Our World TravelingMom visited Austin, Texas to soak up Texas history, listen to live music, and enjoy casual barbecue, tasty tapas, and one blowout restaurant meal. The lively downtown in Austin has lots of ways to enjoy the outdoors. From walking or biking along the waterfront, to frisbee in Zilker Park, to views from the public library rooftop terrace, it was easy to enjoy the fresh air. And a visit to Austin isn’t complete without at least one food truck experience.
9 Fun things to do in Austin
My husband and I traveled to Austin, Texas to visit family. But we discovered lots of fun things to do in Austin that make this lively city a destination in itself.
1. LBJ Presidential Library
Sure, I knew each former President had a “library.” But I didn’t expect former President Johnson’s library to be a fascinating American history museum. The LBJ Presidential Library has helpful short introductory videos, exhibits on LBJ’s Senate career before he became Vice President and later – for tragic reasons – became President.
I enjoyed learning about LBJ’s roles in the Civil Rights movement, the Great Society, and the Vietnam War. In fact, the LBJ Presidential Library was a highlight of our trip. My favorite exhibit was a phone that let me listen to real conversations as LBJ persuaded people to support his political positions. Eavesdropping on President Johnson working the phones gave me a riveting opportunity to hear Presidential power in action. The LBJ Library also has a book and souvenir shop.
2. LBJ Ranch and House
While the LBJ Ranch is technically an hour outside Austin, visiting the former President’s house and ranch is one of many fun things to do near Austin. Our guided tour of the house included an interesting history, a glimpse inside the Presidential airplane, and a look at LBJ’s car collection.
3. Texas State Capitol
This is an elegant, impressive building. For free – always a bonus – my husband and I took a guided tour. I learned Texas has been part of 6 different countries – including Spain, France, Mexico, as well as its own country.
Also, I enjoyed the small exhibit on African-American legislators in the late 19thcentury. While Texas had Black elected officials after the Civil War, their numbers dwindled to zero by about 1900. No Black served as a state legislator for years – until Barbara Jordan was elected in the 1960s.
4. BookPeople Bookstore
For downtime, my husband and I enjoyed browsing at BookPeople, a large independent bookstore. While we didn’t attend an event, BookPeople has 300 annual book readings and other events, including story time for little kids.
5. Barbecue & food trucks
I’m a huge barbecue fan. And Lambert’s Downtown Barbecue hit the spot. While it was a little pricey, Lambert’s brisket had a delicious blackened crust. And their hot biscuits were perfectly salty and sweet. My husband and I also enjoyed the inexpensive and delicious barbecued chicken at Green Mesquite. And the table next to us, the barbecue platter for $44 looked like it could easily have fed six. We also checked out the good-looking barbecue at Austin’s downtown Whole Foods, the company’s flagship store.
Austin famously has a huge variety of food trucks. From donuts to tacos to Thai, Austin eats from food trucks. In fact, we saw several food truck parking lots, with several trucks clustered around outdoor seating. And a visit to Austin isn’t complete without a food truck experience.
6. Live music
In Austin, musicians play at tons of restaurants and bars. In fact, musicians are such a part of Austin life, even the Whole Foods grocery store has live music. And music isn’t limited to nighttime.
On a Sunday morning, we had a “music brunch” at El Mercado Backstage on South Congress. As we had coffee and eggs, we listened to Austin musicians play a set, and then generously shared the stage with new talent on the Austin music scene.
7. Free roof terrace with a view
The comfy chairs on the rooftop terrace of Austin’s Central Library looked inviting. So I stopped to take in the city and water view. But a visit to Austin’s downtown public library is also worth it to marvel at the architecture, including funky crisscrossing open-air bridges that function as hallways. And to enjoy the good children’s section. Bonus: it’s free. And for more free things to do in Austin, click here.
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8. Lady Bird Lake trail
On a sunny winter day, walking along the trail fronting Lady Bird Lake was a pleasure. It’s right in downtown Austin. I saw bikers, runners, dog walkers, and picnickers on the banks. And watched the kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders enjoying the water – and some taking lessons on rental equipment.
9. Zilker Park
Austin’s popular Zilker Park has lots of seasonal events. But on the sunny winter day we visited this bustling downtown park, we were happy just to enjoy a walk in the fresh air while watching frisbee players, joggers, and dog walkers.
Austin is a great eating town!
Apart from barbecue and food trucks, my husband and I had two outstanding dinners. At Barlata’s Tapas Bar, we sampled small plates of Spanish specialties, like fire-roasted peppers and pork fennel sausage. And we had a blow out meal at Launderette in East Austin, an eclectic mix of Mediterranean and other inspired deliciousness.