The Perfect Weekend in Austin

“Keep Austin weird” has long been the city’s unofficial slogan, which means visitors can expect to find an abundance of fun and unique things to do in the Lone Star capital, even with just three days to spend. Experience Austin like a local: discover where to cool off, find best place to watch the sunset (and the bats), sample delicious craft brews, and listen to the best of the city’s live music scene.

1100 Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78701, USA
Since everything seems bigger in Texas, it’s no surprise that the Texas State Capitol holds the title for largest state capitol building in the union (360,000 square feet of floor space in the main building!). The building is also quite beautiful and houses some historical paintings. The inside of the capitol dome, with a lone star at the apex, is an impressive sight. Stroll the grounds to see fountains, old trees, and sculptures of historical Texas figures. The capitol grounds also offer a great view of downtown to the south and the University of Texas to the north. The Texas landmark is definitely worth a visit on a trip to Austin.
2201 Barton Springs Road
Texas summers are hot! When the heat hits, the people of Austin flock to the Barton Springs Pool to cool off and chill out. The $8 summer entrance fee (for nonresidents) buys you a whole day of fun. Get your hand stamped for reentry if you need to head out to hit one of the many restaurants along Barton Springs Road (food and drinks are not permitted at the springs). The pool is popular year-round because the water temperature remains a constant 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius). The people-watching at the free-spirited pool is spectacular, and you can count on hearing acoustic music and drumming on the lawn.
200 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704, USA
It might be a part of the Colorado River—a man-made reservoir carved out of the river in 1960—but everyone calls the body of water bisecting Austin Lady Bird Lake. On hot summer days, scores of walkers and joggers move along the lakeside paths through nearby Zilker Park, but you can also take to the water by canoe, kayak, water bike, or stand-up paddleboard. You can’t swim here, but the left fork (heading west) in the river will take you to Barton Springs Pool, a popular Austin hangout, where you can splash in the water to your heart’s—and body temperature’s—delight.
1800 Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78701, USA
You’ll find landmarks and historical buildings in states around the country named after presidents, historic figures, and governors, but finding one named after a lieutenant governor is pretty rare. But Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock was a pretty rare character and power broker. The history museum named in his honor is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions and hosts regular exhibits on state history and rotating shows that highlight cultural institutions like Texas high school football (yes, the state takes its high school football very seriously). The museum is also home to an IMAX theater that screens educational and nature documentaries as well as select first-run features. The grounds also host concerts and events throughout the year.
S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704, USA
If you haven’t before seen 1.5 million bats flying out for their nightly feeding at once, now’s your chance. The largest urban bat colony in North America, Austin‘s Congress Avenue Bridge is the home to hundreds of thousands of Mexican free-tail bats from mid-March to mid-October. Every night around sunset, the colony emerges like a black cloud from the crevices underneath the bridge, heading out to feed on millions of bugs around Austin. A beloved tourist attraction since the bats made their home in the bridge during the 1980 renovations, crowds pack the east-facing sidewalk and the park to the south side of the river to watch the nightly exodus. Want more details? Call the Bat Hotline at 416-5700, extension 3636, for exact exodus times. Christian Bale may or may not answer.
2313 Red River Street
This impressive modernist building, designed by architect Gordon Bunshaft, houses the legacy of the 36th president of the United States of America. Central Texas native Lyndon Baines Johnson was one of the most colorful and powerful men in the history of the state of Texas. This 10-story library was dedicated in 1971 and contains 45 million pages of historical documents, 650,000 photos, and 5,000 hours of recordings from President Johnson’s long political career, during which he was involved in highs and lows including landmark achievements in civil rights as well as U.S. military action in Southeast Asia. The library also features exhibits in collaboration with other institutions that touch on other parts of Texas and U.S. history.
4515 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78745, USA
“Everyone from the late blues musician Stevie Ray Vaughan to the Butthole Surfers has played at the Continental Club. Musicians who do big gigs in Austin like to play small shows here afterward,” says Liz Lambert.
915 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78703, USA
Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon is an Austin-owned restaurant serving charcoal-grilled, locally raised chickens, freshly prepared tortas, salads, sides, homemade ice creams, aguas frescas, and a selection of beer and wine. The family-style meals feature the highest quality pasture-raised birds from Vital Farms. Either marinated in achiote and freshly squeezed citrus or rubbed with fresh oregano and cracked pepper, the chicken is grilled slowly over hardwood charcoal and served with house-made tortillas, rice, beans, and fresh salsas. Don’t leave without ordering the cajeta churros for dessert!
1603 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704, USA
Peruse the wooden shelves stacked with coffee table books about art and architecture, take in the sandy beiges of the wicker chairs and the sky-blue pillows and tiled walls, and you may think you’ve fallen into a coastal California dreamscape. The menu at this restaurant inside the über-chic South Congress Hotel also evokes California, with grain bowls, salads topped with lean protein, and fashionable avocado toast. The kitchen, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, doesn’t appeal only to the calorie- or trend-conscious, as evidenced by a great throwback cheeseburger draped with American cheese. Executive pastry chef Amanda Rockman is also one of the main attractions here, with her stunning creations, such as an airy kouign-amann.
1610 San Antonio St, Austin, TX 78701, USA
You’d never know that the little house near the Texas State Capitol building was a restaurant, and its inside resembles a tony private residence. Chef-owner Michael Fojtasek—named one of Food & Wine‘s 2015 Best New Chefs in the restaurant’s first year of operation—has created a menu based on refined Southern dishes. Chilled melon gazpacho with crab salad, elevated ambrosia with granita, hoppin’ John, and grapefruit icebox pie are just a few of the dishes that blend Texas and the South to stunning results.
1501 S 1st St, Austin, TX 78704, USA
Elizabeth street cafe is the charming outpost offering French breakfast bites & creative Vietnamese plates you didn’t know you needed in your life. The menu consists of everything from ho and bun bo hue to sticky rice, banh mi, and chocolate croissant and macaroons. It’s most known for its brunch, but they also server dinner.
1309 Rosewood Avenue
Find smoked meat worth waiting for at this Austin trailer and picnic table setup. While standing in line, keep your fingers crossed that there will be brisket left when you reach the counter, as each party in front seems to order pounds and pounds of barbecue. The pink smoke line runs deep in the brisket, and you can taste it in every bite. The pulled pork is also delicious. It’s hard to squeeze side dishes in, but the cheese grits are worth that extra effort, and if you have room for pie, order it.
1722 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704, USA
The McGuire Moorman Hospitality group has proven time and again that it knows how to develop a concept and deliver it in a stunning thematic package—from the coastal seafood vibes of Perla’s to the handsome brawn of Lamberts Downtown Barbecue. For June’s All Day, the team has blended elements of a French bistro, a New York City wine bar, and a quintessential American diner. The menu, which ranges from chilled artichoke and croque madame to a fried chicken sandwich and cheeseburger, straddles the Atlantic. The restaurant’s namesake, June Rodil, is one of the country’s few female Master Sommeliers, and the smart and engaging wine list, highlighted by more than 30 white and sparkling options, invites guests to stay and sip.
2404 E 7th St, Austin, TX 78702, USA
The Vietnamese banh mi offers everything you’d ever want in a sandwich. It is an explosion of flavors and textures: tangy, crunchy, spicy, and savory. Chef Tebi Nguyen creates this culinary alchemy in an East Austin trailer: He takes pork that’s been marinated in fish sauce, garlic, red shallots, and a touch of honey and pan-sears it, then applies a final char with a blast of a torch. The meat is tucked into a baguette that’s been swiped with mayonnaise, and then showered with a crunchy tangle of cucumbers, jalapeños, and daikon.
7020 Easy Wind Dr, Austin, TX 78752, USA
Owned and managed by a cooperative made up of its workers and the community, Black Star Co-op supports fair wages, sources its ingredients from local farms, and elects its governing board democratically. Sound strident? It isn’t: It manages to have a fun, laid-back atmosphere, and offers a range of house-brewed beers (and a few worthy brews brought in from outside the co-op) as well as a food menu that encompasses both healthy and wicked, both bar snacks and full meals.

1209 E 11th St, Austin, TX 78702, USA
Hillside Farmacy is a farm-to-table restaurant in Austin built around a pharmacy theme. While it may sound odd, the execution is brilliant, with incredible food and wonderfully eclectic design. The restaurant space was formerly the home of a 1920s pharmacy owned by Austin‘s first African-American pharmacist. The decor features authentic apothecary items (from a different 1920s drugstore)—a vintage collection of medicine bottles, antique cash registers, tin ceilings, and wooden cabinets. But it’s the “F” in the deliberately misspelled Farmacy that nods to the emphasis on simple, fresh food. The restaurant works with local food purveyors and regularly changes the menus around the highest-quality seasonal ingredients. Local cheese, homemade pate, artisinal breads and pastries, raw bar, charcuterie are all available here. Dishes include bangers and eggs, buttermilk bisquits and gravy, and bison tartare. Other perks include an old fashioned soda counter and a shaded outdoor patio. If I were a local here, this would definitely be one of my favorite go-to places.
603 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78703, USA
Leading the charge for independent bookstores since it opened in 1970, Book People is legendary for creativity and a strong calendar of events. The store holds frequent author signings—and we’re talking big authors—and book club meetings for all manner of book genres. Those who can’t get to Austin can sign up for a subscription service called Trust Fall in which a new book, handpicked by the staff, arrives in the mail a few times a year. Kids are a special focus here: The store publishes a blog written by its own “teen press corps” and collaborates with librarians around the state to hold the annual Texas Teen Book Festival. Book lovers should not miss visiting this stalwart home of literature, and handily, it’s open a lot: 9 a.m.–11 p.m. every day but Thanksgiving.
1522 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704, USA
When you’re hitting the food truck or restaurant scene on South Congress, be sure to head in to Allens (look for the big red boot) to be wowed by the craftsmanship and the selection. The minute you open the entrance door, the smell of leather hits and you won’t believe your eyes. There are over 4,000 boots on display, while representing 12 boot manufacturers. Trust me, you’ll find your dream pair in there somewhere. Once you’ve got those new boots on, head next door for an award winning cocktail at the South Congress Cafe before heading on over for some line dancing at the Broken Spoke.
600A North Lamar Boulevard
In this modern age of Spotify, iTunes, and Pandora, record stores often seem sad and bitter places. Not so Waterloo, where music lovers—both staff and customers—celebrate the art. Bands playing Austin come in for in-store performances and signings, and you may recognize a few famous faces browsing the new and vintage vinyl and CD sections. As expected at a record store, the staff have big opinions but are friendly, and can help you navigate the 6,400-square-foot space. A highly recommended, if dangerous (prices are very reasonable but the desired objects are many), shopping stop.
1720 S 1st St, Austin, TX 78704, USA
This south Austin mural located on the corner of Annie and South 1st Street is a popular location for travel photos as well as engagement photos (or just cheesin’ out in general). Why not take your photo in front of the mural the next time you find yourself in Austin? Roadhouse Relics that occupies the building where the mural is painted is a super cool gallery displaying the neon artwork of Todd Sanders and is definitely worth a visit!
604 Brazos St, Austin, TX 78701, USA
Austin’s very own grand dame, this landmark hotel opened in 1886 as the city’s first iconic hotel, both a testament to and display of the success of cattle baron Jesse Driskill, who wanted to build his beloved frontier town a palace to rival those in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. The city fared better than Mr. Driskill did; financial troubles forced him to sell the hotel just two years after opening, and he died of a stroke just another two years later. After some initial ups and downs, his hotel ultimately flourished, housing a rotating cast of Texas elite and hosting important political events in Austin—in particular, gubernatorial inaugural balls—in the 20th century. President Lyndon Johnson had an especially close relationship with the hotel, from his first date with his wife to awaiting presidential re-election results in one of the suites.

Multimillion-dollar renovations in 2008 restored the hotel to its original grandeur, maintaining its historic charm alongside all the amenities of a modern luxury hotel. Brave guests might request a room on the reportedly haunted fifth floor. And, no stay at the Driskill is complete without a cocktail in the elegant Driskill Bar, where cattle, oil, or railroad barons would still fit in.
112 Academy Dr, Austin, TX 78704, USA
A compound-like hideaway on a leafy street a block from trendy South Congress Avenue, Hotel Saint Cecilia is a retro-glam love letter to the 1960s and ‘70s rock music scene, named for the patron saint of music and poetry. But that doesn’t mean that rock stars smash guitars and throw ragers here (unless they rent out all 14 rooms, of course); unlike at its nearby sister properties, Hotel San José and Austin Motel, only guests and club members are welcome at the lounge, a laid-back affair with a Parisian-café–style patio, chesterfield sofas and a fireplace indoors, and craft cocktails and gourmet small plates. Between the 1888 Victorian main house—originally inhabited by a descendent of Davy Crockett—and verdant grounds that hide private porches and a serene pool, the hotel feels more like an impossibly stylish artists’ retreat than a celebrity getaway.

Each distinctively decorated room is larger than many an apartment, and seems ripped from the pages of a fashion magazine photoshoot. Every detail has been thought through, from the refreshing Grown Alchemist body care products to the Swedish Hästens mattresses (the hotel is the only one in North America with them in all rooms) to the impressive library of LPs to borrow. Everyone’s a rock star, here.
More From AFAR