A Practical Guide to Austin From a Local's Perspective

Catching Sunset in Austin, Texas at Mount Bonnell overlooking the river
Catching Sunset in Austin, Texas at Mount Bonnell overlooking the river | © Scott Biales / Alamy Stock Photo
Jessica Devenyns

Austin is often associated with beer, barbecue, or music. But if you follow this tourism trifecta, you risk falling into the trap of only spending time on the well-traveled path, taking the same photos, and living the same experience as every other tourist before you. Take a page out of this local guide to see the spots that tourists often miss out on and other travel sites never advertise.

Check out Barton Springs after 9pm

Everyone has heard how fabulous Barton Springs is with its crystalline waters and shady canopy that protects against the summer sun. But because everyone has heard of this city-center watering hole, everyone is there. So, instead of making the trek to the Springs mid-day when the sun is blazing and you’re not likely to find a spot on the hillside to park your towel, let alone your car, wait until a little later. At 9pm, Barton Springs becomes free for an hour. Particularly in the summertime, when the air is only marginally cooler than it was at 2pm, a twilight swim (it’s still light at 9pm in the summertime) can be the remedy you need to refresh yourself and prepare for a night out on the town. Plus, from the pool, you can easily walk across the street to enjoy a margarita at Chuy’s or a cool beer and some green chili cheese fries at Shady Grove.

Barton Springs, Austin, Texas

Try Blues on the Green or Unplugged at the Grove

Everyone from Stevie Ray Vaughan and Janis Joplin to Willie Nelson and Shakey Graves has called Austin home. Over the years, live music has become a part of the city’s identity. Many out-of-towners might think that live music centers around the two festivals – SXSW and ACL – that bookend the summer. However, locals know that they are just the season opener and closer. Almost everywhere you go will have someone playing a tune, if you’re looking for the festival vibe, check out the 93.3 KGSR summertime series Blues on the Green or Unplugged at the Grove. The crowds are still there, but it’s almost always the locals. Go ahead, discover some new local Austin music that you didn’t know you loved.

Hungry? Go east young (wo)man

If you’re looking for a hotbed of culinary creativity, Austin is a great place to dine – and not just for great barbecue. If you’re not keen on reservations and big ticket items, however, you may not want to visit any of the restaurants on the top-10 lists. Instead, you should simply head east and cross the Interstate 35 highway in order to find yourself in foodie heaven. Choose from $1.50 tacos at Taco Mex or experience fine dining on a farm at Eden East. Alternatively, grab some seafood at Monger’s – they source their fish from the same local fishmonger as the celebrated Perla’s – or have some of the best homemade pasta you’ve ever indulged in at Patrizi’s. Really, it’s pretty hard to go wrong on this side of town.

Tacos with eggs, spinach, carrots, mushrooms, bell pepper, tortilla chips, avocado, cheese and pico de gallo

Grab a last-minute ticket to a show

While you’re over grabbing a bite on the Eastside, it would behoove you to see a show. While Austin isn’t particularly known for its theater scene, there are a surprising amount of performance artists that call this town home. If you’re interested in original work or experimental performances (which you should be) once you’ve finished dinner on the Eastside, check out the Vortex, ColdTowne, Ground Floor, or the Santa Cruz Theater for a last-minute ticket to a performance that’s sure to inspire conversations deep into the night.

Drive by the Pease Mansion

Of course, there’s the Capitol, the Texas State History Museum, the iconic, northbound view from Congress Avenue, and the new public library that all the guides tell you to visit. While all these sites are unarguably worth seeing, if you want to avoid the crowds and see a little slice of Austin history that not many people know about, head over to Old West Austin and drive by the Pease Mansion. This colonial structure self-assuredly owns the block in the neighborhood where it’s tucked away, and it holds the story of being the pre-Civil War governor’s mansion as well as the history of the Pease family. The Greek-revival home is also known as the Woodlawn Mansion. After you drive by, head back toward downtown via Rainbow Dr. where you can stop off and wander through beautiful Pease Park.

The Austin Antique Mall

Forget vintage shopping on South Congress. If you’re in Austin because you’ve heard how great the second-hand vintage shops are, you weren’t steered wrong. However, if someone said that you should go anywhere but the Austin Antique Mall, they clearly aren’t a seasoned shopper. With 30,000 square feet covered floor to ceiling in vintage, there is nowhere else in town that offers a better selection of vintage furniture, jewelry, clothing, crystal, and every conceivable collection known to mankind.

Interior of Lucy in Disguise thrift vintage store. Austin, Texas

Get your nature fix at Guerrero Park

Sure you can go to Zilker Park or the Barton Creek Greenbelt to fend off hordes of others looking to commune with nature. Or you could go to Roy G Guerrero Colorado River Metro Park where there are miles of scenic trail to wander in peace. Although the bridge connecting the two halves of this park got washed out in a flood a couple of years ago, it’s still a wonderful property to enjoy when you need a break from it all or you just want to enjoy nature in Central Texas.

Those scooters you see everywhere? Use them

Although there’s been continual fighting over dockless scooters in Austin, it must be said that they are probably the single best form of public transport to hit the streets, ever. With next to no public transportation options, traffic in Austin is a congestion nightmare. Unfortunately, transportation options have always been limited because it’s too hot 90 percent of the year to take your bike or walk. As of about two years ago, these dockless scooters that suddenly dropped into town became the solution that everybody loves to hate. They get you from point A to point B without sweating, they’re cheap, and you can bypass traffic. Seriously, if you’re visiting, download one of the apps.

Image of an Arched Metal Bridge in Austin Texas

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