Keep Austin Weird! The top 10 Places to Stay and Experiences to have while you're there
Out of all of the places that we visited in Texas, Austin truly had the most to offer- from the crazy amount of food trucks and foodie spots that are there, to the perfect conglomeration of city and nature, Austin truly is a cultural hub of Texas that you have to visit. For my fellow Michiganders, Austin reminded me of Ann Arbor on steroids and it really did feel like a home away from home while we were there. The people in the city were some of the nicest we have ever met, and they're very open to providing recommendations and suggestions on where to find the next best thing you'll ever eat (as well as finding some of the best cocktails)! This post is to share with you the best places to stay while you're in Austin, as well as some recommended experiences (and a few free suggestions) to partake in while you're there.
First off, let's start with some recommended places to stay while you're making Austin your home base for a Texas vacation. If you're planning a vacation, these are some of the top-rated AirBnB's in the area that make adventuring into Austin a breeze:
Once you've booked your adorable AirBnB for your trip, check out some of the amazing experiences that Austin has to offer like those offered above, or decide to go on a self-guided adventure to some of the following free activities:
Seeing the Congress Bridge Bats
Each year, over a million and a half (yes 1.5 MILLION!) bats migrate to Austin's Congress Bridge and make it their home between March and October. While we were there in the off-season (December) when we visited, we were still able to catch some of the last bats of the year and could imagine just how awe-inspiring it would be if we were there during peak migration season. The bat show starts around sunset so make sure that you get there a bit early to find a seat or a spot on the boardwalk under the bridge to get your best view. If you're feeling particularly adventurous, you can also book a kayak or canoe trip on the river to get up close and personal with the amazing bats of Austin.
Information on the Congress Avenue Bridge Bats including proper bat etiquette and when the bats are likely to take flight for the night can be found at: https://austinbatrefuge.org/congress-ave-bridge/
Photo Credit: Bats in Austin, www.batsinaustin.com
Go Mural hunting!
There are SO many murals hidden throughout Austin that even if you tried to find them all, I think you'd have a difficult time doing it in just a day! You've likely seen some of the more popular murals in Austin on Instagram or social media, but there's nothing like seeing them in person and getting to take your own picture in front of them. The "Greetings from Austin" mural as well as the "I Love you so much" murals seem to be the front runners in popularity, but just take a look around and you just might find a mural that's been overlooked for some of these more popular ones that you like better.
My absolute favorite mural was the "Before I Die..." mural which is actually found on a person's house in a subdivision! This beautiful homage was actually inspired by the loss of a loved one and the artist decided to make this mural interactive- there are multiple pieces of colored chalk at the mural that allow you to write your bucket list item or dream on the wall to share your dreams to put them out into the universe to make them a reality. Andrew and I really enjoyed this mural, and while we couldn't get a good picture of it because it was nighttime when we went, you'll just have to find this mural on your own and see how truly inspiring it is to read other people's hopes and dreams.
Here's an up-to-date list on the locations of these murals so you can pick out your favorite and head off on a day adventure: https://freefuninaustin.com/your-massive-guide-to-the-best-austin-street-art-graffiti-murals-and-more-2020-edition/
Walk the Shops of soco
While this very likely is NOT going to result in a free excursion (there are just too many wonderful things to buy!), walking the shops of South Congress in Austin will give you a real feel for how unique this city is. Some of our favorite shops included:
- Uncommon Objects (1602 Fortview Rd, Austin, TX 78704)- just like the name implies, you'll find lots of uncommon objects here- and best of all, a lot of them will fit in your suitcase!
- Heritage Boot (1200 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704)- a made-to-order boot store, it's hard to get more Texas than this
- Allens Boots (1522 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704)- so...many...boots. The most boots I've ever seen in one place and if you like the smell of leather, this place is for you!
- Parts and Labour (1704 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704)- a local artisans studio- you never know what you're going to find here
- Yard Dog Inc. (1400 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704)- for those of you interested in some folk-art
- Big Top Candy Shop (1706 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704)- for all of your candy and delectable desires (seriously they had literally every single piece of candy I've ever wanted)
And Finally what you've all been waiting for...
A guide to what to eat in austin- while not free, trust me, the food is hella worth it.
Alright, so you've been on adventures all day, but the real question now is, what the heck should you eat? Well, look no further because I've rounded up some of the best places that Andrew and I ate at while we were in Austin that I would HIGHLY recommend.
- Amy's Ice Creams (Multiple locations but we ended up at the 1301 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704 location a few times due to where our AirBnB was located!)- their brownie sundae with Sweet Cream ice cream was delicious but there are so many flavor combos and profiles that change on the regular, you'll just have to choose what sounds good to you when you get there!
- Cooper's Old Time Pit BBQ (217 Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78701)- do NOT, and I repeat do NOT go here unless you have an empty stomach. And when you get here, make sure to get the brisket and the mac and cheese. Of all the BBQ places we went to in Texas, this was definitely my top one to beat- the meat is served Texas style meaning it gets weighed and wrapped in butcher paper, and you pick whatever sides you like for a separate cost. As always, the bread is complementary, and you better believe that I'm not one to ever turn down free bread where I can make a brisket sandwich. One word, AMAZING.
- Magnolia Cafe (1920 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704)- the place to go on SoCo for breakfast or brunch (or anytime really!)- they have some of the best Tex-Mex dishes! My breakfast consisted of Chicken Enchiladas and I was not sad about it. I'm definitely one who prefers savory over sweet for breakfast, but Andrew loved the Banana Pecan pancakes as well!
- Torchy's Tacos (1822 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704)- when I say I still dream of these tacos ladies and gentlemen...I'm seriously not lying. We went back to Torchy's multiple times so we could try more of their menu, but my favorite tacos were the Green Chile Pork, Fried Avocado, and their Brushfire taco. Add in some of the best flavored sweet teas I've had and it still has my mouth watering. If only they would bring Torchy's to Michigan....sigh.
- Food trucks- we ate at so many that I feel like you really need to be able to pick what you like and what you're feeling like that day. We found the blog: https://www.somuchlife.com/2019/06/best-austin-food-trucks.html/ and used their recommendations to pick what we were feeling like at that day and time!
If you find yourself with some extra time (and a vehicle), I would recommend heading to:
- The Hamilton Pool Preserve- seriously one of the most beautiful locations in Texas that we visited. Andrew and I love nature so we spent a lot of time sitting at the pool and just enjoying the natural beauty of it. And we may also have had an impromptu Jack Links jerky photo shoot since Andrew thought it would be funny to try to get a Jerky endorsement- just an FYI he didn't but we had fun eating jerky!
- A word of caution for those out-of-staters who aren't used to how Texas parks are run- make sure you google the park prior to showing up- many require park passes that are limited in the number that they give out each day. Make sure to book your nature adventure in advance if you don't want to be turned away at the gate due to them reaching capacity!
- The Salt Lick BBQ (18300 Farm to Market Rd 1826, Driftwood, TX 78619)- truly a Texas BBQ experience like no other, this place had some delicious BBQ but Andrew and I were most impressed with the ambience and the gigantic smoker that was in the heart of the restaurant. I recommend the ribs and also buying some of their famous Salt Lick BBQ seasoning to bring back as gifts for all of your loved ones. Just be cautious with this if you're flying home, we were stopped by airport security as the spice jars apparently look like gunpowder to TSA, and if you have ten bottles of it, it looks just a little suspicious. Once they opened our bags and realized we were just smuggling out delicious BBQ spices to Michigan they laughed at us and sent us on our merry way.
- Texas Keeper Cider (12521 Twin Creek Rd, Manchaca, TX 78652)- if you're a fan of hard cider, this is the place to go. With some delicious appetizers to munch on while you're enjoying a game of cornhole and tasting your flight of cider, this was a relaxing and amazing way to end our vacation in Austin the night before we flew out.
- The Cathedral of Junk (You must call in advance of showing up to this attraction to ensure there is parking as there are limited visitors allowed during the day- call Vince at (512-299-7413)- suggested donation $10/group)- this was one of the most random and crazy locations in Austin that we visited. Located in a subdivision, the Cathedral of Junk is exactly what it sounds like (although maybe more artsy and beautiful in it's chaos). Vince has converted his entire back yard into an homage to items that others may only see as junk. There are spots to sit and enjoy the beauty of the junk strewn throughout the cathedral- there are also multiple levels to the structure and we never felt unsafe adventuring within it, and Vince has done a stellar job at piecing this structure together over the years. I wouldn't be surprised if someone built something like this in Ann Arbor soon!
I hope you've found these recommendations on places to stay in Austin Texas along with things to do useful and that you're able to have as amazing of a time as Andrew and I did when we visited. Leave your comments below- did you do something that is an absolute must-see or do adventure while you were in Austin? What about a must-eat location?