Travel Guide: Top 25 Things to Do in Austin

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This travel guide is especially close to my heart. Last summer I lived in Austin, and those were some of the best days of my life. Usually for travel guides, I am only able to explore a city for about a week while I am there on vacation. I am so so so grateful that I was able to take in everything Austin had to offer for four whole months. There are so many cool activities to fill your days with, and a lot of them are free or cheap! Of course I also love food, so I was ecstatic to spend my summer in a place with sooooo many food options. Let's start off with some of my favorite things to do in Austin, the city that has over 300 days of sunshine every year:

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T E X A S  S T A T E  C A P I T O L

1100 Congress Avenue, Austin TX

One simply cannot visit Austin without visiting the Capitol. It's free to enter and walk around, and it's air-conditioned on hot summer days, so you have no excuse not to go! This is an icon of Austin (and Texas in general). It's so beautiful on the inside and outside, and it's a great place to take photos. There are free guided tours every half hour on weekdays, or you can just go the self-guided route. I decided I wanted to explore at my own pace with the self-guided tour, so I grabbed a map and started looking around. I ended up spending a few hours there because there were so many cool things to look at! Whether you're into history or not, this is a great place to explore when you're in Austin. 

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Another thing the city is known for is the abundance of fun murals that make for some pretty great photo opportunities. You've probably seen a ton of them on Instagram and Pinterest, so I made it my mission to check out the best ones and share them with you! The iconic "You're My Butter Half" mural is located at 2000 East MLK Blvd. The Austin mural in the photo above is on 6th Street. There's some other cool murals on South Congress, like the "I love you so much" wall that you've probably seen in pictures. Another favorite is the huge black and white "love from Austin" mural at Prima Dora on South Congress (it's around the side of the building - it took me almost an hour to find it), and the "Greetings from Austin" mural a little higher up in this post that's on 720 S First Street. It's so fun to make an adventure of finding murals in Austin and taking photos in front of them. 

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Lake Austin, Zilker Park, Barton Creek Greenbelt

I am definitely not a huge outdoor person, but something about Austin makes me want to get outside and explore. It's so unique that there's a huge city with skyscrapers and bustling streets, and a few blocks away there's Lake Austin, Zilker Park, the Barton Creek Greenbelt, and the rolling hills in the country. I'll talk about Lake Austin a little farther down in this post, and right near there is Zilker Park (that's where I took this picture of me on the big rock). Zilker is a HUGE park - 350 acres right in the middle of the city. It's also where Austin City Limits is held every year, and where hundreds of people walk, jog, picnic, and hang out every day. This skyline view is one of my favorites. Another favorite place I hiked was the Barton Creek Greenbelt. This is by the Barton Springs pool. It's a hiking trail that has beautiful scenery without being too intense of a hike. I hiked it with Outdoor Voices during a free event they held (check out the different free events they hold every summer), and it was so fun!

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Frankie Jean, Favor the Kind, Outdoor Voices, Paper + Craft Pantry, The Domain, Take Heart Shop, Kendra Scott, Yeti

In a city so big, there's no shortage of places to shop. I prefer to shop local when I can - a few of my favorite businesses in Austin are: Frankie Jean (where I interned - currently online only), Favor the Kind, Outdoor Voices, Paper + Craft Pantry, The Domain, and Take Heart Shop. Frankie Jean has the cutest hats, shirts, and accessories that have pre-made or custom phrases or words on them. My hat collection is 90% Frankie Jean! Favor the Kind was probably my favorite store in Austin. They have a bunch of different brands of clothing, accessories, home stuff, and more! Outdoor Voices is an Austin-based fitness clothing company that I discovered when I was living there. Since then, they have really blown up across the country. The quality rivals Lululemon, and they have really fun designs and colors.  I went to their actual store in Austin, and it was hard not to max out my credit card there! It really started an obsession with me. Paper + Craft Pantry is another amazing store run by an amazing woman. I visited the old shop to do a free succulent class, and then they made a big move to a new storefront. I was there on opening day, three hours before opening! They carry the cutest stationary, pens, notebooks, and greeting cards. I could spend hours looking at all the pretty things here. The Domain is a huge well-know mall in central Austin. It's a pretty high-class mall, and they literally have every store you could ever want to shop at. There's also plenty of food options there, and a lot of nighttime entertainment! The Domain was one of my favorite places to be in Austin. Take Heart Shop is another cute local shop with candles and home decor. I love shops like this, and I love supporting small business owners. 

I have always loved and purchased Yeti products, and I didn't even realize they were based in Austin! Another favorite brand of mine, Kendra Scott, is also headquartered in the city. I think it's really cool that two of my all-time favorite brands got their start in this city that I love so much. From what I've heard the new Kendra Scott headquarters is beautiful (it was still under construction when I was there). I think Yeti has a huge shop in Austin too!

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B A T S  A T  C O N G R E S S  B R I D G E

Every summer night in Austin, 1.5 million bats come out from underneath Congress bridge. Bats totally freak me out, but this is really an amazing sight to see. Bats love to hang out in the crevices under Congress bridge during the day, and when the sun starts to set, they all take flight. A lot of people stand on the bridge to watch, but I didn't want to do that because I was worried one would run into me! I found a really cool spot on the water to watch. I sat on a floating pier with a few other random people, and it was the most amazing view! I loved that it wasn't crowed, and that I could see the whole panoramic view of the bats and the city. This is such a unique experience that you can't miss!


Deep Eddy, Barton Springs, Quarry Splash Pad, Micki Krebsbach Pool

There's no shortage of pools in Austin and the surrounding areas, which is ideal during the summer. I wasn't able to visit a ton of them over the summer because I was so busy, but I did get to go to a few. I love that they are all so affordable - it's a cheap, fun activity if you're looking for something to do. 

I really loved Deep Eddy; this pool is the oldest swimming pool in Texas, and it on the shores of Lake Austin. It's really, really cold water, and it's so refreshing on a hot day. This is probably my favorite of the pools I went to! I took the kids I nannied for here several times, and we all left happy every time. They even have a little concession place to get ice cream for a mid-day treat! Deep Eddy is actually a freshwater pool, and the water is drained and replaced daily. They have a huge grassy hill that's great for tanning in between swims. 

Another favorite place to swim for me is Barton Springs, which is also a favorite of pretty much every local. It's a spring fed natural pool, so it feels like you're swimming in a lake! The water is very clean and clear, and it's warm - in the summer it's usually around 70 degrees. There's also plenty of grassy areas to take a mid-day nap.

I stumbled upon the Quarry Splash Pad when I was looking for somewhere fun to take the kids I nannied last summer. This is seriously the coolest splash pad I've ever seen! It's a huge open area with tons of different streams of water. It's very clean and safe, and it's a great place to spend a day with kids. The Micki Krebsbach Pool is another one I took the nanny kids to. This is a really awesome pool, and it's only a few dollars to get in. They have a kids area with a pirate ship and some water features. The deep pool has a cool waterslide that kids love! I really liked this pool, and I went there several times over the summer.

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You could easily spend a few days just exploring everything downtown Austin has to offer. It's huge and loud and parking sucks, but something about downtown Austin makes my heart skip a beat. There are so many unique, fun businesses that are nothing like what we have here in Wisconsin. Of course, there's tons of amazing food, and the nightlife isn't half bad either. If you stay downtown, pretty much everything is within walking distance, otherwise you can take an Uber or Lyft. 

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M O U N T  B O N N E L L

3800 Mount Bonnell Road, Austin TX

I'm not a very outdoorsy person, especially when it's a million degrees outside. I was so happy how easy this "hike" was to get to the view, and even happier that it's free! It's about 100 steps for a 200-foot elevation increase, which isn't bad at all considering this is the highest point in Austin. You can feel the burn by the time you get to the top, but it only takes about 5 minutes and it's so worth it! The panoramic view of Lake Austin and the city is so pretty. There are some pretty amazing mansions that you can see from the top too. It's a great place to relax, have a date, go for a hike, have some alone time, take some photos, do some yoga...pretty much anything your heart desires! I actually ended up going a few different times during the summer because it's so pretty. I took some self-timer photos on the edge of one of the cliffs. There aren't really fences up there, so obviously use some judgement if you want to take a picture on the edge of a cliff. Don't forget to bring a water, because you will get sweaty; you will also want to be sure you're wearing sneakers. It can get pretty busy at certain points in the day, but it's worth battling the crowds!

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S O U T H  C O N G R E S S

South Congress is a main artery of Austin that's full of food, shopping, and entertainment. It's crazy busy pretty much every day, but it's definitely worth a visit. If you're lucky enough to find a close parking spot, you can leave your car there and walk down (or up) South Congress all day, stopping along the way. My SoCo favorites are: the new Madewell commons store, Juice Austin, Burro Cheese Kitchen, Jo's Coffee (also home to the "i love you so much" mural), Favor the Kind, and the Austin Motel (really cute for photos). South Congress definitely gives you the "Austin experience"!

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K A Y A K I N G  A T  L A D Y B I R D  L A K E

Rowing Dock ATX Rentals

When I was living in Austin, my cousin asked me if I wanted to go kayaking on Lady Bird Lake. Honestly, I had no idea this was even a lake - I thought it was a river! It sits right in the middle of downtown Austin, by Zilker Park. There's a rowing dock near the entrance to Zilker where you can rent kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards for a super affordable price. My cousin paddleboarded, but I'm not very I opted for a kayak. The rentals are by the hour, so you can go for as long of an adventure as you want. I really wanted to make it to the heart of downtown on my kayak, but we ended up not having enough time and had to turn back. If you want to make it to the coolest part of downtown by water, you should rent your kayak for at least two hours! I brought a little waterproof bag for my phone, and I'm so glad I did. The views from the water were so pretty, and I took some really cool photos. Make sure you wear sunscreen and a hat if you go in the summer!

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C O F F E E  S H O P S

Arguably my favorite part about Austin is the huge number of coffee shops! Sometimes I get tired of Starbucks and Dunkin', and I love exploring new coffee shops in every city I visit. During my summer in Austin, I did the most fun project I've ever worked on - I visited, photographed, and reviewed a huge number of coffee shops in and around Austin. So, if you're not sure where to go, check out my Austin Coffee Guide HERE to see 57 options! This city has hands down the best coffee I've ever had in my life (from multiple places).

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Nomatter how many days you are visiting Austin, you have to check some of these activities off of your Austin bucket list. And if you don't have an Austin bucket list as you're reading this...get one. Austin is seriously the best city ever! Now, let't talk food. 

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Just a little disclaimer before we get into the food section; I am a super picky eater. I pretty much stick to American food! BUT, I know that Austin has tons of super unique restaurants that most people would love. A lot of my recommendations are treats and super unhealthy things (sorry not sorry). Austin has so many amazing places to grab a treat, how can you blame me?!

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B U R R O  C H E E S E  K I T C H E N*

1221 South Congress Ave, Austin TX

I'm a big fan of Burro. I visited the South Congress location, but there is another location on Rainey Street. I am a huge cheese-lover, so I was dying to test out some grilled cheese places while I was in Austin. Mac and cheese, string cheese, cheeseburgers, grilled get the point. I love it all! I was actually able to try three different sandwiches: the Burning Mac, Waylon + Willie, and the Coppola. They were all amazing, but my favorite was the Burning Mac. It is sourdough bread with Mac + Cheese, cheddar, and Yellowbird sauce. It's the kind of grilled cheese my dreams are made of. ALSO, they have super good cookies. I really loved this place, and you can't beat either of their locations. They're centrally located to tourist areas.

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L I T T L E  B I G  B U R G E R*

1630 E 6th Street #100, Austin TX

Oh my gosh guys, this is my favorite place to grab a cheeseburger in Austin! If you know my love for cheeseburgers, you know that's a pretty prestigious award. Little Big Burger really focuses on giving the customer an all-around great experience, and they totally nail it every time! The vibe of the restaurant is fun and clean. They keep the menu pretty simple, but that's because they perfect every single item they serve! I think it's way better to have a handful of really high quality items rather than tons of sub-par items on a menu. I got a burger (obviously), fries, and a rootbeer float. Just thinking about this meal as I'm writing this post is making my mouth water! I wish we had a Little Big Burger is Wisconsin. If you only go to one food place in Austin, it should be here. I couldn't be more impressed with the service and food!

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E M O J I ' S*

Grilled cheeses are my second favorite thing to eat after cheeseburgers. Emoji's food truck has a menu of unique (and delicious) grilled cheeses. They also come with chips, but the grilled cheese is so filling, you might not even be able to eat the chips! I got the buffalo chicken grilled cheese and it was just the right amount of spicy. I love buffalo chicken, but I had never thought of putting it on a grilled cheese. Emoji's is really killing the grilled cheese game!

S H A K E  S H A C K

11228 Domain Drive, Austin TX

Ah, Shake Shack. It's a long time favorite of mine, and every time I'm within 40 miles of one I have to go. When I found out Austin had TWO Shake Shacks, I was so happy. I definitely went here many times last summer - there's a location at the Domain and also in south Austin. If you've never heard of Shake Shack, they have the best burgers ever, delicious crinkle cut fries, and the best shakes! I'm a Shake Shack girl for life. 

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T H E  B A K E D  B E A R*

211 Walter Seaholm Drive #150, Austin TX

I love everything about the Baked Bear. The decor, the simplicity, the smells, the options, and of course the taste. This place is something out of my dreams. It's similar to a Subway or Qdoba, where you can choose from a huge variety of cookies, ice cream flavors, and toppings to build your own dessert. I had to get an ice cream sandwich because the photos I'd seen of them made my mouth water. You can even get a different cookie on the top and bottom if you can't decide on just one! This is hands down the best dessert I've ever eaten. 

C O L D  C O O K I E  C O .

2512 Rio Grande Street, Austin TX

This cute little truck is on the UT campus downtown. I saw pictures on Instagram and I knew I had to go. Scroll down towards the end of this post to see how delicious my treat was. I got a chocolate chip cookie layered sundae type of thing, and of course it was amazing! I am obsessed with this place. An extra added bonus: they're open until midnight, so you have somewhere to grab a late-night snack!

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N A D A  M O O  S C O O P  S H O P

1701 South Lamar Blvd, Austin TX

I'm not going to lie, I was slightly hesitant to try anything here. Nada Moo is a completely dairy-free ice cream shop. I'm pretty picky, and I also love dairy, so I was worried I wouldn't be able to find anything I would like. Man, was I wrong! You can't even tell the treats are made with alternative milks, and this is coming from the pickiest person in the world. I got literally the most delicious shake of my life here, and I ended up coming back many times over the summer. 

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K E L L I E ' S  B A K I N G  C O .*

5245 Burnet Road, Austin TX

I found Kellie's when I was driving down Burnet Road randomly one day. There is the cutest "Sweet, you're here" Texas mural painted on the outside of their building. When I opened the door to Kellie's, I instantly felt happy. The decor is so bright and fun, and the huge array of treats made my heart skip a beat. They don't just have cookies - they have tons of different options, so there's something for everyone. Obviously the cookies taste amazing, and look how cute the Texas cookie I got is! Kellie's is a must-visit for sure! They also take custom orders for any occasion. 

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V O O D O O  D O U G N U T

212 E 6th Street, Austin TX

You've probably heard of Voodoo Doughnut. They have locations in big cities all over the country. Voodoo specializes in fun-looking decorated donuts! I originally didn't know there was a location in Austin, but I'm so happy there was. Voodoo Doughnut always seemed really busy, and there was definitely good reason for it. Every donut they sell is so cute, and they taste amazing. They're very photogenic for Instagram! The best part of Voodoo Doughnut is that they're open 24/7.

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2159 S Lamar Blvd, Austin TX

Patika is another place I stopped when I was writing my Austin Coffee Guide post. I grabbed some food and had brunch there - it was AMAZING! The coffee was grade-A, which you can read more about HERE. Let's talk about the food. I'm a very picky eater. When I saw the menu at Patika, I panicked a little bit. I went really far out of my comfort zone and ordered toast with biscuits and gravy. If I'm being honest, I was expecting to take one bite of this and hate it. I was very wrong - I had to resist licking my plate clean. Maybe I will become less of a picky eater now.....haha, just kidding!

T I F F ' S  T R E A T S

1806 Nueces Street, Austin TX

Man, do I wish we had a Tiff's Treats in Wisconsin. This was my favorite place to stop in for a late night sweet treat over the summer! One of the other great features of Tiff's Treats is that they DELIVER. Yes, you read what right. They will deliver warm cookies right to your friends' (or your own) front door. These are the best damn cookies in the world, period. I have never had to restrain myself from eating an entire box of cookies in one sitting so much. The cookies come in the cutest packaging, and you can even add on some milk to your delivery (because we all know cookies are better with milk). Also, there are a ton of other locations in the Austin area!

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C A S E Y ' S  N E W  O R L E A N S  S N O W B A L L S*

808 E 51st Street, Austin TX

We all know I'm a huge treat gal, so I was beyond excited to try Casey's. This family-run snowball stand has a huge variety of flavors. You can even mix and match for a custom taste! They have 70 flavors on the menu, and the best part is that they make these simple syrups in house. That means no scary additives and nasty stuff in your snowball. Cream flavored syrups are also available if you want something creamier. They're so cheap too, so it's a great place to take the whole family or go on a date! Just note, Casey's is seasonal, so they're only open in the summer. 

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C O N N O R ' S  C R E A M E R Y

14735 Bratton Lane, Austin TX

A hard lesson I learned during my time in Texas was that it's impossible to find a twist cone! I love twist cones, and I was crushed when I went to place after place to find one and left empty handed (I know, such a first-world problem). Connor's Creamery is an adorable little ice cream truck right down the road from where I lived in Pflugerville. It was clear that this place is super popular, especially for families. They have some outdoor seating, which is great for people who enjoy being outside when it's over 100 degrees! All jokes aside, Connor's Creamery is a must-visit. They have such a huge variety of soft serve ice cream flavors available, and everything is so affordable. Plus, they have the closest thing to a twist cone that I found in Texas. 

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S M O O T H I E S  +  J U I C E S

There are dozens of places to get a smoothie, juice, or bowl in Austin. That's one of my favorite things about the city! It's refreshing to be able to get "fast" food (as in quick) that is healthy and also delicious. I actually just wrote a whole blog post full of great info on my favorite places to get smoothies, juices, and bowls in Austin - you can see that HERE!

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I officially fell in love with Austin when I lived there last summer. I didn't expect it, but it quickly became one of my all-time favorite places. I miss it so much, even a year later. I hope this travel guide gave you some ideas of what to do next time you're there, or inspired you to book a trip! I can't wait to visit Austin again and revisit some of my favorite places. 

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*Thank you to the following sponsors of this post: Burro Cheese Kitchen, Little Big Burger, Emoji's Grilled Cheese Bar, Casey's New Orleans Snowballs, The Baked Bear, and Kellie's Bakery. All opinions, photos, and text are my own.

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