The Coolest Adventures In Austin, Beyond SXSW


“The joke is: If you say you arrived to Austin on Tuesday, an Austinite will always jump in to say, ‘You should have gotten here on Monday, man, that’s when it was actually cool!”

I laugh. I’m getting my hair cut in Bird’s — a hip, little Austin barber shop that I stepped into on a whim. My hairdresser is telling me about the city while I sip a free beer and she does literally whatever she wants to my hair. For me, this is a super odd choice. I’m so nervous about cutting my curly hair that I only do it once a year and am willing to spend any amount of money to not get butchered. So for me to duck into a little rock-n-roll looking barbershop while biking around a city I don’t know shows you just how chill Austin can make a person.

So chill it’ll leave you flippant about your curly hair. And curly hair is serious business.

If you’ve read literally any “liveability” article in the past 20 years, you know that Austin is an undeniably great city. It’s most famously known for hosting South by Southwest — a fest that fits perfectly with its Keep Austin Weird mantra. But just because SXSW is over for the year doesn’t mean Austin has run out of cool things to do. The city is just ramping up for spring and the friendly, charming, active locals are out in full force.

Here are some of our favorite things to do in the city that’s cool whether you get there on a Monday or a Tuesday. Because Austin might not be exactly the same as it was 18 years ago when the phrase, “Keep Austin weird” was first coined, but it’s maintained its status as the place to be for good reason.

Keeping Austin Delicious

There is so much good food in Austin, that on any trip you should watch your back, lest the serial killer from Se7en decides to pick you as his “gluttony” kill. The classic Franklin Barbecue may be hyped with a long, long line, but it’s damn fine barbecue. The restaurant opens at 11 — on weekends people get in line as early as 7am to get some of that delicious brisket and turkey before they run out. And while waiting in line sucks, the line at Franklin is a bit of a party atmosphere. There’s day drinking (you can bring your own booze for tailgating or they sell beers to the line at a reasonable hour, which….is still morning), chatting, frisbee — I mean, you’re all waiting for a feast. How can you be that down?

If you want to spend a couple of days just standing in BBQ lines to see which famed Austin joint is better (WHICH IS A NOBLE AND TASTY WAY TO SPEND A DAY), Franklin’s competitor La Barbecue also serves up amazing meats with a pretty long line. Both are worth it, in my opinion.

For dessert, after you fill yourself with so much barbecue that you want to die, you’ll want more food for dessert. Gordough’s Donuts serves up stuffed donuts the size of cakes out of an airstream trailer. Some hack travel writers will tell you split such a beast with one or several friends, but I will not because then you can’t trade pieces of yours. Mama’s cake uses a yellow cake batter filling and is truly amazing while the Fat Elvis involves bananas, bacon, and peanut butter icing.

You can’t get away with visiting Austin without eating breakfast tacos (but also lunch and dinner tacos). Tacodeli is a Texas chain, but they started in Austin and there’s a reason they expanded — the small restaurant is right on the edge of the Green Belt so you can load up on tacos before a hike. The Cowboy with its steak, carmelized onions, and guac and the pork shoulder based El Conquistador are amazing. For a classic (and perfect Austin breakfast taco) you should head to Rosita’s Al Pastor. And don’t leave without hitting up Veracruz All Natural, both for the migas breakfast taco and their al pastor.

The Roosevelt Room is an amazing place to get a slightly upscale cocktail. For more of a sit-down dining feel, Suerte was one of last year’s best new restaurants in the country, Chef Fermín Núñez makes masa using Texas corn in-house, and the Suadero Tacos (brisket) are so good, you won’t be able to handle it. For the beer lover, The Brewer’s Table is elevating the beer drinking and dining experience with a menu that compliments and plays off beer in innovative ways while using locally sourced ingredients. The East Austin restaurant’s entire staff has completed at least Cicerone level one (the craft beer sommelier program) so you know they’re knowledgable. Neither the food nor the beer will disappoint.

Keeping Austin Adventurous

Nland Surf Park is one of the coolest experiences in Austin. Located in Del Valle, Texas about 20 minutes from the city, the landlocked surfer’s paradise has multiple levels of waves to accommodate beginners to masters. The experience ranges from about $60-$90 per session. It’s epic fun and great for beginners. They also have food and drinks, so when you become exhausted with crushing every wave, you can have a drink, a snack, and watch everyone else wipe out.

A weirder activity is Austin’s famous bat migration, which runs from spring through October and involves 1.5 million bats coming out from The Congress Ave Bridge to fly around and do….bat stuff? After sunset you can watch from the bridge or you for a more immersive bat experience, a guided kayak tour is really cool and will only run about $45.

Austin may be in Texas, but it’s greener than you might expect. A day of hiking and adventuring is well spent in the Barton Creek Green Belt, which involves super moderate hikes along the water with lots of spots to swim. On a hot day, any spot in the cool water is amazing, but Sculpture Falls is a particularly pretty swimming hole — bring a cooler of canned beer and your trusty dog companion, and hang all day.

Keeping Austin Natural

We love swimming holes at Uproxx. If anyone tells you differently THEY ARE LYING. And Austin has an embarrassment of riches in this respect. Seriously, if all you did on your Austin trip was go from swimming hole to swimming hole, pausing only occasionally to grab a taco on your way to your next one, we’d think it was a fantastic way to spend a weekend.

Barton Springs Pool is a classic swimming hole. It’s been called the “soul of Austin” with water that’s been frequented since the 1800s. It’s a must when you visit Austin, just know that there’s no food and drink (other than a water bottle) allowed inside the spring area, they’re pretty strict about this. Want something less strict? Head to Hippie Hollow by Lake Travis. The swimming area is clothing optional and 18 and up, so you can strip down and relax (but not like relax in a creepy way. Austin is weird, not creepy). Finally, you may have seen trippy pics of Jacob’s Well, but basically, it’s a swimming hole at the entrance to a deep underground cave system that is super fun. With the crystal, clear water, the cave entrance looks like a sinkhole in the middle of the swimming area. It’s become pretty popular, so be aware that they have strict regulations and only allow small capped amounts of visitors now.

Keeping Austin A Music Mecca

You can’t hit up Austin without hitting their amazing music scene, you almost can’t go wrong with just the vast number of super cool bars and venues with live tunes every night. For a few to try, downtown’s Parish is definitely one of the best for pure quality of sound and production value. The smaller venue allows you to feel intimate with some of their, often bigger, musical acts. Stubb’s has classic outdoor amphitheater to see music under the stars, and it’s both causal, but also a fun party. Plus, they serve great barbecue. Going even larger, Emo’s is a fairly big venue but it maintains that punk rock, counter-culture feel that makes Austin so great. And if what you want is a dive bar feel, Hole in the wall is the classic college dive with great live music and cheap drinks that has never felt like it’s lost its authenticity.

Keeping Austin Weird

There’s a lot of weird in Austin, I mean, they have to keep up with the slogan after all. Little Longhorn Saloon is an awesome dive that has a famous “chicken shit bingo” on Sundays. This involves a chicken going to the bathroom on a number, and if you’re (lucky?) it just might be yours. Another “must experience” Austin classic is The White Horse, a modern, East Austin honky-tonk with a crowded dance floor. Or you can hit the Whip In, a funky little bar off the highway that used to be a convenience store, now with live music and an Indian/Texas fusion menu. For something a little fancier (with zero chickens), The Garage is a speakeasy located in a working parking structure, with a chic, (and surprisingly) cozy interior (even though it incorporates the cement of the structure) and great drinks downtown.

In the daytime, head to Uncommon Objects for one of the cooler flea markets in the country, packed to the brim with cool stuff to buy and Texas History. And if you’re in Austin at the end of April, the (packed with hippies) festival, Eeyore’s Birthday, is a strange and long-running festival that started when a group of UT students in the 1960s who decided to stage the surprise party Eeyore gets in the Winnie the Pooh book. It stuck and now it brings out a huge crowd to Pease Park every year. A decidedly weird crowd. And there’s nothing more Austin-y than that.