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, Eeyore from 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, this is a place where everyone is welcome, and the stranger you are the better. Therefore, one day in Austin is bound to be interesting. Here’s what you don’t want to miss!
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. Take it easy and grab a cup of coffee first
3.2. Visit the state capitol
3.3. Stroll around the university
3.4. Sit down for a nice Texas lunch
3.5. Head to Town Lake
3.6. See Lake Travis
3.7. Head out to Driftwood
3.8. Have a relaxing evening in a garden
3.9. Explore the nightlife in 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 best time to visit is spring and/or 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 the summer series Movies in the Park right outside of the symphony center.
The winters are fairly mild, 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.
– 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.
– 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.
– On top of all of this, the city is home to a multitude of headquarters such as Whole Foods, IBM, Dell, and many more!
Welcome to Austin, a city that is fascinating in so many ways! Spending one day here is certainly going to be quite an experience, but you will definitely need a good itinerary to get to know this city well. Therefore, here you can find the top things to do and places to see in Austin. Enjoy!
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 into 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 are 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.! As 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 center, 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 as the locals do. If you want to find out how it would be to live here, this tour will definitely help you with that.
By now, it will likely be time for lunch. Luckily, Austin has a great selection of fine restaurants, so you really don’t have to worry about being hungry.
Salty Sow is an excellent (and reasonably priced) restaurant where you can enjoy a relaxed setting and try a wide variety of dishes, from braised food to stews. Odd Duck is very popular for several excellent reasons, and among them are their fantastic burgers. Then there’s also Suerte, a fantastic Mexican restaurant, and you can visit Justine’s for some French cuisine.
As you can see, there are plenty of choices here, but feel free to explore a bit – you are bound to find a hidden gem or two.
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, you can go for a lovely walk 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. If lakes aren’t your thing, ride your bicycle to Barton Springs, a natural pool famous for topless sunbathing in the ’70s.
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 Lake Travis for the most stunning cliff-side views overlooking the lake. There are also some fascinating mansions around here, but there is plenty to do if you’re looking for a more active way to spend this part of your one day in Austin – you can rent a boat, jet ski, paddleboard, or even go fishing. The choice is yours, so don’t be shy!
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 to 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 which 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 ARRIVE Austin is a great place to stay in this area (check below for more info). You’ll be dancing to the ’90s 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” area to stay in is South Congress. Here you’ll find all the original hotels that celebrate Austin’s quirkiness.
1220 S Congress Ave, Austin
Austin Motel. Now, this is a real festival of colors right here, with a very pretty seating area outside and a nice pool. But the interior design is what makes this place special, so do check it out. Add to that the really fair prices they have here, and you get a property that’s not just comfortable and pleasant to stay in but also offer excellent value.
Austin Proper Hotel, a Member of Design Hotels
600 West 2nd Street, Austin
If you want five-star accommodation in Austin, Austin Proper Hotel is the place to choose for several reasons. It’s close to the city center, has a beautiful swimming pool, and there’s also an excellent fitness center. The rooms have plenty of amenities, from coffee machines to deposit boxes, and some offer spectacular views of the city. You can even find rooms with balconies here. So, this hotel can certainly cater to any traveler, and its five stars are well deserved.
Hotel San Jose
1316 South Congress Avenue, Austin
Hotel San Jose is another great Austin hotel that will serve you continental breakfast and has an outdoor pool. The location is excellent, away but not too far from the city center. I loved the old-school telephones in the rooms, but the beautiful greenery outside is what catches your eye first! A swimming pool is here, as is a nice bar, and everything comes at a very fair price. Pets are allowed, too!
1813 East 6th Street, Austin
While it’s not strictly in the city center, ARRIVE Austin more than makes up for that with what it has to offer. A restaurant, a bar, and a wonderful terrace are just a few of the things you get to enjoy, but the rooms are what really puts the place over the top. Very comfortable, spacious, and with plenty of natural light, they guarantee you will always be well-rested and ready for sightseeing. Everyone who stays here has nothing but praise for the hotel – you will, too!
If you have more than one day to spend in Austin, setting up a day trip is always a great idea. There are so many charming and beautiful places around, and you won’t have to drive more than an hour to reach them. So, no matter if you’re looking for a breath of fresh air or a cozy little town where you can completely relax, a day trip from Austin can cover all of that. Here’s a few suggestions!
New Braunfels is a perfect place if you want to get away from city life a bit. A quiet and charming town, it is located about an hour from Austin and has a pronounced German heritage. Oh, and the oldest bakery in Texas is here, too. The Comal River and the Guadalupe River offer plenty for those who enjoy fishing or just a breath of fresh air, plus there are plenty of interesting shops around. The perfect day trip to recharge your batteries!
Want to get away from the heat? Go to Krause Springs and you will feel like you’ve entered an oasis! Dozens of springs create swimming pools for everyone to enjoy, and the water is exceptionally cool and crystal-clear wherever you look. On top of that, there is loads of greenery here, so you will have plenty of shade to get away from the scorching sun. You won’t find a better place for a swim in Texas!
Balcones Canyonland National Wildlife Refuge
Animal lovers, this one’s for you! Less than an hour from Austin is a place that is bound to be a memorable day trip for anyone, especially those who like to spend their time outdoors. Hiking trails abound in Balcones, and there is plenty of wildlife to spot during your walks. The area also has observation decks from which you can enjoy fantastic views and romantic sunsets. Lovely!
Georgetown is a very popular destination for day trips from Austin, and it’s only half an hour away! Its town square is stunningly beautiful and full of interesting shops and restaurants. But there are plenty of places for nature lovers here, too – Blue Hole Park and Inner Space Cavern provide plenty of opportunities for exploration, with the former even offering loads of refreshment on hot summer days.
Be sure to check best day trips from Austin article for more ideas if you are planning to stay longer.
Extra tips for visiting Austin
- Be advised, 6th Street has the lowest prices in town when it comes to drinks. So, if you’re looking for a place where you can relax after a long day of sightseeing, this is where you want to head.
- After spending one day in Austin, you’ll either love it or feel lukewarm about it. It’s highly unlikely the city won’t make an impression on you. 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!
- There are plenty of free walking tours around. So, if you want a guide to show you the sights and teach you a little something about the city, this may very well be the best way for that.
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.