Are you ready for your next Austin weekend trip? When you live in some sort of non-Texan state, when you think about the last time you visited Austin, you likely conjure visions of downtown Austin, dirty 6th street with live music, or rows of food trucks and breakfast tacos. While those visions are all parts of Austin, that’s not the entire picture.

This town attracts people for those stereotypical reasons, but why they stay is the gorgeous hill country geography and diverse, chill atmosphere.

We want to help you to have a more authentic Austin, Texas, experience – most of these hotspots are still tourist-heavy, but we locals also go to these places because of all they have to offer.

If you’re taking a short vacation in Austin, many of the following destinations are available through public transportation, you can use ridesharing, those ridiculous electric scooters or bikes, or just rent a car.

view of the outside of the bullock texas state history museum in austin texas

1. The Bullock Texas State History Museum

The Bullock Texas State History Museum is Texas’ official history museum, and this multi-story immersive experience features glorious artifacts and different exhibitions.

Currently on exhibit is “Mental Health: Mind Matters” allowing you to put yourself in the shoes of people living with various mental illnesses and how exploring how mental illness has been treated in the past.

The museum has a cafe for breakfast, lunch, and snacks, plus the entire building is very air conditioned, which in the Texas heat is a legit bonus.

The Bullock Museum is also home to the IMAX theater which features family-friendly educational films, but also some of the latest releases currently only in theaters.

Even if you don’t like history, the IMAX theater will knock anyone’s socks off. This museum is a phenomenal option for anyone visiting with grade school children in tow, but also has really good reviews from couples who have spent the afternoon in learning mode.

austin texas state capitol building during the day

2. The Texas State Capitol

Right behind the Bullock Museum is the Texas State Capitol, but the Capitol would likely refer to the museum being in its backyard. Either way, there are free tours of the capitol building, and the grounds are beautiful – so much so that when you visit, someone will most likely be having wedding or graduation photos done there.

The dome is as impressive as you’ve seen in pictures and is extremely photogenic – if you’re a human on planet Earth, you’ll probably take a bajillion pictures, it’s just human nature. The stairwells are grand, the architecture impressive, the art historic, and the tours slightly corny but very informative.

There is something magical about being in these massive rooms where the legislation happens, and seeing what the representatives’ desks look like, how the voting mechanisms work, is all quite memorable.

Outdoors, there are several monuments and statues, and catty-corner to the capitol is the Governor’s mansion (which you can wave hello to or flip off from across the street (know your rights), depending on what’s in your heart).

Don’t miss the Texas Capitol Visitors Center, as there are more exhibits and more historical information available there. Many people miss it because they’re laser-focused on seeing the capitol dome, but it’s a must for any history buff.

bats flying over lady bird lake in austin, texas
image courtesy of flickr.com

3. Lady Bird Lake

Lady Bird Lake used to be called Town Lake and is still referred to by most locals as Lake Austin. One of the most popular on-water activities is floating – canoeing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding, with several rental spots on the water to cater to whichever interests you the most.

There are miles and miles of trails along the lake for walkers, joggers, runners, bikers, and anyone with a dog that needs to sniff neat stuff during a vacation.

Another popular activity is bat watching for free, as about a hundred million billion bats (we don’t know the actual number, but it’s definitely more than most humans have seen at one time before) fly out from under the Congress Avenue bridge at sunset to fill their bellies full of bugs.

There are four main ways to see the bats fly – from the balcony of a hotel or high rise lining the river near Congress Ave, on the sidewalk of the Congress Avenue bridge, on the lawn of the Austin-American Statesman below the bridge, or one of the boat rentals along the shore.

But pro tip – avoid going under the bridge, it smells exactly like you would expect a hundred million pooping bats to smell.

View of Zilker Park in Austin Texas
image courtesy of: commons.wikimedia.org

4. Zilker Park

Zilker Park is an Austin staple, and with hundreds of acres filled with playscapes, sports fields, disc golf, volleyball courts, and nature-filled woods, most folks that come to Austin for a weekend vacation include Zilker. It too is on Lady Bird Lake, so it’s a great spot to rent a canoe or kayak and head out (plus it’s shallow where you rent here, so it’s best for kids).

What we love about Zilker is that it has something for everyone – a massive food truck park (some call it the best in town, but that’s up for debate), the Zilker Hillside Theater, Zilker Botanical Gardens, the Nature & Science Center, and the famous Barton Springs (more on that next).

Lastly, as an adult, you’re thinking you don’t want to ride the kiddie train, but there’s a new one that is fully electric and zips you all around the park. It’s a cute little date move, despite kids being around, but it’s also fun with the family in tow.

people swimming at Barton Springs Pool with the Austin skyline visible in the background
image courtesy of flickr.com

5. Barton Springs Pool

You’ve heard of Barton Springs, it’s the best swimming hole in Texas, and we will fight most people who argue otherwise (unless they’re really big in which case, we’re busy, carry on).

For generations, it has been said that the water is always 68 degrees all year round, but some nerds have debunked that with readings close to 68 but not exactly 68. Either way, it’s cold, even if it’s 106 degrees outside, which feels amazing when you’ve been on the trails all afternoon.

If you want to act like a local, don’t start at the shallow end, go down to the diving board and jump into the deep end. It’s an all-natural limestone bottom, and it’s 18 feet deep at the deepest end, so you aren’t going to hit bottom after doing a flip.

Keeping your towels laid out on the south side of the 3-acre pool is another way to get out of the tourist trap end of the springs. But a word of warning: Barton Springs allows toplessness, which is kind of fun, but if you have children with you, stick to the shallow end and be ready to say “oh look!” and point up to a bird in the sky.

austin texas tex mex dishes

6. Tex Mex Time!

Eating is one of the quintessential character traits of any Austinite, and while we have some incredibly diverse cuisine, when folks vacation here, we always take them to eat some Tex Mex. In fact, because we love it so much, we highly recommend you not leave this town without at least one Tex Mex meal!

Eater has outlined the best Tex Mex restaurants in Austin so you can just pick whichever is closest to where you’re staying on your mini-vacay. Bring the Zantac, this ain’t health food.

7. Austin City Limits

Austin City Limits (ACL) is two things, and depending on your generation, you’re probably only familiar with one, even though they’re both part of the same brand.

ACL is a massive music festival that takes place in the aforementioned Zilker Park, featuring each year’s top musicians from all genres, and attracting visitors from around the world.

ACL is also a show on PBS that has been on the air since 1976, showcasing famous musicians both emerging and famous. You can catch a taping of the show while you’re in town – now you can see who will be on stage, but back in the day, you just lined up out front of the building and you might see Dave Matthews Band, or you might see Willie Nelson, who knew!?

8. Blanton Museum of Art

The Blanton Museum of Art is incredible – it has everything from showcases of contemporary black artists, to Parisian prints from the 1600s, to fashion in colonial Latin America. Thursdays are free at Blanton, so you can always book your vacation a little earlier than expected, no?

Besides paint, the building is incredible, and their renovations are making it an internet icon – do you recognize it from the image below? You’ll probably want to take a selfie there like any other self-respecting Austin visitor, no judgment!

9. Visit East Austin

East Austin is colloquially referred to as “hipster heaven,” but it has some of the most creative restaurants (like the gigantor tacos at Juan in a Million, or Launderette, an old laundromat turned globally-themed restaurant), and bars (like Lustre Pearl East, the original Rainey Street bungalow-turned bar, or Full Circle Bar, home of Brewskee-Ball® which some folks take very seriously).

But East Austin also has the most adorable vintage shops like Charm School Vintage, or you can head over to Corocoro for fair trade art, jewelry, clothing, and decor from Latin American artists.

For entertainment, visit the Blue Starlight Mini Urban Drive-In for new releases or classics, and give Ground Floor Theatre a shot – they’re telling stories of under-represented groups like BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ folks.

Make your next Austin weekend trip more authentic by hitting up museums, witnessing the grandeur of the natural surroundings, and shoving as much Tex Mex down your gullet as you can.