Things Everyone Should Do in Austin, Texas

From someone who lived there for more than 20 years and misses it like hell...
  1. Swimming at Barton Springs
    This is first for a reason. Barton Springs is the freezing cold but spiritually warm and beating heart of Austin, the place that someone who grew up there might want their ashes scattered, say. It's a place to read and to swim and to look at pretty people and to gaze at a beautiful thing that people and nature conspired to bring us and that brings us so much joy.
  2. See a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse
    The Alamo has a rep as the best movie theater in the world for nerds and film buffs and people who like singing along to pop songs. It's deserved. You can get food and beer at your seat and they kick out talkers and texters, but the most important thing about the Alamo is the programming: from hobbit feasts for all 3 LOTR movies to classic rom coms paired with special cocktails to cheap midnight b-movies, it's really fun and special and different from anywhere else I've been.
  3. Do an east side bar crawl
    Some locals will tell ya this is noob stuff and it's true that the gentrification of the east side in Austin has been ~problematic~ at best. But downtown Austin drinking was never fun at all and it's nice to have a strip of bars that are actually cool. My favorites are Rio Rita (also good for coffee), Liberty (topped with a great tattoo parlor), Violet Crown (the pizza truck out front is the best pizza in Austin), White Horse (the Texasiest), and Yellow Jacket Social Club (best patio in town).
  4. Go two stepping at the Broken Spoke
    Contrary to popular belief, Austin is not a "blue dot in a sea of red" (all the big cities in TX are blue) nor is it "the only good part of Texas." Not only are lots of other parts of Texas great, lots of parts of Austin are very Texas — maybe none so much as the Broken Spoke on South Lamar. Find a night with a good band playing and slip on our boots for a good time.
  5. Eat breakfast at Bouldin Creek Cafe
    It's good.
  6. Eat breakfast at 2am at Kerbey Lane
    There are two long standing local chain 24 hour diners in Austin — Kerbey Lane and Magnolia Cafe. They are both good and have remarkably similar menus. Magnolia is notable because in "Boyhood" it's where they go and order just queso after a night on the Austin town. Kerbey edges it out for me because they have better vegan options and because I had a giant crush on a waiter at the campus location for a few years straight.
  7. Go record shopping at Waterloo, or if you're more into soul .45s, at Breakaway
    Waterloo is known best for, like, not having genres? Everything is alphabetical. It's also massive and has a decently huge used vinyl selection. The staff is smart and knowledgable and cute and ok at softball. Breakaway is a much smaller joint that's a favorite of mine because of my interest in sock hoppy stuff.
  8. Check out the women's bathroom at Donn's Depot
    If you're a guy, make a girl sneak you in. It's magical.
  9. Find a karaoke underground event and attend
    For if you've always wished you could do a Bikini Kill or a Bright Eyes song at karaoke.
  10. Go to the Second Sunday Sock Hop
    It's better than Tinder for meeting cuties and a lot more fun.
  11. Watch the bats fly from under the Congress Bridge.
    The bats are probably the most "touristy" thing on this list but I don't care, they're amazing and there's no reason to be cynical about them. The world's largest urban bat colony consists of 1.5 MILLION Mexican free-tailed bats and seeing them leave their homes to hunt for the night is majestic and magical AF.
  12. Dig through the bins of old photos at Uncommon Objects
    Uncommon Objects is on South Congress, which is the semi-fancy, cute strip of walkable shopping. While you're there you could also hit New Bohemia (vintage clothes), Blackmail (black stuff), Parts & Labour (cute local consignment), & the veggie frito pie at Jo's. But my favorite thing is this giant flea market / antique store, and in particular the big bins full of old photos of strangers. I could get lost in them for hours and never ask the time.
  13. See a local band
    The days of seeing Spoon or Explosions In The Sky in a tiny room might have passed, but you can get on the next wave of great Austin bands now. Here's a playlist I made to help you figure out how to narrow down the city's massive show calendar: — knowing those, all you'll need is a copy of the free weekly The Austin Chronicle to peruse their music listings and find something wonderful.
  14. Go on an afternoon date at Spiderhouse
    The sprawling patio at UT's favorite coffee shop is worth experiencing, the coffee is pretty good, and the vegan food truck out back is excellent. If you live in Austin for any amount of time, this is a great place to run into old friends and boys you made out with once.
  15. Eat a lot of breakfast tacos
    You could have breakfast tacos for every meal while in Austin and no one would judge you a bit. My top spots are Papalote on South Lamar (not exactly atmospheric but so fucking delicious), Taco-Mex (aka "taco window" because it's just a window in the wall of a convenience store), and more recently the wonderful Vegan Nom food truck that serves the tastiest tofu scramble man has ever known.
  16. Go to an event at BookPeople
    The huge independent bookstore west of downtown is where I worked for nearly 8 years, so I'm biased. BookPeople only has new books, so you're less likely to get lost in the stacks ala The Strand or Powell's, but it has two things going for it: the staff selections scattered throughout the store (some of mine are still up!) and the great events. The place is a well oiled machine when it comes to book signings and you could meet almost anyone your heart desires there.
  17. Drive the hour to Hamilton Pool
    Technically not in the Austin city limits but not something you should miss if you're in the area. A wonder of the world, etc.. Seriously one of the most beautiful places on earth.
  18. Eat at someplace Paul Qui owns
    Austin's Top Chef winner has earned the hype and is beloved by locals. His eponymous restaurant Qui is very expensive / fancy by Austin standards but I hear it's worth it. For us plebes, there's plenty of access to his brilliance at any of the five East Side King locations. The Veggie Meshi is to die for.
  19. Hip Hop night at Nasty's
    Every Monday since time immortal DJ Mel has been spinning hip hop at this otherwise appropriately named dive bar. Though maybe this isn't for everyone, I have had some of my Favorite Nights Ever grinding to Ginuwine on their tiny dance floor, surrounded by drunk friends and nice strangers. It's a good way to spend a Monday night.
  20. Walk or run the trail around Ladybird Lake
    This is another "heart of Austin" kind of thing, a part of the city that locals lucky enough to live close to the "lake" (it's really a Colorado River reservoir) partake in daily. I recommend walking and doing so early in the morning when you'll be able to spot cormorants, herons, and if you're lucky the beaver-like nutrias I was obsessed with as a kid. If you go later in the day, cut through the soccer fields in Zilker Park for a taste of off leash dog heaven.