After living in the Austin area for 20 years, I love more everyday. It’s equal measures of laid-back fun and urban delight. Find murals and world-class museums in the morning then sample all the taco goodness while shopping for a pair of cowboy boots in the evening. Austin is all this plus outdoor adventure. Grab a boat or board and explore Lady Bird Lake then hike up to see the city lights flitter on at sunset. Here’s the best in a packed 4 day itinerary for Austin, Texas, by a local.
Day 1: Parks and Art of West Austin
Find a delightful mix of art, parks and the best Austin city view, all west of Mopac (Loop 1). Austin’sMopac is the western north-south highway artery. And it’s named after the Missouri-Pacific Railroad line that runs in-between the lanes.
3505 W. 35th St.
Open from dawn to dusk
Mayfield Park is like two parks in one. The central area is a formal landscaped water lily garden with a vintage cottage. Though the show stopper is the flock of peacocks that roam the property, perching in the trees.
Outside the landscaped area, find an additional 21-acres of wilderness area to explore. Located next to Laguna Gloria.
Laguna Gloria Sculpture Park
3809 W. 35th St.
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission $5 for adults, $3 for students and free for kids under 18. Free on Tuesdays
An art museum for art and nature lovers. Visit the outdoor contemporary sculpture garden where kids can roam while adults enjoy art. Set on a Lake Austin estate, check in at the desk for backpack filled with art supplies and an iPod with music to compliment the art for kids.
Texas Military Forces Museum
3038 W. 35th St.
Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
I didn’t know what to expect, especially when I had to stop at security to get onto Camp Mabry, a Texas military installation. But as soon as we walked in my boys, 10 and 14, were entranced.
See everything from old uniforms to a fighter jet trainer kids can climb in. Find lots of WWII artifacts too. Learn how Texans contributed to the military from the Texas Revolution until present.
If this falls flat for your family, then skip it. And add Deep Eddy Pool if the weather is warm, usually from March through October.
Deep Eddy Pool
401 Deep Eddy Avenue
Open every day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Admission Adults 18 to 62 $9, Adults 62+ and teens 12 to 17 $5, kids 1 to 11 $4 and babies are free
Deep Eddy Pool’s waterdraws most swimmers because of the natural water. Fresh spring water is pumped into the pool every other day and never treated with chlorine. The temperature ranges from 65F to 75F, quite refreshing on a hot summer day. A locals favorite, and just a few miles away from the more popular Barton Springs Pool.
3800 Mount Bonnell Rd.
Open from dawn to dusk
Head up the rock stairs for some of best views in Austin. At the top, find a pavilion and look down on the Lake Austin section of the Colorado River. This is the place to watch the sun set.
See the downtown Austin skyline in the opposite direction at this 5-acre park. The pavilion area has a fence but the trail back to the parking lot doesn’t so watch the little kids.
Where to Eat in West Austin
Take in the views at Hula Hut on Lake Austin, an ATX institution that offers boat parking. Try the Tubular Tacos for a Hawaiian take on a burrito. Located at 3825 Lake Austin Blvd. Open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
For a quick snack, head to Mozart’s Coffee Roasters, located next to Hula Hut. Find desserts, coffee drinks and ice cream. Open 7 a.m. to midnight, most days.
Day 2: Out and About in Zilker Park
Zilker Park is Austin’s backyard. Home to Barton Springs Pool, Zilker Botanical Gardenand the Austin Nature Center. Pack a picnic and a Frisbee for more fun.
Zilker Park hosts many activities throughout the year, like Zilker Kite Festival, Austin City Limits Music Festival and holiday favorite Trail of Lights. Parking is free during the week, though weekends and special events pay for parking in the park.
Barton Springs Pool
2131 William Barton Dr.
Open every day 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., closed Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. for cleaning
Admission Adults 18 to 62 $9.00, Seniors 62+ and teens (12 to 17) $5.00, Kids (1 to 11) $4.00 and free for babies.
Enjoy a sparkling blue oasis at the Barton Spring Pool with a year-round constant water temperature of 68 to 70 degrees F. With three-acres of spring-fed water, swimmers can jump off the diving board, walk in on the zero-entry rock entrance or swim laps for exercise.
Splash! Into the Edwards Aquifer Exhibit
2201 Barton Springs Rd.
Open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
Learn about the Barton Springs that feed the pool along with the endangered Barton Springs Salamander. This is an interactive exhibit with hands-on activities just right for school-age kids.
Zilker Zephyr Miniature Train
2100 Barton Springs Dr.
Open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission Adults $3, Kids (1 to 12) $2 and Babies Free
Right across from the Barton Springs Pool hop abroad Zilker Park’s miniature train. On a 20-minute ride, get a tour of the park. A must for kids. Cash only
Next to the Zilker Zephyr Depot
Find a shaded playscape for the kids to run off some energy. Lots of play equipment on a large playground.
Zilker Hillside Theatre
2206 William Barton Dr.
Shows Thursday to Sunday evenings during the summer season
Across from the Barton Springs Pool, enjoy Broadway classics under the stars during the summer. For over 60 years, visitors have thrown down blankets and packed picnic baskets for dinner and a show al-fresco.
Zilker Park Boat Rentals
2101 Andrew Zilker Rd.
Open every day 9 a.m. to dusk
$18/an hour per boat or $54 all day
Nestled along the banks of Barton Creek, rent a boat or board to explore Zilker Park by water. The creek features calm water and lots of turtles and birds to see.
Since Barton Creek feeds into Lady Bird Lake turn around at the entrance of Town Lake with inexperienced paddlers. Larger boats navigate Lake Bird Lake. Cash Only
Austin Nature Center
2389 Strafford Drive
Open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday noon to 5 p.m.
Learn about environment science in an indoor/outdoor space. See native animals in rehabilitative care. Take the Forest Trail to see native trees. Then take a hike to the overlook to see the Austin skyline.
Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum
605 Azie Morton Rd.
Open Tuesday to Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday noon to 4 p.m. Closed Monday
Admission Adults $5, Students $1, Kids 12 and under free, Senior Discount
Walk through a landscaped garden featuring the bronze sculptures of Charles Umlauf. A nice blend for parents who appreciate art and kids who get bored in indoor museums.
Where to Eat near Zilker Park
For Tex-Mex aficionados, a meal at Chuy’s Restaurant is a must. Keeping it the way it should be, this is the original location. Find Tex-Mex classics, like taco plates and enchiladas. And find a menu of margaritas, all solid.
Located at 1728 Barton Springs Road, it’s open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Day 3: Discover SoCo—South Congress
After exploring the parks and museums across Austin, change gears and head to South Congress. Packed with funky shopping, dining and the iconic murals, it’s an easy stroll for families. Though watch the kids, South Congress is a busy street.
Where to Shop on South Congress
South Congress offers unique and local shopping.
Big Top Candy Shop—The kids will see this old-fashioned candy store before the adults. Located at 1706 S. Congress Ave.
Allen’s Boots—If you’re looking for cowboy boots, head here. It’s where I bought my Lucchese boots. Or just window shop and breath in the rich leather smell. Located at 1522 S. Congress Ave.
Tesoro’s Trading Company—With a wide assortment of imported items, teens love to poke around. Located at 1500 S. Congress Ave.
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds—It’s a costume shop that offers everything imaginable. Located at 1506 S. Congress Ave.
Where to Eat on South Congress
Since I love to eat, I suggest the following local places.
Guero’s Mexican Food—Lots of tables and Tex-Mex staples, located at 1412 S. Congress Ave.
Home Slice Pizza—A home-grown Austin chain baking up thin crust pizza. Located at 1415 S. Congress Ave.
Torchy’s Tacos—An Austin original with inventive tacos sold individually. Located at 1822 S. Congress Ave.
The Murals of South Congress
The kids have been good so it’s time for a treat. As a bonus, get some of the best murals in Austin.
Hey Cupcake + Smile Mural —Located in the vintage Airstream trailer, find an assortment of cupcakes piled high with buttercream. Located at 1511 S. Congress Ave.
Amy’s Ice Cream + Amy’s Cartoon People Mural—Another ATX original with ice cream so creamy and rich most adults grab a cone. Located at 1301 S. Congress Ave.
Jo’s Coffee and the I Love You So MuchMural—Mom needs a pick-me-up so stop at Jo’s then snap a selfie at the street art on the side of the building.
Check out the Willie for President Mural located at the intersection of Elizabeth and S. Congress Ave. And really there’s loads of murals up and down S. Congress Ave. So play mural hide-and-seek with the kids.
Congress Avenue Bridge Bats
South Congress Avenue
Dusk from March through November
Free but pay to park in a nearby garage.
Every spring over a million bats move into the South Congress Bridge over Lake Bird Lake. As the unofficial mascot of Austin, the bats fly out each sunset in a dizzying pattern munching on bugs.
Choose your viewing stop carefully since the sleepy bats like to pee-pee first thing after leaving their roost. Several bats colonies live in Austin, this is the most famous colony.
Day 4 All about Texas
If it’s your first trip to Austin, Texas, then learn more about Texas. A trip to the Capital is a must. It’s the only state that originally an independent country before becoming a U.S. state. And native Texans will tell you all about it.
Texas State Capitol
1100 Congress Ave.
Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday. Tours 8:30 to 4:30
Saturday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tours 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Sunday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tours noon to 3:30 p.m.
For Texans a trip to the capital is a must. Built from 1882 to 1888, it’s actually taller than the U.S. Capital. The capitol grounds offer shaded walking paths and the interior features the sculptures of Sam Houston and Stephen Austin, by local artist Elizabeth Ney.
Stop by the Capitol Visitors Center for more information. The Texas Travel Center is also located at this building. Located at 112 East 11th St. and it’s not required to visit the visitor center before heading to the Capitol Tour. Open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.
Visitors to the Texas State Capitol have to pass through airport-style security. Parking is located at the Capitol Visitors Parking Garage, located at 1201 San Jacinto Blvd.
The Bullock Texas State History Museum
1800 Congress Ave.
Open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday noon to 5 p.m.
Admission Adults $13, Students $11 and Kids (4 to 17) $9
Learn more about Texas history and catch an IMAX movie at this popular museum for families. Check out the artifacts area for unique objects from Texas history. Located just north of the capitol.
University of Texas Campus
405 W. 25th St.
Open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
If you’ve got a teen in the car, then head to the University of Texas for a college tour. Even on the busiest of college tours week (Spring Break) you can see the school.
Start with making an online reservation for an information session and campus tour. Then reserve a tour for individual college tours and on-campus housing.
If no one is headed to college, then head to a nearby museum instead.
Elizabeth Ney Museum
304 E. 44th St.
Open Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday
If you visited the Texas State Capitol then you saw Elizabeth Ney’s sculptures of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston. Originally born and educated in Germany she immigrated to Texas in 1882.
This is her former studio where she lived and worked. See lots of examples of her sculpture then continue outside to see the gardens around the museum. Located in the Hyde Park, the historic neighborhood, north of the University of Texas.
Where to Eat near the UT Campus
On Guadalupe, or “the drag” as the locals call it, find an iconic burger joint. Dirty Martin’s KumBack Place been grilling up burgers since 1926. The front entrance looks a bit sketcky though head to the back room for a picnic table with the kids.
Along with the burgers served in baskets I recommend the shakes. Located at 2808 Guadalupe and open every day from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Another Austin institution, Hyde Park Bar and Grill, has been serving up its addictive fries since 1982. Housed in a vintage 1920s cottage with a giant fork sculpture out front, it’s the place for brunch. Though I enjoy the lunch too. Along with the fries, the Pimento Cheese and Cucumber Sandwich is tops.
Located at 4206 Duval and open every day from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.