It’s no surprise that Austin is often ranked as one of the best college towns in the U.S. Between its delicious barbecue and famed South by Southwest festival celebrating technology, entertainment, and music, Austin manages to be both country and cosmopolitan. As September rolls around and the UT campus fills up again, a whole new class of students will arrive and begin to explore the city. Whether you’re a UT freshman just getting to know the city or a local looking to rediscover makes Austin great, we’ve got a few can’t-miss spots for you to explore.
What to do in Austin, TX
When Portland’s famed Voodoo Doughnut opened their Austin outpost, it became an instant hit. Students in search of fuel for an all-nighter will appreciate that that the doors stay open 24/7, so a quick sugar hit is available around the clock. While you can get a simple glazed doughnut, you should try one of the inventive flavors that have earned the shop appearances on shows like Man v. Food and No Reservations. They don’t take credit cards, so make sure you have cash on hand for your Mango Tango or Viscous Hibiscus.
Where: 212 East 6th Street, Austin, TX
Over the past 30 years, the Mexican restaurant El Arroyo has become an Austin landmark thanks to the marquee out front that is updated daily with funny takes on everything from pop culture to politics. The sign even has its own Twitter account to share quips like, “Coachella is like Urban Outfitters the Musical” and “Don’t worry, Password, I’m insecure too.” Swing by to check out the sign, and stay for the delicious queso and frosty margaritas.
Where: 1624 W. 5th Street, Austin, TX
When you’re in search of some relief from the Texas heat, head to Barton Springs to cool off in the three-acre public pool. Located on the grounds of Zilker Park, the Barton Springs Pool is filled entirely with water from a nearby spring, keeping it at an always-refreshing 68 to 72 degrees. The pool is open from Friday to Wednesday, and during that time, the floodgates on the pool’s dam are closed, raising the water level to a maximum of 18 feet. Entrance is free during the off-season and costs just $1 to $3 from mid-March through October.
Where: 2201 Barton Springs Road, Austin, TX
When UT’s Austin campus first opened, there were no dorms, and Guadalupe Street — which served as the main corridor between downtown Austin and the school — came to be known as The Drag. Today, the street — which runs along UT’s western edge — is lined with restaurants, bars, and quirky shops. Whether you like the hunt of a thrift store or prefer the careful curation of a small boutique, there’s plenty of shopping to be had along The Drag. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, pop into The Beer Plant for some gourmet vegan food and a cold one.
Where: Guadalupe Street, Austin, TX
Rainey Street was once a sleepy residential neighborhood, but over the past 15 years, most of the homes have been converted to cocktail bars, lounges, and restaurants. Thankfully, developers have been careful to preserve the integrity of the historic bungalow homes, and the inviting porches and expansive backyards only add to the charm of the wide variety of bars that cover the two-block stretch. If you are craving a serious craft cocktail and a moody vibe, make your way to Half Step. On the other hand, if loud music and dive bars are more your speed, The Blackheart is calling your name. Most nights, you’ll also find an array of food trucks lining the street, so you won’t go hungry as you hop from bar to bar.
Where: 70 — 97 Rainey Street, Austin, TX
If you’re craving a return to nature, Zilker Park provides a welcome respite from city living right in the middle of Austin. The park sprawls over 350 acres that include hiking trails, a botanical garden, the aforementioned Barton Springs Pool, and other public attractions like the Austin Nature and Science Center, and the Umlauf Sculpture Garden. Adjacent to the park is Lady Bird Lake, which is one of Austin’s major recreation centers. While you can’t go swimming, the lake is ideal for paddleboarding, canoeing, and kayaking. It’s also stocked with bass, catfish, and carp, and as long as you have a license, you can fish to your heart’s content.
Where: 2100 Barton Springs Road, Austin, TX
Whether you’re a student overwhelmed with papers and tests or a nine-to-fiver slaving away at your desk, make sure you take a break from the grind this back-to-school season to experience all that Austin has to offer.