Austin, Texas, is the state’s fourth-largest city and a cultural melting pot with tons of things to do. This historical city was known as Waterloo and renamed as Austin to honor Stephen F. Austin, the father of the Republic of Texas. In 1839, this riverside village of the Tonkawa and Comanche was chosen to replace Houston as the capital of Texas. Today, Austin is the “Live Music Capital of the World.” But this majestic city offers more than music.
Austin offers outdoor adventures, art, vibrant nightlife, magic, and tons of activities for the whole family. There is plenty in this city to fill your itinerary. But where do you start? Here are our top best things to do in Austin.
15. Head Out to Hill Country
The surrounding 14,000 square miles of Texas Hill Country, where ancient villages and more than two dozen vineyards meet a laid-back and soulful culture, provide a counterpoint to Austin’s stylish metropolitan life. They promote all things Austin by offering river tubing, music events, sporting activities, and more. You may register for events online or simply show up!
14. The Driskill
(image via The Driskill)
This elegant Downtown hotel, which dates from 1886, is a 12-minute walk from the Texas State Capitol and the Austin Convention Center. Classic rooms have flat-screen televisions and work tables, as well as minibars and complimentary Wi-Fi. Unique 19th-century architectural elements and balconies may be seen in several of the rooms. Suites with separate living/dining spaces are luxurious and tastefully furnished.
A café and bakery providing regional comfort cuisine, an upmarket grill restaurant, and a luxurious Texas-inspired bar with happy hours and daily live music are among the dining options. A gym and a business center are also available. Pets are welcome and are provided with luxurious beds, bowls, treats, and toys.
13. Experience Some Live Music
The Austin City Limits Music Event is a two-weekend music festival held at Zilker Park in Austin, Texas, on two consecutive weekends. The event is produced by Austin-based C3 Presents, which also produces Chicago’s Lollapalooza. It is inspired by the KLRU/PBS music series of the same name.
12. Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum
(image via LBJ Presidential Library)
The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, often known as the LBJ Presidential Library, is the presidential library and museum of the 36th President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson. It is one of fourteen presidential libraries managed by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and is located on The University of Texas at Austin’s campus. They are open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day), with the last entrance at 4:00 p.m. There is free parking at visitor lot #38.
11. Esther’s Follies
(image via Esther's Follies)
Esther’s Follies is a contemporary vaudeville theater on 6th Street in downtown Austin, Texas. Esther Williams, the actress, inspired the group’s name. Magic, juggling, singing, dancing, and skits based on current events are all used in the acts. The program is fast-paced, and the majority of the acts have a comic element. Esther’s is a satirical revue that skewers both political parties and uses the ludicrous in politics and pop culture as a springboard for its routines. The end effect is a cleverly amusing, uniting experience for a politically varied audience, in which everyone laughs together.
10. Magic Theater
(image via Magic’s Theater & Museum)
The family-run Magic Theater offers family-friendly magic shows on Saturday nights. You can visit this auditorium in Southwest Austin on Thursday and Friday nights for close-up magic shows. John Magic ensures kids are entertained with simple tricks that require audience participation. Magic Theater is also a magic museum dedicated to Harry Houdini. Visiting this theater is one of the top things to do as a family in Austin.
Admission starts at $20.00.
9. Austin BBQ
(image via Franklin Barbecue)
Several barbecue joints in Austin stand out from the crowd, including Franklin BBQ, Interstellar BBQ, Stiles Switch, Black’s Barbecue, and Sam’s BBQ. Franklin’s world-renowned brisket with peppery exterior draws Austinites from across the city. If you are aching for barbecue and music, Stubb’s Bar-B-Q serves the best brisket and music. This cozy venue once hosted Johnny Cash.
Total cost varies depending on your barbecue appetite.
8. McKinney Falls State Park
McKinney Falls State Park in southeastern Austin offers untainted natural beauty and relaxing serenity. The cascading waterfalls and scenic landscapes can wash away the stresses of city life. There is no shortage of outdoor adventures in this park. You can hike or ride your bike on the 2.8-mile Onion Creek Trail. If you’re into camping, McKinney Falls State Park has six cabins on-site and over 80 campsites with essential amenities like water and electricity. This picturesque state park with captivating waterfalls is one of the best getaways in Austin, TX.
Adults pay $6 daily and free for children under 13 years.
7. The Vibrant Austin Nightlife
Austin has a vibrant nightlife throughout the year. But the live music, bar-hopping, and bottled beers intensify on the ‘First Thursdays’ along South Congress Avenue. Some of the best places to experience Austin’s vibrant nightlife include Rainey Street. Here, you’ll find renowned nightclubs like Half Step, Geraldine’s, and Clive Bar. It is family-friendly during the day and wild with parties at night. For refined blues, jazz, and country, visit the grandaddies of Austin music like Continental Club and Antone’s. Indulge in a Texas honky-tonk experience at the Broken Spoke. Don’t forget to wear your cowboy or cowgirl boots!
Admission varies depending on the club.
6. Austin Zoo
(image via Austin Zoo)
On the southwest edge of Austin, Austin Zoo rehabilitates rescued animals before returning them to the wild. It is ideal for the entire family. The zoo is home to over 300 animals from around 100 species. Here, kids can feed friendly animals and learn about Texan wildlife and animal rescue and conservation. Visiting this zoo is one of the best things to do in Austin.
Admission is $12 for adults and $9 for children.
5. Get Weird with Austin’s Art & Culture
(image via Blanton Museum of Art)
Austin brings together artistic influences from different cultures and eras. At Blanton Museum of Art Austin Gallery, immerse yourself in early Renaissance paintings, Roman-era pottery, and modern contemporary artworks. This museum at the University of Texas also showcases Native American and Latin American masterpieces. You can learn more about Texas at the Bullock Texas State History Museum via interactive audio-visual displays and artifacts.
The Mexic-Arte Museum features traditional and contemporary painting, sculptures, photography, and multimedia work by local artists from different communities. Visit this museum to dive deep into Mexican, Latino, and Latin American art and culture. Austin’s museums can take you on a cultural and historical journey and provide thought-provoking insights about current issues.
Admission: Blanton Museum costs $12 for adults and free for children 12 and younger. Mexic-Arte costs $7 for adults and $1 for children ages 12 and under, but it is free every Sunday!
4. Lady Bird Lake
(image via Karsten Winegeart)
Lady Bird Lake is a 416-acre reservoir along the Colorado River, named after the wife of President Lyndon Johnson. It is one of Austin’s top recreation areas, with a 10.2-mile boardwalk circling the lake. This loop allows you to cycle around the reservoir. But the lake also has miles of trails along its shoreline, ideal for pedestrians and cyclists. Take kayaking lessons at the Texas Rowing Center on the north shore. When you’re ready, rent a kayak to explore Lady Bird Lake. This lake is close to other top tourist sites in downtown Austin. You can hit several spots in a 1-day tour of Austin.
Admission: Free. But renting a kayak will cost you between $15/hour and $30/hour.
3. The Congress Avenue Bridge
If you’ve seen a bridge, you’ve seen them all, right? Wrong! The Congress Avenue Bridge is a world-famous tourist attraction for bat watchers. It is home to about 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats. At sunset, the bat colony put on a 45-minute spectacle as they fly out from their home to look for something to eat. You can join the crowds on the Congress Avenue Bridge to watch this natural wonder over Lady Bird Lake. Note that the bats migrate from May through October. So, this spectacle won’t be available during the winter. This nightly event is one of the best things to do for free in Austin.
2. Texas State Capitol
(image via Dale Honeycutt)
The State Capitol is a National Historic Landmark, constructed in 1888. This 22-acre attraction site is home to the office of the State Governor and the Chambers of the Texas Legislature. You can take a guided tour to learn the history of the monuments on its grounds. At the visitor center, check out exhibits about the history of Austin and the state of Texas. Don’t forget to take a selfie with the 308-feet tall State Capitol building towering in the background.
Admission: Free but requires a reservation.
1. Zilker Park
(image via Tomek Baginski)
At 2100 Barton Springs Rd, Austin, TX, Zilker Park is packed with fun things to do. This 351-acre park on the banks of the Colorado River is home to Barton Springs Pool, the Zilker Playscape, and water recreation for all ages. At the Zilker Playscape, kids aged 2-5 years can ride a miniature train and make new friends at the playground. Zilker Park is also home to the Umlauf Sculpture and Austin Nature and Science Center.
If you’re outdoorsy, visit the Barton Creek Greenbelt. This section of the park offers rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking, and more. Nature lovers can head to the Zilker Botanical Garden and Hartman Prehistoric Garden. Cool off with a dip at Barton Springs Pool, formed and fed by natural springs. This 3-acre water body maintains a constant temperature of about 68°F (20°C) year-round. End your tour with a picnic at Zilker Park’s grassy expanses.
Admission: Free. Parking costs $5/car Monday-Thursday and $10/car Friday-Sunday, holidays.
As you can see, Austin has a lot to offer everyone. If you are looking for more things to do in the surrounding area, check out other weekend trips from nearby Austin.
These areas are perfect for a quick day trip or a long weekend getaway. Explore our favorite things to do or peruse some pre-built itineraries.