Way back in May, Colin and I spent a weekend in Austin, Texas. It came about kind of suddenly. I saw an amazing deal for Frontier Airlines and ended up booking us $35 roundtrip tickets from Seattle to Austin. You really can’t say no when the tickets are $35, can you? (Well, I can’t, at least.)
So even though we had just gotten back from Ireland, a week later we headed off for our weekend in Austin. Neither Colin nor I had ever been to Texas before. But we had heard awesome things about Austin and were excited to try it.
We expected Austin to be super hip, full of great food, and slightly warmer than Vancouver. It was absolutely all of those things. We loved our weekend in Austin. In fact, we loved it so much we were trying to scheme our way into moving to Austin (at least for the winter, we couldn’t handle Texas summer heat).
Planning a weekend in Austin? Here’s everything you need to know!
What to do
Unfortunately, Austin is much more of a living/eating city than a doing city. They’re a little short on attractions, but we did manage to find enough things to do to fill a long weekend!
Texas State Capitol
The Texas State Capitol is definitely a must see in Austin. It’s a beautiful building and worth a visit. We loved walking down Congress Ave and watching the capitol building slowly come into view. Once there, I’d suggest you check out the different monuments on the lawn and then head into the building (it’s free to go in) and admire the interior.
HOPE Outdoor Gallery
My favourite attraction in Austin was definitely the HOPE Outdoor Gallery. Basically, it’s an abandoned structure that has street art and graffiti all over it. And it’s super cool! You can walk right into the structure, sit on the walls, climb them and, of course, pose for all of the Instagram photos. We even saw someone doing a professional photo shoot there. But the best part was that artists are still working there so you can see paintings in progress (just watch out for wet paint!).
Live music at the Continental Club
One thing we definitely wanted to do during our weekend in Austin was see some live music. We heard the best live music was to be found at the Continental Club on South Congress. We loved listening to the band, who were so talented. I’ll admit – I’m not the best with live music unless it’s songs I recognize. I can appreciate the talent but I have a hard time listening to music, especially when it’s mainly instrumental, that I don’t know. But it was definitely worth a stop in! I would suggest getting there early if you want a seat.
Walking across the bridges at sunset
I told you Austin was light on attractions, didn’t I? But I promise, this is actually really cool. Colin and I didn’t plan it but happened to walk across one of the bridges over the Colorado River just as the sun was setting. It was perfect! The sunset was beautiful and it made us fall in love with Austin.
Shopping on South Congress
If you’re looking for cool clothing, antiques, Mexican ware, souvenirs or just to kill a few hours, I suggest you spend it on South Congress. This is a really cool neighbourhood and popping into all of the shops is really fun.
All the murals
Austin is totally known for its street art. So one thing you have to do on a weekend in Austin is check out all of the famous murals. Some of the best include: Greetings from Austin, i love you so much and Historic Austin.
Bats under Congress Ave Bridge
Here’s another iconic Austin experience. Every night at dusk, millions of bats fly out from under the Congress Ave Bridge. Tons of people gather under and on the bridge to watch the bats take flight. I wish my eyesight was better, because we did have to get pretty close for me to be able to see the bats. But it was so cool!
The Alamo is another institution in Austin. We went to the location on 6th: the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. The Alamo is a movie theatre, but it’s way more than that. We saw The Avengers: Infinity War (even though we had already seen it in Vancouver) and before the movie, we watched special little shorts that the Alamo had put together. And during the movie, you can order food and drinks by placing a little card on the table in front of you. We got cookies and popcorn (not so adventurous) but the people next to us got nachos, pizza and a steak salad. It’s kind of funny to watch a movie when you only have a weekend in Austin, but at the Alamo, it’s truly an experience.
Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar
We had the best time at Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar on 6th Street. If you have never been to a dueling piano bar, you need to go. It’s so much fun! There are two pianos facing each other and the pianists (who double as amazing vocalists and comics) perform songs solo or together, take suggestions from the audience, invite people up to dance, make fun of the audience, and more.
And if piano bars aren’t your thing, there are lots of other fun bars on 6th Street. A place next door, The Jackalope, was playing the best old school jams (90s/2000s hip hop is my life) and were one of the few places that serves food late.
What to eat
Let’s be honest: if you’re spending the weekend in Austin, you’re mainly there to eat. This city is all about the food. In fact, your entire Austin itinerary should be built around food and then just adding in things to fill time between meals.
Gus’s Fried Chicken
The first thing we ate on our weekend in Austin was delicious chicken and sides at Gus’s Fried Chicken. It was spicy, but not too spicy, and the entire experience felt very authentic.
We had a few taco places on our shortlist for our weekend in Austin. Torchy’s ended up being the one we hit. We ordered a couple of different tacos and I remember liking some and not liking others. Do I remember which ones? Of course not!
I was so excited to try out Gourdough’s Donuts because who doesn’t want to try a famous donut? Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to the hype. For starters, we had to change our order a few times because they seemed to be out of a ton of ingredients (despite us going in the morning on a weekday). And once we did order, mine was basically a donut sitting in a pool of oil and butter. A literal pool. It wasn’t the donut for me. But maybe I just ordered the wrong one?
Now it’s not Italian pizza or New York pizza, but it is still pretty good. Once we were done shopping on South Congress, we picked up a slice from Homeslice and walked over to the bridge to watch the bats while eating our slices. Like a little Austin picnic!
You didn’t really do a proper weekend in Austin if you didn’t get some barbecue. Austin is famous for its barbecue. And everyone has their favourite. Seriously, every Lyft driver will tell you a different place that is the best. We were told that Franklin Barbecue was the absolute best (according to podcasts and the internet, at least). So that’s where we headed.
And by that, I mean we arrived around 9:00am and got to eat just over three hours later. Part of the experience is standing in line and waiting with the crowds. People bring chairs, coffee and laptops to kill time. Finally, we made it inside and got to place our order. I will say, it was absolutely the most tender meat I have ever tasted in my entire life. However, the spice rub and sauces were not my favourite. I prefer a sweeter sauce and less spice, but that’s just me. Colin LOVED it.
Amy’s Ice Cream
There are lots of Amy’s Ice Cream locations around Austin. If it’s not lined up, I definitely suggest heading in and enjoying a scoop. Just be sure to ask for the right flavour (I accidentally ordered a regular strawberry instead of the cool strawberry/chocolate that I wanted).
We couldn’t just hit one barbecue place on our weekend in Austin, now could we? On our last day, we tried out another barbecue great: La Barbecue. Luckily, the line was much shorter (I think we waited an hour this time) and half of it was inside (AKA: air-conditioned!). While I enjoyed this barbecue a lot, I don’t think I liked it as much as Franklin’s. But I did prefer the waiting time!
East Side King
East Side King is a really cool Asian food truck. I’m a sucker for Asian food, especially when it’s a cool fusion version or served uniquely, like out of a truck. The location we went to ended up being behind a bar. So you had to walk through the bar, go out to their backyard, and then you’d find the truck. But it was worth it! Super delicious!
Tips for a weekend in Austin
- Don’t take the red-eye! While our $35 roundtrip ticket was a steal, it did come at a cost. We took the red-eye to Austin and it was brutal – plastic seats and screaming babies. We got absolutely no sleep and were bagged by the time we arrived. So we walked across the street to the closest hotel, lucked out that they had one room left, checked in and passed out!
- Skip P. Terry’s burgers. Another place we were told to try was P. Terry’s. But honestly? Not great! It was just like crappy fast food. It felt like Shake Shack or In N Out, which I know are a big deal in New York and California respectively, but never seem that impressive to me.
- Need to kill time? Try an escape room! During our long weekend in Austin, we were constantly looking for things to do to kill time between meals. We stumbled upon an escape room off 6th Street and it was actually really fun! And we even managed to escape!
- We didn’t make it there but Barton Springs is supposed to be really cool. In fact, whenever you ask locals for things to do in Austin, they usually suggest places out in nature, like Barton Springs, that are actually outside of the city. Maybe if we had had a car we would’ve headed there.
- That being said, it’s pretty easy to take Lyft everywhere and then walk from there. We would usually take one Lyft ride to our first destination, walk from there for the rest of the day, and then take one Lyft back home. It’s definitely a walkable city and you don’t need a car to enjoy a weekend in Austin.
- Besides our first night at the hotel, we stayed in a room in an Airbnb that was about a 15 minute drive from downtown. Our host was nice, the room was clean and the location was just fine. But it was tough to leave a luxurious hotel room for an Airbnb room. I was seriously considering booking another hotel and canceling our Airbnb! I’m glad I didn’t, because it would’ve been a watse of money, but sometimes you just crave that hotel life!
- Don’t go in the summer. I mean, you do you, but I wouldn’t be caught dead in Texas in the summer. Actually, if I was in Texas in the summer, I would be dead. Going at the end of April/beginning of May was just hot enough for me.
Our weekend in Austin was pretty great. It was nice to go to a city with no expectations and plans besides seeing a few murals and eating all of the food. Austin is a chill city and so we had a chill trip. I’d love to winter in Austin one day – any chance we can make that happen?
Ready for your weekend in Austin?