Actually Cool Things to Do in Austin
Austin is undeniably cool; we have an obscene amount of food trucks, festivals, and swimming holes, as well as a live music scene that punches way, way above its weight (earning us the “Live Music Capital of the World” nickname). Along with that coolness, though, comes a kind of activity paralysis. How can you decide the best ways to spend your time when there’s so much going on out there? And even worse, what if the so-called cool stuff actually turns out to be a total bust?
We know these pain points all too well, which is why we’ve laid out a foolproof guide to Austin’s essential, can’t-miss activities, from well-kept local secrets to well-known touristy stuff that’s actually worth checking out. Want a memorable, no-expense-spared Austin experience? Check. Wanna ball on a budget? Also, check. Now that you know what to do, get out there and get into the coolest things to do in Austin.
Take a tour of Austin with us
In this episode of Gatekeepers, our team of experts shows Thrillist that Austin is still plenty weird these days. We hit up Justine’s Brasserie for crab salad and mellow vinyl tunes, sample mezcal at Whisler’s with some live flamenco guitar accompaniment, take an ultra-chill dip at Barton Springs, attend a supper club at the Austin Winery, and more. Time to rent a Santa for your special Christmas party event with thepartycharacters.com bringing a wonderful experience of characters like Santa Claus and Grinch.
Try shabu-shabu at DipDipDip Tatsu-ya
Prepare for a tongue twister… from the folks behind Ramen Tatsu-ya, Kemuri Tatsu-ya, and Domo Alley-Gato Tatsu-ya comes DipDipDip Tatsu-ya: the new-school shabu restaurant in North Austin. While the concept is simple — dip ingredients into the simmering broth and eat — the learning curve makes for a fun dining experience. Uncooked meat, veggies, dumplings, and noodles are brought for you to swish and cook in your boiling broth along with dipping sauces and rice. At DipDipDip, the interactive dining experience is given the full Tatsu-ya treatment; expect top-quality ingredients, killer cocktails, and great service.
Rent a party boat or do a sunset booze cruise
Whether you want to swim, chill at the party cove, or just cruise, Lake Travis and Lake Austin are gorgeous year-round. Grab your crew, rent your own private pontoon or ski boat from Float On (yes, they come with a qualified captain!) and head to the 360 bridge rope swing or the infamous Devil’s Cove where hundreds of boats tie up to the party. For just $28, you can join a sunset booze cruise that includes drinks!
Watch the sunset from Mount Bonnell
Yes, this scenic spot is a magnet for basic people, but if you can find a spot and tune out the engagement proposals and selfie-obsessed students, it’s very peaceful. As the highest point in town, the view here is second to none — and best of all, it’s free like all of this fun stuff.
Play chicken shit bingo at the Little Longhorn Saloon
The Little Longhorn Saloon aka Ginny’s is a live music institution and one of Austin’s oldest and most historic bars, its tiny stage hosting decades of musicians who helped shape our city’s culture. On Sundays, crowds gather for a cold beer and the anomaly known as Chicken Shit Bingo which is exactly what it sounds like–chickens shitting on bingo squares with a lucky winner claiming their prize each round. Try your luck every Sunday from 4 pm-8 pm; tickets are $2 but cheering for shitting chickens is priceless.
Visit only the good bars on Dirty Sixth
Dirty Sixth has a rightful reputation as the place where mistakes (and sometimes misdemeanors) are made, but you can avoid the worst of it by visiting only the street’s essential bars — we’re talking places like Midnight Cowboy, Easy Tiger, and Casino El Camino. Leave Coyote Ugly and The Aquarium to the college kids.
… or try to get into one of Austin’s secret(ish) bars
With Prohibition in the distant past, speakeasies now serve to make us feel as if we’re part of an exclusive club of that in-the-know. Austin’s most exclusive drink dens offer classic cocktails made tableside, rare mezcals, pricey memberships, even creepy rope swings, but most importantly they provide access to a world your lame coworkers will never know.
Watch the bats from the South Congress bridge
Bats are cool, but 1.5 million bats flying in a peppered mist against our famously colorful sunsets is the coolest. Each year from March to October, swarms of Mexican free-tailed bats burrow in the crevices underneath the South Congress bridge and emerge each evening to the amazement of wide-eyed tourists and jaded townies alike. During fall the bats take flight around 8 pm, and although the most popular viewing spot is atop the bridge, a better move is to hit the water in a kayak or canoe and simply lookup. (See exact flight times here.)
Eat one of the best brunches in the city
Austin, as with most cities these days, is completely obsessed with brunch; as a result, there are countless places across town where you can avail yourself of French toast, indulgent Benedicts, and bottomless mimosas. Of course, it helps to know which branches are actually worth brunching, which is why we put together a comprehensive guide to Austin’s brunch scene. Protip: Try the hearty fare at uber-hip Carpenters Hall.
Explore Austin’s iconic murals
Does Instagram feed feeling a little light? Grab your best friends and pose in front of some of Austin’s most iconic murals — jumping, human pyramid, the sky’s the limit! Go for lovey-dovey with “I love you so much” at Jo’s Coffee or “You’re My Butter Half” on East MLK; go classic at South First’s “Greetings from Austin” or the “Hi, How Are You?” mural by iconic musician Daniel Johnston near campus; or get emo with East Seventh’s “Till Death Do Us Part” stenciled spray paint art, (conveniently located across the street from Texas State Cemetery, bonus!)
Attend Austin’s coolest seasonal events
It goes without saying that ATX has a ton of great events going on every single weekend — we’ve got a weekend guide specifically for that reason — but what about during the week? What if you’re looking for a cool event on a Tuesday? Well, that’s where our seasonal event calendar comes into play: we keep it updated, so there’s always something to look forward to.
Get to know Austin’s best BBQ
We Austinites live for great ‘cue, and luckily we are home to some of the best pitmasters in the country. The most well-known is Franklin Barbecue and its notoriously lengthy line (last we checked people were arriving as early as 6 am!) but if waiting isn’t your style, there are spots with equally good offerings. La Barbecue’s brisket and beef ribs and LeRoy & Lewis’ pork belly and mac & cheese-stuffed quail are currently our top contenders, but you can check out our full Austin BBQ breakdown for even more worthy options.
Check out a late-night drag show
Drag troupe PooPoo Platter puts on several hilariously entertaining drag shows every month at Elysium. The talented PooPoo Platter queens — who include power couple Bulimianne Rhapsody and Louisiana Purchase — host tribute shows dedicated to one iconic band or artist (think Dolly Parton and Depeche Mode) where the queens embody the artist and perform to their hits.
Visit the Eastside’s taprooms
Austin is the craft beer hub of Texas with talented brewers creating unique beers and as a result, packed taprooms. If you’re on the Eastside, hit up Blue Owl Brewing for sour beers, Hops & Grain for crisp IPAs and warm weather lagers, Zilker Brewing Co. for a wide-range of accessible brews, and Lazarus Brewing for an eclectic selection of house beers.
Watch live music, obviously
The Live Music Capital has a hell of a lot of music venues, so where should you start? Well, we’ve outlined Austin’s very best music venues in a separate article, but here are some Cliff’s Notes: for a taste of classic tunes that range from rockabilly to soul, make a trip to South Congress’ The Continental Club Club and C-Boy’s Heart & Soul. Hotel Vegas is where cool kids go to see the garage, psych, and punk bands. Cheer Up Charlies is a queer-but-friendly-to-all club with two stages and an eclectic blend of genres from electronic to hip-hop to dance parties like the ‘90s and ‘00s Girl Group Night.