Few cities are as exciting and memorable as Austin, the State Capitol of Texas. You should probably try to spend more than two days there yet if that is all the time you can spare, it promises to be an action-packed couple of days.
There are so many activities on offer that you may find yourself booking another trip simply to fit them in. From natural landscapes to see to delicious barbecue and Tex-Mex food you simply have to try, Austin has something for all of the senses.
As the Lone Star State is so huge and the city of Austin commands a large metropolitan area, you should rent a car if you can.
In this guide, we will provide you with the perfect two-day itinerary for a weekend in Austin, Texas.
Your first day in any new city should include learning about its history and culture. In Austin, that should include an early morning walk about simply to get your bearings.
The Plan – Learn About Austin’s Heritage And Culture
To get a better idea of the city itself, head to some of its museums and galleries to learn a few things.
Top of your list should be the Texas State Capitol Building that dominates part of downtown and you could spend some time walking the grounds or stepping inside.
This is the seat of government in Austin and the red granite building forms some of the most stunning architecture in the city.
There are regular tours on weekdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. However, you could take a self-guided tour to explore at your own pace.
Next up should be The Bullock Texas State History Museum which provides an in-depth look at the city’s heritage and past. Not only that, you could learn so much about the state of Texas too.
For a bit more culture, you can spend a few hours at the Blanton Museum of Art to take a look at their European and Latin American art.
Then there is The Contemporary Austin Jones Center which is two museums in one and highlights modern art from across the globe.
Once you have decided which buildings and museums to visit you should fuel up for your big day ahead.
That should mean breakfast tacos and there are plenty of Tex-Mex options to choose from to tempt you away from cereal and toast.
The breakfast tacos typically come full of scrambled eggs, melted cheese, bacon, and seasoned potatoes. To get some, that could simply mean a trailer or a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
For a trailer or restaurant, try to find one from Veracruz All Natural as you can order for takeout to save you some time. Taco Joint also has the takeout order in advance facility, both online and over the phone.
Then again, there is Taco Mex which has a walk-in window as one of those traditional, old-fashioned ways of getting fed.
For strong coffee, head to Jo’s Coffee at 1300 South Congress Avenue and order a ‘Turbo’ which is a cold coffee drink that’s also sweet and creamy.
Take A Walk Around
Yes, there is so much to gain from heading into a museum or the State Capitol Building but Austin offers a lot simply from walking the streets.
The city is well-known for its street art so if you want to take a few photos for the ‘Gram from your visit then in front of a mural is the best place to do it.
You can start outside Jo’s Coffee after your coffee with the ‘I Love You So Much’ mural which is so typically Austin.
The words were actually written over a decade ago by the partner of the owner of Jo’s Coffee. It may prove simple simply to head to the cultural sites of interest and then have a short walk around.
Between North and South Austin, as well as downtown, there are plenty of murals to keep an eye out for.
There are guided tours yet try to make a list of the ones you want to find then work out the best route depending on where you intend to go during the day.
Some of the ones to look out for include ‘Be Here Now’ at New Austin Hotel, ‘You’re My Butter Half’ at 2000 East Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard, and ‘You Make My Heart Sing’ at 301 West Riverside Drive.
Perhaps the most notorious mural to find in Austin is the ‘Hi, How Are You’ one at Guadalupe Street and 21st Street.
It was created by the musician, Daniel Johnston, as an album cover and has remained there since 1993. Then there is the ‘Greetings from Austin’ mural on Annie Street which is perfect for those photos that also act as postcards.
The Afternoon – Cafés And Bats
You can choose between checking out some more museums or simply grabbing some lunch.
For museums, try the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library which is a couple of blocks from the Bullock Texas State History Museum.
There are several lunch options including the 1886 Café and Bakery at the Driskill Hotel for an old-timey vibe amidst sandwiches, soup, or salad yet the main drawer is a slice of their 1886 Chocolate Cake.
You could also try Texas Chili Parlor for a traditional taste of Tex-Mex, as well as chili they also serve enchiladas and tamales.
As sunset draws in, make sure you are close to South Congress Bridge as there should be a crowd of people.
Around dusk, you should see the largest urban bat colony on the planet come out for nighttime feeding time. That’s hundreds of thousands of bats, Mexican free-tailed ones to be exact.
There are various vantage points including on South Congress Bridge itself or on a bat kayak tour on Lady Bird Lake, even on the lawn underneath the bridge alongside Lady Bird Lake.
Once you have seen the bats go off to feed, it should be time for your evening meal too. If you are yet to have enough of Tex-Mex cuisine then head to Iron Cactus on the corner of Trinity and Sixth Street.
As well as serving some of the most contemporary Mexican cuisine in Texas, they are also known as being one of the top tequila bars in the country.
While you are enjoying your meal and tequila, you can also gaze at one of the most formidable views of the Austin skyline.
While you may have to wait a few hours to get served, you should try your best to try the wares of Franklin Barbecue. That may include waiting to be seated or you could order in advance and take out some of their delicious barbecue.
As the night draws in, you could spend more time going through the tequila menu at Iron Cactus or you could simply head down Sixth Street.
There are several speakeasies that you should try including Eden Cocktail Room which is found from an inauspicious doorway.
The Jackalope might be one of those bars that only the locals in Austin want to know about due to the Eighties apparel on show and the cheeseburgers.
After getting to know the city of Austin, it should be time to get back to nature. There are several spots to do as Austin has so many parks and lakes to choose from.
The Plan – Get Back To Nature
After another hearty Tex-Mex breakfast, head to the grocery store to stock up on picnic snacks.
You should also look to pack a picnic blanket and plenty of hydration to sit under the shade and grab a drink. This is especially important in summer as conditions may be unbearably hot close to midday.
For, what may be, a welcome switch from Tex-Mex cuisine you should head to Snooze Eatery on South Lamar, North Lamar, and East 5th Street.
Though they do have Tex-Mex items on the menu, they also have pancakes, eggs, French toast, and breakfast sandwiches. You may want to get your fill as there should be hikes and plenty of sunshine during the rest of the day.
Head To The Natural Sites
With a picnic packed away, you should be ready to head out and enjoy the natural sites that Austin has to offer. That should include a hike up Mount Bonnell to see a wondrous view of the city itself.
When heading to Mount Bonnell, take a car and use the staircase on the right when you arrive at the parking lot then climb the stairs and follow the path all the way until you see the view of Austin’s skyline.
If you need a caffeine boost then head to Mozart’s Coffee Roasters on Lake Austin Boulevard on your way back to the city.
Once back in the city, you can try some more of those natural sites including Zilker Metropolitan Park & Botanical Gardens while there is also Zilker Hillside Theater for some outside concerts, productions, and musicals.
If the weather is warm during the day, especially during summer, then take a dip in Barton Springs Pool. The water should remain a consistent temperature between 68 and 70 degrees as it is fed by a natural spring.
For another fabulous water source, head to Lady Bird Lake and try some kayaking or even some paddle boarding.
Should you still have the energy, opt for a hike during the afternoon as it should be cooler but just as rewarding. You could try the ten-mile stretch that surrounds Lady Bird Lake, though you could easily go round on a bike too.
Another trail that you can ride a bike on or hike is the Barton Creek Greenbelt that starts at Barton Creek Pool and extends for around seven miles. There’s the Roy and Ann Butler Hike and Bike Trail that includes several phenomenal views of Austin.
For an activity with a bit more culture while you walk, try the Umlauf Sculpture Garden which is ideally placed to Zilker Metropolitan Park.
This is an ideal opportunity to gain some relief from the city if it proves to be too busy depending on the time of year. However, if you do head back into the city itself, especially downtown, you can head on a food tour.
There are also many breweries that are clamoring for your attention and there are craft beer tours to hit some of the best ones too.
The area of South Congress Avenue, or SoCo as it is locally known, is arguably the trendiest part of Austin.
During the afternoon you can enjoy the boutique vintage shops but it is also a great place to grab some dinner.
Two of the best places to eat are Torchy’s Tacos and Magnolia Cafe which are ideally placed as they are next to each other.
Torchy’s Tacos is ideal if you are yet to get your fill of Tex-Mex but if you need a break from it then Magnolia Cafe offers some great home-style cooking.
For a meal that can act as a final goodbye to the city of Austin, you should dress in your finest glad rags.
One of the finest restaurants that the city has to offer is Barley Swine which typically includes a seasonal tasting menu for your delectation.
The restaurant proves to be so popular that you will likely have to make a reservation. It is worth it for the delicious farm-to-table meals that their award-winning chefs create.
You should opt to spend your final night in Austin by having some fun and sampling the nightlife.
Closer to the weekend, Sixth Street pretty much becomes a block party. As the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ that should mean finding a few bars and sampling some live music.
Your first port of call should be The Continental Club which is essentially an institution amongst the locals. There’s also Maggie Mae’s which features a rooftop bar if you want to get some fresh air with your drink of choice.
Rainey Street can be a bit more laid back if Sixth Street proves to be a little overbearing as it has more old houses that are now bars.
If you want to get amongst it then find a bar that offers dance lessons for free too. That is if you really want to learn the Texas two-step, and you only need a few hours.
Such renowned honky-tonks in the Texas style include The White Horse and The Broken Spoke.
How The Seasons Affect Austin
Working out when you want to visit Austin should be a case of weighing up the pros and cons.
One of those factors is undoubtedly the season as the climate does vary in Austin, by quite a lot. From the heat in the depths of summer to the changes of the leaves in fall.
Should you choose to arrive in Austin during spring, you should be rewarded with pleasant weather.
The city also livens up as South by Southwest Festival transforms the city and its bars come March. Essentially, any bar that could put bands on does during the music and film festival that is held in the city every March.
If you like hot temperatures then you should enjoy Austin in summer. However, that’s not for everyone as it can get unbearably hot at certain times. That may mean enduring temperatures beyond 100 degrees so be careful how long you stay out in the sun.
This is also the time when the city springs to life as people head to the natural swimming holes, parks, and hiking trails.
The season of fall should still be exciting in Austin, namely as this is when the students return to the city and a new intake occurs.
The city still remains a college city due to the huge University of Texas at Austin campus that forms part of the metropolitan area.
Due to that proximity, the bars and restaurants should be full of students and the music scene should be one to behold.
That includes Austin City Limits Music Festival that occurs in October and has featured the likes of Arctic Monkeys and Paul McCartney in recent years.
You can also rely on the traditional aspects of fall that include corn mazes, pumpkin patches, and a few horseback rides.
While winter may still be comparably mild in Austin, the city can still experience the odd cold snap.
That may not mean a polar vortex like you could get in New York City yet it may still be uncomfortably cold. That’s why winter is the best time to get to Austin for indoor activities like taking in a few museums and galleries.
There will also be Christmas light displays to enjoy once you wrap up warm.
The city of Austin is well equipped for a two-day trip as there is so much to see and do. From your own mural tour to a hike up Mount Bonnell or an afternoon in the shade at Zilker Metropolitan Park.
There are some fabulous restaurants or speakeasies if you simply want an evening bar-hopping. A lot of Austin is set on the water including kayaking on Lady Bird Lake or heading for a dip in Barton Springs Pool.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city then head to Texas Hill Country which has its own breweries as well as waterfalls. The area is also popular if you want to see some of the small towns that Texas is famous for.
There is also the Lyndon Baines Johnson Ranch Tour where you can gain a greater glimpse into the former President’s life. Then there are the hip, fun towns of Fredericksburg and Luckenbach.
Hamilton Pool is another great spot for swimming and is in Dripping Springs which is around a 25 minute-drive away from Austin to the west.
If you do visit Dripping Springs you are pretty much obliged to visit Salt Lick BBQ. This is ideal if you want to try some delicious barbecue around an open fire, you can even order the barbecue you want online.
The towns of Georgetown and Wimberley are well worth a visit too.
For an ideal view of the bats on South Congress Bridge, book yourself a river cruise. Capital Cruises offers a Bat Watching Tour which is internationally famous and departs around an hour before sunset.
You can book one between March and early November though the best viewing is between July and early October.
Other options for river cruises include a private dinner cruise (also with Capital Cruises), another is with Lone Star Riverboat and goes down Lady Bird Lake.
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