Keep Austin Weird: A Local’s Guide to the Quirky Capital of Texas
Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Capital of Texas - Live Music Capital of the World
It's no secret that Austin proudly wears the crown of the Live Music Capital of the World. With music pouring out of bars, restaurants, parks, and venues all over town, this southern city lives up to its rep.
Want to tap your toes to tunes any night of the week? Just head downtown to 6th Street, where neon signs advertising everything from rock and blues to country line the lively entertainment district. Inside historic venues like Esther's Follies, grab a locally brewed craft beer and listen to full bands jam out on stage. Or pop into smaller dive bars like Skinny's Ballroom to catch up-and-coming local musicians honing their skills.
No matter when or where, live music provides a soundtrack for experiencing Austin. Planning to be here in March? The famous SXSW festival takes over the city with nonstop concerts. And in the steamy summer months,457-acre Zilker Park transforms into an outdoor music mecca during Austin City Limits. Spread out a picnic blanket, crack open a can of Topo Chico, and sway along to bands playing everything from electronic and hip hop to indie rock.
Primings said it best: "the music never stops in Austin." Want a super local music experience? Head to Kenny Dorham's Backyard on most Sundays from April to October for the long-running jazz jam hosted in – you guessed it – a backyard. Or take your pooch along to Barking Springs where musicians play free shows every Saturday at the off-leash dog park along Lady Bird Lake. If you prefer intimate, cozier venues, stay up late and venture down to the Continental Club on South Congress or Saxon Pub on South Lamar to listen to emerging artists.
What else is in this post?
- Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Capital of Texas - Live Music Capital of the World
- Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Capital of Texas - Keepin' It Funky on South Congress
- Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Capital of Texas - Bats, BBQ, and Boots - Quintessential Austin
- Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Capital of Texas - Lady Bird Lake and the Hike and Bike Trail
- Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Capital of Texas - Year-Round Festivals for Every Taste
- Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Capital of Texas - Food Truck Frenzy - Austin's Rolling Culinary Scene
- Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Capital of Texas - Barton Springs Pool - Taking the Plunge
- Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Capital of Texas - Outdoor Adventures in Hill Country and Beyond
Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Capital of Texas - Keepin' It Funky on South Congress
Stretching for roughly a mile between the Colorado River and I-35, South Congress Avenue (SoCo for short) epitomizes Austin’s funky, eclectic vibe. During the day, this vibrant thoroughfare draws shoppers and people watchers thanks to its cool boutiques, eateries, and street art. Once the sun goes down, neon lights cast a pink-purple glow over outdoor patios filled with revelers. Live music spills from almost every bar and restaurant into the balmy evening air.
To feel the funky energy, start your SoCo adventure at Jo’s Hot Coffee. This Austin institution opened in 1996, luring caffeine fiends with its patio, daily music lineup, and famous “I Love You So Much” graffiti mural. Sip an icy mocha before browsing the cluster of food trucks like Torchy’s Tacos parked next door. From there, head south while taking time to pop into the quirky stores dotting both sides of the street.
Lucy in Disguise stocks over-the-top costumes and Texas-inspired getups perfect for ACL or other festivals. At Uncommon Objects, comb through the multi-level treasure trove filled with peculiar antiques, while Allens Boots has every type of cowboy boot imaginable. If your dogs are barking, Kulture's hip (and budget-friendly) fashions and Allens Boots' classic cowboy styles are friendly on the wallet.
Further down SoCo, dip into San Jose Hotel's courtyard to see works by local artists or try on turquoise jewelry and browse western decor at Allen's Boots. Then swing by Home Slice Pizza or sip a marg on the patio at South Congress Cafe to fuel up for the night ahead.
Once the sun sets, South Congress transforms into a neon wonderland. Queue up for bowling and arcade games at the retro dive bar Gourdough’s before hitting Continental Club to two-step and listen to live music. Or sing your heart out during Bingo night at The Highball. Capping off the night with a shotskis? Hold my Lone Star while I slide into the boujee Butterfly Bar.
Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Capital of Texas - Bats, BBQ, and Boots - Quintessential Austin
There are a few iconic symbols that immediately come to mind when you think of the Texas capital. These long-standing traditions and cultural quirks help define Austin as a destination and are experiences every visitor should seek out during their stay.
Let's start with the bats. Each spring and summer evening, crowds gather on the Congress Avenue Bridge to witness the world's largest urban bat colony take flight. Over 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats make their home under the bridge from March to October, roosting during the day before swarming out en masse at dusk to hunt for insects. The synchronised mass exodus is an impressive natural phenomenon, with throngs of bats darkening the sunset sky for up to 30 minutes as they spiral out for the night's hunt.
For the best bat-viewing, arrive before sunset and bring a blanket, snacks, and drinks. Set up on the grassy lawn below the bridge or book a bat cruise along Lady Bird Lake to view the exodus from the water. Don't forget your camera! The exited squeaks of tourists mingle with cars honking on the bridge above as everyone eagerly awaits that magical moment when the first intrepid bats emerge, signaling the start of the nightly show.
Next up is Texas-style barbecue. With mouthwatering brisket, ribs, and sausage smoked low and slow, nobody does BBQ better than in the Lone Star State. In Austin, long lines snake out legendary joints like Franklin Barbecue and La Barbecue before the doors even open in the morning. Laidback and funky food trailers like Micklethwait Craft Meats and LeRoy and Lewis also dish out tender, smoky meat masterpieces.
Give your taste buds a Texas BBQ tour by sampling moist brisket, fall-off-the-bone ribs, juicy sausage, and sides like potato salad, coleslaw, beans, and buttery cornbread. The smoky flavors and tender textures are downright addictive. Don't be shy about asking for fatty end brisket slices or pork rib tips if you want the ultimate BBQ experience. Just come hungry! A pile of napkins is a must.
Lastly, a pair of cowboy boots brings Austin's western spirit to life. Allens Boots on South Congress has hundreds of unique handmade boots to try on, from exotic skins like ostrich and crocodile to intricately tooled and stitched leather pairs. Custom ordering your dream boots is always an option too. Slip on boots with Cuban heels for an authentic cowboy look or choose a more embellished or outrageous style that shows off your personality. Just be sure to break them in before two-stepping all night at the iconic Broken Spoke dancehall!
Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Capital of Texas - Lady Bird Lake and the Hike and Bike Trail
Stretching through the heart of downtown Austin, Lady Bird Lake and its surrounding Hike and Bike Trail provide the quintessential outdoor escape without ever leaving the city center. The scenic urban oasis invites locals and visitors alike to walk, run, bike, paddle, and simply soak up the laidback vibes along its shoreline.
Glide across the calm waters of Lady Bird Lake in a canoe, kayak, or stand up paddleboard rented from one of the nearby marinas. Paddling under the backdrop of skyscrapers makes you feel far from the city rush. Work up a sweat hiking the scenic trail surrounding the lake. Runners lace up early to beat the heat while cyclists cruise the picturesque path day or night.
Over 10 miles of hike and bike trail encircle Lady Bird Lake, following the shoreline through lush parks and greenbelts. Sections are paved and suitable for strollers and wheelchairs. The main loop trail connects seamlessly to various spur trails leading deeper into nature, like the Barton Creek Greenbelt with its swimming holes fed by natural springs.
Pack a picnic and post up lakeside at any of the grassy parks dotting the shore. Spread out under a sprawling tree at Auditorium Shores to people watch and soak in unobstructed views of downtown. Kick back on the lawn at Festival Beach and take in the Austin skyline. Or claim a table at waterfront restaurants like Abel's on the Lake to fuel up while watching boats drift by.
When the Texas sun beats down, take a refreshing dip at Barton Springs Pool, a spring-fed swimming hole flowing into Lady Bird Lake that stays a brisk 68 degrees year round even during scorching summers. Nearby, kids can splash safely at shallow Barton Beach.
Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Capital of Texas - Year-Round Festivals for Every Taste
It seems there's always a celebration happening in Austin, from major music festivals like Austin City Limits and SXSW to niche events catering to specific interests and hobbies. No matter when you visit, you'll discover festivities that speak to your tastes.
Planning a springtime trip? Uncork a bottle and sip your way through Texas wines at the East Austin Studio Tour Wine Fair. Oenophiles can sample vintages from over 15 wineries while admiring art at pop-up galleries and studios. Or tap into your playful side at Eeyore’s Birthday Party in Pease Park, where live music, beer gardens, drum circles, and wacky costumes create a trippy scene the late author Douglas Adams would approve of.
As the weather warms, Austin gets even livelier. The whispers of “keep Austin weird” turn to shouts during the Pecan Street Festival in early May, when over 300 local artisans and live music stages take over 6th Street. In June, mix leisurely paddling and partying during the Republic of Texas Biker Rally Canoe Beer Float. Costumes encouraged. And what better way to celebrate Independence Day than at Austin’s All-American July 4th celebration? From a children’s parade to fireworks over Lady Bird Lake, it’s daylong family fun.
If you’re craving cooler temps, Austin still brings the festive vibes. Hordes of fuzzy, fuzzier, and downright furriest dogs strut their stuff during the annual Mighty Texas Dog Walk held in September. Or get your goth on at Texas Frightmare Weekend, hosting horror film screenings, haunted house attractions, and appearances by genre icons like Kane Hodder.
As holidays roll around, Austin shines. Downtown dazzles during the Trail of Lights, with over 70 lighted holiday displays and live music on 39 nights between Thanksgiving and New Years. And don’t miss the Zilker Holiday Tree lighting to get that festive spirit glowing.
Of course, we can’t forget Austin’s epic music festivals spanning multiple weekends and genres. You’ll need some stamina! Austin City Limits brings rock, indie, country, folk, and more to Zilker Park each October. South by Southwest celebrates emerging talent in March, along with tech, film, comedy, and gaming events. For blues and roots rock, there’s the Old Settler’s Music Festival. And the Urban Music Festival spotlights hip hop, R&B, and soul.
Save room on your calendar if you’re artsy. The West Austin Studio Tour opens 200+ artists’ studios so you can chat while watching them demonstrate techniques. And the HOPE Outdoor Gallery lets graffiti artists and muralists transform the hillside with colorful street art.
Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Capital of Texas - Food Truck Frenzy - Austin's Rolling Culinary Scene
Street food may rule in places like Bangkok and Singapore, but Austin holds its own when it comes to an incredible on-the-go culinary scene. This southern city takes food trucks to the next level, with an ever-growing fleet of mobile kitchens across town serving up innovative flavors from around the world. From sizzling tacos to droolworthy doughnuts, tracking down these roaming restaurants on wheels has become a favorite pastime and foodie obsession.
Lucky for us, the casual vibe, affordability, and amazing variety Austin offers makes it easy to dive in and sample this mouthwatering moveable feast. And during events like the Texas Craft Brewers Festival, finding Austin's best mobile munches gets even easier with dozens of trucks congregating in one spot.
Food truck fanatics Mark and Shelly rave about the street corn slathered in spicy mayo and cotija cheese at Veracruz All Natural. Their carnitas tacos also come highly recommended. For Thai flavors, Cristina makes a beeline to Dee Dee which attracts hungry hordes for their pad thai and drunken noodles. And she never misses a chance to revisit childhood at the Little Lucy’s Mini Donuts truck.
Ryan and Karina agree NiMi Fish and Chicken wins for the most authentic Nashville hot chicken in town, with flavors that linger long after polishing off their spicy sandwiches. For late night cravings, nothing satisfies like scrumptious cookie ice cream sandwiches from Flying Cow. And vegans won't want to miss the meatless burgers and loaded fries at Arlo's that have everyone raving, herbivore or not.
When summertime hits, Lou is on a mission to track down Taco Bronco and their lime-soaked elote paired perfectly with Al Pastor and carne asada tacos. And to get his fix of fluffy Japanese souffle pancakes and fragrant matcha soft serve, Ochazuke is his first stop.
Meanwhile downtown by Republic Square, Ria has her favorites dialed in for quick lunches on the go. She praises the earthy flavors at Emmer & Rye, loading up on their mushroom and barley risotto. A brisket sandwich from LeRoy & Lewis always satisfies, with steaming meat and tangy slaw piled high on a soft bun. And she loves how Taco Deli lets you customize your meal with a myriad of salsas and toppings for tacos made just how you like.
Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Capital of Texas - Barton Springs Pool - Taking the Plunge
Slipping into the brisk waters of Barton Springs Pool offers the quintessential Austin experience. This natural spring-fed swimming hole provides a refreshing outdoor oasis in the heart of the city, inviting locals and visitors alike to take a deep dive into its 68 degree waters.
Its constant temperature provides the perfect respite from scorching Texas summers. Even when thermometers spike to triple digits, Barton Springs remains an icy “cold tub” that draws crowds seeking relief. Children squeal jumping into the shallow end, swimmers do laps across its length, while others simply float blissfully with the sun on their faces.Three acres in size and over 10 feet deep, the pool stretches alongside grassy lawns made for relaxing and sunbathing. The grounds stay lively during operating hours as groups picnic, listen to live music, and line up at the on-site food stand for its famous frozen chocolate-covered bananas.
Early risers arrive to soak up the serenity during exclusive morning swim hours before the crowds descend. Kayakers even glide across the glassy surface at dawn before the gates open to the public. Night owls keep the party going after dark with full moon swims illuminated by the soft glow of the “Barton moon.”
Barton Springs flows from underground springs beneath the pool in pulses, surging up with over 30 million gallons of water daily. This influx of fresh water from the Edwards Aquifer keeps the pool continually clean and purified. The natural limestone basin dates back thousands of years, carved out long ago by the force of flowing springs.
The pool remains unchlorinated, so water quality depends on visitors rinsing off before entering to avoid contaminants. Lifeguards stay vigilant monitoring clarity and may close sections temporarily if debris washes in after heavy storms.
Surrounded by grassy green space within Zilker Park near downtown, Barton Springs provides easy access to trails and attractions like Zilker Botanical Garden. Food trucks gather along nearby roads for quick eats pre or post-swim.
Visitors should come prepared with swimsuits, towels, sunscreen and water bottles in hand. Arrive early to snag parking or take advantage of shuttle service from locations like UT-Austin. Entrance fees are a bargain, with discounts for kids, seniors and leashed dogs.
Keep Austin Weird: A Local's Guide to the Quirky Capital of Texas - Outdoor Adventures in Hill Country and Beyond
Beyond the city, Austin’s surrounding Hill Country provides a scenic natural playground offering boundless opportunities for outdoor adventure. The rolling hills, winding rivers, and rocky canyons practically beg to be explored on foot, bike, or kayak. Whether seeking ziplines and climbing thrills or leisurely nature hikes and swims, travelers find their fix of excitement and escape.
For cycling enthusiast Dan, the challenge of racing up the steep switchbacks of scenic Mt. Bonnell provides intense yet satisfying road bike training. He describes the 360-degree panoramas from the summit as breathtaking motivation to push to the peak. Further out in the Hill Country, the winding two-lane roads offer miles of rolling rural routes to satisfy his need for speed.
Thrill-seekers Sam and Amy rave about conquering the cliffs at Reimer’s Ranch County Park. More than 4 miles of climbing routes scale limestone walls towering above crystal-clear swimming holes. Sam says he “felt like Spiderman” edging along the Poison Ivy Pit route. Amy loved being suspended above the Pedernales River while zipping along multiple ziplines with her friends.
Jen recommends packing a picnic and driving out to the countryside for a peaceful nature hike at Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve. Birdwatching along the trails delivers sightings of warblers, vireos, and even roadrunners. She describes the scenic overlooks and refreshing swims beneath small waterfalls as the ultimate stress relief after a chaotic workweek.
For Mandy, stand up paddleboarding along the rivers offers a peaceful Austin escape surrounded by nature’s beauty. She frequently loads her boards atop her Subaru and heads out to the Colorado River near Bastrop or San Marcos. Mandy says time seems to slow to a blissful pace as she paddles along shaded rivers lined with towering cypress trees draped in wispy Spanish moss.
During scorching summers, Wayne and family cool off tubing the refreshing rivers around Austin like the Comal, Guadalupe, and San Marcos. He loves the relaxing pace of lazily drifting downstream for hours, beverage in hand. They always keep an eye out for vibrantly-colored tropical birds that flock to the riverside trees.
Outdoor enthusiasts like Jennifer stress the diversity of adventures Austin’s surroundings offer. She’s mountain biked through the hill country, camped along the Frio River, summited Enchanted Rock, and paddled Highland Lakes. Her advice? “Just pick a direction out of Austin and you'll find scenic country escapes for every mood and adrenaline level.”