My favorite big city in Texas is Austin (shhhh…don’t tell Dallas!). Maybe that’s because it reminds me a lot of where I come from, which is San Diego. Austin just has this great vibe of super cool authentic Texas mixed with the outdoorsy world of San Diego mixed with lots of good food, pretty scenery, and friendly people. And although we’ve been many times, and have done many of the major things to do in Austin, in the past it’s always been to visit friends…this last trip was my first time going to Austin and playing tourist and I loved it.
I was in town for a work conference but I stayed a couple extra days to hang out with friends, and we walked and ate our way through Austin like the walking and eating champs we are!
Things to do in Austin
Austin is a great place to take the family. It’s fantastic for a romantic getaway or a girls’ trip. But because this last visit was with friends, I’m going to focus on visiting with adults in this post – maybe I need to do a “visit Austin with kids post” next! These are also based mostly on my last trip – we did a lot, but I’m just going the share the “best of” with you here.
Where should I stay in Austin?
So, just like any large city, you have tons of lodging options. If you want to stay downtown, you’ll be close to it all. Austin is very walkable and most of the things I’m sharing here were within walking distance from downtown Austin.
I stayed at an Airbnb near Zilker Park, which is home to the famous Barton Springs (a fantastic, family-friendly activity for the hot days of summer!). The Airbnb was more than half of the cost of the conference hotel and slept an extra person, so it was a no-brainer – downtown was just a 10-minute, $10 Uber away.
There are tons of adorable Airbnbs in the area…the next article I’m going to write is going to be about the pros and cons of an Airbnb vs a hotel because I swear I have seen the gamut.
What kind of outdoor activities are there in Austin?
Austin is so outdoorsy – if you want to hike, swim, bike, camp, canoe…you’ve found your city. We stayed across the street from Zilker Park, which is a gateway to tons of outdoor activities.
For one thing, you can access the Hike and Bike trail, which is 10 miles of well-maintained trails. I didn’t walk the whole thing, but the parts we did walk were all paved and very walking/jogging/biker/stroller-friendly. The trail runs next to the Colorado River, which was full of kayaks and canoes (you can rent one if you don’t have your own!).
Also in the same area is Barton Springs, a three-acre spring-fed pool for swimming. We went swimming here once with the kids a few years ago in August, which was a good time to visit. While very crowded, the water was seriously freezing…and I would have been way too wimpy to go in during a cooler month!
And don’t forget to go watch the bats leave their bat cave on Congress Avenue Bridge! This is a seasonal activity and you’ll want to do some reading and research before you go. But the bridge/bat cave are located downtown, making it convenient if that’s where you’re staying. You can rent a kayak or take a boat tour to be on the river when they fly out!
You can also take a segway tour of Austin. Honestly this looks like something that would result in an injury with my luck, but my friends went and they assured me it was safe and easier than they had hoped!
Can I go inside the state capital building in Austin?
Yes! Last time we visited, we took the kids to the state capital. You can go inside and check it out – it’s beautiful, and a good way to get in something educational while you’re visiting. Because the next thing on my list is SUPER NOT EDUCATIONAL. Unless we’re talking about a different kind of education!
Where are the best bars in Austin?
Even if you’ve never been to Texas, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of 6th Street! On the weekends, they close down a portion of 6th St. so you can enjoy the bar scene and not to have to worry about getting run over as you stroll through the street. The bar scene doesn’t do it for me like it used to, but we still made a pilgrimage to 6th St. on this trip…mostly because we were doing the Austin Doughnut Tour and wanted to hit Voodoo Doughnuts (side note: if you ever want to get rich, open a 24 hour doughnut shop on a busy bar street).
My personal favorite bar is the Cookbook Bar and Cafe, and two reasons (they both involve books): one, it’s part of the Austin public library and you’re surrounded by books, and two, they have yummy cocktails, named after books (I had the Secret Garden). Another bonus is that if you’re staying downtown, you can walk to it. They also have food!
You’ll find lots of breweries, pubs, bars, wineries, etc. all over the Austin area.
Where should I go shopping in Austin?
Another great thing about Austin – lots of unique boutiques! We loved Art for the People, an art gallery and shop with gorgeous art produced by local artists. I was in love with most of it…but these stunning robot paintings were extra special. Also they had a little black pug named Charm Charm in the shop who begged me to feed her cookies.
We also visited the Kendra Scott flagship store. Her jewelry is beautiful and I have some, but generally speaking I don’t spend much on jewelry so I wasn’t there to shop. Until I learned they have a bakery with things like doughnuts, and so I did end up spending some money at Kendra Scott after all. And this might have been my favorite doughnut on the self-created Austin Doughnut Tour (they ship them in from a local bakery everyday).
While I’m talking the Austin Doughnut Tour, check out Gordough’s – that’s where I gorged on blueberry doughnut holes smothered (drowning, I tell you!) in blueberry icing.
You’ll find lots of one-of-a-kind shopping on South Congress Avenue – it’s all very walkable!
If you want to drive a little ways, you can visit the Erin Condren store. If you’re a planner girl you know what I’m talking about. It’s located in The Domain, which has lots of other great shopping and dining options…including a bar called Wonder with banana swings.
Is there a crystal shop in Austin?
OK I saved the best for the last. There is an amazing and ginormous crystal shop in Austin. It’s full of all the crystals, and out back there are even more. Tubs and and barrels and pallets full of gorgeous crystals…and another shop with even more behind that.
It’s called Nature’s Treasures and it. is. awesome. I went with my friend Sarah and I’m pretty sure we spent a couple hours there. I bought a ton of stuff and was even able to find some crystal quartz with dumortierite in it – a rare stone I’ve been looking for online for months now, but it’s always so expensive I haven’t bought any yet. I found it here super reasonably priced and got a few to bring home.
If you like crystals, you will love this shop.
Where is the best Austin mural?
Austin is full of gorgeous, hand-painted murals. So much so that you can find entire blog posts about where to find them all (and it’s worth driving or walking around to see the ones you can – they’re awesome!).
These three murals were all within easy walking distance of each other:
- Love From Austin – 1912 South Congress Ave
- Greetings from Austin – 1702 S. 1st Street
- Merry Texmas – I cant find the address anywhere! But it was within easy walking distance from the other two.
I feel like I just barely scraped the edge of the vast list of things to do in Austin. I’d love to go back and visit all the book stores and hike all the trails and write about that…as well as do a family-friendly trip (maybe some day!). But until then, I hope this gives you some inspiration and ideas for things to do in Austin, TX if you’re visiting.
Here are some other great Texas travel locations I have loved:
- Girls’ trip to Fredericksburg
- Plan your trip to Waco
- Day trip to Decatur
- San Antonio
- 5 Things to do in Lubbock
- Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, TX
And are some other great non-Texas travel locations I have also loved:
- Family trip to Carlsbad, CA
- Things to do with the kids in Oregon
- 5 Things to do in Sedona, AZ
- Family fun in Branson, MO
- 3 Days in New Orleans
- Carnival Cruise out of Galveston, TX
- Things to do in Springfield, MO
If you have any great Austin recommendations, please leave them below – for me and for future readers!