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From the fantastic barbecue and an incredible music scene to lush Hill Country scenery and cultural attractions, Austin is the place to be. If you plan on visiting this Texas capital, consider putting these fun things to do on your itinerary.
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Austin is the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World, and while it may not have spawned a long list of musicians like London or San Francisco, it does have more live music venues per capita than such famed music spots as L.A., Nashville, and New York City. The Texas capital established itself nationally years ago with the television show “Austin City Limits,” followed by the ultra-hip annual festival South by Southwest. Some of its must-experience venues include the Broken Spoke, the Continental Club and Antone’s. For a modern take on honky-tonk, check out The White Horse and join in on the two-stepping that’s enjoyed by all skill levels. One of its newest venues offers a great place to hear world-famous acts, 3TEN ACL Live, an intimate space located in the basement of its big brother venue, ACL Live at the Moody Theater.
The Texas State Capitol building sits atop a hill, offering a picturesque view of downtown Austin and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. One of the city’s most rewarding attractions, free self-guided and guided tours are available daily throughout the year with the exception of major holidays, Monday through Saturday. The building is an exceptional example of late 19th- century public architecture and is widely considered to be one of the most distinguished in the nation. Its grounds span 22 acres and feature historical buildings, 17 monuments, and magnificently landscaped lawns, along with the Capitol building itself. Opened in 1888, the pink-granite landmark stands 14 feet taller than the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. And, much of it, including the 218-foot rotunda, the chamber of the Hall of Representatives and the governor’s receiving room, still looks the same as it did when it first opened nearly 130 years ago.
No matter what the weather brings, the spring-fed waters of Barton Springs Pool, one of the city’s most popular attractions, stays at a steady 68 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. While that might sound slightly chilly to some, it’s ideal during those sizzling summer days when visitors and locals alike are looking for a refreshing dip to cool off from the intense heat. In between, you can lounge around on the grassy slopes and enjoy a little people watching. While the park is family-friendly, it does attract a wide variety of characters, and nudity is optional, so don’t be too surprised if you see a bare-breasted female twirling a hula hoop or dancing to the beat of a drum circle. As summers are busiest, if you come during this season, be sure to arrive early in the morning – it opens up at 5 a.m. – or, be prepared for crowds and a long line.
If you like to surf, you don’t have to drive all the way to the coast to ride the waves as NLand Surf Park opened up in the fall of 2016, catering to all kinds of surfers with waves ranging from more gentle, beginner waves to over six-foot-high reef waves for the more experienced, all in a 14-acre lagoon. Who could imagine surfing right in the heart of Texas? This is the only surfing destination of its kind in North America, so whether you’re a veteran, or you’ve just always wanted to try getting up on a board, when you’re in Austin, you definitely want to check it out. The inland surfing complex also features a surf shop, restrooms, a restaurant, a juice bar, locker rooms, and a training center.
Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge is home to the largest urban bat colony in North America, with 1.5 million bats that munch on 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of insects every night. In March each year, the bats return to give birth and raise their pups, sticking around through October. The best time to come and see them is in late August and early September when the babies join their mothers in flight. Each evening, just before the sun sets, visitors gather on the bridge to watch the bats emerge. While it usually happens at sunset, it can happen up to 30 minutes before or after, so you’ll want to arrive early to ensure that you don’t miss it.
While the best vantage point to view them is by standing on the bridge, there are also boats you can rent to see them from the water, as well as hills to picnic on.
By hiking Mount Bonnell to its peak at 780 feet above sea level, you’ll get a breathtaking view of Lake Austin along with the surrounding bluffs, magnificent multi-million dollar homes, the 360 bridge and the downtown Austin skyline. While you’ll be pretty high up, the overlook of downtown and the bridge is really more of a tourist destination than a workout. The path is only about three-tenths of a mile in length, though there is a nearly 200-foot elevation gain from the bottom of the stairs to the top. Once you arrive, you’ll find the ideal spot for picture-postcard shots, as well as the opportunity for a more adventurous date – a romantic picnic at the top is unforgettable. This is one of Austin’s oldest tourist attractions, dating as far back as the 1850s, and it remains a city hotspot, drawing everyone from hikers and bikers to families and lovers.
Founded in 1883, The University of Texas campus sits just north of the heart of the city and is home to a diverse population of over 50,000 students, many of which take their football very seriously. Nationally known for their high energy and team spirit, fans live for home games and tailgating, so if you want to experience Austin like a local, you should really attend a home game like a local too. Wear all your burnt orange and join in the excitement by visiting the Beir Garten for a pre-game pint and a bratwurst, and checking out the street-party-style tailgate scene where fans of all generations can be seen taking care of those smoking grills, tossing the ball and slinging back beverages – all starting at 7 a.m. on game days.
Austin is famous for its BBQ. If you only have time to sample the best BBQ cuisine at one joint, be sure to head to Franklin Barbecue, considered to be one of the very best things you can eat in the entire Lone Star state. This place has become a legend, with people traveling from across the globe to wait in line – it’s garnered so much attention that it even has its own social media handles. While the line is going to be long and slow moving, the mouth-watering masterpiece you’ll enjoy at the end makes it worth the wait. If you don’t believe us, just consider that it doesn’t open until 11 a.m., but a line starts forming by 7 or 8 every morning. Bring chairs, bring drinks, and use the time to thoughtfully consider what you’d like to order as well as to meet other people in line, some who may have traveled from a lot further away than you.
Zilker Metropolitan Park is the most popular park in Austin, with its 351 acres covered with miles and miles of hiking and biking trails as well as hosting numerous attractions like the Austin Nature and Science Center, Zilker Botanical Garden, Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum and Zilker Hillside Theater, and even train rides on the Zilker Zephyr miniature train. This is also where you’ll find the Barton Springs Pool and a number of festivals that are held throughout the year, like the Austin City Limits music festival, the Zilker Kite Festival and Blues on the Green. The 10-mile loop path that circles picturesque Lady Bird Lake in the heart of downtown, is a great one for walking or pedaling while checking out the diverse array of locals and tourists.
While it’s not right in Austin, Dripping Springs is just a half-hour’s drive west in Hill Country, renowned for its rolling hills, deep creeks, and colorful wildflowers. It’s also famous as the home of Hamilton Pool, a natural breathtaking oasis tucked among the cattle grazing lands. Considered by many to be the best swimming hole in the entire state, it’s surrounded by giant slabs of limestone, while large stalactites grow from the ceiling high above. The short hike to get there traverses through a lush, stream-fed canyon that opens up to a gorgeous grotto.