Freaky fresh food, haunted historic hotels, and bats by the millions… Looking for things to do in Austin? We found ourselves with just a few days in Austin to seek out what makes Austin weird and find a little luxury with a Texas twist.
We love to get to know the cities we visit. Always adventuring. Forever on the lookout for the next enlightening culinary experience or off-beat adventure. Please, read on! We would love to share the unique places we found during our short stay in Austin, especially those that are doing their part to ‘keep Austin weird’.
First things first,
Very likely the weirdest thing about Austin?
No Uber. No Lyft.
Austin’s Alternatives to Uber and Lyft
Fasten, RideAustin, and the four or five other rideshare apps like them are the local market’s response to the City of Austin’s ban on Uber and Lyft. Before you even depart for Austin, download one or more of the apps and use it to grab a rideshare from the airport to wherever you are staying.
Our drivers with the ridesharing services we used were awesome. One in particular, was a super chatty guy. He gave us the lowdown of the peculiarities of Austin and a few areas to explore while we are here. His best advice? Explore Sixth Street. Including Sixth East, Sixth West, and what people around here call Dirty Sixth.
Hire a Pedicab
Once you get downtown, one of these guys would love to give you a ride.
I always used to hesitate to take the carriages and pedicabs. Why!? I know, right? What’s the big deal? Honestly, I just wanted to avoid the awkward situation involving fare. Don’t let a fair fare worry you, though. Just tell them where you want to go and ask how much it will cost. From there, you can take the ride or leave it.
But seriously, these guys are awesome. They are the locals. They know the places to go. Strike up a conversation and gather yourself some intel!
WHERE TO STAY
Our Austin Airbnb Pick
There were some pretty sweet looking Austin Airbnb’s, like this farm stay, but sadly they were fully booked for our dates. Check out this listing!
Who wouldn’t want to meet the donkey that lives here!?
If you are at all into farm stays you will see why they didn’t have many dates available. Book early and then let us know how awesome it is!
If you are new to Airbnb, sign up using our Airbnb referral link to earn us both a little extra travel money. You’ll get a little travel credit, and so will we! Seriously, thanks! There are so many places we want to go!
This time around, we are going luxury hotel.
JW Marriot, Downtown Austin
The JW Marriot is our home for this Austin visit and we are not complaining. This place is spectacular. Newly built and still with that ‘new car smell’, this place is an experience of upscale Austin luxury in the heart of the city’s downtown. It is also where the conference we were here to attend was being held.
Situated right in the middle of downtown, at 2nd and Congress, the JW Marriot is in a convenient location to launch from when it is time to head out and see what the city of Austin has to offer.
Later on, we’ll take some time to chill at the rooftop pool…
…but for now…
We checked in, unpacked, and then promptly set out to discover what the neighborhood would offer up for gastro-entertainment.
WHERE TO EAT (and DRINK) in Downtown Austin
There is no shortage of great places to eat in downtown Austin. The trouble is picking which ones to explore during your stay.
Across the board, Austin’s restaurants are impressively fresh, many of them touting fare from local farms like pasture raised eggs. Austin seems to be proud of its local agricultural offerings, as well it should be! The freshness of Austin was in huge contrast to a recent stay in Vegas, where farm-fresh was just not something we saw. We run a little organic farm at our home base in the PNW and so love to check out the farm-to-table offerings whenever we explore new places.
Swift’s Attic, wow.
What a find! We like this place.
Right off the bat, we love the look of the menu. Super fresh and local. Changing daily, the menu is inspired by what’s in season at the local farmer’s market, and the chef’s mood for the day.
At Swift’s Attic, the ordering is a little different than what most of us are used to. The menu is comprised of small plates that are meant to be ordered for the table and shared. Keep sampling the innovative offerings until your appetite (and your curiosity) are satisfied, all the while sipping on Swift’s Attic’s exclusive ice ball cocktails. Try the ‘Stage Name’ (sage, housemade sage syrup, lavender bitters, and Barr Hill Tomcat gin), it’s an herbal treat for the senses. If cocktails aren’t your thing go for one of the really nice, locally brewed, IPAs.
Two of the menu features caught our eye right away. And when they were the first two things that our incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic server recommended (this guy really seemed like he knew his stuff), we went with it…
The Heirloom Tomato Salad (locally grown heirloom tomatoes, mizuna and arugula, charred eggplant, crispy wonton, and plum ginger vinaigrette) where the entire dish is amazing, but the tomatoes most definitely are the star of the show.
And the Grilled Pork Belly accompanied by bang bang broccoli, orange yuzu marmalade, and togarashi (which is what, exactly?). Nevermind what it is, it was amazing.
We rounded things out with an order of the Seared Scallops (with roasted salsify and carrot, pepper coulis, and pickled peppercorn chimichurri). Now, to be honest, seared scallops are one of those things that sound so good, but when I do order them, I’m always
disgusted disappointed. Not so at Swift’s Attic. Perfectly prepared and seasoned to perfection, these scallops actually brought a little tear to my eye. Don’t laugh. I was moved.
And then, there was dessert. I never order dessert. But when the dessert offerings include a grilled pineapple and curry sorbet, what are you going to do? You kind of have to try it. Or, at least we do. We can’t pass up something like curry sorbet. And I am so glad we didn’t. I will never think of curry in the same way again. Oh yeah, it was served their ‘Happy Now?’ gluten-free olive oil cake with coconut, carrot, chicory, and basil. The sorbet kind of stole the show on that one.
It’s no wonder these guys have been featured on Zagat, Austin Eater, Austin 360, and Conde Nast Traveler.
A Nightcap at Second Bar + Kitchen
On the way back to our room, we stopped off for one last cocktail at Second Bar + Kitchen where we were impressed to find a house-made tonic water. They make their own! Being a gin and tonic girl, I had to try it. I’ve actually considered trying to make tonic water from scratch but this is still a project I haven’t tackled. These guys have it down, though. Mmm, tasty.
Brunch at Annie’s Cafe & Bar
A cute American Diner experience where the atmosphere is bright and the brunch specials are fresh, local, tasty, and to die for. With a claim to being ‘the oldest restaurant in downtown Austin’ they’ve had time to figure this whole thing out. They make a pretty darn good cappuccino, too.
We sat down at the counter because it was open seating and the wait for a table was long. It didn’t take us long to decide what we wanted for breakfast, the two specials being offered were perfect. We took one of each and were not disappointed.
The Driskill Bar
Walk into this place and the first thing that hits you, besides the stunning visual beauty, is the heady aroma of Texas leather and history.
We are not here to stay, but dropping in for at least a cocktail was definitely high on the Austin bucket list for this trip. Recently named the best cocktail bar in Austin, the historic (and some say haunted) Driskill Bar just oozes old-school Texas luxury combining “timeless charm, [and] modern sophistication.”
While kicking back in the low light of the Driskill’s lounge sipping on some Sage Advice, another crazy good herbal cocktail, we really put the menu to the test with some down home corn dogs and house-made fries, these are not the kind you grab at the corner convenience store.
Rich atmosphere, excellent live musical entertainment, good local beer on tap, and a creative and fresh food and cocktail menu. In case this isn’t enough, come to see the architecture and design. Yeah, the Driskill is a place worth seeing.
Weird Austin – Things to Do
Hopefully, you are lucky enough to land in Austin during the biggest event of the year, the double weekend music festival known as Austin City Limits. In which case, it is obvious how you will be spending your time in Austin. If that is not the case, you will be wanting to find things to do. Here are a couple things we think you’ll find Austin unique.
Yes, bats. The world’s largest urban bat colony lives in Austin.
And every summer night, hundreds of humans gather around the Congress Street bridge at dusk to witness the 1.5 million bats emerge. It is the coolest thing.
Go do it, at least once. I promise a bat is not going to fly into your hair. I’m pretty sure.
Austin’s Grafitti Park at Castle Hill
This community art expression, also known as Hope Outdoor Gallery, is colorful in more ways than one.
With very few rules, people come from all over to visit Graffiti Park. Some leave their mark with a little art, others by cleaning up and helping to keep the place clean.
There are three rules: 1. Respect other artists 2. Pick up trash 3. Watch out for poison ivy.
There is so much more to the city of Austin
With a little more time and maybe a car to get around, Austin has plenty more to offer that we would love to explore. This was a working trip, combining business with pleasure, and so we didn’t get to delve into Austin as deeply as we would have liked during this stay.
Here are a couple things that are on our list of ‘Austin things to do’ but that we weren’t able to get to this time around.
The Texas State Capital
The view up Congress Avenue draws you toward the capitol building. I wouldn’t be into visiting the capitol of every state in the Union, but Texas, now that’s different. There is just something about Texas and the renegade, free feeling that comes with it. I imagine a tour through the capitaol building is quite the cultural experience.
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Founded to protect and preserve North America’s native plants and natural landscapes, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center sounds like a great place to connect with nature. The gardens sprawl across acres just ten miles from downtown Austin. There is so much to do here, I wonder if it would be too much to be seen in one day.
A manmade three-acre reservoir kept at a consistent 68 degrees by a natural spring. This is one of the local spots to go for a cooling swim in an attempt to escape the Texas heat. It costs a couple bucks to get in and there are a few rules. Here’s more info.
What are your favorite finds of where to eat, stay, and play around Austin?
Please, share! Maybe we’ll get to check them out on our next visit!
Looking for more North American destinations?
Check out this post, 48 Hours in San Francisco & 6 Worthy Things We Found While Exploring the City by the Bay.
Or maybe something a little more rustic? Flapjack Lakes, Olympic National Park Hiking & Wilderness Camping.
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We’re heading to Austin (for South By Southwest 2019) in two weeks, so we will let you know what fun places we find. We are trying to plan a meet up and so we were looking to your post to give us some insight. Which place(s) seem amenable for a crowd of from 20 to 50 folks with a ukulele duet happening? We would LOVE to hear your advice, since we have never been there before. We’re getting super pumped! Thanks for sharing your amazing adventure.
That sounds like some seriously good times! We’re not very familiar with the area, haven’t spent nearly enough time there. Sadly, I don’t really have any recommendations for you. Best of luck though! Ukulele duet?!?! I’m jealous.