This first day of highlights doesn’t take you very far from the downtown core, but you’ll mostly be on its periphery. The first few stops are within walking distance of each other, but for the others you’ll need wheels—and parking can be a hassle in several of these popular spots. If you’re only in town for 1 day, consider ride-shares, which are not very expensive within these relatively short distances, or take advantage of the B-Cycle bike-sharing program, a great option for those willing to two-wheel it around town for at least part of this itinerary.
You can’t say you’ve been to Austin if you haven’t eaten in a food trailer, and Paperboy, just east of I-35 from downtown, specializes in breakfast, from cinnamon toast to a hash of sweet potatoes, pork belly, poached egg, and pecan mole.
Your next stop is only a few blocks to the west, but if you opt to walk, cars will be whizzing overhead on the freeway. If you’re driving, you get 2 hours of free parking in the Texas State Capitol garage (1201 San Jacinto St.), a short walk from the main building.
2. Texas State Capitol ★★★
You might expect the Texas State Capitol to be BIG and you won’t be disappointed by this grand pink-granite structure on 22 acres of immaculately tended grounds; its spire rises 14 feet higher than the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. To learn all the fascinating details of its history and construction, catch one of the frequent free half-hour tours, or pick up a self-guided tour pamphlet. Keep an eye out for such details as the decorative door hinges, so gorgeous that they kept getting stolen; now you can buy replicas in the excellent Texas Capitol Gift Shop.
3. Blanton Museum of Art ★★★
Less than a 15-minute walk north of the Capitol, the University of Texas’s Blanton Museum of Art is a must-visit for many reasons—its stunning modern architecture, its wide-ranging and in-depth holdings (everything from Dutch Renaissance masters to contemporary Latin American abstractionists), and Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin,” the first and only building by the late abstract artist. A bonus: It’s a relatively small museum, so you should be able to get a good taste in an hour or so.
4. West 6th Street and North Lamar Boulevard
About a 10-minute drive south from the UT campus, this intersection on the west side of downtown spotlights three Austin-sprung retailers who embody the city’s spirit: BookPeople, one of the top indie bookstores in the country; Waterloo Records, a magnet for every type of music lover; and the 80,000-square-foot Whole Foods, on the site of the original upscale organic grocer (and next door to its world headquarters), which has everything you might want to consume, fresh or packaged, flesh or fowl, cooked or raw.
5. Zilker Metropolitan Park
Continue south on Lamar Boulevard across Lady Bird Lake to the liveliest green space in town, spread over 347 acres. A few top options at Zilker Park: Join the throngs splashing around the spring-fed Barton Springs Pool; stroll through the gracious Zilker Botanical Garden; or visit the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum, the home, studios, and garden of artist Charles Umlauf. If you’re up for some exercise, rent a kayak or canoe to take on Lady Bird Lake; the vistas from the water can’t be beat.
6. Bat Flight
Less than 10 minutes east from the park, you’ll reach the Austin-American Statesman Bat Observation Center, on the southeast side of the Congress Avenue Bridge. From late March through early November, the largest urban bat colony in North America—that’s some 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats—swarm out from under Congress Avenue Bridge at around dusk to go on an insect hunt.
7. South Congress Avenue
Half a mile south of the Congress Avenue Bridge, the shops, restaurants, and nightspots of trendy SoCo offer lots of shopping options and the city’s best concentration of good restaurants.
8. Live Music
South Austin—not only South Congress Avenue but also South Lamar and South First avenues, nearby—has several great live music venues; check out who’s playing at the Broken Spoke, the Continental Club, or the Saxon Pub.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.