15 Obligatory Experiences for Austin Newcomers

Whether you’ve just moved here or simply visiting for a while, you probably already know that there’s no shortage of things to do here in Austin. As a public service, we’d like to offer fifteen suggestions to get you out of your home or hotel room and see what our city has to offer. Many of these suggestions are certainly no secret – hell, you might have done some of these already. Consider it sort of a checklist; an mini-Austin Bucket List, but without the morbid undertones.

15. Go get 6th St. over with

If Austin has a reputation as both the Live Music Capital of the World and a hard drinking party town (both of which are 100% true, by the way), it’s mostly due to the antics that take place on 6th St. downtown nearly every night. Spend an evening there and on some of the surrounding streets (such as Red River or over in the Warehouse District). You’ll have fun, maybe drink a little too  much, meet some interesting people and then probably have no desire to ever go again.

14. Go see the bats on Congress

It’s almost cliche at this point but, for those who have yet to see it, watching the bat colony that makes its home under the Congress Street bridge come out at night for dinner is a pretty spectacular experience. The late Spring/Summer months are the best times to see them flock as they migrate south to Mexico for the winter.!–nextpage–>

13. Take the tour at the Texas State Capitol

Did you know that the Texas State Capitol building is taller than the U.S. Capitol building? Well, it totally is! That’s just one of the nuggets of info you’ll learn when you take a free tour of the center of Texas politics. It’s not just all random facts, though. The extremely knowledgeable tour guides will walk you through everything from the history of the building, how that history intertwines with Austin history and how the Texas state government works.!–nextpage–>

12. See a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz

The selection of The Ritz (320 E. 6th St.) for this entry isn’t simply because this list has to have the Drafthouse on it and we picked one at random. While all of the Austin Drafthouse locations are made of awesome, The Ritz has a few elements going for it that make it the perfect selection for first time visitors. For starters, it’s located downtown, making it easy to find and convenient to get to. Secondly, while the smallest of all the locations, it’s also the Drafthouse with the most character. Finally, there’s always something fun and unusual showing there outside of the standard Hollywood fare.!–nextpage–>

11. Wait in line for some Franklin BBQ

We love us some Franklin BBQ (900 E. 11th St.), and not just because our own Daniel Webb bumped knuckles with the President there. It’s just so delicious you’ll want to found a religion around it. Franklin BBQ doesn’t have a set closing time. They just open at 11 am and serve up amazing meat and sauce until they run out. It’s so good that people will line up three hours or more in advance just to get some. This, much like waiting in line for the new iPhone or Star Wars movie, has become a social event in of itself. Bring a folding chair and a cooler of beer (or exquisite mineral water) and get to know the folks around you.!–nextpage–>

10. Visit as many food trailers as you can

If proof was ever needed that Austin is, without a doubt “weird”, look no further than the city’s obsession with food sold out of trucks. These food trailers spread out through all parts of Austin aren’t just selling tacos and snowcones (although the ones that do are awesome), however. Everything from Indian cuisine to cupcakes to the legendary Mighty Cone ca all be found at one of the dozens and dozens of Austin food trailers. Here’s a great resource to help you find them.!–nextpage–>

9. Attend a Blues on the Green show

Let’s face it; if you’re visiting Austin for any length of time, you’re going to see some live music. You won’t be able to escape it. If you happen to be visiting in the early summer, however, you’ll be able to treat yourself to one of the free Blues on the Green concerts held in Zilker Park. Hosted by local radio station KGSR 93.3 FM some of the best bands in blues, rock and alt-country have played on this stage. This year alone has seen acts like the Heartless Bastards, Charlie Mars and Quiet Company perform.!–nextpage–>

8. Catch a Texas Rollergirls match

If a Texas Rollergirls event is the first time you’ve ever seen roller derby, you’ll undoubtedly spend a decent amount of time early on attempting to decipher the rules. This will last until about fifteen minutes into the start of the first bout, at which point you’ll simply tell the rules to go pound sand and just enjoy the wild spectacle for what it is.

Flanked by a live punk rock band, extremely enthusiastic announcers and a wild but friendly fan base, these matches are competed by fierce, talented, passionate women who play simply because it’s so much damned fun. Don’t be fooled, though; they take it as seriously as if it were their full time job.!–nextpage–>

7. Go hiking or swimming near the Pennybacker bridge

Stretching across Lake Austin, connecting two different section of the Capital of Texas Highway, is the Pennybacker bridge.  Built in 1982, this familiar Austin landmark also plays host to hikers, swimmers, boaters and your general outdoorsy type folk. It’s a great way to take in some of the more natural aspects of the area without having to drive all that far. Head on over here to get more details.!–nextpage–>

6. Take the Tarantino/Rodriguez/Linklater/Judge Tour

Austin has been both a home and a muse for some of the most creative filmmakers working today. Robert Rodriguez (the upcoming “Sin City: A Dame To Kill For”), Mike Judge (“Office Space”) and Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”,”Slacker”) still live here and Quentin Tarantino has both filmed and held his semi-annual film festival here. Grab a bite to eat at Guero’s  Taco Bar (1412 S. Congress) or the Texas Chili Parlor (1409 Lavaca) (“Death ‘Proof”), have a picnic on a field illuminated by one of the city’s many Moonlight Towers (“Dazed and Confused”) or have a couple of drinks at the Baker Street Pub (3003 S. Lamar) (“Office Space”).!–nextpage–>

5. Attend Hippie Church

Photo provided by Maria's Taco Xpress

Photo provided by Maria’s Taco Xpress

Brunch, that most effervescent of meals, is a Sunday morning tradition in Austin that is not to be taken lightly. While mimosas and omelets are always a good time in general, Hippie Church at Maria’s Taco Express (2529 S. Lamar) is in a class by itself. Treat yourself to some of the best migas tacos your  tastebuds will ever encounter, fix yourself a little hair-of-the-dog at the Bloody Mary bar and loose yourself in the live gospel music that fills the air.!–nextpage–>

4. Visit the downtown Whole Foods

It says something about Austin that, on a list of things to do in town, one of the items is “go to the grocery store”. However, Whole Foods (525 N. Lamar) is by no means a common grocery store, and this massive anchor store is one of the popular chain’s crown jewels. Have a meal at one of the many stations dotted throughout the store.Mmarvel at their ridiculously massive wine selection. Then head up to the roof for live music or, in the winter, ice skating. No, seriously. Ice skating.!–nextpage–>

3. Take a dip at Deep Eddy, Hamilton Pool and Barton Springs

When you return home from your Austin vacation, do you want to tell your friend about how nice your hotel pool was? Or would you rather tell them about how you swam in a pool heated by hot springs? We thought so. There are plenty of natural (and natural-ish) spots in town to take a refreshing dip, such as Deep Eddy Pool, Barton Springs Pool and various spots along the Greenbelt Trail. Our favorite, however, has to be Hamilton Pool. Why? Look at that photo above. That’s why.!–nextpage–>

2. Blow some quarters at Pinballz

We recently summed up what makes this place so amazing in our feature on “5 Austin Arcades To Lose All Your Quarters In.”

“Tucked away in North Austin near the warehouses and railroad tracks, Pinballz Arcade (78758) has nevertheless become an local institution. While this venue’s stand out feature is their breathtaking collection of vintage pinball machine (thus the name), they also boast a wide variety of classic and current arcade games as well. Not to mention the classic games of skill and ticket redemption prize counter. That’s right, even you can win an inflatable alligator no bigger than your cat for only 800 tickets.

Pinballz is an all-ages venue, which means that while there’s plenty to choose from at the snack bar, you won’t be able to buy beer. Thankfully, it’s also BYOB – although they, understandably, have plenty of regulations to go along with that as well.”



1. Hit up South Congress on a First Thursday

All at once both trendy and iconoclastic, the stretch of Congress from the river to Oltorf is littered with stylish boutiques, thrift stores, wine bars, dive bars, hip restaurants, food trailers, art galleries, antique stores and candy shops. While any time of the year is a fun time to stroll down South Congress (except for maybe during the annual Classic Car Rally – then it’s just a madhouse), the first Thursday of every month is when things get really entertaining. Shops stay open later, booths selling arts, crafts and more spring up like vines and there’s seemingly a live band playing every fifty feet. If you want to experience what Austin is about on just one stretch of road, South Congress on First Thursday is the place to be.

Are these the definitive 15? Of course not. Share with us your favorite Austin newcomer tips via Twitter and tag it with #AustinNewb.

Featured photo: Flickr user Amy Gizienski, creative commons licensed.