As a Texan, it saddens me that I haven’t written more about my home state! That’s why I was so excited when I got to spend a weekend in Austin and San Antonio so I could take some great pictures and explore. I love Austin and am sharing some of my favorite things to do.
Everything on this list can be done for $15 or less. A weekend in Austin will leave you with little down time if you want it to because there really is tons to do. Even just one day in Austin gives you time to see lots of the fun things to do. Austin is such a unique city because as the capitol of Texas, it’s the home of the best and weirdest things to do (anyone familiar with the “Keep Austin Weird” campaign?). Here is my list of fun and cheap things to do in Austin, Texas.
Thank you to Visit Austin for the tips, welcome bag, and setting us up on a tour in my home state. As always, all opinions are my own.
Want a cheap option for where to stay? We stayed at an awesome AirBnB near Zilker Park with an incredible host. The house was in the perfect spot, really cozy, and was just $75 a night. Get $40 off your first AirBnB using this link!
1. See the City with AO Tours
One of the best ways to get to know any city is to go on a tour. We went on a small group guided tour with AO Tours to learn about Austin and the surrounding Texas Hill Country. It was the perfect way to start our trip on Saturday morning as we were just really getting our barings in the city and I hadn’t been in years. I was in need of a brush up on my Texas history. Not only did we get a great, detailed tour of the history of the area, we also got recommendations for where to go after our tour. This was especially helpful because we were trying to figure out exactly what to do with the rest of our weekend.
During the tour, you spend an hour and a half driving all through Austin and the hill country getting a detailed history of the area without it becoming mundane or overkill. It was a perfect way to relax and get out of the heat too because you do spend the entire hour and a half in the car. On other days this might have bothered us, but it’s the perfect way to beat that Texas heat. It was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit when we were visiting and not really fun to walk around outside.
2. Visit the Capital
This was one thing that was on my list when we were visiting. After learning about it on our AO Tour, we stopped by to walk through and see more about the history we had just heard about. The Capital is really impressive and beautiful. There are gardens, statues, and things to look at throughout the area surrounding the Capital. Entry into the Capital is free but you are required to go through security.
While here make sure you look for lots of Texas details – you can see the outline of the Texas star in lots of different, unexpected places. There are free tours of the Capital that happen daily. You can check the state captial preservation website for information on times. You are also allowed to sit in on different sessions with congress and the house, just check the website.
3. Check out Barton Springs
free or $8 for non-residents, $4 for residents
Barton Springs is probably one of the coolest and most unique public pools I have ever been to. It’s actually part of a river that runs through Austin and the water stays at a cool 68 degrees year-round. It has a natural limestone bottom and awesome views of downtown. It was absolutely beautiful to visit and the perfect way to spend a really hot afternoon in Austin.
There is a free side and a paid side for Barton Springs. The paid side feeds into the free side with a filter going through one pool back into the river (the free side). We chose to hang out on the paid side because we wanted something less crowded.
The free side barely had room for people to stand while the poolside we were on was fairly empty in comparison. The pool does allow floaties, but only in certain areas. It also gets pretty deep with a diving board in the middle so short people be prepared! The rocks are very slippery so you should be careful when visiting.
After 8 pm most days, the pool is free. Check the website for the latest details.
Pro-tip: There are two entrances to Barton Springs Pool. One side has a very large parking lot and is located inside Zilker Park. You do need to pay to park here as well. This tends to be the side with very long lines and is closer to downtown. On the opposite side of the pool (and not listed on google), you can also enter. There are sports fields on this side and parking as well.
We walked from our awesome AirBnB in less than 10 minutes. Most people do not realize there is an entrance on this side and spend forever in line. We were inside in less than 5 minutes! If you want to park on this side just get directions on google to Lady Bird Lake Trail. The entrance is there.
4. Eat like a Local
The food in Austin has to be a highlight on this list. There are tons of food truck parks where you can go and try lots of different types of food all in one spot. We went for breakfast and ate these amazing donuts at Gourdough’s and breakfast tacos Mellizoz. The donuts at Gourdough’s were so huge and unique I am so glad I didn’t have to eat it by myself! It was so rich and delicious. I highly recommend going to a food truck area and grabbing little things from a bunch of spots to share.
This location was especially good for breakfast because there was a really neat coffee shop, Seventh Flag Coffee Co., across the street where we also got some delicious coffees, the donuts at Gourdough’s were amazing, and who can resist a good breakfast taco? No matter which food truck park you go to, there’s bound to be some delicious food there. I’ll list all my food recommendations below, including a few cheap and local spots I love!
- The Picnic is the largest food truck area in Austin and has such a huge variety of food, you can’t go wrong there!
- Chuy’s is an Austin original and home to amazing Tex-Mex with multiple locations around Austin.
- P. Terry’s is a burger spot with amazing sauce and delicious fries.
- Torchy’s Tacos is another original for Austin and has super delicious tacos.
- Austin Java has great coffee and turns into a bar at night!
5. See the Bats
Every night from March to October, bats fly over the Ann W. Richards Congress Ave. Bridge. I, unfortunately, didn’t get a good picture but this is the bridge before dark! While they are in peak numbers, you can see over a million in one night. While we were there there were about 100,000 and it’s an incredible sight to see! Get posted on the bridge at least 30 minutes before sunset because it seems everyone in Austin wants to see this awesome wonder. You can take kayak tours to see them while you are on the water which would be really fun to see. Definitely check out a sunset kayak tour if you want to spend a little more ($50) and see the bats up close!
6. Go Out on 6th Street or with the Locals on Rainey Street
$7-$12 a drink
Austin is known for its party scene and for good reason. It’s home to the University of Texas and there are lots of spots to go out for a drink. The most famous area in Austin is known as 6th Street.
Dirty 6th is the part that most people picture because it has the highest concentration of bars in the area and they close off the street after 10 pm. It’s easy to walk around this area and hop from one bar to the next. Most of these bars also have live music nightly and offer specials.
There are other areas in Austin that are more well known by locals though. One of the more popular areas is Rainey Street. We popped into Clive for some drinks and it definitely had a way more relaxed feel than 6th Street but was a lively scene. The bar across the street had a line around the corner and was definitely really cool as well.
The bars and restaurants were unique (just what you’d expect of Austin) and packed too. It’s known as a more local area and had a very different feel than 6th Street. If you’ve got a second night, check this spot out!
Zilker Park also has some cool bars, breweries, and spots to hang out at night. It’s much quieter than other areas, but very pet friendly and chill. We hung out here on a Friday night after we got in from our flight and it was perfect for a quiet night. Uncle Billy’s is a brewery and distillery right there in Zilker Park and it was lots of fun.
7. Eat Barbecue
I know I know, I already talked about food but, barbecue gets a spot all on its own for this one. Barbecue is one of those foods you’ve got to try while you are in Austin! There are tons of amazing places to go and you pretty much can’t go wrong when you’re thinking about barbecue in Texas.
Every place is known for something different, but if you want Texas barbecue, go for the brisket. It’s a Texan original and pretty delicious. We went to Green Mesquite that’s been around since the 1980’s and it was perfect. The outdoor patio also featured live music and dancing. It was the perfect way to start off the night. Below I’ll list some other spots in Austin known for barbecue that I’ve been to previously and recommended by others.
- Franklin’s Barbecue – people will get in line starting at 8 am for this place. Food is served until it’s sold out. It’s often gone by 11:30 am and many locals do not even try to go because of long lines!
- Freedmans – open for lunch and dinner with some of the best brisket in town.
- Black’s Barbecue – recommended by locals, this spot is known for it’s ribs that are seriously delicious.
- Green Mesquite – a staple in Austin with live music and awesome/a little messy smoked wings.
8. Check Out Some Murals
There are lots of great murals in Austin that are worth checking out. We stopped by the “Greetings from Austin” mural after eating a delicious breakfast at a couple of food trucks. It was a simple walk away from the spot and a really fun spot to snap a pic. There are lots of other murals as well to see. If you want to see more Austin murals, check out this comprehensive list.
9. Listen to Live Music
Austin is known as the Live Music Capital of the World. Let me tell you, there’s tons of awesome live music! You can find almost every kind of live music in the city and almost every bar along Sixth Street and elsewhere will have live music. If you’re in an area in the evening where there are lots of people, you’re guaranteed to hear music nearby.
Stop in and listen because Austin has become a city for musicians to work on their craft and there is lots of talent! We literally stopped in five different spots that all had live music on one street. It reminded me of when I was Nashville because you find the same thing there.
10. Go to one of the 5 Lakes around Austin
There are tons of man-made lakes around Austin and they all offer different things. Lake Travis and Lake Austin are both really large lakes that people use for swimming, fishing, and boating. You can easily rent a boat, kayak, or jet ski on one of the lakes and have a really fun afternoon. There are lots of beaches to hang out on and places to take in the beautiful rolling hills around Austin.
Austin is the perfect spot whether you’re solo, traveling with your significant other, or going for a boozy bachelorette party and there’s no need to overspend when you’re in this fun city. Take a day to get out of the city and explore nearby wine country in Fredericksburg!
Now that you’ve got some fun and cheap things to do in Austin, Texas you’re ready to start exploring! What are your favorite things to do in Austin? Leave me more ideas!