16 Things to Know Before Visiting Austin

Barton Springs, Austin, Texas.
Barton Springs, Austin, Texas. | © Heather Drake / Alamy Stock Photo
Jessica Devenyns

So you’ve decided you’re going to Austin. That’s all fine and dandy, but with the city exploding in popularity, you’ve heard so many things that you aren’t sure where to even begin when you arrive. That’s OK. Half the beauty of this Texas town is all the options for fun that are stuffed into a few square miles. To help you make the most of whatever experience you stumble into though, here are 16 key things you should know before you visit.

It’s hot

Sure, we might taunt you with tales about how nice it is during the winter, but if we were being perfectly honest, we would also tell you that the temperatures are infernal during the summertime. And summer is long. Things start heating up around mid-March and don’t usually cool down before November. That’s nine months of summertime. It’s no wonder that we’re all about that casual attire.

Zilker Park, Austin, Texas.

Early is the best time of day

From traffic to scorching summer afternoons, there are so many reasons that you want to live life outside of normal daylight hours in Austin. While residents wait for Austin to officially implement siesta hour, they keep their own unofficial one and disappear out of the mid-day sun. So, do like the locals and avoid being singed during the afternoon. Instead, plan your day to start early. You’ll appreciate the city more when the weather is bearable and it will be a relief not to be jostled by crowds as you enjoy the quiet of a city just waking up.

Golden hour sunrise along Town Lake, Austin, Texas.

Always give yourself 15 minutes extra to arrive

Austin traffic is notorious; it’s so bad, it’s even been compared to LA. Sadly, even Google Maps doesn’t know what to do with it and is often readjusting so rapidly during your drive that it’s better not to use it at all. Waze too rarely gives you accurate arrival times. So, to be on the safe side, leave 15 minutes before you think you need to. Even if you arrive early, you’re still going to need the extra time to find parking.

Traffic jam in Austin, Texas.

Buy some burnt orange

If you visit Austin during the fall, make sure you have some burnt orange gear. It’s not like you’ll get kicked out of the bar or anything, but you’re sure to stick out like a sore thumb in a sea of orange-clad fans. If you aren’t fitting in, don’t be surprised if you get asked if you’re a Longhorn. We just like to know you’re one of us.

Pre-Game Football Activities at The University of Texas, Austin.

You’re going to see a lot of skin

It’s already been established that Austin is hot. As such, you’re going to see a lot of shorts, tank tops, crop tops and, if you’re at the park, topless people. Don’t worry about it, though. No one is doing this to impress you; it’s truly just the most functional way to make it through the summer without melting.

Group of people relaxing in the park in Austin, Texas.

Do not drink more than one Purple Rita

There is a thing called a Purple Rita and although it’s beautiful when it arrives in its frosted goblet, it is dangerous. In fact, because it’s filled with tequila, Everclear and blue Curacao, these drinks are rationed. Although the limit says two, if you’re planning on walking out of Baby A’s, it’s really inadvisable.

Barman pouring drink into a cocktail glass filled with ice cubes

Bring a teammate to the Trudy’s challenge

In a similar vein to being mindful of your Purple Rita consumption, if you suddenly get a wild hair to test out your liver with the Trudy’s Challenge make sure you have a very responsible and very sober buddy with you. If you’re wondering, Trudy’s is famous for its super-potent Mexican martinis, and you’re limited to two. However, there is a loophole. Austin has four Trudy’s, so you could theoretically have eight of these martinis in one evening. If you’re on vacation, you might want to try this on a Monday when the Mexican martinis are on special for $5 each.

Martinis with pearl onion garnish

Don’t wait for Franklin’s, go to Mickelethwaith’s

You probably already have a stop at Franklin’s Barbecue on your to-do list. That’s fine, but you should scratch it off. Immediately. Instead, make it your mission to go to Mickelethwaith Craft Meats to indulge in some Texas BBQ. Open Tuesday through Sunday, the line here goes quite a bit faster and the sides are a heck of a lot better. It says it opens at 11, but unlike its uber-famous counterpart, you don’t have to arrive four hours in advance to be guaranteed some ’cue.

Ribs being taken off a smoky barbecue grill

The Cathedral of Junk is worth it

You’ve probably heard about the Cathedral of Junk, but be prepared for a search. This junk mecca is hidden in the backyard of an unassuming South Austin house owned by Vince Hannemann. Began in 1988 when Hannemann was in his mid-20s, the Cathedral of Junk has steadily expanded over the years and is now marked by vaulted ceilings and airy passageways. As you wind your way through 60 tons of junk into the “Throne Room” admire the strange beauty that is his curated assortment of discarded cables, bicycle parts, beer signs and knick-knacks.

Cathedral of Junk in Austin, Texas.

Bring a swimsuit

Even if it’s February, you’ll be surprised that there are some days that creep up towards 90 degrees. Of course, the warmth won’t stay if it’s wintertime, but if you’re here April–November, you’re definitely going to want to get some pool time in. At least, you’re going to want to lay out and soak up some sunshine and there is no better way to do that than in a swimsuit at Barton Springs.

People swimming at Barton Springs Pool in Austin, Texas, on a hot sunny summer day.

Don’t fly in during a festival

If you haven’t heard, Austin has a tiny airport. Even though it has recently expanded, there’s still not enough room to usher festival-goers through the aisles and into the city. So, that means that you’re going to be trapped in a full-to-bursting airplane that will then spill out onto the over-crowded streets that lead to the city at a snail’s pace. Not only that, but you can almost be guaranteed that your tickets will cost twice as much than on any other day of the year. Unless you’re dying to come for SXSW, F1 or ACL, just wait a week to come. Your wallet will thank you.

Thousands of music fans congregate on the lawn of Zilker Park during the Austin City Limits Music Festival

We like to drink

Bring sunglasses

Out of 365 days, Austin gets an average of 300 days of sunshine! So basically, if you’re riding a bike, enjoying some SUP on Ladybird Lake or even just walking around town, you’re going to want to be able to see without having to squint constantly.

Bicyclists ride on the Austin Boardwalk over Ladybird Lake.

Follow the music

In Austin, you can be absolutely sure to have a good time if you just follow the music. It could be in a park, or you could be jammin’ in a cafe. Just know if there is music, you probably want to be there. Check out Do512 and make yourself a calendar.

The Heart of Texas Music signs in Austin, Texas.

Eat at a trailer park

In Austin, dining out often literally means outdoors. In the last several years, trailer park eateries have become wildly popular due to the year-round warm weather and Austin’s love of the casual. However, don’t think that just because you’re being served with a paper boat and plastic utensils that the food will be average. Far from it. Some of the best restaurants in town operate exclusively out of trailers.

BBQ trailer in Austin, Texas.

Things are changing

If your friend told you last year that Uncommon Objects was on South Congress, you might want to check that. Rents are rising and old landmarks are changing rapidly in Austin, so it’s always a good idea to double check that you know exactly where you’re going before you leave (remember that traffic?). The flip side is that there are so many new things to experience now that you’ll have a whole new up-to-date list of things that your friends “must see” when they visit Austin.

Austin Skyline

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