Fun Things to Do in Austin: 4 Thrilling Ways to Explore

13 mins read
Austin map background
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Howdy folks! Welcome to Austin, Texas!

It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be full of sun, and Austin, it’s going to make you want to return.

So pack your shorts, don’t forget your sunscreen (the city gets 300 days of sunshine a year), and hop on it; there are just too many exciting things to do in Austin waiting for you to hurry up.

Spoilt for Choice: Incredible Things to do in Austin

As the capital city of Lone Star State, Austin is packed with exciting places for visitors to tour.

The city enjoys a rich culture associated with Native American history and a pervasive Latin American influence. On the city street, visitors can enjoy free art, Austin’s famous live music, and mouth-watering Tex-Mex food, an homage to its Latin-American culture.

City tours are available for visitors, with the time taking them to live music venues, a few Austin parks, and even an art center or museum.

Rainey Street and East Cesar Chavez are two Austin hotspots. Frequented by everyone from University of Texas students to families with kids, Rainey Street and Cesar Chavez are synonymous with sumptuous Austin fare and exciting, hip spots.

There are also popular hiking trails around downtown Austin, on Lady Bird Lake, in the city’s heart. You may also visit the Austin visitor center to enjoy a smooth outing.

South Austin is home to more hiking trails, and with many a swimming hole scattered around Barton Springs, visitors are guaranteed to have fun when on a visit to Austin.

Barton Springs natural cold spring swimming pool in downtown in Austin Texas
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But a mere street tour of the city is not exciting enough. In that case, Austin, Texas, every May to September, also witnesses a massive congregation of over 1.5 million Mexican Free-Tailed Bats.

Visitors and locals alike gather at the South Congress Ave. Bridge in downtown Austin, under which the bat colony nests, at sunset to watch the bats emerge.

Many a family visit to Austin also spends time off the city street soaking up some art and Texas history at the Bullock Texas State History Museum or the center at Hope Art Gallery.

With so many options, anybody visiting the city would be spoilt for choice when considering their list of things to do in Austin.

1. Bat Watching, hiking and Bike Trail, City Tour

From the bats on South Congress Ave. to the sheer size of Barton Springs Pool in Austin, nature surprises you in the most exciting ways.

1.1 Bat Watching at Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge

Every May to September, 1.5 million Mexican Free-Tailed Bats take to the sky in the evening hours in a spectacular display. The sight of the dark mass of bats against the vermillion backdrop of the evening sky is breathtaking, and many people visit Austin to watch the bats.

As evening falls over Austin, one park after the other empties of visitors, and many people end their day’s outdoor activities here, watching the bats take flight as the dark hours descend.

With several tour companies offering family services, visitors also book ferries and kayak rides under the South Congress Avenue Bridge to watch the bats in close range.

Watching 1.5 million bats fly into the night hours remains one of Austin’s most famous attractions.

1.2 Outdoor Hours at Barton Creek Greenbelt

Stretching from Zilker Park towards Southwest Austin, Barton Creek Greenbelt is an Austin hotspot.

Aerial view Downtown from Barton Creek in Greenbelt at Zilker Metropolitan Park south Austin with summer blue cloud sky. Located at eastern edge of Hill Country, Austin the state capital of Texas, US.
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Frequented by everyone from excited visitors hitting the hike and bike trail to nature lovers looking for some outdoor fun, the Barton Creek area is an integral part of life in Austin.

The easy access to the nearby Barton Springs Pool, the Zilker Botanical Garden, and the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, means that any family with kids looking to spend a few fun hours together won’t be disappointed with a tour here.

The Zilker Park area is popular year-round, especially during the festival season. With massive outdoor events like the South by Southwest and the Austin City Limits hosted by the city every year, people make it a point to tour the Barton Springs Pool region when they visit Austin.

Barton Springs Pool

The massive swimming hole in the middle of busy Austin is beloved by the city for a good reason. Fed primarily by the main Barton Springs, the pool water is always fresh and consistent at 70 degrees year-round, so a pleasant swim is always guaranteed.

Zilker Park, on which the Barton Springs Pool is located, to which admission is free, is an ideal place to explore after a few laps.

 Zilker Botanical Garden

From its soft, shady paths to its glimmering koi pool, a visit to the Zilker Botanical Garden feels a bit like a trip to fairyland, and a family day with the kids at this park is a pure delight.

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By: YAYImages/Depositphotos

The best time to visit is early spring, when the flowers in the botanical park bloom.

1.3 Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum

Opposite Barton Springs Pool and Zilker Park lies the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum.

Centered primarily around sculptor Charles Umlauf, the sculpture garden and the museum are a seamless blend of nature and art, and a few hours spent soaking up art at this center is time well spent.

The serene, calming air at Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum allows a moment of relief from the busy urban world.

This heady mixture of art and soothing nature at this center visits Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, one of the most relaxing things to do in Austin.

1.4 Tours of the Texas Highland Lakes

Lake Travis, Lake Austin, and Lady Bird Lake are three of the seven reservoirs on the Colorado River around Austin.

Lake Travis

Largest of the Highland Lakes, Lake Travis, with its brilliant pool-like waters and miles of shoreline, is a vacationer’s dream come true.

Austin, TX/USA - circa February 2016: Panorama of Lake Travis from The Oasis restaurant in Austin, Texas at sunset

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The Oasis, a three-storied outdoor restaurant built around Lake Travis, is known for its view and breathtaking sunsets. Sun-bathing on the banks remains popular, and a park tour is well suited for the whole family- parents, kids, and pets included.

Lake Austin

There is certainly no shortage of things to do when visiting Lake Austin. With the exhilarating view of downtown Austin from the top of Mount Bonnell, the tours of the art center at Laguna Gloria, to the charms of Mayfield Park, the lake checks off all boxes on any visitors’ list.

Outsiders and city locals love a fun day out to Lake Austin and its surrounding park areas.

Mayfield Park

A few hours at the secluded Mayfield Park is the perfect way to unwind after some fun on Lake Austin. Its calming environment and proximity to Mount Bonnell make this a popular spot for visitors on their tour of Austin.

Catching Sunset in Austin, Texas at Mount Bonnell overlooking the river
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The park, complete with its relaxing trail, resident peacocks, and a lotus pool or two, makes it an ideal spot for self-reflection.

Laguna Gloria

You can indulge in some art and Texas history at Laguna Gloria on a day out to Lake Austin.

The current campus of The Contemporary Austin (originally the Austin Museum of Art) also includes original property belonging to the “Father of Texas,” Stephen F. Austin, for whom the capital city is also named.

An art museum since 1961, the center has been an important contribution to Austin’s artistic community and plays a vital role in promoting creative talents through its adjoining art school.

Its amazing outdoor sculptures are a treat for contemporary art lovers, including memorable pieces like Juan Muñoz’s charming Last Conversation Piece and Tom Friedman’s massive stainless steel installation, Looking Up.”

Its amazing outdoor sculptures are a treat for contemporary art lovers, including memorable pieces like Juan Muñoz’s charming “Last Conversation Piece” and Tom Friedman’s massive stainless steel installation, “Looking Up.”

Mount Bonnell/Covert Park

Standing at 775 feet above sea level, Mount Bonnell is considered the highest point in the city, at least within Austin city limits.

Sitting on the eastern bank of Lake Austin, it is a popular weekend spot for visitors. The park offers a sweeping, panoramic view of the Austin skyline, particularly the downtown area.

Mount Bonnell also enjoys a rich history, having been a popular place for visitors since the mid-1800s. The site has long been associated with Native-American culture, with the ‘Indian Trail’ as an important marker of this past.

The Covert Park area, as Mount Bonnell is formally known, is a prominent place in the history of the Lone Star state and was placed in the National Register of Historic places in 2015.

1.4 Lady Bird Lake

Downtown Austin, along the Congress Ave. A bridge is where Lady Bird Lake lies.

Downtown high-rises reflecting sunset golden hour light viewed across Lady Bird Lake or Town Lake on Colorado River in Austin, Texas, USA
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It is a reservoir named after former First Lady Bird Johnson, who played a major role in beautifying the park. The visitors to 416 acres of Lady Bird Lake and the adjoining park can enjoy kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding.

Its calm waters are also the preferred spot for the nearby University of Texas rowing teams to hone their skills. The Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail, along Lady Bird Lake, covered with lush vegetation and cool shade, is especially crowded during the hot Austin summer.

Its ease of access (the park is located in the heart of downtown Austin) makes Lady Bird Lake and park a popular place to visit for the people of Austin.

With the added excitement of the annual bat-watching event on the nearby Congress Ave. Bridge, a visit to Lady Bird Lake, remains on the list of Austin’s best things to do.

2. ‘Weird’ Austin Has to Offer

Adopted by the city of Austin, “Keep Austin Weird” is a slogan that promotes small local businesses. Many Austin visitors visit today to explore its weird, zany delights.

Be it quirky live music venues, an odd-looking park, or a center dedicated to weird objects. There is always fun and strange to be explored when you visit Austin, Tx.

Here are the best things to do in zany Austin.

2.1 Gourdough: Visit Austin’s Favorite Doughnut Stop

“Gourdough’s Big Fat Doughnuts” on 1503 S 1st Street is an Austin institution beloved by locals and visitors alike.

While the menu includes family favorites like the PB&J Doughnut, many visits for its more non-traditional options, like the Gourdough’s special “Squealing Pig” and “Mother Clucker.”

The former boasts cream cheese icing, strawberry jalapeño jelly, and grilled bacon topped with candied jalapeños. At the same time, the latter is a glazed doughnut laden with fried chicken strips with honey butter.

Unexpected? Yes. Delicious? You bet!

2.2 Time to Be Kids at Eeyore’s Birthday Party

On the last Saturday of April every year, Pease park in central Austin plays host to the festivities of Eeyore’s birthday party.

The birthday of the beloved character from the Winnie-the-Pooh stories has been celebrated since the 1960s when it was started by a University of Texas faculty.

Costume competitions for kids and adults, free food, and live music make this joyful celebration a long-stay city tradition, and a visit here at the end of April is one of the most Austinian things to do in Austin.

2.3 Go Bingo! At the Little Longhorn Saloon

If you ever plan to visit the Little Longhorn Saloon on Austin’s 5434 Burnet Road, make sure you do it on a Sunday night.

While the week’s rest is occupied with great live music and line dancing, Sunday nights are special at this city bar.

Wildly lauded by visitors to Austin, this little bar hosts a game of chicken sh*t bingo every weekend. Yes, a game of bingo where the numbers are chosen according to the spaces on which the all-important chicken excretes.

Staying true to the weird spirit of Austin, this bar is on the must-do list of many travelers and remains one of the most fun and quirky things to do in Austin.

2.4 The Hare and…the Turtle (?) at Little Woodrow’s

With 5 locations within Austin city limits, Little Woodrow’s is a major player in the bar game.

However, Woodrow strives to maintain the Austin spirit despite its franchise status, and ‘visitors who happen to drop in on Thursdays are sure to be perplexed.

Instead of the usual drinking hour, Thursday night here is turtle night.

Yes, you read that right, T.U.R.T.L.E. night. Thursdays at this Austin bar, a crowd gathers to watch turtles race and make bets on the racer of their choice.

Aside from being a crowd-pullers for the bar, it has also become synonymous with the Austin experience. For this reason, Little Woodrow’s makes it on the list of the most fun things to do in Austin, Texas.

2.5 The Art of Punning at the O. Henry Museum

Come show off your punning skills at the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships, held every May at the O. Henry Museum in Austin, Texas.

One of Austin’s literary treats, both the competition and the museum, is named after O. Henry (real name William Sydney Porter), author of well-known stories like The Last Leaf and The Gift of the Magi and a city resident from 1882 onwards.

Be it family fun or serious contenders looking to grab the top prize. The competition is certainly a firm reminder of the delightful quirkiness of the city.

Moreover, the proceeds go to the benefit of the museum and center, so there is a purpose to the fun too.

2.6 Fun to Be Had At Floppy Disk Repair and Co.

Behind the facade of this mundane ‘floppy disk repair’ shop lies an iconic speak-easy in true Austin fashion.

Entry is via a secret door requiring a secret passcode, opening into a room with a one-way, tinged glass wall through which the patrons can look out into the street but not vice-versa.

Serving memorable signature cocktails and a creepy, horror-tinged theme throughout, a night out to this Sixth Street bar is a complete experience.

Visit if you are looking for a way to explore Austin’s unique culture.

3. Texas History and Culture at the Lone Star Capital

3.1 Visit the Imposing Texas State Capitol Building

The stately Texas State Capitol, located in busy downtown Austin is a stunning Renaissance revival-style building, inaugurated in 1888 and is one of the best-known places in Austin.

Today the Texas State Capitol Building stands as a proud beacon for the people of Austin as a brilliant piece of engineering and an ode to the city’s remarkable past.

Free guided tours are available Monday through Friday, although open hours are limited. Self-guided tours of the Capitol are also free, with more flexible timing.

3.2 It’s Learning Hours at Bullock Texas State History Museum

An imposing 35 feet bronze star of the ‘Lone Star State’ proudly welcomes Austin’s Bullock Texas State History Museum.

Located in downtown Austin, just a few blocks north of the Texas State Capitol Building, this museum is dedicated to all things Texas- the history of its land, its cultural identity, and the innovations that make it the state it is today.

With engaging exhibits dedicated to recounting the story of Texas- the Native-American history, the Civil War years, and the new Texas- the center excels in its mission to keep the past of Texas alive.

Visitors, especially families on tours with kids, will love the fun and colorful art and the many interactive displays that line the museum hallways.

3.3 Latin-American History at the Mexic-Arte Museum

The Mexic-Arte Museum, located on South Congress Avenue, is an homage to Austin’s Latin-American influence and Hispanic population.

The exhibitions celebrate the city’s long association with Mexican and Latin-American culture.

Housing prints, photography, sculpture, and other media, all dedicated to the Borderland and the Hispanic experience, the museum is an important reminder of the multi-faceted identity of Austin and Texas.

3.4 Hope Outdoor Gallery

Hope Outdoor Gallery is Austin’s mural haven and street art center. Starting as a temporary outdoor art installation, Hope Outdoor Gallery has grown to represent so much more for the city of Austin over the years.

It has come to represent the free-wheeling spirit of Austin.

Its vibrant murals, graffiti, wall art, and open-air installations express an entire generation’s art.

A bustling creative center bringing together street artists, city locals, and visitors alike, Hope Outdoor Gallery is a triumphant expression of the vibrancy of Austin’s art and its culture.

4. Music, Food, Film: Austin’s Love of a Good Time

Austin loves a good celebration; the easy mix of good music, delicious food, and great mood can be found on almost every street across the city. This city hosts several festivals all year round.

The scale of the South by Southwest, the buzz of the Austin City Limits, the charm of the century-old Zilker Park Kite Festival, and the vibrant nightlife on Sixth Street- Austin always guarantees a good time.

Here are the highlights, specifically selected to highlight the diversity of the Austin experience.

4.1 South by Southwest

When the SXSW calls, visitors arrive from all over the country to attend Austin’s premier music event.

The South By Southwest is a concoction of music, film, and gaming every March. Preparations go year-round for the event, which sees around half a million visitors pouring into Austin.

With major musical headliners, blockbuster films, and the launch of new gaming titles, the popularity of the South by Southwest is evident in the sheer volume of attendees.

But in true Austin fashion, the event also emphasizes promoting new, upcoming artists, offering them an opportunity to be discovered by record labels.

As one of the largest music festivals in the world, the SXSW is a monumental feat for the city of Austin.

4.2 Family and Kids-Friendly Fun at A.B.C. Kite Festival

Usually hosted on the lawns of Zilker Park, this annual festival is a century-old Austin tradition.

A day at the park, coupled with great food, makes this event a great opportunity for a family outing, a perfect way for the people of Austin to unwind and explore the city they love.

On the day of the festival, the Austin sky is a patchwork of colors as adults and kids fly their kites, many hand-made and lovingly painted by the entire family.

Encouraging art and creativity in children and giving the entire family the to connect and explore Austin’s parks, it is clear to see the appeal of this event.

4.3 Austin: Live Music Capital of the World

Austin has always been known for its stellar music scene. Boasting many homegrown talents, its live music venues are the stuff of legends.

It is, therefore, fitting that the city is called the live music capital of the world.  Its numerous indie and mainstream music festivals demonstrate Austin’s propensity to nurture great musical talent.

From local music legends at iconic city bars along Sixth Street to new emerging talent at some hip spot downtown, the music scene in Austin, like the city itself, is varied, diverse, and inclusive. Among Austin’s best live music venues is the famous Moody Theatre, the venue for long-running Austin City Limits Live, spawning the enormously popular music festival of the same name.

Another popular spot is the Elephant Room, a jazz bar on Congress Ave. Famed for its great music, ambiance, and excellent acoustics.

Closing Thoughts

One thing is for certain- Austin is a riot-its sprawling outdoors, its exciting festivals, and its steadfast dedication to “keep Austin weird” means that visitors never run out of things to do in Austin.

The easy availability of tours to places like its famed museum and art center, as well as the natural grace and charm of the locals, makes Austin an enduringly appealing destination for all.

Why Austin Is the Weirdest City. Things to Do in Austin
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