only $6.50, but you'll want to buy three or four extra tortillas. Plus, you'll want to bring a friend. This bad boy's been featured on Food Network, but you won't need its credentials once it's in your mouth.
Saturday: Any Festival
Austin is basically one enormous festival that shifts from one purpose to another and leaves traffic in a permanent snarl. Since it's wrecking peoples' commutes, you might as well take advantage of whatever is going on that week. Maybe it's the O. Henry Pun-Off, or the Edible Bug Festival, or the Republic of Texas Biker Rally.
There's also a music event every now and then. If whatever band is taping Austin City Limits this weekend doesn't appeal to you, there's the ACL Music Festival, SXSW, Urban Music Festival, or Euphoria Fest, all depending on what time of year it is and what your taste in music is like.
Saturday Night: Pinballz
Pinballz is a local legend. With some 250 games and over a hundred pinball machines, this massive arcade is north of downtown out on Research Boulevard with the warehouses and tech R&D shops. The awesome mix of new and retro arcade fun draws enough crowds that they opened a location down in Buda, TX, and another Austin location at Lake Creek Festival mall. That location even has indoor electric go-karts. The original location is BYOB, with adult nights on the weekend.
Sunday Afternoon: Hamilton Pool Preserve
There was an underground river here, but the dome above it collapsed, forming a magical jade-green swimming grotto surrounded by waterfalls. Everyone needs to see Hamilton Pool at least once. If you prefer your swimming clothing-optional, there's always Hippie Hollow.
Hamilton Pool and Hippie Hollow are both a little way's drive west of the city. If those options are too far flung or happen to be closed, you could also check out Barton Springs Pool, a spring-fed, three-acre pool that stays 68°F all year long. It's in the downtown area just south of the river. However, its location makes it the most crowded of the bunch.
Sunday Evening: Alamo Drafthouse
The Alamo Drafthouse is a full-service restaurant and bar, in addition to being a movie theater, complete with gourmet popcorn and cocktails themed around the movie you're watching. Local pulp auteur Robert Rodriguez is a frequent patron, and will often introduce his films (and give cooking classes). Moreover, if you absolutely have to see 6th Street, the Alamo Ritz is there, so you can at least see a movie first as an excuse. It's not unheard of to bump into Elijah Wood or Quentin Tarantino in the bathroom. And as weird as this sounds, the custom "turn your phone off" ads are worth the price of admission alone.