305 E. 5th St., Downtown
Antone’s reopened downtown last year three blocks from its original 1970s location. Inside, the show posters lining the walls from the likes of B.B. King and Ray Charles read like a Blues Hall of Fame. Now the two-story venue aims to not only bring in big-name acts coming through town, but to introduce showgoers to great music, including artists they may not have heard of. It also helps that hometown hero, musician Gary Clark Jr., who played some of his early gigs here, is also a partner.
Austin is one of the more bike-friendly cities, and this is a great way to cover a lot of ground and get your bearings around the various neighborhoods. While you don’t want to attempt riding through Dirty Sixth at happy hour, you should cruise around UT’s campus (kids and sports fans will want to stop and see the football stadium), and definitely head to the generous paths threaded throughout the parks bordering the Colorado River. There are numerous bike rental options in Austin, but the city bike program is actually really well done, easy to use and affordable, with locations all over. You can check out a bike with a credit card at any of the conveniently placed stations for a twenty-four-hour period, or purchase access for a longer time period—three days, a month, one year—online. (Side note on getting around: Uber and Lyft are not currently operating in Austin, but there are a variety of smaller rideshare operations that have sprung up, although the quality isn’t as high—which perhaps increases the appeal of a bike ride if you don’t have a car while in town.)
Barton Creek Greenbelt
In addition to Lake Travis and Lake Austin, Barton Creek Greenbelt is a fun place to swim when the weather is warm in Austin (and there's been enough rain to fill its swimming holes). You can also come here to bike, hike (there are several miles' worth of trails), or just wander around. The Greenbelt is a several-mile, several-hundred-acre stretch that begins at Zilker Park, which is the best playground in the city for littles. There's a train ride that goes around the park—get a popsicle before jumping on. You can also paddle-board or rent kayaks to take out into the lake that crosses the middle of the city. (The baby turtles always keep the kids entertained.) In the center of the park itself is Barton Springs Pool, a three-acre pool that is fed from an underground spring; you pay a small fee to swim. The water in the natural watering hole is kept around 68-70 degrees, which feels just right on a scorching day. The pool is open daily, but closed most of Thursday for a weekly cleaning.
16221 Crystal Hills Dr., Driftwood
This gorgeous, open-air, Spanish-style chapel is a free (except for a $100 reservation deposit) and, naturally, very popular venue for small, intimate wedding ceremonies. But if you’re just in for a visit, it also makes a great hiking destination. Perched on the precipice of an ancient walking trail in Texas hill country—on the grounds of the nontraditional business school, Wizard Academy, about 20 minutes south of Downtown Austin—the sweeping panoramic views from the chapel are stunning. Check in at the visitor’s welcome center to access the trails.
Lady Bird Lake
Lady Bird Lake is a refreshing nature break smack in the middle of all the city action. Central to this park on the Colorado River, flanked by the towering high-rises of Downtown Austin, is the reservoir—a local favorite for everything from rowing to paddleboarding to a leisurely picnic. (Just don’t try to go for a swim.) The newly constructed boardwalk across the water, and the trails that circle the namesake lake, make this the place to go for walking and biking. Image Credit: Shane Pope on Flickr
1600 Scenic Dr., Lake Austin
This is a nice getaway from the city; the Pennybacker Bridge is an iconic landmark, which locals will tell you is best viewed by boat. A day out on the water (boats can be rented from multiple outfits) is a quintessential Austin experience, and you’ll find plenty of company ranging from families waterskiing and tubing to twenty-somethings overflowing anchored party barges. It’s worth seeking out the high, very fun rope swing on the south side of the river. Photo credit: 1nativeTexan, MisterDavidC.
The Continental Club
1315 S. Congress Ave., South Congress
Since opening its doors back in 1955 the Continental Club has made a name for itself as one of the oldest continuously running clubs in Austin, hosting acts like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Sonic Youth through the years. Nowadays, this South Congress pioneer is known for bringing on up-and-coming local talent and hosting secret shows for bands like Arcade Fire.
434 W. 2nd St., Downtown
This trendy movie theater downtown right by the Colorado River is a great date spot (obviously), and so much more: The Violet Crown is set up to make it enjoyable if you show up early, not just to save the best seats, but to take full advantage of their next-level concessions: Their full bar and modest-but-excellent food menu is the perfect companion for the latest blockbusters, though they also show select classic films. Here you’ll find healthier alternatives to buttery popcorn—think hummus and veggies, cheese and fruit, and a cranberry-kale salad—made from locally sourced ingredients, as well as your traditional comfort food like pizza, hot dogs, and french fries. Their artisanal cocktails and local craft beers are satisfyingly extensive, as is their wine list, from which you can order either by the glass—there’s also a “large pour” option—or by the bottle. If you’re up for a matinée, they also have a café serving espresso, coffee, tea, and treats.
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