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Austin's In-Town Attractions and Easy Day Trips

Austin should never be compared to Portland. Yes, each is a college town and a little full of themselves while beautiful in its own right. But the hippy-dippy nonsense that Portland is famous for can't exist in Texas. In Austin, a vegan may very well have a gun rack in their truck. Visiting Austin is an adventure and one that you should both look forward to ahead of your arrival and again when you have pledged to return.

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01 Enjoy a night out on 6th Street

Formerly Pecan Street, Sixth Street is known as Dirty Sixth to locals. This nook of Downtown Austin has been a bustling entertainment district since the 1970s, and it's a significant factor in making Austin the world's live music capital. East Sixth Street hosts biker rallies, arts and craft markets, and many events during the famous South by Southwest festival. But it's a special place any time of year with a vibrant atmosphere, copious watering holes, and retail outlets.

02 Visit the State Capitol

Visiting the State Capitol will leave you feeling impressed and more than a little patriotic. The Lone Star State's capitol building is, like everything Texas-sized, the largest in the nation, and painted with natural light. Take a free guided or self-guided tour and look for ornate details like the brass door hinges. See if you can tell what the chandelier light bulbs in the House of Representatives Chamber spell. The grounds cover 22 acres, and you can picnic on the manicured lawns.

03 Go on a food tour of Austin

An Austin food tour is a mouthwatering prospect that runs the gamut from humble food trucks to bougie eating places. A food tour will give you a taste of barbecue styles from all over the state. The one common factor? Beef reigns supreme. Franklin Barbecue knows how to slow-cook meat, and Lambert's is all about the punch of flavor. The Chi'lantro truck does a Korean version with kimchi fries and bulgogi. Regarding fine dining, Austinites have it good with boundary-pushing chefs like sushi master Tyson Cole and James Beard-acknowledged baker Mariela Camacho of Comadre Panadería. Try the Mexican restaurant La Condesa while you're in town.

04 Explore the Texas Hill Country

The Edwards Plateau region is threaded with canyons, creeks, and undulating hills—the ideal backdrop for a countryside getaway. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area has magical views, Hamilton Pool is postcard-perfect, and you won't go wrong with a visit to Garner State Park either. You can hop on an Alpine Coaster or 16-story zipline, too—there's something for everyone in the Hill Country.

05 Birdwatching and nature walks at McKinney Falls State Park

Escape the city and find a moment of zen at McKinney Falls State Park, just 20 minutes from central Austin. Nature beckons, so go on a solitary retreat or take some company for a dip in the swimming hole. You'll feel like you're on the moon, if not quite over it, near the Lower Falls, where the rock surface looks faintly lunar. Enjoy fishing, biking, hiking, and camping. Many of the paths are stroller-friendly, and none of the hikes exceed an hour and a half, so you can get active without too much of a commitment. The Homestead and Flint Rock trails involve crossing the slippery creek, so take a pair of aqua shoes. You'll spot turtles and other wildlife, including feathered cuties like the northern cardinal, the painted bunting, and the blue jay. A word to the wise—don't go swimming after the rains because the water quality does deteriorate.

06 Eat all the breakfast tacos

If you ask Austinites where they get their favorite breakfast tacos, you should expect to get at least half a dozen excellent options, which is helpful because the adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day is made considerably less of a chore and something fun to do when you realize that tacos are, indeed, breakfast food.

There is no city in the world where this is embraced more than Austin, save maybe for San Antonio. Many conversations can be had about who serves the best breakfast taco, and no answer is correct. Whether they be a Tex-Mex creation of BBQ and flour tortillas or simple beans, cheese, and eggs, Austin appreciates the tortilla-fed fuel you'll need to get through a day of adventure and sightseeing.

07 Take a dip in Barton Springs Pool

Man-made and nature fed, this 1,000-foot pool is a must at any time of the day to escape the heat. Swim, fish, and do what you will with this unique addition to the urban landscape of Austin. There are few pools in the world that make a visit so memorable.

08 Head out to Mount Bonnell

If there is a better make-out point in Texas, please comment. The Colorado River and downtown Austin are on full display on this easy hike. Have a list of things to do while in Austin? Take it with you and put things in perspective with this easy overlook hike. Austin has an annoying habit of being far too hot, so go early or go late to take in this fantastic vantage point.

09 Shop South Congress and take in the bats under the bridge

South Congress affords a wealth of shopping and dining options. However,  at dusk, the neighborhood explodes to life, with roughly 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats leaving their home under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge and taking flight. From early spring to October/November, depending on the weather, the largest urban bat colony takes to the night skies in a performance of mammalian flight. Whether you're on the bridge, under the bridge, or on a boat, it's a truly breathtaking experience that shouldn't be missed.

10 Discover the Hamilton Pool Preserve

Hamilton Pool is located in Dripping Springs, only 23 miles outside of Austin. An underwater river feeds the spring that fills the limestone pool with cool fresh water. The result is this hidden natural oasis with an abundant ecosystem tucked into the hill country. It attracts many visitors and is so popular that reservations are required from March through September.

11 Festivals, Festivals, Festivals

They do everything bigger and Texas, but Austin does festivals better than all of the cities that dare compete, with the possible exception of New Orleans. Whether South by Southwest, a Texas wine festival, or a barbecue extravaganza, it's worth doing your homework to decide when to visit Austin to make sure you're a part of the way this city rolls.

12 It's all about the BBQ

You could argue that the true home of barbecue in Texas is in Denton. You would also be foolish not to enjoy some of Austin's offerings. It's Texas, so BBQ means beef, and Austin has been a city where chefs flock to. The humble fire pit becomes a cauldron of smoky genius in Austin.

13 Explore the wonders of New Braunfels

New Braunfels is a modern city with small-town charm and is known for the beautiful Comal River, which flows right through the middle of town. Visitors enjoy floating down this river, with its clear and calm, spring-fed water. Canyon Lake is also close by and boasts plenty of fishing and water sports opportunities. In addition, summertime fun can be found at Schlitterbahn Waterpark, where all ages can relax in the lazy river, ride the water slides, and enjoy the kid's waterpark.

14 Let Fredericksburg enchant you

Fredericksburg is home to a few unique attractions, such as the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, a giant rock dome composed of pink granite. Visitors enjoy camping, stargazing, hiking, and other activities at this 1,644-acre park. The town is also home to the Old Tunnel Bat Colony, where 3 million Mexican free-tail bats live in an abandoned railroad tunnel. The National War Museum of the Pacific is also located here and educates visitors about WWII with modern technology and displays.

15 Wander over to Wimberly

Wimberly is well-known for the popular swimming spot in Jacob's Well Natural Area. The round pond has a 30-foot drop that entices visitors to jump in from the rocks above. Many also visit the nearby Blue Hole Regional Park for activities such as hiking, swimming, and fishing. Visitors can discover tours and wine-tasting events at several wineries and vineyards in the surrounding area.

16 Stay a while in La Grange

La Grange is home to many notable attractions, such as the unique Texas Quilt Museum and The Jersey Barnyard. Most striking, perhaps, are the breweries and historic buildings in the town, such as The Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Sites. Visitors can see the ruins of one of the first breweries in the state and a monument for two battles fought against Mexico in 1842.

17 Enjoy a few eastside taprooms

People in Texas always claim theirs is better. It's just part of being Texan. However, this boisterous nonsense comes to a screeching halt when it comes to craft beer. Everyone knows Austin does it best, and there are few willing to raise a contrary opinion. On the eastside alone, you have Blue Owl, Hops & Grain, Zilker, and others vying for the most people enjoying a cold beer in the same room each day.

18 Play some Pinball

Unless you're watching Happy Days reruns, there has likely not been a pinball machine in your life for quite some time. Enter Pinballz Arcade and its collection of nearly 300 vintage pinball machines that will bring out your inner child coupled with an adult's sensibilities as you push the limits between a tilt and a free game.

19 Check out Longhorn Caverns

Longhorn Caverns, a short drive outside of Austin, has been home to numerous soldiers in the many wars that have befallen Texas over the years. This phenomenal limestone cavern was even a speakeasy during prohibition. Take a tour where you will learn the history of the outlaws, deserters, and more that have called this massive cave home over the years.

20 Live music is the lifeblood of Austin

Stubb's, Valhalla, Mohawk, Cheer Up Charlies, and Cb's Lounge are just a few of the clubs that anchor the Red River Cultural District of Austin. You don't need a festival celebrating music to celebrate music in Austin, no matter the day of the week. SXSW is certainly a happening event, but Austin doesn't slow its love of live music for the rest of the year.

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