These top 10 best things to do in Austin, Texas covers hotels to happy hours to hot spots — and everything in between. Discover our Austin travel guide now.
So, I must disclaim that I was only in Austin for a long weekend, which isn’t quite enough time to see all the city has to offer. Which is why I had to really narrow it down to the 10 BEST things to do in Austin. No fooling around here.
I had questions.
Why does Austin share the exact same slogan as Portland? Does Austin really have the best BBQ? Where should I get said BBQ? Do people in Austin wear cowboy hats? Would I look really stupid in a cowboy hat? What do actual Austin locals do? It’s going to be really, really freakin’ hot there in August… isn’t it? (It was. It really, really was.)
So, I did what any normal person would do and asked random strangers on the internet (Instagram) for Austin travel tips. I got plenty.
Let’s review the top ten things to see and do in Austin right now.
The Top 10 Best Things to Do in Austin Now
1. Stay at Hotel Granduca
Hotel Granduca Austin is a lovely luxury, yet affordable, hotel in a wonderful location. The hotel is in the heart of Texas Hill Country, which offers stunning views and a tranquil surrounding. While you’re in a serene, intimate location, you’re also only 8 miles from downtown Austin.
Hotel Granduca offers comfortable rooms and suites. We stayed in the Borgo Suite, which had spectacular sweeping views of the Wild Basin Nature Preserve.
The hotel is Italian-inspired in architecture and dining. Visconti Ristorante offers a full Italian menu with al fresco dining and the Visconti Bar hosts live jazz music Thursday-Saturday and a complimentary weekly happy hour every Thursday.
The veranda courtyard is beautiful and a fantastic spot to unwind with a glass of wine. If you prefer to be poolside, the pool, hot tub, and cabanas are a wonderful place to relax, and the bartender will take your order and bring your drink to you directly in the pool (my favorite part during our August stay!).
Besides all of that, Hotel Granduca also provides complimentary transportation (up to 3 miles), WiFi, fully stocked mini bars, luxury bathrobes, private and valet parking, and 24-hour concierge services.
2. Listen to Live Music
Deemed the “Live Music Capital of the World,” seeing music should be on every list of the best things to do in Austin, Texas.
If you’re in town during a music festival, definitely check one out. Besides the popular Austin City Limits (October) or SXSW (March), there’s pretty much a music festival that happens every month in Austin. And some are free.
For live music around the city, there’s going to be a bar, venue, brewery, or hotel offering live music nightly across town. Check out the iconic Continental Club on Congress Ave, which offers everything from blues to rock.
3. Imbibe at Happy Hour
Check out one of Austin’s many happy hours to get a taste of the city’s amazing eats and libations for a great price.
For local favorites, head to happy hour at June’s All Day (daily 4-6) for discounted food items and sparkling wine (yes, please) or Moonshine Patio Bar and Grill (M-F 4-6) for cheap drinks and half off appetizers.
You can also try pricier Austin restaurants at great happy hour deals. Uchi’s “Sake Social” provides discounted drinks alongside a reasonably priced food menu. You’ll find hand rolls, ceviche, market fish, tempura, and sweets like matcha popsicles daily from 5-6:30. Likewise, Barley Swine’s “Swine Time” (5-6:30 daily, except Saturdays) offers daily drink and food specials. Their Chef’s Tasting Menu is also $30 off on Sundays from 5-6.
Sweet tooth? If it’s a hot day, combine booze with ice cream for a frozen treat with a kick. Prohibition Creamery offers happy hour Tuesday-Friday from 3-7. Craving pizza? Bufalina’s happy hour (W-Su 4-5:30) includes half off pizzas, wine bottles, and Jester King beers. Taco Tuesday? Salty Sow has a great happy hour menu (daily 4:30-6:30) with cheap drafts, $5 specialty tacos, and $5-ish small bites (hello, duck fat fries).
4. Shop on Congress
One of the best things to do in Austin is to explore South Congress Ave. Nicknamed SoCo, the South Congress neighborhood is vibrant and bustling — full of shops, restaurants, bars, and music venues.
But one of the best things to do on Congress Ave is shop. This street is packed with stores aplenty — from luxury name brand flagships to eclectic boutique shops.
First, stop at the famous Allens Boots to peruse authentic cowboy hats, clothing, and over 4,000 cowboy boots on display. If you’re lucky, you may get offered a shot of tequila.
If you prefer to stick with brands you know, there’s also the Kendra Scott Flagship, TOMS, Madewell, and Patagonia.
After all that shopping, take a sweet break at the epic Big Top Candy Shop.
5. See the Bats
Seeing the Congress Avenue Bridge bats was my favorite part about visiting Austin.
Every year from late March to early fall, roughly 1.5 million Mexican Free-Tailed Bats take flight nightly around sunset. This unique spectacular brings in tourists and locals alike, and you can watch the bat show from the bridge, boat, paddelboard, kayak, or the Butler Hike and Bike Trail.
We rented a private boat to enjoy the experience (more below), but there are several tours that operate nightly to view the bats. Hop aboard Lone Star Riverboat or Capital Cruises ($12), or join a bat viewing paddle tour (Live Love Paddle, $45) or kayak tour (Austin Kayak Tours, $55).
If you’re in Austin in August, get even more batty at the annual Bat Fest, which shuts down the entire bridge and combines bat watching with live music, arts and crafts vendors, food, drinks, family activities, and a bat costume contest.
6. Spend the Day on the Water
Austin gets hot, but there’s plenty of spots to cool off. Whether you’re into boating, kayaking, swimming, or watching Jaws while floating in the water (seriously), Austin will not disappoint.
If you have little ones in tow, you may want to check out Schlitterbahn Waterpark, deemed the “world’s best waterpark.” Or, perhaps, you may desire a more realistic experience of watching the classic movie Jaws. JAWS on the Water allows you to watch the shark flick while floating in tubes on Lake Travis. Scary threats will lurk beneath (read: a squad of scuba divers) and the on-screen explosive finale will be recreated in real time.
If water sports and activities are more your thing, Lady Bird Lake has plenty of it. You can rent a kayak, canoe, fishing kayak, stand up paddleboard, boat, or the infamous Swan Pedal Boat. We did a private Duffy boat rental from Capital Cruises which we really enjoyed.
7. Eat BBQ (Obviously)
There’s no ‘top things to do in Austin’ list that does not include BBQ. Ever. Doesn’t exist.
Most people will tell you to avoid more “touristy” BBQ spots. But the truth is, even those are damn good. People wouldn’t wait in line for hours at Franklin Barbecue if it wasn’t good.
Stick to the classic Smoke Ring Ringleaders (Franklin, Terry Black’s, La Barbecue, Lamberts, or Cooper’s) for succulent meats and stick-to-your-ribs sides. For BBQ fusion or something new, try Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ or Kemuri Tatsu-ya.
For the best all-around experience, Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood is a must-visit. The tantalizing pit, stacked high with piles of meat, allows you to watch (and smell) the smoking firsthand. If you come with a crowd and an appetite, order the all-you-can-eat family-style dinner for $26.95 per person. If you get thirsty, check out their winery (Salt Lick Cellars) next-door.
8. Enjoy Local Flair and Entertainment
Austin has a host of unique arts and entertainment options, from comedy shows to live theater.
For something truly Austin, check out Esther’s Follies.
This hilarious show combines comedy and magic for an evening like no other. Deemed “Austin’s answer to Saturday Night Live,” Esther’s Follies showcases comedy sketches, musical numbers, political satire, and award-winning magic. Shows are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and tickets are $30-$40. Food and drinks are allowed in the theater and Esther’s offers a full bar.
9. Check Out the Murals
Austin is known for their murals, and you’ll find them tucked all around town.
Check out this ultimate guide for the murals and colorful, Instagrammable walls around town.
For some not-to-be-missed murals, check out my favorite: the I Love You So Much mural on 1300 S. Congress at Jo’s Coffee. Other popular painted walls include the Greetings from Austin (1702 S. 1st St.), Love from Austin (1920 S. Congress Ave.), and You’re My Butter Half (2000 E. MLK Jr. Blvd.) murals.
10. Visit the Capitol
Visiting the state capitol makes it on many Austin Top 10 lists for good reason.
First, the building and grounds are magnificent. In fact, it’s the largest capitol building in the United States. Located in downtown Austin, the Texas State Capitol is surrounded by 22 acres of grounds that feature perfect landscaping, monuments, and statues.
Second, tours of the capitol are completely free. You can take a guided or self-guided tour in addition to their seasonal or specialty tours.
The building is also said to be haunted, and you can hear all about it in October, when the capitol offers their Rest in Peace: Texas Capitol Halloween Tour.
With so many things to do in Austin, which of our top 10 picks would you love to try first?
Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to check out our other travel guides!