Austin receives almost 20 million visitors per year!
Whether you are coming to check out one of our awesome music festivals, visit the Formula One races, or just meet up with friends, we hope that you will enjoy our city… One thing you will quickly learn about Austinites – is that we *love* living here :o)
Below are some highlights that are all located within five miles of downtown!
There are lots of things to do in Austin, and if you are looking for a large overall list, check out my Austin Top 50 Things to Do in Austin page.
1 ●●● Check out the Bats
Austin is home to the world’s large urban bat colony. Over 1.5 million bats nest here between March and November. If you haven’t already seen them come out at dusk, this is certainly a must see!
A little history: there have always been bats in Austin, but in 1980 the city of Austin renovated Congress Street bridge. The architecture of the new bridge included narrow gaps in the underside of the bridge… and these turned out to be heaven for bats.
2 ●●● Tour the Capitol
Austin boasts the largest state capitol in the United States – no big surprise, huh ;o) This building is chock full of history and well worth a stop.
Start at the Texas Capitol Visitors Center, a free museum that has a lot of interactive exhibits, to learn more about the history and building of our Capitol. Then head over to the Capitol for a free 45 minute tour. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on the Capitol grounds under the huge pecan trees.
3 ●●● Visit The University of Texas campus
Austin bleeds burnt orange, there is no doubt. If you have time to visit the UT campus, it is well worth the time.
Tour the University Tower to get some great views of Austin and learn some of the historic campus’ history
See the Gutenberg Bible, printed in 1454 at the Harry Ransom Center.
Enjoy the dinosaur fossils, meteriorites and dioramas at the Texas Memorial Museum.
Check out the 17,000 permanent works of art at the Blanton Museum of Art
Learn all about Lyndom B Johnson at the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum
Go bowling at the Texas Union
Check out Austin’s only Foucault’s Pendulum in the Development Building.
4 ●●● Explore Zilker Metropolitan Park
Zilker Park, located in downtown Austin, is Austin’s central park. This is the location of many of Austin’s outdoor events.
However, even with no event going on, this park is a great place to hang out and have fun. Nestled between Town Lake to the north and Barton Springs to the south, there is a plethora of things to keep a family busy.
Take a ride on the Zilker Zephyr, a miniature train, swim in Austin’s historic Barton Springs Pool (a constant 68 degrees year round), visit the beautiful Zilker Botanical Garden, play at the Zilker Playground or explore the Umlauf Sculpture Garden.
5 ●●● Walk or bike Austin’s new boardwalk
An exiting new addition to Austin! Austin has long had the Town Lake Trail that circles Lady Bird Lake. Meandering through Auditorium shores and Zilker Park, this has always been a great place to run or walk.
Last year, Austin completed a $28 million project, begun in October 2012. It is a 1.1 mile boardwalk that completes the 10 mile loop around Town Lake. No more scurrying across I-35 and no more sidelining it along Riverside Drive.
Whether you bike or walk it, you are sure to get some amazing views of the city!
6 ●●● Learn about Texas’ History at the Bullock Museum
Located directly across from the UT Campus, and just a short walk from the Texas Capitol, this museum is one of Austin’s newest; entirely devoted to providing information about the formation of Texas as both a country and a state.
Full of interactive exhibits, this museum is good for all ages.
While there, check out the educational film running at the IMAX!
7 ●●● Dig the dinos at the Austin Nature Center
Located in downtown Austin, but with the feeling of being away from it all, this place has it all:
– A nature center with displays of local fossils and habitat. This highlight of this center is the Trade Counter – open every Wednesday through Saturday. Visitors can bring in any manner of natural item: leaves, shells and most especially bones collected during hikes. The on-site naturalist helps the kids to identify the items, and then awards points, which can be traded for other “treasures”.
– A dino pit with an 8′ x 6′ mammoth rib cage cast in bronze, multiple fossil casts hidden in sand complete with oil paintings depicting the creatures the children will find as they explore the pit.
– A wildlife rescue area with wolves, cougars, birds of prey and more; rescues from in and around Austin.
– Hiking trails lead off from the area, with lots of wilderness to explore.
Perfect for young children. And free, except for a small donation!
8 ●●● Try out some Barbecue
You can’t come to Austin without trying out some barbecue. And even just staying downtown, you have a lot of choices to pick from. I am not the barbecue guru, so if you want a detailed review, just google Austin barbecue.
I’ve found that barbecue preferences are as unique as the people who express them :o) Here are a just a few of great barbecue downtown:
Open only since 2009, this place as very quickly risen to the top of the barbecue options. And I have to admit, it might just be my favorite. The store is located in East Austin, only a mile or so from downtown. But be prepared for a wait. I drive past this place everyday, and the line sometimes starts as early at 7:30am! Is it worth the wait? Well, we went on a rainy day, so the line was less than on typical days… and I’d have to say, Yes, it was :o)
902 East Cesar Chavez Street, 78702
Also very close to downtown, there are people who claim this is the best While the wait will not be as long as Franklin’s, plan for at least 45 minutes (or longer). Some say if you arrive early before they open, the wait will be less.
Mickelthwait Craft meats
1309 Rosewood Avenue, TX 78702
Located in a trailer in East Austin, this is another great place to get some barbecue, without a long wait. Though they do sell out early. Try the lemon poppy coleslaw!
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ
600 West 6th Street, 78701
Located within walking distance from downtown, this trailer restaurant houses two of Austin specialties: Tex Mex and Barbecue. How can you go wrong?
9 ●●● Take a Tour
There are lots of ways to learn more about this Austin town. Whether you want to walk, ride or drive. Here are some downtown options for you to consider:
I took my first Segway tour earlier this year in San Antonio, and I have to say, it is a really fun way to explore a city. The Segway speed allows you to see more than you would in a walking trip, but the small size allows you into areas that a car or bus might not. there are a couple of Segway tours in Austin: Austin Segway Tours, Gliding Revolution, and Segway Nation are all located in the downtown area.
Double Decker Bus Tour
Double Decker Austin, a hop-on hop-off guided sightseeing and historical tour started last year. The tour is done from a double decker bus, which is a lot of fun and provides excellent views of the downtown sights. The stops are near the downtown entertainment district (6th Street), the LBJ Library, the Texas Longhorns Stadium, the Bullock Museum, the State Capitol, the Blanton Museum, South Congress SOCO, the restaurants on Barton Springs, Zilker Park, the Zilker Botanical Garden, and the Barton Springs pool. You can get off and self explore the different areas and hop back on when the bus comes back around.
Rent a bike
A great way to get around downtown, Austin B Cycle has locations all over downtown. You can get a 7 day pass or 24 hour access. Austin Bike Tours and Rentals offers both rentals and tours, and is conveniently located downtown.
Capital Cruises offers lunch and dinner cruises, wedding events, bat-watching excursions, and more.
Austin Pub Crawler
A pedal-powered beer bike pub crawl. Yep, you read that right. An experience as unique as Austin for you and up to 14 of your friends. The PubCrawler’s maximum speed is five miles per hour; just right for sharing good times with friends as you tour downtown Austin! It’s your ticket to fun!
Austin Duck Tours
An amphibious tour of downtown Austin and beautiful Lake Austin inside one of our Unsinkable, US coast guard inspected, Hydra Terra vehicles. Austin Duck Adventures is Austin’s best tour with 75 minutes of sightseeing that includes Historic Sixth Street, the State Capitol Building, Bob Bullock State History Museum, the Governor’s Mansion, and Lake Austin.
10 ●●● Stroll down South Congress
1400 – 1800 South Congress, 78704
South Congress, especially on a Thursday night, is a really fun place to just wander around.
There are lots of great restaurants to enjoy, whether you are looking for great pizza at Home Slice, gourmet burgers at HopDaddy or some really good Japanese food at the Lucky Robot.
After you eat, stroll the unique shops along South Congress. Check out Uncommon Objects, which has a collection of cool, unique, weird and maybe even creepy items. Try on some costumes at Lucy in Disguise, pick out a hat at Goorin Bros, or go shopping at Tesoras Trading Company.
Finish off with a root beer float from Big Top Candy shop. This shop will have all of the forgotten edible treasures from your youth!
11 ●●● Honky Tonk at the Broken Spoke
If you are visiting Texas for the first time, you’d probably love to see some dancing. This old dance hall has been offering good music, good dancing and good food since 1964. Best of all, they offer free dance lessons at 8pm from Wednesday to Saturday night!
12 ●●● Play mini-golf at Peter Pan Mini Golf
This is another annual have-to-visit place. It holds so many memories! We try to go early in the morning or in the later evening, as it can get pretty hot during the day. We typically bring swimsuits and cross the street to the Butler Fountains to cool off afterwards.
Peter Pan mini golf has been open since 1948 with two different courses and lots of old style mini golf holes.
While some might call the course outdated, I find it very nostalgic.
And finishing the 18 holes with a snowcone in the shade makes it the perfect day!