Austin is strange, hot, and a lot more fun than you may expect. With a daypack and dancing every night, prepare to be on the go every day. If you keep your travel backpack minimal, you’ll be ready for whatever this town throws at you. Bats, too.
You’ve probably heard that Austin is “strange,” but it doesn’t prepare you for how great this city is. Seriously, get enthusiastic for your vacation because it will exceed your expectations. My first trip to Austin was a spur-of-the-moment decision to purchase the cheapest flight to a place I’d never visited before.
Austin was the lucky winner of my low-stakes airport lottery, and I’m happy it was. Austin threw me to the ground. The weather is fantastic (well, it’s hot as hell, but that’s a pleasant break from New York in the winter), and it’s connected to the outdoors in a way that most major cities aren’t.
I was aware of the barbecue and live music, but the sheer variety of outdoor activities astounded me. I went tubing, bicycling, hiking, swimming, hammock…ing, football tailgating, and swing dancing in three days. I even went bat-watching on the South Congress Bridge during the summer, which I did every night.
Yeah. Observing bats. They say Texas is a different universe, and Austin is even more so. Here’s a carry-on-friendly list of what to bring to Austin to help you ready for bats, rafts, dancing, and anything else you uncover.
When to Visit Austin
The 10-day corporate Lollapalooza known as SXSW in mid-March and Austin City Limits in October are often bookended by tourist season in Austin, so chances are your vacation will fall somewhere between these two events.
If you’re not attending ACL or SXSW, try to avoid visiting Austin around these periods as swarms of out-of-towners descend, causing AirBnB rates (or one of the original small house hotels) to spike, residents to flee, and the entire mood of town to change.
Austin is always hot, regardless of when you arrive. That’s something you’ll have to accept. Temperatures in the mid 90s are common from June through August, and triple-digit heat isn’t uncommon. Pack for dry heat and make sure you know how to get to Barton Springs’ oasis (more on that later), and you’ll be OK.
What to Pack for Austin
Many people mistakenly believe that everyone in Texas is a cowboy (shame on you), yet Austin is probably far more trendy than your hometown.
Austin’s indie and live music scenes are epicentres of cool, the food truck culture is off the charts, there are hundreds of microbreweries to get you feeling adventurous, thrift stores are funny, tailgating a UT game is b-a-n-a-n-a-s, and there are museums and historical sites galore (like the state capitol building, you hooligan).
Also, there’s a bridge with a million bats living underneath it. So, that’s incredible. Make sure to leave room in your Outbreaker Backpack for serendipity since Austin genuinely offers something for everyone—including cowboys.
When it comes to packing for a week in Austin, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- Jeans (two pairs)
- 1 good pair of travel pants
- Shorts (one pair).
- 1 swimsuit OR 1 pair of hybrid shorts
- 2-3 dress shirts or blouses, OR go to a thrift store and get one.
- 2 t-shirts (for sweating it out on your bike)
- 2 tees (for tailgating and staying “supes caszh, bro”)
- 1 pair of comfortable sneakers or walking shoes (you’ll need these)
- 1 pair of Lindy’s dance shoes. On Thursday evenings, hit “the Fed” or “The Broken Spoke” for a Texas two-step.)
- Oneght jacket or a deep-V hipster sweater (the dumber, the better).
- A few pairs of socks
- fo1 ur sets of underwear (get good travel underwear to ward off any bike funk)
- 1 phone battery charger (you’ll be grooving out to songs while riding your bike and making your buddies envious on Instagram).
In the summer, add:
- 1-bottle of water
- 1 sarong or towel that dries quickly (for the river)
- 1 stick of sunscreen
- 1 daypack 1 cute hat
In the winter, add:
- 1 blazer or “shacket” for travel.
- Swap your hat with a beanie made of wool.
- Substitute a long-sleeve henley shirt for one of the t-shirts.
For music festivals, add:
- 1 super cool vintage t-shirt
- 1 waist bag (seriously),
Packing a Daypack in Austin
In Austin, you’ll need a daypack. You are in desperate need of one. If you’re biking about town (which you should be), you’ll always have your water bottle, sunscreen, a snack, and Maybe a change of clothes with you. Samesies if you’re walking.
You must stay hydrated, and you must change out of your filthy, sweaty clothing before dancing at the local honky tonk. I also stuffed my daypack with rad records and humorous t-shirts that I found near UT.
Barton Creek is the actual reason to bring a daypack. I’m a sucker for anything that involves water, streams, or rivers. This spring-fed paradise is one of the best things in Austin—literally. I sailed a paper canoe 200 miles down the Hudson River a few years ago.
This drinking hole, which is kept at a cool 68° all year, is where residents and visitors alike gather to cool down and have a dip. You’ll have to pay the $8 admission price (or $3 if you’re a local) because the pool is fenced in, but it’s well worth it. Admission is free if you arrive before 8 a.m. and are incredibly frugal.
Barton Creek pool is closed every Thursday for cleaning.
If entry costs aren’t your thing, the concrete pool is bordered by acres of stream swimming that is completely free. For nothing, I set up camp on a sunny boulder and lazed the day away. It’s wonderful to see people bring their dogs and hammocks and simply relax in the lake and along the banks. In addition, the bike path runs all the way down to the lake.
For the creek, I packed a tek towel, an additional battery, and my little GoPro Session, and recorded some fantastic trip video footage. I went for a swim at Barton Creek every day since it is so soothing. Why wouldn’t you want to?
Take a plunge at Deep Eddy Pool, Texas’ oldest swimming pool, for a taste of Austin’s past. This landmark, which dates from 1915, is positioned directly behind one of the city’s best dive pubs. Deep Eddy Pool is open from mid-March to the end of September and is well worth a visit. Fees are the same as at Barton Creek ($3 for residents, $8 for non-residents).
What Not to Pack for Austin:
In Austin, you will be able to purchase items. Accept this reality by allowing some wiggle room in your backpack or packing the packable duffel as an extra personal item on the return trip. Also, because Austin is rarely that chilly, leave the boots at home.
- Heavy clothing
- (Stop it) Cowboy boots
- A T-shirt that says, “I Heart NY”
Things to Do in Austin
You’re in luck if you come to Austin to eat, dance, and frolic. Grab your bike, put on your daypack, and get ready to explore Austin, which offers some of the greatest eating and entertainment in the lower 48.
BBQ & Food Trucks in Austin
BBQ and brisket are almost half of the reason to come to Austin in the first place. The Mexican cuisine in town is also fantastic. Everything is fantastic, but here are a few of my favourite places to eat:
- Franklin BBQ, located on the east side, is the country is Franklin BBQ, located on the east side. For the best darn BBQ in town, get there early and prepare to wait for hours.
- This little divey pizza joint was my favorite pizza place. This East Austin pizzeria is also worth a visit for a slice. The website isn’t available, which is good.
- In business for 50 years, Smokey Denmark’s has served up BBQ right in town
- It’s Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ
- Do you want to eat bbq or tex mex? You’re welcome.
Biking in Austin
Even in the summer heat, I enjoyed biking in Austin. Ridesharing makes it easy to get from A to B without learning the public transit system, and Austin has had a few issues with ridesharing legislation in the past. You can’t rely on Uber or Lyft in Austin even though ridesharing looks like it’s back. Here are some places to rent bikes:
- B-Cycle: – Austin’s bike-sharing program
- A peer-to-peer bike rental app called Spinlister
- The Bicycle Sport Shop is located at 1426 Toomey Road.
- Barton Springs Rentals: 1707 Barton Springs Rd.
- 2901 North Louisiana Boulevard.
- (Right off 29th & Guadalupe) Waterloo Cyclists: 2815 Fruth
For your smartphone, here’s an online bike route map of Austin. A bike map can be picked up from any local bike shop if you want to save your battery for Snapchat. There are even local bike rides announced by Bike Austin, an advocacy group for bikers.
Austin Live Music & Dancing
Austin’s music scene is awesome. Although it would be impossible to cover everything in this type of article, here are some great places to start:
The Broken Spoke – This classic hole hosts local honky tonk acts as well as country legends. Garth Brooks performed there in March of last year. On Wednesday through Saturday nights from 8 to 9 p.m., they provide free two-step dancing classes to get you up to speed with the local dances.
The Continental Club has been serving cocktails and live music in Austin for over 60 years. Bring your A-game (that is, your “good” dancing shoes) to this sacred dance floor and soak up part of what makes Austin genuinely unique.
The White Horse is a mythical creature. If you’re looking for terrific live music, affordable drinks, and strong two-stepping, this is the place to go. It’s located on Comal St. I came in for a couple of beers and a spin on the dance floor.
Every Thursday from 8 p.m. to midnight, the Texas Federation of Women (or “the Fed”) hosts a fantastic swing dancing night. Arrive early for a free lesson, and check the website to see if live music is being performed.