Known for its live music, tacos, and outdoor recreation, Austin does many things well. On a nice day, which is pretty standard in Texas Hill Country, Austinites know how to spend a full day that’s equal parts exploration, exertion, discovery and indulgence.
Austin has countless options for ways to spend your days in the outdoors, be it on trails or patios, but do as the locals do and opt for both. Here’s our three-day itinerary pairing the best of Austin’s trails and taverns. Live like a local for a weekend, and even get out of town for a day. Either way, you really can’t go wrong in Austin. Here is a link to some other fun things to see and do in Austin.
No visit to Austin is complete without a visit to one of its many greenbelts. Kick off your trip at Barton Creek Greenbelt — 13 miles of winding trails along Barton Creek, through lush green forest, over protruding root systems and past red rock walls. If you’re visiting in hotter months, start your day early to avoid the heat that comes with a Texas Summer.
Pick up the trail at Twin Falls for a particularly great hike now that Barton Creek is once again flowing. The trail head is at 360 and Mopac, just a couple miles from downtown, with a parking lot for easy accessibility. The trail head lies at mile 4.75 of Barton Creek Greenbelt, with Twin Falls just a half mile down trail. You can also get to Sculpture Falls at mile 6.25. This is an out-and-back hike, so take on as much (or as little) distance as you’d like, though we recommend visiting both falls before turning back.
Once you’ve gotten your trail fix, an old school Austin establishment called Dry Creek Cafe & Boat Dock is calling your name. The cash-only bar has neither a boat dock nor a cafe, but it’s full of old Austin charm, characters, cheap beers, and a good ol’ country jukebox. The best part of being here may be the view from the patio overlooking Austin’s Mount Bonnell.
As for dinner, head past Mount Bonnell (a great place to watch the sunset), before stopping by Laguna Gloria and Mayfield Park to see the beautiful live oak trees, peacocks, and gardens that are on the grounds. Then, grab a seat at nearby Draught House Pub & Brewery, showcasing a vast selection of local Austin brews and the city’s best food trucks, including Best Wurst on Mondays and Quality Seafood on Tuesdays. Insider’s tip: There are free brats every Saturday at 4 p.m. If you like craft beer, you've got lots of options in Austin - check our our Austin Brew Pubs and Breweries page.
When you’re ready to call it a night, get cozy at one of Austin’s most quaint local hotels: Heywood Hotel. Located on Cesar Chavez on Austin’s East Side, staying at Heywood gives you the opportunity to explore a different side of Austin before and after your daily field trips (if you feel so inclined). Boutique indeed, the hotel has just seven rooms in an old house that pair old Austin bungalow charm with minimalistic, but still well-dressed touches like artwork by local artists. And, it’s within walking distance of some of Austin’s most celebrated businesses.
Today you’ll take advantage of one of Austin’s many waterways and partake in an old-school tradition: a trip down the Lower Colorado River. Whether you prefer a canoe or a kayak, you can rent one from Cook’s Canoes, an old-fashioned canoe livery situated on the Lower Colorado in Webberville, Texas, about 25 minutes east of Austin. Or you can rent kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards from Texas Rowing Center and enjoy Lady Bird Lake.
But first, breakfast tacos. Since you’re staying on the East Side, head to Mi Madre’s Restaurant on Manor Road for some of the best breakfast tacos in the city, all served on housemade tortillas. We recommend going a la carte, so take your pick and fuel up for a day on the water. You can’t go wrong with a #6 (potato and egg) or a #15 (carnitas, avocado, and cilantro).
From there, you’ll head toward Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which becomes FM 969 before arriving in Webberville at the livery. Like the days of yore, the old men who run the livery will load you into a yellow school bus, take you up river and let you paddle your way back. Opt for the 7 or 11-mile route that’ll give you a quiet, easy ride down a wide section of river, hugged by giant trees, green shoreline, and the occasional sand bar that makes for a good breaking point.
When you make it back to the landing point, swing by Live Oak Brewery in nearby Del Valle, which is about a twenty-minute ride back toward Austin. Find a seat within the rows of picnic tables under the live oaks and kick back with a house-made beer. They’ve got everything ranging from year-round, seasonal, and limited edition beers. Live Oak Brewery also hosts local food trucks so you’ll have the opportunity to sample some of Austin’s most well-known mobile cuisines. And, if you feel up for another brewery,Zilker Brewing Company is just a few blocks from Heywood Hotel and offers some of the best locally made beer in some of the best-designed cans.
Before embarking on the day’s adventure, swing by Austin’s acclaimed Mozart’s Coffee Roasters on Lake Austin Boulevard. The long-time Austin establishment has one of the best patios in the city, incredible house-made coffee, and a wide selection of muffins, pastries and cheesecakes, always made in house.
From there, you’ll take on a section of trail in the heart of Austin. Ten miles of hiking and biking trails, known as the Ann and Roy Butler Trails, course through downtown Austin, edging along Lady Bird Lake and connecting Austin landmarks the entire way. Hop on the trail on the south side of the South 1st Bridge, heading west toward Zilker Park. This lakeside section is incredibly lush, shaded by giant trees, and runs parallel to some of Austin’s famous Barton Springs Road restaurants and bars. Or try hiking or biking in the Barton Creek Greenbelt.
Enjoy a leisurely two-mile walk along the lake to Zilker Park. Once arriving at the park, you can throw a blanket down and soak up the sun, toss a frisbee, or take a dip in the spring-fed Barton Springs , which is one of Austin’s most famous landmarks.
In the afternoon, head over to Rainey Street, which is one of Austin’s most celebrated neighborhoods. Once a residential neighborhood, the street is now a charming strip of old houses turned bars and restaurants. Grab an outdoor table at Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden, which has one of the best patios in the city and is a great place to cozy up after a day spent outdoors. Banger’s specializes in authentic German sausages and pints on pints on pints.
While Austin has much to offer within its city limits, locals frequent parks and waterside escapes outside the city, too. After all, Texas Hill Country is famous for its swimming holes. A local favorite is Krause Springs, which is about 40 minutes outside of town in Spicewood, Texas. Since you’ll be heading outside of town, plan to leave Austin in the morning and to spend high noon at the springs.
As you enter the 115-acre plot of land, you’re first greeted with a butterfly garden that just begs for a stroll. The property is registered on the National Register of Historic Places, so the entire place has a quirky vibe. There are 32 individual springs to enjoy, and you’ll find locals sprawled out on towels, swimming, and enjoying the shade of the towering cypress trees. Find real estate on one of the giant, water-smoothed rocks, lay out a towels and some snacks and let the day float by.
Head back toward Austin before sunset, but first stopping by Jester King Brewery for one of the brewery’s famous sour beers. Rows of picnic tables are lined up beneath gnarly live oak trees with antique chandeliers hanging from their curly limbs. Kick back in the shade of the tree and prepare for a wild sunset over the country horizon. As for dinner, order a salad and made-from-scratch pizza from Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza, which shares the property with Jester King. And, perhaps, opt for another round of sour brews. Note: Both Jester King Brewery & Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza are only open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
If you find yourself up for one last nightcap, we suggest a rendezvous at Whisler’s. Also on East 6th, the eccentric bar features a fantastic backyard, creative cocktails and an interesting atmosphere… antique mirrors, an old bathtub, and a mezcal bar upstairs. But be forewarned: The oranges are dusted with crushed crickets not sugar. We speak from experience.
Originally written by RootsRated for Toad&Co.
Featured image provided by Johannes Schneeman