Our family’s favorite things to do in Austin, from the best places to eat in Austin to free things to do outside. Whether you’re a local wondering what to do in Austin or coming for a visit, I hope you’ll find this Austin Guide helpful as you explore one of my favorite cities in the world!
We lived in Austin for six years and I loved every second of it.
Right after we graduated from college in 2006, Bart and I moved to Austin (we lived in Round Rock, which is a suburb just north of Austin and the headquarters for Dell Computers).
Neither of us had ever been to Austin before we moved there (I don’t think we’d even been to Texas!), but we immediately fell in love with it.
We worked full-time for about a year and then we both went to graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin.
When we finished our masters degrees, we got jobs in Boston and moved away.
But a year later, after Ella was born, we moved back, just about two miles from where we’d lived the first time, and stayed for another three years.
Of all the cities we’ve lived in the United States, Austin is my favorite. I love the weather, the people, the Texas pride, the amazing food, and the fun laid-back vibe.
I’m always looking for an excuse to go back to visit.
I also get emails and Instagram messages almost weekly asking for recommendations and after typing out a version of this list dozens of times (usually on a tiny phone keyboard), it seemed like it was time to collect all my favorite things to do in Austin in one place.
And if you’re planning a trip to Austin, please consider inviting me along with you.
Best places to eat in Austin
Best Breakfast in Austin
- Texas French Bread. We first went to breakfast here with a Groupon on Ella’s second birthday, but we loved it so much we went back many more times. Whether you’re looking for sweet or savory, everything here is delicious.
- Round Rock Donuts. Yes, it’s far north. Yes, the lines will be insane pretty much every morning of the week. Yes, the doughnuts are orange. Yes, it will be worth it. They’re also super cheap (80 cents each) and do yourself a favor and get a bag of donut holes.
- Kerbey Lane Cafe is an Austin breakfast staple for pancakes especially, but I have to admit that I think it’s a little over-hyped.
Best restaurants in Austin
- Chi’lantro– if you are looking for deliciously greasy and cheap food? This is your stop. It’s a mix of Mexican and Korean BBQ (yes, apparently that IS possible) and Bart and I enjoyed every bit of it. Do not miss the Kimichi Fries.
- Hopdoddy. This is probably my number one favorite burger place in the country. They’ve expanded to other Texas cities and Arizona, so even if you’re not in Austin you can grab one. The Primetime is my very favorite burger on the menu and their shakes are ridiculously good.
- The Driskill. If you’re looking to do a nice meal in Austin, you cannot beat the Driskill. Amazing service, to-die-for food, and a beautiful old hotel.
- Fabi & Rosi. If you want a lovely and delicious meal in a gorgeous renovated home, this is your spot. Bonus points for being reasonably priced. I wrote WAY too much about our dinner there.
- Clay Pit – a beautiful Indian restaurant right down by the University. Everything I’ve ever ordered here has been amazing. If you want to skip the standard (and delicious) curries, the salmon is fantastic.
- Chuy’s is tasty Tex-mex and a hugely popular Texas chain. We always get the Chuychanga with Creamy Jalapeno suace.
- Rudy’s is super famous for their BBQ. The restaurants themselves are nothing to talk about (they built in conjunction with gas stations), but no one can say enough good stuff about it. Make sure to get a side of creamed corn. Bart could probably live on it for the rest of his life.
- Tejis. This was our number one favorite place to eat in Austin. The original Tejis was up in Round Rock and we probably went at least 50-100 times. The butter chicken is the best we’ve ever had and their garlic naan is terrific. There is one right across from the UT campus now too and a third in Cedar Park.
- Torchy’s Tacos. These are all over the place in Austin and they are terrific. The Trailer Park taco is my favorite and the fried chocolate chip cookie dough is just as good as you’d hope.
Best dessert in Austin
- Lick. I think I liked this Austin ice cream joint more than Bart, because he prefers more traditional flavors, but I love this place!
- Amy’s Ice Cream is a hugely popular ice cream chain with really good solid flavors.
- Gourdoughs is an incredible food truck donut place that makes the most insane doughnuts. I looked at the menu to try to pick a favorite and then remembered that I’ve loved them ALL.
Free Things to do in Austin
- Zilker Park is gorgeous and huge and is a nice place to just wander around. There is also a little train you can hop on and off of that goes around the park too, for a couple of bucks. They also do free musicals in the summer on the hillside – we’ve gone to many of them over the years and they’re pretty impressive.
- Bats Under the Congress Bridge – Austin is home to the largest colony of urban bats in North America. They fly out from under the bridge to go hunting every night around sundown between March and November, so you might be able to catch them depending on what time of year you visit.
- Mount Bonnell – A little above downtown, you take a couple of quick flights of steps to the top (you cannot call this a hike) and you have a magnificent view of the lake and the downtown skyline. There are tables and benches, too, if you want to bring along a little picnic.
- South Congress. This is one of the most popular parts of Austin with lots of off-beat shopping. Try the Big Top Candy Shop or the Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds.
- Whole Foods. This is the flagship store right downtown and it is enormous and full of samples and gorgeous displays. The patio on the roof is lovely and I like to buy a treat or snack and eat it up there looking down on the street. Also, there is a playground on the roof patio, so your kids can enjoy themselves too (AND during the holiday season, they have an ice rink up there too).
- Sixth Street is incredibly famous for the live music scene. You can just pop in and out of different bars (many of them have no cover charge) and hear all different styles of music with some really very talented musicians. This is really fun to do on Friday or Saturday night.
- Austin Public Library. The new downtown Austin Public library is absolutely spectacular – it’s worth visiting even if you’re not a reader. The balconies and rooftop gardens have gorgeous views and the whole place is just very cool.
- Barton Springs. These natural hot springs are in the middle of Zilker Park and super popular. Embarrassingly, although we walked around them multiple times, we never actually went swimming there!
- Book People is a really great independent bookstore on Lamar and 5th. I could spend HOURS there. One of my life dreams came true in 2017 when I got to host a Sandra Boynton event there.
Austin Points of Interest
- The LBJ Presidential library. One of my life goals is to visit every presidential library and this was my first one. it’s really interesting. You could spend thirty minutes there or three hours. A great little intro movie, lots of fun exhibits, and all sort of great rotating things. It used to be free, but now they charge except for certain free days (bummer).
- Capitol Building. I like to at least pop into the Capitol building. The grounds are lovely and it’s fun to walk around inside too. If you happen to be there in November, do not miss the Texas Book Festival.
- UT telescopes. On various nights of the week, you can go on campus and use their mega telescopes for some serious stargazing!
- Texas History Museum. This is right across the street from UT Campus and a fun place to learn more about Texas with some excellent interactive exhibits for kids.
- O. Henry House. This is right down town and just a quick, fun, free stop.
- Alamo Drafthouse theaters are extremely popular – you can watch a movie AND order food at the same time. The food is good and the theaters are nice too.
Things to Do in Austin with Kids
- Thinkery. This is the new Austin Children’s Museum (well, new since we’ve moved) and people LOVE it.
- Terra Toys. This is a massive toy store and we loved going there with Ella. Bonus for being in the same parking lot as HopDoddy, so you can browse and then grab dinner.
- Austin Central Market. This is a really fun local grocery store but wouldn’t belong on the “Things to Do in Austin with Kids” section except that it has a great playground outside.
- Austin Nature & Science Center. This place is amazing and fun, especially the massive outdoor dinosaur fossil dig.
Day Trips from Austin
The great thing about Austin is how central it is – you can get to Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio in just a few hours. Here are a few of our favorite day trips.
- Hamilton Pool. It’s a little bit of a drive, but one look at the pictures should convince you that it’s worth the trip. $10 for parking.
- San Antonio. We went down here many times in the six years we lived in Austin. It’s fun to visit the Alamo, wander along the River Walk, and check out the great restaurants.
- Fredricksburg. This little German town is so cute and known for its wineries and peaches. It also has the cutest little library, but probably only I care about that.
Any other questions about Austin? Or if you have other suggestions about things to do in Austin, I’m all ears!