What are the best things to see and do when visiting Austin, TX?

Answer by Trey Philips:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eBwy8lXetw&t=3m47sTrailer food is a pretty big thing here. There are several trailer parks just for food. The ones I would suggest the most are Torchy's Tacos, which is a local chain now. Try any of the tacos and especially the queso. The trailer park location on South First has the full trailer park experience, but the brick-and-mortar locations have better soda selections. http://www.torchystacos.com/ Gourdough's is a donut stand with unusual but incredible donuts. These are meal-sized so prepare to be full. http://www.gourdoughs.com/ All three locations (within blocks of each other) of East Side King have short but delicious menus of east and southeast Asian inspired food. http://www.eastsidekingaustin.com/ Chi'Lantro is another big hit with Korean Mexican fusion items such as kimchi fries and bulgogi tacos. http://www.chilantrobbq.com/ I could go on, but this is a good start. See: Austin, TX: What are the best trailer foods in Austin? (stole the video clip from Andrei Matei's answer, in fact).

And of course, we have plenty of good brick-and-mortar restaurants, too. There's an entire topic for it on Quora — Restaurants in Austin, TX. It's hard to even list off only a few recommendations, but try Hopdoddy for burgers, Home Slice for pizza, La Condesa for California-style, Manuel's or Zocalo for Mexican, Koriente for Korean, Buenos Aires Cafe for Argentine, Blue Dahlia for casual French, The Steeping Room for a simple lunch and some tea, Casa de Luz or Beet's for vegan, Whole Foods for anything, Daily Juice for raw smoothies, and Amy's for ice cream. What's that? You don't have tacos and queso as part of your daily diet? There is Tex-Mex all over the place (Yelp has over 300 Austin listings), but the most popular ones that come to mind are Trudy's, Chuy's, and Pavlo's. BBQ is really competitive, too. People love Salt Lick and Franklin the most. See: Restaurants in Austin, TX: What is the best BBQ in Austin?. I'm vegetarian so our tastes may not line up, but I've also answered Restaurants in Austin, TX: What are the best vegan/vegetarian restaurants in Austin?.

We have plenty of great coffee shops, too. My favorites are Spider House (pictured) with its weird patio and Christmas lights (http://www.spiderhousecafe.com) and Mozart's for its view of the lake (http://www.mozartscoffee.com/). There are a lot of others also worth checking out, maybe deserving its own Quora question. Bennu, Quack's, and Progress come to mind.

Alamo Drafthouse is pretty cool. http://drafthouse.com/austin The South Lamar location is my favorite. It's not just a regular movie theater — they serve food and drinks while you're eating, and they play crazy old VHS and YouTube clips before movies instead of ads. They sometimes do other cool things, like when watching Inglourious Basterds, during the scene in which everyone is running out of the theater, giant flags dropped down from the walls. They also have regular events like sing-alongs and old movie screenings. I saw Die Hard before Christmas and they gave us cap guns to shoot during shooting scenes, and they did fireworks on a stage in front of the screen during high action scenes. Pretty badass. Do not use your cell phone at all or talk during the movie or you will be escorted out.

Recently, the owners of Alamo Drafthouse opened up The Highball, which is amusements like bowling and karaoke: http://www.thehighball.com/ I've heard it's because movies always sell out at Alamo, so you have to order tickets way ahead of time, and this gives you something to do while you're waiting. Ironically, The Highball fills up too now, so you may find yourself waiting for a place designed to solve waiting periods. The Goodnight is a newer, similarly themed business farther north that offers drinking, bowling, billiards, table tennis, shuffleboard with a restaurant built in. http://thegoodnightaustin.com/
Note: The Highball is temporarily closed for renovations until Fall 2013.

Kung Fu Saloon is a bar with a bunch of old arcade games. On Sunday, the games are free. http://kungfusaloon.com/austin/ Recess is another, newer arcade bar on dirty sixth. http://recessarcadebar.com/

Looking for karaoke? There's a great place for that up north called Austin Karaoke (pictured above), where you can bring your own booze and rent a room like the one pictured. http://www.yelp.com/biz/austin-k… There are plenty of other places for it, too, including The Highball (mentioned above, has private rooms), Ego's (a very secluded dive bar), and various bars across Austin.

Disc Golf is relatively big here. I've heard Austin has the most courses per capita, but I can't find anything to back that up. http://dgcoursemaps.com/ maps them out. Pease Park was the best, but it shut down in 2011 to protect the park. Zilker Park (pictured) is a bit easier and also in central Austin, so it gets my vote today.

If you have a chance, check out the Texas Roller Derby girls, another relatively big thing in Austin. This isn't a cute little show. It's a brutal competition. Seriously, this sport seems more dangerous to me than most of the mainstream sports. These girls have hilarious names and will be kicking ass. Just imagine what happens when you put far too many angry ladies in rollerblades and make them race around a track. You can get tickets at the door. http://www.txrd.com/about/tickets

Tubing down the Guadalupe is a nice way to spend a summer day. It's kind of far away, though. A lot of companies will rent you tubes and give you a ride to the river. At the end, they will collect the tubes and give you a bus ride back to your parking lot. They also rent tubes for your drink cooler. Seriously, it looks like a mini-tube with a board on the bottom so your drinks don't float away. Try to time it so you don't go when it's too crowded. Barton Springs Pool (second photo) is another way to cool down that's actually in the city. The water is spring water, which is extremely cold (even on 100+ degree summer days), and it has a small entrance fee. There are hills on both sides which make for a great place to lay out. Sometimes, there may be topless sunbathers, which is legal but on the decline.

For exercise and more outdoor activities, check out Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake, first photo). Despite the name 'lake', it is part of the Colorado River, so it's a very long, moving body of water. It has long trails along both sides and a dedicated pedestrian bridge. People are regularly jogging, biking, skating, rollerblading, fishing, etc. around it. You can also rent a kayak, canoe, stand-up paddleboard, or paddle boat if you're up for some water activities. Zilker Park is a large, public park that's connected to it, as I've mentioned elsewhere in this answer. If you're planning on walking or jogging, The University of Texas campus (second photo) is another option.

Speaking of Lady Bird Lake, a pretty touristy thing to do is to stand at the Congress Avenue Bridge and watch the bats at dawn. This happens during spring and summer right as the sun falls. I've been let down by the bats a few times — sometimes they just don't have a good showing, and the walkways of the bridge get very crowded with people snapping pictures and all. It's also a lot of waiting around for a relatively short event. But hey, it's free. In addition to the bridge, there are small lawns on both side of the bridge you can lay out on.

If you want some nice scenery, take a walk around Mayfield Park, which is a small area full of peacocks. It's open to the public. Also, just down the street is Mount Bonnell (second photo), where you can park, walk up some steps, and get an awesome view of The Hill Country.

And I'd be remiss to not mention the Capitol. Its dome is really gigantic when you're looking at it from below. It's one of those things for which a picture won't do justice. It's free and open to the public.

There are bunches of unique shops to visit. Try just walking down South Congress. There are so many great and weird little shops here. On the first Thursday of each month, all of the stores stay open late and the street becomes a giant party pretty much. http://www.firstthursday.info/ Also, I have to suggest Toy Joy on the drag (Guadalupe), which is basically the Austin version of a toy store. There's Tears of Joy, an entire shop dedicate to hot sauces on 6th street. The Whole Foods HQ (second photo) is an experience in and of itself — they have a ton of little restaurants inside, the building is pretty large, the roof has a playground and tables for eating, and during the winter, they put an ice skating rink on the roof. It's not simply a grocery store.

More Austin landmarks include the Cathedral of Junk (first photo), which is exactly what it sounds like. It's in the back yard of a small house, but it's quite large. http://www.roadsideamerica.com/s… Then, there's the famous "Hi, How Are You" frog (second photo), which was put on the side of a building by musician Daniel Johnston. In 1983, it was his "Hi, How Are You" album cover. In 1993, Kurt Cobain had been wearing a t-shirt with the album cover on his Nirvana tour, and the building owner commissioned Johnston to make a mural of it on this wall. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan… Both of these landmarks have been in threat of being destroyed, but Austin citizens have come together to make sure they're preserved as cultural landmarks. Couples love taking photos in front of the "i love you so much" wall (third photo) in front of Jo's Coffee on South Congress. People also seem to love the Magnolia Cafe "Sorry We're Open" neon sign (fourth photo), also on South Congress.

If you see this eccentric cross-dresser, congratulations. You've just had your first Leslie sighting. Leslie is an Austin icon. He is homeless and has run for mayor three times. He has been having health problems the past few years and is rumored to be moving out of Austin. Update: as of March 8, 2012, Leslie has passed away. You'll still see murals and dedications to him around town, and I'm leaving this here for posterity. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les…

The official Austin city slogan is "The Live Music Capital of the World." In addition to local acts, we have regular touring artists. So, look for a show that's happening when you're in town. Songkick is a decent way to do this. We also have several music festivals, the biggest of which are SXSW (in March) and Austin City Limits Festival (in October). The individual venue websites have listings, too, if you know of a venue you like. Personally, my favorite venue is The Parish (pictured) because it's small, but other major ones include Stubb's, Emo's, Mohawk, La Zona Rosa, and so damn many others. Bars and restaurants regularly have live music as well. Waterloo Records holds free shows during the day, often for large names that have paid performances later.

For nightlife, obviously 6th street is a big thing here. The core part of it is referred to as "dirty sixth" by Austinites for good reasons. If you don't mind going through the mess, you might be able to find some live music or a bar you like. Most are typical bars, but you can also find gems like the Driskill bar (fancy hotel with Texan decor), a piano bar, dubstep night at Barcelona, or a few other things that might suit you. I'd recommend East 6th (hipster haven, second photo) or West 6th (fancier, but basically just a bunch of white people) instead. West 5th is starting to fill out, and west 4th holds the small gay district (also called the warehouse district). I'd also suggest the Elephant Room on Congress for live jazz each night. There may be a cover. Lastly, the Rainey Street district has recently developed as another popular nightlife area and has more bars planned to open soon. The bars here are somewhat nice with relaxed atmospheres.

If you need to get some actual work done, check out Conjunctured. Full disclosure: I'm a former member and know the founders. It's a co-working house (which means they've got all the normal office stuff for you to use) on the east side with a great, tight-knit community. You can drop by at a daily rate if they've got space, and you'll meet some great people. http://conjunctured.com/join-us/

There are city events continuously. Here are some of my favorite annual festivals:

  • March: Zilker Park Kite Festival – free, hundreds of kites. http://www.zilkerkitefestival.com/
  • March: SXSW Festival – one of the largest tech, music, and film festivals. The city is a different, completely chaotic place during these weeks. This isn't restricted to the Austin Convention Center — venues and places that aren't normally venues across Austin will be participating officially and unofficially. Many downtown roads will be shut down, taxis and traffic will barely move, and most people won't even be from Austin. You can walk around downtown and find many free things to do, but a badge or wristband will help get into events. Great bands, great parties, celebrities and microcelebrities galore. Pure chaos across the city. Some things free, some badge required. http://www.sxsw.com/
  • April: Eeyore's Birthday (pictured above) – This is an awesome hippie festival that takes over Pease Park. People bring their kids, but there will be bodypainted girls and very… disoriented people having strange conversations and hanging in trees. There will be drum circles and massive posters for anyone to paint on. Free entry. Some vendors with food, drink, and various makings on the outside. http://www.eeyores.com/ and background info at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eey…
  • April: Austin Reggae Fest – Also known as Bob Marley Fest, this event will have great reggae music and a mysterious cloud of smoke hovering above it. Seriously, you can see it from blocks away. Tickets required. Wear plenty of sunscreen and bring a bottle of water. http://www.austinreggaefest.com
  • June, July, August: Concerts in the Park – weekly Sunday evening performances by The Austin Symphony while you relax and maybe picnic on the lawn of the Long Center. Completely free. Bring lawn chairs, maybe some snacks, and some wine. http://www.austinsymphony.org/
  • June, July, August: Blues on the Green – weekly music festivals at Zilker Park from local musicians. Completely free. http://www.kgsr.com/blues/
  • October: Austin City Limits Festival – multiple stages, tons of big name bands, and plenty of smaller acts. Three days long in Zilker Park. Our second biggest music festival behind SXSW. Tickets required. Bring sunscreen, a water bottle, and a handkercheif as it can get super dusty by night time (they've been working on fixing this problem the last few years). http://www.aclfestival.com/
  • October: Gypsy Picnic Trailer Food Festival – tons of food trailers move down to Auditorium shores and have a reduced menu of offerings. All trailers have $3 sample item, and then various prices for a few other items. Free admission. http://www.gypsypicnic.com/
  • November: Fun Fun Fun Fest – Lots of great bands. Tickets required. http://funfunfunfest.com/
  • December: Trail of Lights – This is a massive display of Christmas lights in Zilker Park. Free to walk around and see. http://www.austintexas.gov/depar…

http://365thingsaustin.com/ has a great list of things to do in Austin for an entire calendar year.

Reddit has a great thread about this, too: http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddi…
Also check out the Reddit Austin community: http://www.reddit.com/r/Austin

Photo credits:
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http://www.biosci.utexas.edu/pub…
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