I don’t often travel west in the U.S. It can be pretty expensive but it’s also hard to find time to actually make the trip. Well, earlier this August when I was up in New York for the fifth time this summer, my mom and I decided to take an impromptu weekend visit to Austin. Why Austin? Mark (little brother) has been working there since April and we figured it was the perfect excuse to visit the Lone Star State’s capital.
Not only was this my first time in Austin but it was my first time in Texas. I really had no idea what to expect but with only 36 hours to spend, I tried to pack it with sights, sounds, and of course, noms. With some help from the interwebs and my brother’s insider knowledge of the fun things to do in Austin, I’m excited to share my tips on how to enjoy a weekend in this city. There is a caveat to this travel recap—there are at least 5000 things recommended for me to do that I wish I could’ve done but didn’t have the time but will include those for those of you who have longer than basically a day and a half.
What I really loved about Austin was how accessible water was. There are plenty of potable fountains throughout the city. It was very hot and very humid so be sure to stay hydrated if you plan to walk around in the summer/early fall months. Otherwise, there are plenty of e-scooters, Ubers, and cabs to get around. Austin is very spread out but is pretty walkable.
Enjoy my recap and let me know else I should include for my future return to Austin!
Start Your Day with Breakfast
Before you start your day in Austin, kickstart it with a delicious breakfast. Prepping for my trip, I was doing lots of research on where to eat and there were just so many options—from Instagrammable brunch options to breakfast tacos from little taco trucks spread throughout the city, where were we going to eat? Breakfast is the most important meal of the day after all (fun fact, I actually don’t like breakfast…it’s my least favorite meal of the day).
We started our Saturday morning bright and early to beat the heat and get as much walking done as we could. We walked by the Texas State Capitol building, which is MASSIVE! It’s bigger than the capitol building in D.C., which is impressive. But as we’re walking, I start becoming hangry, and unfortunately, I become pretty unpleasant when I’m hangry. Mark toured us down Lamar Street, which is decorated with restaurants and shops and is even home to the first Whole Foods! Our first target destination was a taco truck for breakfast tacos but to our dismay, they opened at 9am and it was 7:45…so we kept walking until we reached Sweetish
Hill Bakery on West 6th St.
Sweetish Hill is a brand-new bakery with pastries, cured fish, delicious coffee, and a little market stocked with a variety of food and wine. They were so new we saw them taking pictures for their website while ordering. Mom, Mark, and I love to share things and I’m so thankful for that since my appetite has severely shrunk in the past few months. I’ve been unable to eat as much as a want lately and it’s been very frustrating. But thankfully sharing food with my family makes it a bit easier for me to enjoy all the different foodstuffs Austin had to offer.
I somehow got my iPhone XR to get a good portrait mode shot of this delicious thing.
I kicked off with an almond milk latte because it was going to be a loooong day and I needed the caffeine. We shared a brown sugar and berry Bostock, which is a type of pound cake-esque pastry. The raspberries were sweet, and tart but the pastry as a whole wasn’t as sweet as I was expecting, which was appreciated since I’ve become sensitive to sugar too (I’m the worst foodie ever.) We also ordered the Soft Egg Toast, which is basically the millennial classic Avocado Toast but this had bacon and parmesan, a cucumber salad so there was something fresh, and an everything bagel & lox platter, which featured house-cured salmon that was incredible.
So in short, check out Swedish Hill Bakery to kick off your Austin walking adventures. You’ll be full, sated, and ready to tackle the day.
Kayak on Lady Bird Lake
Austin is situated right on Lady Bird Lake, which actually is more a river than a lake, but it is a beautiful spot to kayak/paddleboard/boat and spend time on the water. The walking paths on both sides of the river are filled with people walking, walking their dogs, or going for jogs (which is insane because it was almost 90 at 9 am so…. why??). But I was impressed by how many people were out and about.
Something else that impressed me was how clear and beautiful the water was! Walking along the path by the river you could see tons of fish from small to large trout. And since the weather is so hot, there’s no better way to cool off than by renting a kayak in Zilker park and strolling down the river. Mark and I walked over a bridge, saw people kayaking, and impulsively decided to go for a mini boating trip, and I was so glad we did. You can rent by the hour or for the whole day but be sure to wear a bathing suit. I was very unprepared, and my shorts got very wet, but it was only temporary. The sun kindly dried me off very quickly.
And the view is spectacular. You start off in a small inlet that leads to the larger river but as you’re paddling, you just feel zen with the trees, clear water, and bounty of turtles swimming about. An excellent way to kill an hour or two.
Pro-tip: Start off the first half of your kayaking adventure going against the river so it’s easier to paddle back when you’re tired.
Devour Some BBQ
So obviously the most exciting thing I was excited to eat in Austin was barbeque. I mean…you can’t visit Texas and NOT have some. I think that’s just in poor taste. But since there are BBQ joints everywhere, where do we go??
One destination often frequented by visitors is Franklin’s BBQ, which was actually by our hotel, but from what I read online and heard from Mark, you have to wait in line for HOURS to eat there, and to be honest, that does not sound appealing in the slightest. I’m sure it’s delicious but when I only have basically 36 hours, I’m not spending a chunk of those waiting on a line outside in the sweltering heat. Maybe another time.
Per the recommendation of our Uber driver, we ventured to Terry Blacks on Barton Springs Road. We got there around 1 pm and there was a line, but it moved pretty fast. And while waiting, I grabbed myself a can of a local Austin brew. What’s fun about Terry Blacks is that it’s cafeteria-style so you get on-line, get to the counter, order, and sit down. You order your sides first and we ordered coleslaw, pinto beans, and Mexican rice. There’s a plethora of options and sizes (such as a quart of mac & cheese) but those three in the smallest possible size available felt appropriate for us and our current appetites.
Once you’ve acquired your sides, time to go to the meat counter and get the cue. We got about 1/3 pound of pork ribs and 1/3 pound of moist brisket. It was a bit tinier portions that I expected since I have no concept of how much things weigh but I’m glad we ordered what we ordered. And then you pay and go sit at the many picnic tables either inside or outside.
I dream about these ribs a lot.
Okay, let’s debrief this meat. My carnivorous heart was SO HAPPY. The brisket was beyond tender and topped with a bit of Terry Blacks spicy bbq sauce (they also have sweet and original at every table), it just melted in your mouth. And the pork ribs oh my goodness I can’t even begin to describe how juicy they were. The meat was flavorful and smoky, and I felt so carnal in enjoying these ribs. Once picked clean, there’s still so much flavor to be sucked out of the bone and marrow. I felt like a dinosaur but it’s bbq and I have no shame when it comes to ribs. 16/10 please go here
Pro-tip: Learn how Terry Blacks smokes their brisket in their free pit tour! Just go around the back of the restaurant and see if the pitmaster or any staff member is around to show you how they run the shop. It smells amazing and you learn about their process and it’s just an overall fun experience.
Watch Bats Take Flight
Something you absolutely Must™ do in Austin is watch thousands of bats take flight at sunset. Every night, under the Congress Avenue Bridge at the Statesman Bat Observation Center, the bats that sleep under the bridge fly out to feed on the bugs and whatever else they eat, and it is a sight to behold. You can watch them emerge from atop the bridge as well but it’s way cooler to watch them from underneath so you can see the waves they all create as they swarm out.
Honestly, it might be one of the coolest things I’ve seen in my life to date. It’s remarkable how all these tiny little creatures know when it’s time to just…leave? And it’s so peculiar how they innately time it, too. They all don’t swarm out at once but rather it’s a progression from one side of the river to the other and you just see streams of black fly into the sky creating trails.
You also can learn more about the bats from volunteers from the Austin Bat Rescue society. We had the pleasure of talking to this one gentleman who was gently holding onto a tiny 2 ½-month old baby bat that I named Chester, who was rescued from a trap. Such a cute little nugget.
I’m just disappointed that I didn’t wear my Batman shirt.
Grab a Drink on Rainey Street
Austin has great nightlife and a great bar scene. One of the areas of said bar scene is Rainey Street. Decorated with bars, restaurants, and food trucks, this strip is a great place to watch the game (any game really, there’s bound to be football on somewhere or some sport in general), get lit at brunch, or just enjoy some casual drinks with friends. We ventured to Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden, which had an intimidating selection of beers but the venue was lovely. With ample outdoor space, this is a great place to relax, listen to some music, and enjoy some in-house sausages of the game variety. Yes, you can get traditional brats here, but you can also enjoy some more unique variety of sausages, such as duck, rabbit, and boar.
Party on 6th Street
Like I said—Austin has a great nightlight and you can also find that nightlife on the renowned 6th Street. During peak nightlife hours, you can’t walk a whole block without hearing music coming from somewhere. Packed with bars hosting live bands, be sure to make a stop here and get the full experience of Austin’s nightlife scene. Now honest confession, I’m a grandma and didn’t have a chance to get said full experience, but I did give myself a preview of what the street is like, walking down it at 9 pm. And even at 9 pm there were lines at the Mohawk for a performance, laughs emanating from Esther Follies, and live bands all over the place. Mark and I did happen to make a stop at Recess Arcade Bar for some Star Wars pinball. Gotta stay on brand.
Things to also check out (but I don’t have space to write about since this is already a long blog post/didn’t get a chance to visit but is on my list for next time)
Check out the Austin Library – Beautiful rooftop garden with a bar! And there’s a cute little short story generator where you can randomly select a 1 minute/3 minute/5 minute short story and the computer will select one at random out of 8,000 different stories. Freaky thing to note here: My brother picked first and picked a 1 minute short story—the title of which was Nina *cue X-Files theme song*.
Murals – Austin has tons! Though they’re spread out, definitely take a trip to a few of them.
Dine at Fareground – Grab a bite at Austin’s food hall on Congress Ave.
Torchy’s Tacos – So I didn’t have Torchy’s when I visited but it was a top recommendation for me to try to definitely give them a go.
Skyspace – Check out the James Turrell permanent art installation at the University of Texas
Eat more BBQ – For obvious reasons. Franklin’s BBQ is a top joint but we didn’t go there because the line is massive. And with only 36 hours to spare I’m not spending a chunk of them online.
Food truck lots – All throughout Austin are these little food truck lots with so many different types of foods to get. From Middle Eastern to banana desserts, you’re bound to find something!
Zilker Park – Zilker Park is beautiful! In addition to kayaking, you can visit the Botanic Gardens or take a dip in the Barton Springs Pool.
Happy Travels Friends!