Keep Austin Weird: A Local’s Guide to the Quirky Attractions and Hidden Gems of the Texas Capital
Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Attractions and Hidden Gems of the Texas Capital - Experience Austin's Funky, Artistic Vibe
Austin is known for its quirky, creative spirit, so be sure to spend time exploring the city's funky, artistic side. This is a place where self-expression and indie culture thrive, from the explosion of murals and street art to the myriad of small music venues and eclectic shops.
To dive into Austin's artsy soul, head to South Congress Avenue, a strip lined with some of the city's funkiest boutiques, eateries, and galleries. Browse vintage cowboy boots at Allen's Boots or find the perfect kimono at Tesoros Trading Company. Stop for a drink at the Continental Club, which showcases retro, rockabilly bands, or catch some improv comedy at The Hideout Theater. Meander down the sidewalks to admire the creative window displays, murals, and even the "I Love You So Much" mural painted on the side of Jo's Coffee.
Next, visit the Hope Outdoor Gallery, where graffiti artists have transformed an old building into a stunning work of art. The constantly changing murals give you a feel for Austin's young, imaginative art scene. Of course, you can't miss the iconic "Greetings From Austin" mural either. Snap the quintessential Instagram shot in front of its retro, 70s lettering on South 1st Street.
For a dose of fine art, browse the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas, which boasts an impressive collection of Latin American works. Or check out galleries like Big Medium, which focuses on up-and-coming local artists. Don't miss East Austin Studio Tours in the fall, where hundreds of artists open their creative spaces to visitors for a weekend.
At night, head to Mohawk or Cheer Up Charlies, two lively music venues known for their indie bands and devoutly weird crowds. Or for a completely unique experience, watch the bats emerge from under Congress Bridge at sunset, with thousands taking flight into the dusky sky. It's a mesmerizing (and only in Austin) sight.
What else is in this post?
- Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Attractions and Hidden Gems of the Texas Capital - Experience Austin's Funky, Artistic Vibe
- Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Attractions and Hidden Gems of the Texas Capital - See the City's Famous Bats at Dusk
- Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Attractions and Hidden Gems of the Texas Capital - Enjoy Live Music and Nightlife on 6th Street
- Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Attractions and Hidden Gems of the Texas Capital - Check Out the Murals and Street Art
- Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Attractions and Hidden Gems of the Texas Capital - Go Hiking and Swimming at Barton Springs
- Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Attractions and Hidden Gems of the Texas Capital - Eat Your Way Through Austin's Food Trucks
Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Attractions and Hidden Gems of the Texas Capital - See the City's Famous Bats at Dusk
As night falls over Austin, one of the city’s most beloved rituals begins. Just before sunset, thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, taking flight into the dusky sky. This nightly emergence has become an iconic Austin experience, fascinating tourists and locals alike.
The Congress Avenue Bridge bats have become so popular that the area takes on a festive, celebratory atmosphere each evening as people gather to watch the bats make their exit. Families spread out blankets and take up spots on the grassy banks of Lady Bird Lake. Couples and friend groups lean over the bridge railing. Kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders dot the water below. And everyone waits in anticipation for that moment when the first few bats appear against the dimming sky.
As more winged creatures flutter out, swirling clouds of bats soon form, swooping and diving gracefully over the lake. Their emergence looks almost choreographed, with bats streaming steadily out for a good 30 minutes or more as thousands take to the air. The best time to watch is late March to early fall when the colony is at its largest. Don't forget your camera - the swooping bats make excellent photo ops.
Many claim the bridge bats are the largest urban bat colony in North America, with estimates of 1.5 million bats living underneath. The bats roost in the narrow gaps between the bridge’s concrete spans. These nocturnal creatures play an important role in the local ecology, consuming tens of thousands of pounds of insects nightly.
While Austinites have been aware of the bats for decades, their nightly emergence only became popular in the 80s. Local shop owner Jacqui Bauer started organizing bat watches, and they quickly caught on as a unique local happening. Today during peak season, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department even has Bat Ambassadors on hand to educate spectators about these winged locals.
Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Attractions and Hidden Gems of the Texas Capital - Enjoy Live Music and Nightlife on 6th Street
As the sun goes down in Austin, 6th Street comes alive with flashing neon signs, pulsing beats, and live music pouring from every doorway. Known as the city's main entertainment district, 6th Street offers an endless array of venues, from rocking dive bars to multi-level nightclubs. Going out on 6th is a rite of passage for anyone visiting Austin.
One of the best ways to experience 6th Street is to simply take a stroll up and down the street, popping into different venues as you go. Many bars don't have a cover charge, so you can sample the vibe and music before moving on. Legendary spots like Maggie Mae's, Blind Pig Pub, and The Dizzy Rooster often have excellent local and touring bands playing everything from blues and rock to alt-country.
Other iconic 6th Street stops include the legendary Esther's Follies comedy club, where you can enjoy musical spoofs and magic acts. Or dance the night away at pubs like the rooftop B.D. Riley's Irish Pub, where DJs keep everyone moving. Local musician James Hyland recommends catching a show at the intimate Parish Underground or Speakeasy for a more authentic Austin experience: "Underground at the Parish and Speakeasy often have great local singer-songwriters performing acoustic shows and really capture that live music feel 6th Street is known for."
While wandering between venues is part of the fun, serious live music lovers shouldn't miss the opportunity to see a show at Stubbs. The indoor and outdoor concert venue books outstanding national acts of all genres, from indie darlings like Japanese Breakfast to country stars like Willie Nelson. Grab some BBQ from the on-site restaurant before the show.
Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Attractions and Hidden Gems of the Texas Capital - Check Out the Murals and Street Art
Austin's streets are an open-air art gallery, thanks to the creative murals and graffiti that color walls across the city. This explosion of street art gives visitors a feel for Austin's artistic, irreverent soul while exploring different neighborhoods.
The Hope Outdoor Gallery is a must-see for mural fans. This old building complex has been taken over by graffiti artists, who cover the walls in ever-changing murals. It embodies the Keep Austin Weird ethos, with trippy, imaginative designs and surreal characters. Visitors can even bring spray paint to add their own temporary tags and doodles. Photos don't do the Hope justice - it's an immersive, 3D experience.
South Congress Avenue boasts some of Austin's most iconic murals. Possibly the most Instagrammed is "Greetings From Austin" which visitors line up to pose in front. Its retro 70s lettering evokes quintessential kitschy postcards. Those wanting a more contemporary South Congress mural should find "I Love You So Much." The bright, graphic mural brings a joyful vibe with its bold colors and fun type.
Beyond the touristy murals, East Austin offers a treasure trove of provocative street art. This historically African-American and Hispanic neighborhood has embraced graffiti as a political platform. The Panther City Collective brings together artists of color to create murals addressing issues like gentrification and injustice. Their stunning George Floyd mural honors his life and rallies for change. East Austin Studio Tours in November open artist studios, many showcasing graffiti and protest art.
For a uniquely Austin mural, check out the Willie Nelson one at ACL Live. Willie's smiling face and signature braids are a nod to the local music hero. Music is central to the city's soul, and artistic tributes to legendary Austin musicians are around many corners. At the Continental Club on South Congress, visitors can pose by the Stevie Ray Vaughan mural honoring the Austin blues icon.
Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Attractions and Hidden Gems of the Texas Capital - Go Hiking and Swimming at Barton Springs
Among Austin's cherished outdoor escapes, Barton Springs Pool stands out as a must-visit for its refreshing spring-fed waters and scenic hiking trails. The pool's 68-degree waters offer a cooling oasis from the Texas heat, thrilling locals and visitors alike with invigorating swimming holes beneath shady oak trees. Beyond swimming, the trails around Barton Springs make for excellent urban hiking adventures to soak in the surrounding Hill Country beauty.
Barton Springs forms the centerpiece of Zilker Park, a gorgeous green space along the Colorado River. The springs originate from underground aquifers, then fill three pool areas before flowing into Lady Bird Lake. The Main Springs area is the focal point for swimming, with lifeguards on duty and diving boards for plunging into its depths. Don't expect a typical chlorinated pool here - the water is crystalline and pure, filtered naturally by the limestone bottoms. Swimming in the brisk 68-degree spring water feels wonderfully revitalizing on a hot day. As Austin resident Maya Goswitz says, "I visit Barton Springs every chance I get in the summer. Jumping into the cold, clear water instantly cools you down."
The entire pool stretches over three acres, with additional swimming areas at the tranquil Zen Tub and secluded Barking Springs. Visitors should arrive early to stake out a prime lawn spot with views of downtown Austin's skyline. Pack a picnic or grab an acai bowl from the on-site restaurant before diving in. While the vibe is laidback, note that drinks, pets, and glass are prohibited.
Surrounding the swimming areas, over 150 acres of hiking trails wind through the oak-dotted green space. The paths range from easy walks along the creek to the moderate Hill of Life Trail loop with limestone stairs. Birding enthusiasts will enjoy spotting herons, egrets, and cliff swallows. "I like to start my morning with a meditative stroll by the creek before plunging into Barton Springs," says local Austinite Leah Shore. "It's a peaceful oasis in the middle of the city."
Looking for more of an adventure? Challenge yourself on the steep Red Bud Trail, which rewards the effort with phenomenal views over downtown Austin. The Greenbelt Trail connects to Zilker Park from even more hiking options. With trails for all abilities, Barton Springs makes escaping into nature a breeze.
Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Attractions and Hidden Gems of the Texas Capital - Eat Your Way Through Austin's Food Trucks
With over 1,500 food trucks and trailers, Austin earns its reputation as the food truck capital of the world. These mobile eateries let visitors sample Austin’s diverse, fusion-filled food scene on a budget. Locals flock to food trucks for quick lunches, late night eats, and trying global flavors from Korean BBQ to Indian dosas.
“Food trucks are my favorite way to experience Austin’s food scene,” says local food blogger Tara Simmons. “You can discover hidden gems run by talented young chefs who focus on just a few dishes done incredibly well.” Tara recommends hitting food truck parks like The Picnic or Lot for variety. Choose from poke bowls to po boys as you eat picnic-style at shared tables.
For the true local experience, Tara suggests catching the UT-area trucks on weekdays when students line up for favorites like Veracruz All Natural. Their fish and pork tacos spell flavors of coastal Mexico. “Students will wait 30 minutes or more for those tacos,” she says. “They’re that good.” Don’t skip dessert from Sweet Ritual’s vegan ice cream truck either.
Austin’s passion for breakfast tacos means taco trucks dot every corner. Maria Fernandez of Thunderbird Tacos says her family’s secret masa recipe draws long lines for their epic barbacoa and egg tacos. For late night munchies, she recommends the Peruvian chicken at Lima Criolla in East Austin. “Their Inca Kola drink is the best pairing,” Maria says.
While most trucks stick to American and Tex Mex staples, global flavors are emerging. Oumar Diouf of Afro Street introduces Senegal through dishes like mafé okra stew at his striking blue truck. “I love bringing a taste of Africa to Austin,” he says.