There are some cities that are worth seeing because of the sights, and others worth visiting because of the food. But the best cities have both and Austin is one of those special places. Everytime I visit Austin I see another side to the city I didn't realize existed, and I'm sure I will continue to learn on subsequent trips. But in the meantime, here's a list of the things I *wish* I knew about the first time I visited:
Around a thirty minute drive outside of Austin you’ll find Hamilton Pool: the beautiful result of erosion and a collapsed grotto. The pool is open to the public and swimming is allowed (and encouraged!) exempting any bad weather. I’d recommend going on a weekday because it can get crowded (you may even have to wait in line) on weekends. Keep in mind that while it is a pool, there are no lifeguards on duty so swim at your own risk. The entrance fee is $15 per vehicle with discounts for senior citizens and disabled vets.
If you don’t have a car or don’t want to make the trek to Hamilton Pool, Austin also has another natural spring pool right within city limits: Barton Springs. With an average temperature of 68-70 degrees, Barton Springs is ideal for swimming year round. The pool is open daily with lifeguard supervision during popular hours. Admission is $8 for most non-residents but discounted for children and seniors.
The best of Texas barbecue
You may be familiar with the fact that each southern state has its own twist on barbecue, or a style that makes it unique. For Texas, it’s the fact that we prefer beef over pork: brisket, to be exact. While Franklin’s is undeniably the most famous game in town, you could be waiting in line up to three hours to get some of the low and slow goodness. We recommend checking out La Barbecue instead: the joint was started by the daughter of a Texas barbecue legacy. If you get there before opening hours you’ll likely only (only!) have to wait one hour instead of three.
UPDATED 02/2019: Want to skip the line? La Barbecue has since added a pre-order option where you can place a pick-up order as long as it's at least three days in advance.
Night clubs aren’t really my scene anymore but Barbarella’s is different, ok? Maybe that’s just the New Yorker in me talking because I’m not used to bars or spaces that are so… big. Drinking and dancing at Barbarella’s is more like going to a house party that’s actually fun than being at a pretentious club, and with many different rooms at your disposal it’s easy not to get bored. Plus they seem to know my biggest weakness: nostalgic pop music.
Photo by @barbarellaaustin
Sahara Lounge ADDED 02/19
If you’re ready to graduate from Barbarella and dirty 6th, get in a cab and make your way east to Sahara Lounge. The dive-y venue is known for hosting amazing dance parties, like Body Rock, as well as a range of music shows from Funk, Blues, African, Indie and everything in-between. They usually have affordable and delicious punch on tap and even free buffet dinner provided on Africa Night. During Body Rock nights the place can get packed so go early or hit up their spacious back patio (and pizza truck!) if you need some air.
Photo by @bodyrockatx
A failed condo-development reborn as a public art gallery thanks to Shepard Fairey. There are so many details to uncover and explore throughout the ground’s skeleton walls and levels. Climbing to the top will also give you a wonderful view of the downtown. Check out some free art and get a colorful new profile picture while you’re at it.
UPDATED 02/2019: As of January 2019, Hope Outdoor Gallery's Baylor Street location has closed. It is expected to re-open next to Carson Creek Ranch later in 2019.
If you’re the collegiate crowd that takes over East 6th street at night isn’t your scene but you still want a chill place to have a drink, check out Rainey Street. It’s an adorable little street of old homes that were converted into bars, live music venues, and also a popular parking spot for many food trucks. The crowd tends to be young professionals. Some of our favorite spots on the street are Javelina, Lustre Pearl, Half Step, and Bungalow. Also be sure to check out the whimsical Indian restaurant: G’raj Mahal.
What’s a trip to Austin without eating at least one breakfast taco, aka the best breakfast ever? If you’re not familiar, it’s exactly what you think it is: a taco filled with egg, cheese, and bacon for meat-eaters or potatoes for vegetarians. Our favorite places in Austin to eat breakfast tacos are TacoDeli, Juan in Million, and Veracruz but you can’t go wrong with any of the unnamed taco trucks parked around town either. If you’re willing to drive 30 minutes out of town, there’s a special little truck called “Grandpa’s Tacos” run by an adorable older couple on the side of the highway near Lake Travis that’s worth a stop.
From March through October, every night just before sundown, over 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats fly out from under the South Congress bridge in a giant swarm that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Yes, you’re going to look like a clichéd tourist standing on the South Congress bridge waiting for nearly an hour but suck it up because nature is cool and it’s worth seeing at least once in your life. Plus it’s free.
Photo by bmendez68
I could probably make a separate list just dedicated to places to eat in Austin, there are so many. Some of the more memorable places I’ve eaten that I’d highly recommend checking out: Elizabeth St. Cafe for Vietnamese food, Kemuri for a Tex-Mex izakaya, Dolce Neve for gelato, Salt & Time, Odd Duck for a fancy meal, and Valentina’s for when you can’t decide between brisket and tacos.
We highly recommend renting a car in order to fully experience everything has to offer. If you plan on staying inside the city limits you could very well get by with ride-sharing apps, but if you’re interested in checking out some of the incredible nature outside of the city, rent a car! Read more about our recommendations on where to stay in Austin here.