Austin. A blue dot in a Republican state. It’s the capital of Texas, but people would rather vote a country singer for president than any actual politician. This is where the city motto is literally “Keep Austin weird.” Where there’s a public celebration for Eeyore’s birthday (yes, from the cartoon Winnie the Pooh). Where the entire city mourned when Leslie “The Thong Guy” passed away. (He made his mark by running around town in a leopard thong and high-heeled shoes advocating for tolerance. He ran for mayor 3 times, actually getting 2nd place.) As you can see, Austin is a place where everyone is welcome, and the stranger you are the better.
Plan your trip
1. What’s the best time to visit?
2. A few facts about Austin
3. One day in Austin Itinerary
3.1. Mornings in Austin
3.2. Afternoons in Austin
3.3. Nightlife in Austin
4. Where to stay in Austin?
5. Extra tips for visiting Austin
There are a few major events in Austin: Austin City Limits, Formula One Race, South by Southwest, and Texas Relays. Unless you’re attending these events, avoid the city completely. This is when Austinites get out of town because the traffic congestion is insane.
While Austin’s weather is wholly unpredictable, the most bankable times to come are spring and fall. Summer is incredibly hot, and if you’re not used to the Texas sun, you may feel like it’s similar to being in a microwave. However, summer is the time for Blues on the Green, an outdoor free concert series where the entire city comes out for a giant picnic in Zilker Park. And after that, you can catch a free outdoor movie with summer series Movies in the Park right outside of the symphony center. The winters aren’t terrible, but you’ll subject yourself to dead trees and gray skies. Austin is 100% an outdoors city where most of our cafes, restaurants, bars, and shopping malls are, so it is best to come when the weather is nice.
If you’re a football fan, football season is always a good time should you be in town for a Texas Longhorn win.
– The entirety of Eastern Europe can fit inside the state of Texas. It takes 24 hours to drive from the tip of the panhandle to the border of Mexico. The point of telling you this is: you’re going to need a car. The sites of Austin, as with everything in Texas, are spread out. But if you don’t believe me, below you’ll find an itinerary for one day with a car and one day without a car.
– If you insist on not renting a car (since you only have one day after all), it is good to know that Uber and Lyft are once again permitted to operate in Austin after being banned in May 2016. As an Austin-exclusive option, you can download the app RideShareAustin, which subs as our alternative to a ridesharing service. Use code gyxlvyb4 for $20 off your first ride.
– The FBI has rated Austin the second-safest major city, so like, if you commit a crime in Austin, you are actually basic. It was rated the #1 place to live in the United States in 2017 by the U.S. News & World Report. In addition to its safety, Austin is a strict no-smoking city, so you may not smoke in any public spaces. Austinites like to breathe fresh air ‘round here. In addition, it’s home to a multitude of headquarters such as Whole Foods, IBM, Dell, and many more!
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Austin.
Start your morning off with a cup o’ joe at the Blue Dahlia or any other boutique brunch restaurant on 11th street. These restaurants are transformed vintage homes and pharmacies. You’ll feel like you’re in a time warp. To make things more homegrown, all of the ingredients are made with local, organic, farm-raised everything, with gluten-free, vegan, GMO-free, and whatever other health nut options available. (Austin is really into that whole health thing.)
After breakfast, go ahead and check out Texas State Capitol. A replica of Washington’s Capitol, this one is actually slightly bigger. Take that, D.C.! Like we said earlier, Austin is this great state’s capital city, which means you can learn a whole lot about its intriguing history here. The capitol building is located in the city centre, so you shouldn’t have any problems finding it – its architecture makes it quite prominent (another reason to check it out). Another big plus is that you can get free guided tours when you get there, so if you want to make your one day in Austin educational, this place is a must.
To the north of the state capitol, on the grounds of The University of Texas, is Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. Tickets for this are fairly affordable (no more than 10 dollars), and there really is a lot to see in this presidential library. Johnson was the 36th president of the United States and the one who succeeded JFK. A visit to this place is especially interesting if you know that Johnson was the president during the Vietnam War, plus there are plenty of powerful photos on social justice and civil rights. A special attraction is the replica of the Oval Office, but you can take a look at the president’s limo, too.
Morning is also perfect for experiencing Austin like the locals do. If you want to find out how it would be to live here, this tour will definitely help you with that.
Should you not have a car, rent a bike at any local bike shop or at the bicycle stands scattered throughout the city. You’re bound to find one around Town Lake.
While you’re at Town Lake, go for a run around the 2, 3, 4 or 8-mile loops around the lake, and then cool off by renting a canoe or paddleboard at one of the many shops along the waterfront. There’s a great place to stay here if you’re in need of a hostel – HI Austin is just what you’re looking for. If lakes aren’t your thing, ride your bicycle to Barton Springs, a natural made pool famous for topless sunbathing in the ’70s.
Should you have a car, you’re in luck! Who said Texas was flat? You’ll drive through rolling hills of green and look up at the limestone mountains as you make your way to the Oasis on Lake Travis for the most stunning cliff-side views overlooking the lake. The food here is actually awful. People come here mostly for the views.
If you do not care about the lake and would rather go see some down-home Texas things, take a drive out to Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood, Texas about 45 minutes away to see cows and an authentic smoke-grill where you can have all you can eat BBQ. If you’re just dying to go the rodeo, the Austin Rodeo takes place in March and you can plan your trip around that. Otherwise, that is as “Texas” as Austinites get.
Should you want some peace and quiet after that, taking a stroll in the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is the way to go. Dedicated to President Lyndon Johnson’s wife, this botanical garden houses loads of native plants and wildlife. It really is a soothing and enjoyable place far enough (but not too far) from the city center. You can learn a lot, enjoy some beautiful sights and let your kids run loose a bit if you have them with you. If not, this can be a very romantic place to visit nevertheless.
As the sun sets, make sure you get to Mount Bonnell to get a 360-degree view of the entire city. This is an absolute must-see and arguably the most famous thing to do in Austin. However, if you’re into bats, you can also get to Congress Bridge and see thousands of bats fly out at dusk.
For an early night, walk along the bridge to South Congress and check out some live music at Continental Club or salsa the night away at Guero’s Taco Bar.
The most infamous street for nightlife is 6th street. 6th street is split into 3 parts: West 6th, Dirty 6th, and East 6th. East 6th is where you’ll feel like you’re back in high school crashing someone’s house party and East Austin Hotel is a great place to stay in this area. You’ll be dancing to 90’s jams in someone’s living room or converted garage. Walk out to the backyard and chow down on some munchies being served out of a food truck like Chilantros, a Korean-Mexican fusion. Try the kimchi fries, you won’t regret it.
Dirty 6th is where all of the under-aged college kids go to party. It’s safe to say they probably have not learned their alcohol limit yet, hence the name “dirty.” From the spilled drinks, to the awful outfits, to the vomit, it is definitely college heaven.
West 6th is where young professionals go to let loose from a week of work. Bars get creative with free arcade games (Kung Fu), Capri-suns filled with vodka (Greenlight Social), and even a beer stock market (Brew Exchange) where once a beer gets bought too often, the stock crashes and beer drops to $0.
Rock Rose is a street of hookah bars, clubs, and restaurants in the middle of an outdoor shopping mall where people go to party away from the 6th street crowd.
If you only have one day in Austin, choosing the right hotel becomes crucial. You need to plan that part of your trip carefully because it can mean a lot in terms of the time you have to get to know the city. An early flight could mean that you should look for hotels near Austin Bergstrom International Airport. Otherwise, go for something in the city to really feel the vibe. Don’t know where to start looking? Have no fear, here’s our list of hotels suited for every budget.
The most “Austin” place to stay in is South Congress. Here you’ll find all the original hotels that celebrate Austin’s quirkiness.
South Congress Hotel
1603 South Congress Avenue, Austin
My favorite, however, is the South Congress Hotel that just opened up and throws DJ parties on the first Thursday of every month. Not to mention that it also has a beautiful pool that is open all year round and a great restaurant. Really a fantastic place!
HI – Austin Hostel
2200 South Lakeshore Boulevard, Austin
For the traveler who prefers to interact with other travelers, HI Austin Hostel is the cheapest hostel in the city with free wifi, breakfast, and parking. Spacious, with great design and plenty of activities, this is a great place for backpackers.
- To make sure nothing can surprise you, you may want to buy travel insurance, just to be on the safe side. World Nomads is a fantastic site for that because you can get insured no matter which country in the world you’re traveling to in a matter of seconds with them. These guys are themselves passionate travelers, so they know exactly what you need and how to keep you safe throughout your trip. Apart from that, however, they have loads of great tips and very interesting perks to offer you. Check them out and make sure your trip is as carefree as possible.
- One-day isn’t a lot, but a weekend is enough in Austin. You’ll be sure to either love it or feel lukewarm about it. But there’s no way you won’t feel free. “There’s a freedom you begin to feel the closer you get to Austin, Texas” –Willie Nelson. So enjoy your day of freedom in the Live Music Capital of the world!
- Be sure to check best day trips from Austin article if you are planning to stay longer
Pin for later!
If you have any other propositions for this One Day in Austin itinerary feel free to share it in the comments below!
Make sure you have everything you need
What to pack for your next trip?
Make your next trip as simple and as enjoyable as possible by packing smart. It’s amazing how much stress top travel items can save you, so choose carefully.
Things like lightweight travel backpacks, for example, are ideal for short trips and allow you to move around with ease, and a passport holder will make sure you keep your documents safe at all times.
Check our travel checklist guide for 2021 to make sure you haven’t missed anything, and travel to your next destination in style and with maximum comfort.
Kiona from How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch is a PhD candidate exploring the world on her school breaks. Her blog concentrates on exploring the life and culture of countries, believing that if more people traveled, the more humans would have mutual respect for each other and a greater appreciation for the things they have at home; making the world more about love and less about hate.