17 Things Every Austinite (and Visitor) Should Try Once

Wildflowers and BBQ, plus chili dogs and bingo with chickens
June 27, 2016
by Veronica Meewes

Though summer in Texas can seem endless some years, the good news is there's plenty to do under the sun — plus delicious eats everywhere you turn. Use this list as your guide to 17 outings you must experience in and around Austin this summer. Just be sure to wear your stretchy pants – or a swimsuit!

Visit the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, then meet friends for BBQ at the Salt Lick.
Though barbecue from spots like Franklin and La Barbecue have stolen the spotlight in the past several years, Salt Lick (pictured above) is still an Austin landmark (though it's actually located just outside city limits in Driftwood). The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center is also a must, and best enjoyed from spring through early summer when everything is in full bloom. For the entire Hill Country experience, check out the area's wildflowers before a smoke-infused barbecue dinner at Salt Lick — and don't forget to BYO a cooler full of beer too.

Photo courtesy of Franklin Barbecue

Wait in line for Franklin Barbecue.
No matter how much you abhor standing in line, waiting for barbecue at Franklin is more like a rite of passage. Bring a group of friends, a cooler of beer and a folding chair. Wait for a holiday or a cause for celebration if you must. But, by all means, just suck it up and experience the line, which ends with a heaping tray of smoked meats that make it all well worth the wait.

Visit Hippie Hollow (after several beers at The Oasis Brewing Company).
New rule: You're not allowed to complain about incoming newcomers unless you've visited Hippie Hollow in your birthday suit. The clothing-optional beach on Lake Travis screams "old-school Austin," and is best enjoyed after several beers with a view at The Oasis Brewing Company.

Photo by Veronica Meewes

Get a burger at Nau's Enfield Pharmacy and then visit the HOPE Outdoor Gallery.
Open since 1951, this little pharmacy with a diner counter is a true gem in the heart of Clarksville. Nothing beats one of its cheeseburgers grilled on the flat top, served with a malt or a milkshake. Afterward, check out the Daniel Johnston mural on the side of the building and walk to the nearby HOPE Outdoor Gallery, a graffiti park with amazing city views and plenty of selfie ops.

Photo courtesy of the Austin Convention Visitors Bureau

Kayak Ladybird Lake, then go catch Chuy's happy-hour nacho bar.
Austin is filled with sunny days that are just perfect for taking a kayak or canoe out onto Ladybird Lake (formerly Town Lake, the body of water which separates Downtown from South Austin). Boats plus stand-up paddleboards are all very easy to rent by the hour or day from a number of outfits along the water. Be sure to finish up around 4 PM, then stop by Chuy's for happy hour, where tasty frozen margaritas flow and a free nacho bar remains stocked until 7 PM.

Photo by Leah Overstreet

Go to The Broken Spoke for a chicken-fried steak and stay for the two-stepping lessons.
Plenty of places claim to serve the best chicken-fried steak in Austin, but this crispy rendition served at this historic honky-tonk definitely deserves top nods. You may want to split one with someone, so you'll still feel sprightly enough to take advantage of the free two-stepping classes offered nightly.

Hike up Mount Bonnell and watch the sunset at the Dry Creek Café.
It should go without saying that Texas isn't exactly known for its mountainous terrain. So take the name "Mount Bonnell" with a grain of salt; the steep incline ends with a nice view of Austin, but a mountain it is not. Afterward, reward yourself with a can of beer at the wonderfully divey Dry Creek Café, a rooftop dive bar with amazing sunset views and cheap, frosty beer.

Photo by Veronica Meewes

Watch the Congress Avenue bats, but not before getting coffee and a photo at the famous Jo's Coffee wall.
Between the various boat tours offered plus bat statues and other paraphernalia, our famous nocturnal fliers are impossible to ignore (well, unless it's too windy, in which case they simply won't emerge). But those in the know head first to Jo's Coffee for a selfie in front of the iconic "I love you so much" wall before heading down the street to the Congress Avenue bridge.

Photo by Leah Overstreet

Drink Lone Star, eat chili dogs and place your bets at Chicken Shit Bingo at Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon.
We'll just go ahead and say it: Any self-respecting Texan has experienced Chicken Shit Bingo (and ideally on a regular basis). The tiny little Burnet Road dive bar attracted locals, tourists and bikers galore each Sunday afternoon to tailgate in the parking lot with buckets of icy beer, enjoy live country music inside (usually by Dale Watson), and chow down on chili dogs while waiting to see if the house chickens will happen to poop on their lottery number.

Visit Jacob's Well and have lunch at The Leaning Pear.
Though Austin proper is filled with plenty of great swimming holes, there is no replacement for Jacob's Well. The deep blue gem in the heart of Wimberley fills up quickly these days, so be sure to make a reservation and arrive early on weekend mornings to snag a spot, then enjoy a late lunch or dinner at The Leaning Pear, a bungalow serving up sandwiches, salads, wood-fired pizzas and entrees using local ingredients.

Photo by Veronica Meewes

Spend Sunday at Hippie Church at Maria's Taco Xpress.
Plenty of people pledge undying love to tacos, but Maria's Taco Xpress treats its as an actual religion. Be sure to catch Hippie Church each Sunday, when regulars flock to the brightly colored structure and spacious deck for tacos, margaritas and live gospel music.

Photo by Veronica Meewes

Visit the Cathedral of Junk, followed by dinner at Hill's Cafe.
As a testament to keeping things actually weird, this South Austin homeowner began building this towering sculpture (made from everything including the kitchen sink) in the 1980s. After almost getting shutdown by the city some years ago, he acquired proper permitting and remains open to the public. Call before visiting, bring $10 per group and be prepared to take lots of photos. Afterward, visit the nearby Hill's Cafe, filled with various photos and relics of Austin's past, which serves up classic Texas comfort dishes.

Take a day trip to Enchanted Rock and eat German food in Fredricksburg on the way back.
Considering this smooth pink granite rock is not near any water and can get very hot under the Texas sun, you may want to save this trip for a cooler day in very late spring/early summer or very late summer/early fall. Regardless, a hike to the top (timed to enjoy sunset) is a must for every resident and visitor alike. On the drive back into Austin, stop in nearby Fredricksburg to enjoy German food at Otto's, Der Lindenbaum or The Auslander.

Photo by Veronica Meewes

Take a tour of the Capitol and end up at the Texas Chili Parlor and the Cloak Room.
No matter your stance on Texas politics, a visit to the state Capitol is fun, if only for a traditional spin on the floor while looking up at the rotunda under the dome. Afterward, walk over to the historic Texas Chili Parlor (where Quentin Tarantino filmed Death Proof) and enjoy a spicy "bowl of red". End the night with a whiskey on the rocks at The Cloak Room, a dark dive bar where local legislators have been known to slip in for a nightcap after work.

Photo by Veronica Meewes

Enjoy happy hour on the patio of Spiderhouse and watch the sunset at James Turrell's Skyspace installation.
Make a reservation online to view James Turrell's Skyspace installation on the UT campus, a study of light and space best viewed at sunset. Beforehand, congregate on the patio of Austin's iconic Spiderhouse, where daily changing happy-hour specials include anything from $3 well drinks and pints to $4 margaritas and Bloody Marys. Order up a serving of classic Five and Dime Frito Pie or try out one of the on-site food trucks like Holy Taco and The Mix Up — plus Beware Coffee for all your caffeine needs.

Spend the day at Hamilton Pool before dinner at Proof & Cooper.
This beautiful amphitheater-shaped rock formation must be seen to be believed — but be sure to get an early start when visiting. Only a limited number of visitors are allowed into the preserve each day and it fills up quickly, especially on weekends. After a day of sunning and swimming, stop by Proof & Cooper for a Southern feast of deviled eggs, fried pickles, burgers, fried chicken plus local beer and craft cocktails.

Photo by Veronica Meewes

Experience the summer turtle races at Little Woodrow's Southpark location.
Each Friday night in the spring and beginning of the summer, Little Woodrow's Southpark location hosts several rounds of turtle racing a night led by the Turtlemaster pictured above. Though sometimes slow and steady wins the race, don't delay this time — this coming Friday is the last race for this summer!

happy hour
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