Table of Contents
Where Is Austin
Howdy from Texas! This was state #46 for me on my 50 States Challenge! I still can’t believe Texas was one of my last 5 states, but WOW this weekend trip to Austin was worth the wait. Texas is HUGE! There’s several major cities in Texas including Houston, Dallas / Fort Worth, San Antonio, Corpus Cristi, and of course the focus of today’s post – the capital of Texas – Austin. Austin is located centrally in Texas along the Colorado River. Austin is located 200 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, 200 miles southwest of Dallas, 162 miles west of Houston, and 90 miles north of San Antonio.
Fun Fact: Austin is named after the founder of the city, Stephen F. Austin, and was established as the capital of Texas in 1839.
Best Time Of Year For A Weekend Trip To Austin
Like most other southern cities, Austin is the hottest between June and August. Weather is more favorable during the fall months between September and November, making the autumn peak season in Austin. The spring season is another enjoyable season to visit as the weather is usually in the 70s – 80s, but March – May is another peak season for travel to Austin. Shoulder season is November – February where prices are the lowest.
Aside from climate, you should also factor Austin’s event calendar into your trip planning. While there are countless events in Austin, the two most popular are Austin City Limits and South by Southwest. The Austin City Limits Music Festival is an annual music festival held in Zilker Pak each October. It takes place over the course of two consecutive three-day weekends. South by Southwest, abbreviated SXSW, is an annual conglomeration of film, interactive media, music, and conferences that takes place every March.
How To Get To Austin, Texas
The easiest way to get to Austin is by plane, although flights can be a bit expensive. The main, international airport located here is Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA). It’s located about 5 miles southeast of Downtown Austin, and is an easy Uber ride from downtown.
Austin is a 3 hour drive from Dallas, about 2 hours from San Antonio, and is 3 hours from Houston. If train travel is more your speed, you can hop onboard the Texas Eagle which travels from Chicago to San Antonio, passing through St. Louis, Austin, and Dallas.
How To Get Around Austin
As the saying goes, everything truly is bigger in Texas! The state is sooo large, the cities are too. Austin is extremely spread out and consists of several different neighborhoods. There’s downtown which is where the skyscrapers are located, there’s East Austin, South Austin where South Congress is located (more on this below – you won’t want to miss this spot!), and several more – these are just the most visited neighborhoods. Once in these neighborhoods, most restaurants and attractions are within walking distance to one another, but if you’re looking to hop around neighborhoods, you will need a car. Luckily, my friend Lily had a car we were able to use throughout the weekend, but if you’re just visiting, I definitely recommend renting one.
Austin is also super bike friendly and has more electric scooters than I’ve seen in any other city. These are a popular way to cruise downtown and can be a pretty affordable method of transportation. Just be careful if you ride one – they are dangerous in the streets with fast moving cars.
Where To Stay In Austin
As mentioned above, I was visiting a friend in Austin, so we were able to stay in her apartment in South Austin. We didn’t stay at a hotel, but we did visit a few, so here are three recommendations, ranging from budget accommodation to more luxury:
Budget ($): Firehouse Hostel
Nestled in the heart of downtown Austin, this affordable hostel features a craft cocktail lounge located within the city’s oldest standing fire station, which was built in 1885.
Mid-Range ($$): East Austin Hotel
This boutique hotel is locally owned, operated, and loved in the East Austin neighborhood. It’s a 5 block walk from downtown and has a pool! The bohemian decor here is also a dream.
Luxury ($$$): Austin Motel
Don’t be fooled by the word “motel” here, this retro hotel is super trendy and is in one of the best locations in the city. The Austin Motel is right in the South Congress (SOCO) neighborhood and is an iconic location for photos.
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3 Day Austin Weekend Itinerary
Day 1 In Austin:
Brunch at PaperBoy
The very first thing my friends and I did on our first full day in Austin was grab brunch in East Austin at a sweet restaurant that was recommended to me called PaperBoy. I knew it looked cute from pictures online, but this place was truly divine. The service was impeccable – our waitress took a few minutes to walk through the entire menu and share her favorites, and the food was SO good. Turns out everything here is farm to table and is locally produced. There’s tons of street parking around here, so definitely browse around after brunch. There’s cocktails here too, and a roof deck and patio.
Address: 1203 E 11th St, Austin, TX 78702
Capitol Building in Austin
From brunch, my friend Ruth and I hopped back in the car and drove 4 minutes down the road to the Capitol Building. Whether politics is your thing or not, add a stop here to your list. The Texas State Capitol is the largest in the US. It’s quite impressive – especially up close! Located in downtown Austin, the building houses the offices and chambers of the Texas Legislature and the Governor of Texas. The grounds here are equally as impressive as the building itself, so spend sometime strolling past the various statues.
Pro-tip: There are free Capitol tours offered to guests Monday – Friday from 9:30 – 3:30 pm and on Saturdays and Sundays from 12:30 – 3:30 pm.
Address: 1100 Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78701
South Congress Murals
Our next stop was the South Congress (SOCO) neighborhood to check out some of Austin’s most iconic murals! South Congress is known for its hip boutiques, trendy hotels, and Austin-original eateries. This street also boasts one of the best unobstructed views of the Capitol building. The mural I was most excited to photograph here was the “Love from Austin” mural (pictured below), which is located on the side of the Magnolia Cafe and the Prima Dora store. The “Greetings from Austin” mural is also nearby at 1702 S. 1st Street. The other two popular ones are:
- Texas mural @ 6th and I-35
- “You’re my Butter Half” @ 2000 E MLK Jr. Blvd
Address: 1920 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704
Shop at the Domain
We knew we’d return to the SOCO area more throughout the weekend for dinner and drinks, so we left after the murals and a few shops for the Domain. This is why you need a car in Austin! We were able to zip all around.
The Domain is an office park, residential area, and giant retail center located in northwest Austin. It’s a part of the Simon Malls Group and has tons of stores and restaurants. We had fun scoping out the shops here and also grabbing a refreshing smoothie at Juiceland. These are located all around Austin, so be sure to grab a fresh juice or smoothie at one of the locations during your visit.
Pro-tip: The street parking here was hard to come by, so I would recommend the garages. They’re free to park in if you’re shopping!
Address: 11410 Century Oaks Terrace, Austin, TX 78758
Lunch at the original Whole Foods
By now, you’re probably ready for some more food. While this may not be a Michelin-star rated restaurant, it is a fun recommendation for your weekend in Austin. Did you know that Whole Foods was founded right here in Austin, Texas? In the 1980s, John Mackey and Renee Lawson from Safer Way Natural Foods, and Craig Weller and Mark Skiles, the owners of Clarksville Natural Grocery, came together from the natural foods industry to launch the supermarket. The original Whole Foods Market opened in 1980 with a staff of 19. You can still shop at and dine in the food court area at this location.
Address: 525 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78703
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
If botanical gardens are your thing, this is the spot for you. You’ll hear a lot about “Lady Bird” during your time in Austin. Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson was the First Lady of the US from 1963 – 1969 and was the wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson. She was a proud Austin native and consistently interacted with Congress. Most notably, she advocated for beautifying the nation’s cities and highways and eventually got the Highway Beautification Act to pass; informally known as “Lady Bird’s Bill”.
The wildflower center is operated by the University of Texas (try to catch a home game during your weekend in Austin!) and uses native plants to restore and create sustainable landscapes. The center inspires the conservation of native plants through their gardens, research, education, and outreach iniative programs – all of which were started by Lady Bird herself in 1982. The tickets here cost $15 for adults and are free for UT students and faculty.
Address: 4801 La Crosse Ave, Austin, TX 78739
For dinner tonight, I recommend Tex-Mex! Austin has some of the best food ever, especially since it’s so close to the Mexican border. The tacos and quesadillas here are like no other. After refreshing at my friends apartment and grabbing dinner, we kicked off our night out at Texas’s most famous honky-tonk – Broken Spoke.
Let me tell you about these dance halls.
First of all, sure they have bars and serve drinks, but they are not bars. They are dance halls. Meaning there’s traditional live country music playing, and everyone is dancing. There’s a certain etiquette about the dance floor too that was a shocker for me coming from Boston – no drinks are allowed on the dance floor, you can’t line dance (never mind just moving your hips or jumping up and down), and the Texas Two step is the go-to. Couples dance together in a circle and take it pretty seriously. The dance floor is cleared between songs, and couples were swinging each other around like it was Dancing With The Stars. It’s not like a regular night out, but you would be remiss to overlook this Austin, TX weekend gem. The Broken Spoke is where George Strait was founded and has been serving drinks since 1964.
Address: 3201 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704
The second most popular honky-tonk in Austin is White Horse. We Ubered here after hanging out at Broken Spoke earlier on in the night. White Horse definitely was more happening and had a bit of a younger crowd. We also liked this area more because there are several bars near here to hop around to. Again, everyone clears the dance floor for the Texas Two Step. If you’re female and you’re standing on the edge of the dance floor circle looking somewhat available, prepare to be asked for a dance. At the end, the men tip their cowboy hats and thank you for the dance. The men in Boston would never… let’s just say this was a first.
There was a deck here, photo booth, fun drinks, and even a taco truck. Don’t miss it!
Address: 500 Comal St, Austin, TX 78702
The last bar I recommend in this area is Hotel Vegas. This place is HUGE! And was popping. The front is a deceivingly small club area, with strobes and a DJ. If this isn’t your scene, don’t worry – walk outside to the back where you’ll be greeted by multiple outdoor bars, string lights, and tons of picnic tables – all of which will be scattered with 20-somethings either chatting or dancing on top of them. We did the latter before calling it a night after a long, amazing day.
Address: 1502 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702
Day 2 Of The Austin, TX Weekend:
Coffee / Breakfast at Revival
For day two, kick off your morning at Revival Coffee. This super Instagrammable, all pink coffee shop is owned by proud Latina and restauranteur Gabriela Bucio. It didn’t have much breakfast (just pastries), but the coffee was really good and the decor was so cute.
Address: 1405 E 7th St, Austin, TX 78702
Kayaking on Lady Bird
For the bulk of today, you’re going to be in your swimsuit. Although Austin is far from any coastline, it’s known for its outdoor recreation. One of the best activities to do during a weekend in Austin, especially on a hot summer day, is to rent a kayak or paddle board and explore Lady Bird.
As mentioned above, you’ll come across the name “Lady Bird” a lot during your time in Austin. The most well known of which is probably Lady Bird Lake – a river-like reservoir on the Colorado River that runs right through the city of Austin. It’s fairly clean, but I wouldn’t recommend swimming here. Instead, head to the Texas Rowing Center and rent either a paddleboard, kayak, or canoe and paddle down the river until you see a mass of humans drinking. Not sure if this takes place during the week, but if you’re spending a weekend in Austin, it’s a guaranteed good time. Think of it as day drinking, Austin style.
Pro-tip: The paddleboards are a bit pricey at $55 per person. Instead, we opted for a 3-person canoe for $25 total. Plus, we were cruising around in style.
Drinks at Aba in SOCO
If you’re following this Austin weekend itinerary, you’ll return back to South Congress this evening for drinks before heading downtown for dinner. I couldn’t recommend Aba more! It’s a Mediterranean restaurant serving delicious cocktails, Mediterranean wines, and incorporates cooking influences from Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, and Greece. Expect this place to be pretty packed on the weekends, so make a reservation in advance if you’re looking to dine. We just enjoyed an espresso martini at the bar!
Address: 1011 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704
Lambert’s BBQ Downtown
You can’t truly enjoy a weekend in Austin without having some traditional BBQ, and Lambert’s is an excellent place to do it. This restaurant is a bit more high-end than your traditional BBQ joint and is located right downtown amongst Austin’s skyscrapers. Lambert’s offers fancy, slow smoked BBQ and steaks in a refurbished general store with an upstairs bar and live music.
Address: 401 W 2nd St, Austin, TX 78701
Hotel Bars – Group Therapy
Next up on this Austin weekend itinerary is a bit of nightlife! Since you’re right downtown, I would take advantage of the nearby hotel bars. Hotel bars usually have more intimate settings and more craft cocktails than traditional bars, plus you can meet the most interesting people at them.
We went to a few this evening, but I want to call out Group Therapy on top of Hotel ZaZa. It had a back library, a live band, great drinks, cool celebrity art, and even a rooftop pool! If you’re looking for something a bit more chill on your Austin weekend trip, come here.
Address: 400 Lavaca St, Austin, TX 78701
Weekend Trip To Austin, Day 3:
Coffee at Jo’s
If you’re following this Austin weekend itinerary, today is your last full day! Time to make the most of it. Begin your morning by driving over to South Congress again – for the third day in a row, I know, but this time to really explore the area.
Park on a side street near Jo’s Coffee. You can’t miss it – it’s a bright green building with a red ball on top. I would expect a line, but don’t worry it moves fast! This coffee shop has to be the most iconic in all of Austin, TX. I got the speciality latte and LOVED it. Be sure to snap a cute pic with the “I Love You So Much” mural on the side of the building.
Address: 1300 South Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704
Brunch at Joann’s @ The Austin Motel
Take your latte and walk next door to the Austin Motel for a quick photo-op followed by brunch at Joann’s Fine Foods! Apparently the burgers and cocktails are really good here too (makes sense – this place does resemble a diner!), but we loved the brunch. I recommend the breakfast tacos.
Pro-tip: Although the decor inside this restaurant is super chic, the wait was an hour less for outside! The patio was also really cute and the service was so much faster.
Address: 1224 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704
Shop in SOCO
After brunch, stroll off your food coma the best way I know how – with a little shopping! South Congress has some really charming boutiques, bookstores, and thrift shops so definitely check it out. If you’re enjoying an Austin, Texas weekend, there may even be pop up markets in this area. We saw a few on the Sunday we were in town.
Pro-tip: We didn’t have time for it, but later on one evening I’d recommend returning to the SOCO area and posting up at the Congress Avenue Bridge to observe the nightly bat flight. From March to September, thousands of bats swoop out of the bridge in the masses at sundown. It may sound strange, but it’s definitely one of Austin’s claims to fame.
Day Drink on Rainey Street
Now that you’re fueled, it’s time for a little day drinking! If you’re looking to Sunday Funday, head right over to Rainey Street. Rainey Street has to be the best bar area I’ve EVER seen in a city. Rainey Street is positioned near Lady Bird Lake and Interstate 35 in the southeast corner of downtown. What makes it so unique you may ask? What makes it a can’t miss stop during your Austin, TX weekend? Let me tell you…
Rainey Street is actually a historic district and is a street of historic, bungalow homes. These renovated houses have been turned into a lively strip of bungalow bars, all of them unique from one another and themed. Day or night, you’ll find bar-goers strolling from bar to food truck to bar, often with dogs in tow.
We went to about 5 here, but my all time favorite was definitely Un-bar-lievable. It’s a bar themed after a circus!!! The actually bar is under a giant red and white striped tent and the backyard area has a slide, games (picture: drunk girls hoola hooping), DJ booth, and lots of fun.
Address: 76 Rainey St, Austin, TX 78701
Swim at Barton Springs
I understand this itinerary is a bit packed, but I want to provide you with ALL the options for your Austin weekend trip, and you can curate your own perfect itinerary as you see fit. I had to leave for the airport pretty early the following morning and really didn’t want to miss Barton Springs, so we squeezed in a quick sunset dip here to end the day.
Barton Springs is on the grounds of Zilker Park (the city’s giant public park and backdrop for the ACL Music Festival). The Springs is a set of four natural water springs that all flow into the Barton Springs Pool and down the nearby river. This area is a super popular recreational destination in Austin. The pool has a diving board, lifeguards, and a shallow / deep end – so it’s perfect for families looking for a fresh dip. On the other side of the pool you’ll find the natural spring river area – enjoyed by dogs, day drinkers, and divers.
Pro-tip: It only costs $5 to pay and $5 to enter if you’re local to Austin. We did go in with my friend who lives in Austin, but the workers here didn’t check an ID or anything. Proceed with this at your own risk, but just a tip to help you potentially save!
Address: Barton Springs Rd, Austin, TX 78704
Terry Black’s BBQ
The very last thing I want to recommend on this Austin weekend itinerary is dinner at Terry Black’s BBQ. We actually ate sushi on our last night in Texas, but it wasn’t very good, so I’m recommending what I wish we did – one last amazing Texas BBQ meal! Terry Black’s is much more casual than Lambert’s but is equally as delicious for pit-smoked meals and housemade sides. The workers here are actually 4th generation pitmasters! Don’t miss it.
Address: 1003 Barton Springs Rd, Austin, TX 78704
Bonus: Want to hit one last ATX bar? Head back into the city to explore Austin’s speakeasys. We went to Floppy Disk Repair Co. – a quirky hidden bar with an undisclosed entrance. The wall on the inside here is actually a two-way mirror, so you can observe the hustle and bustle of the city while staying concealed inside. There’s a few swings in here and some really peculiar drink options. You may need a secret code to get in here depending on the night.
Address: 119 E 5th St., Austin, TX 78701 (shhhh, it’s a secret!)
3,500 words later and we’ve come to the end of the ultimate itinerary for your weekend trip to Austin! As always, I hope this post inspires you to plan a trip of your own, and to make the most of every second you have exploring a new place! Thanks for the memories, state #46! Where to next?
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