Fact: everyone loves Austin, Texas. There’s something about the mixture of classic country culture, unpretentious food trucks, refreshing swimming holes, and down-home Texas charm that glues a permanent smile on every visitor’s face. In a vast and expansive state, Austin manages to stick out not only as the capital of Texas or the home of University of Texas, but as an irreplaceable American city and destination for a guaranteed good time. Here are just a small handful of the seemingly infinite spots to see and things to do in Austin, TX.
Beat the Heat at the Barton Creek Greenbelt
Cooling off in the Greenbelt is a rite of passage for anyone’s first trip to Austin. This beautiful and accessible park is located just southwest of the city and is totally free. Short green trees, scrubby brush and small cacti follow a meandering creek with dozens of natural pools and swimming holes to help beat the heat. Depending on the season, parts of the creek can run dry, so make sure you bring lots of water or ask a friendly local where the best spots are.
Want to cut out the hike? Try Barton Springs pool, a natural freshwater spring turned into a public pool by the city. Fair warning to get there early, Barton Springs can get absolutely packed on hot days from spring all the way through fall.
Savor Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ
Arrive early to get your pick of slowly smoked brisket, the trademark of Texas barbeque. From brisket tacos in hand-made flour tortillas, to sandwiches with bottom buns that disappear under piles of meat, slaw, and house-made sauce, Valentina’s is worthy of a stop on any BBQ tour. Heads up – Valentina’s is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and does occasionally sell out when busy during the weekends in peak travel season (summer). On a BBQ tour? Check out:
- Franklin BBQ
- Black’s BBQ
- La Barbecue
Take a Stroll in the SoCo Shopping District
Don’t worry, this ain’t just any sort of shopping mall. South Congress, or SoCo, is just south of Lady Bird Lake. Filled with curious antique stores and charming independent boutiques, this stretch of shops carries everything from custom-made cowboy hats, to chic southern sundresses, to bleached ram skulls and home décor. Even if you’ve spent most all your money on brisket, SoCo still offers wonderful window shopping, people watching, and central Texas charm.
Go Back in Time & Discover Inner Space Cavern
Texas doesn’t necessarily evoke images of ancient, mysterious caverns, but it’s full of them. Inner Space Cavern is a 100-million-year-old karst cave discovered by the Texas highway department in 1963. Three different levels of tour are available, from the basic walking tour (yes, please!) to actual guided spelunking (no thanks!). Inner Space is technically located about 30 minutes north of Austin in Georgetown, so plan accordingly.
Keep Austin Weird
From the Barton Greenbelt, to the bat cave, to the buzzing live music scene, there are things to do in Austin for everyone. The crash of hip, city culture and rural Texas charm makes for an eclectic and odd mix that makes Austin one-of-a-kind. Heads up–the only challenge to visiting Austin is leaving without signing a lease and moving there for good.