Keeping Austin Weird: Fun things to do in Austin

I love Austin. I’ve visited briefly twice before and enjoyed myself thoroughly each time. During my latest visit, however, my husband Daniel and I stayed for two weeks. In this post, I’ll share our favorite things to do in Austin and highlight great places to eat, drink and admire the city’s street art.

Greetings from Austin – the Capitol of Texas!

Visiting Austin during the COVID-19 Pandemic

When Daniel and I arrived in Austin, we had been traveling more-or-less nonstop for the previous several months. We arrived the day before Halloween 2020, although we hardly noticed the holiday. We’ve been avoiding most public places and gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After a few days in charming and sunny Austin, however, we began to thaw towards the outside world. The gloriously sunny weather meant that it was easy to eat and drink outdoors. Austin has a formidable food truck scene with opportunities for eating al fresco everywhere.

And don’t get me started on the music! Austin is famous for its lively music scene with bars and venues seemingly on every corner. There were ample opportunities to catch live tunes during our visit, despite various shutdowns and pandemic-related setbacks.

And so it was that Daniel and I had a fabulous time in Austin. We ate out pretty much every day, sampled local beverages, admired the prolific street art, and got our groove on. Ahh, bliss.

Nowadays, of course, we wouldn’t attempt anything of the sort due to the alarming resurgence of the Coronavirus. We travel much less frequently these days and only venture out to go grocery shopping or to spend time exploring the great outdoors. But back in October, COVID transmission rates were relatively low in Travis County.

And so we enjoyed our moment in the sun.

Food Trucks Everywhere

One of the first things that I noticed in Austin was the proliferation of food trucks. They really are pretty much everywhere. The trucks are often grouped together in little parks so that it is easy to grab some cheap and yummy food on the go. This dining style is particularly well-suited for pandemic dining as it take place completely out-of-doors.

Welcome to the Pangea Food Truck Park
I bought an arepa at this food truck.
The afore-mentioned arepa. It was yummy!
This food truck park on East César Chávez features all vegan shops. I’m not a vegan but I typically avoid dairy.  I LOVED IT!
Another Austin Food Truck Park. They are everywhere!
Big Boy bids you bon appétit!

The Austin Food Scene

While I would have been perfectly contented to eat every meal at a food truck, Daniel encouraged me to broaden my horizons. There is more to the Austin food scene than just food trucks. So much more!

Franklin Barbecue

Eating at Franklin Barbecue usually requires a bit of advanced planning. As one of the most popular restaurants in Austin, Franklin Barbecue typically attracts a big crowds and *really* long lines. Lucky for us, however, the restaurant has changed its seating policy due to the pandemic. At the time of our visit, food was available for pick-up only. All we had to do was order online and sign up for a pick-up window. Easy peasy.

Damn fine barbecue.
See what I did there? I made a happy face out of my food.
A mini pecan pie just for me? Yes please!
The line of cars waiting to pickup orders at Franklin Barbecue stretches into the street. Photo by Daniel.

Torchy’s Tacos

A friend recommended the chili queso at Torchy’s Tacos so we had to stop by for a visit. I particularly enjoyed the white trash taco with fried chicken. Yummy!

Welcome to Torchy’s Tacos
The white trash taco at Torchy’s Tacos
Chili queso at Torchy’s Tacos
Eating al fresco at Torchy’s Tacos

Launderette

Daniel and I wandered over to Launderette one afternoon after a stroll along Ladybird Lake. It was an unplanned visit but a satisfying one. We arrived just in time for happy hour and helped ourselves to some yummy drinks and snacks.

Happy hour at Launderette
Happy hour at Launderette
Some kind of yummy appetizer which was a lot cheaper because we arrived during happy hour. Yay!
Fried chicken with dipping sauces
Welcome to Launderette

The Austin Drinking Scene

Outdoor beer gardens and bar patios are ubiquitous in Austin. It’s been a long time since we went out for an adult beverage since most bars are indoors. Daniel and I were looking forward to spending a night (or two) out on the town.

The Mean-Eyed Cat Bar

I’m a big fan of Johnny Cash and so we had to pay a visit to the Mean-Eyed Cat Bar. Named after one of Johnny’s songs, this dive bar is an homage to all things Johnny Cash.

Welcome to the Mean-Eyed Cat Bar, named after a Johnny Cash song
The outdoor patio at the Mean-Eyed Cat Bar
Mural in the patio
Saint Johnny
The man. The myth. The legend.
Posing with a signed photo of Johnny Cash in the background
My first frito pie!

The Lustre Pearl East

Located a mere few blocks from our AirBnB rental, the Lustre Pearl boasts a giant courtyard for outdoor drinking.

Welcome to the Lustre Pearl
Murals outside of the Lustre Pearl
Another yummy taco courtesy of the Lustre Pearl. We at a lot of tacos in Austin.
Some funky outdoor art at the Lustre Pearl

Catch a Live Show: Buffalo Gals at the Sagebrush

I was eager to see some live music while we were in Austin. And so, after much research, we found ourselves at Sagebrush on the other side of town. We picked Sagebrush because it has an outdoor stage and, even though live music was permitted indoors during our visit, I wasn’t super comfortable with that notion.

Upon arrival we discovered that while the venue has three stages, only one of them is located outdoors. Unfortunately, the Buffalo Gals were scheduled to play on one of the indoor stages. Boo. It was a great show, however. We had a great time.

The Buffalo Gals on stage at The Sagebrush
Daniel contemplates life in the outdoor garden at Sagebrush
We ate fried chicken sandwiches with pimiento cheese in the outdoor garden. They were very naughty and extremely tasty. Photo by Daniel.

Admire Austin’s Murals and Street Art

The other thing I noticed right away upon arriving in Austin (besides the food trucks) was the street art. Colorful murals are everywhere. Many businesses have giant murals painted on their outer walls. It’s as if the businesses are trying to outdo each other in an effort to vie for attention.

R.I.P. RBG
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Trippy food
Hola friend, Hi amigo!
Don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows
Pickle Rick!
Angela Davis
One of the many businesses that feature colorful murals on their outer walls

Hang out in the South Congress Neighborhood

Daniel and I spent several evenings wandering around Austin’s South Congress neighborhood. SoCo is a fun neighborhood with lots of bars and restaurants as well as iconic Austin sights.

Welcome to the South Congress neighborhood
Cowboy boots are very popular in Austin. You can pick up a pair at Allens Boots.
Some of the fancy cowboy boots inside Allens. Note the “Bridal Collection” line of cowboy boots.
Home Slice Pizza
A funky antique shop in South Congress
Laser cats!
The Austin Motel would like to remind you that every vote counts
Rainbow lights!

Walk around Downtown Austin

While we preferred to spend most of our time in Austin’s funky neighborhoods, Daniel and I did pay one visit to the downtown area and the state Capitol.

Tall shiny buildings in Austin’s downtown core
Peek-a-boo view of the Capitol building
Sixth String
The Texas state capitol
The tower at the University of Texas at Austin. One of the worst mass shootings in American history took place here in 1966.

Pay Homage to Office Space

Daniel and I were surprised to learn that the movie Office Space was filmed in Austin. So we made a pilgrimage to the building where the exterior office building scenes were shot.

If you could keep Austin weird, that’d be great…
Here is the office building where the exteriors for Office Space were filmed. It’s still in use today.
Appa parked in front of the office building where Office Space was filmed.

Election Night Jitters

One of the reasons we chose to stay in Austin was because of the presidential election. It has been a contentious election year and we were both feeling a little nervous that things might get crazy or even violent on election night. Daniel and I don’t have much experience traveling in the southern part of the country and we wanted to be someplace familiar.

It was a surreal time to be traveling.

A local polling station. Daniel and I voted by mail earlier in the month.
Austin tends to lean Democratic. We saw yard signs for Joe Biden everywhere.
….and we saw anti-Trump signs everywhere. Other parts of the country that we visited were quite the opposite.
Some pre-election night shopping at Whole Foods. Yep – I think we have all the bases covered here!

Stroll along the Shores of Ladybird Lake

Ladybird lake is a river-like reservoir which runs directly through the city of Austin. Trails along the lake provide ample opportunities for walking and biking. Daniel and I spent one of our last evenings in Austin watching the sun set over the lake. It was a fitting farewell for our time in the city.

Ladybird Lake Reservoir
Walking path along Ladybird Lake
The walking path features glorious autumn colors
City lights reflected in Ladybird Lake at night
Sunset over Ladybird Lake
The sunset is reflected in Daniel’s sunglasses as we watch from the bridge
Good-bye Austin. It’s been real.

More Information and Resources

Planning to visit Austin? Check out the following books for more inspiration:

Where are we now?

We are in Austin, Texas!

Dates: October 30-Nobember 9, 2020
Great American Road Trip Status: Days 117-128
Location: Austin, TX
Total Trip Mileage: 8669.3

For more details on our Great America (Socially Distanced) Road Trip, see my previous posts:

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24 thoughts

  1. Love seeing these pictures. I grew up in Austin in the 70’s and 80’s. I consider it my hometown, but it has changed so much (fiercely holding on to anything considered cool) I feel like a stranger in an Austin Museum when I do go back. Thanks for being my guide to the new stuff!

  2. Austin is such a fun city! I went a few years ago and had a great time. Also, Torchy’s Tacos is SO GOOD! I definitely need to get back and hit up these other awesome spots. 🙂

  3. I loved Austin when I visited 5 years ago! I was only there for a few days, so I didn’t get to explore the city as much as I would have liked to. I’ll have to save this post for when I return to the city. The street are looks so cool

  4. Austin looks so good. I’ve heard great things and looking at your pictures I know that if I go I’m gonna do nothing but eat. And eat. And eat. Love the food truck park, that’s my kind of night.

  5. Wow, you guys packed a lot into 11 days! I’m glad that there were lots of outdoor things to do, including live bands, that’s awesome. I’d love to visit the Mean Eyed Cat one day and check out all the awesome street art murals in Austin.

  6. I can see now why so many people are moving to Austin these days. Thanks for highlighting all the different facets that the city has the offer, seems like a pretty cool place. I’ve never thought about visiting Austin before but it’s on my U.S. bucket list now!

  7. Omg, I once received a postcard with that exact mural (the one in the first photo) on it. Now I really want to see it in real life. And the food all look amazing, especially the fried chicken with dips! Ohhh..

  8. WOW! What a great collection of mural photos! My family is from Austin and I’ve never seen most of these. I’ll be looking for them next time. Thanks!

    1. I really enjoyed all the murals there. And there’s tons more that I didn’t get photos of. Hope you enjoy them on your next visit too!

  9. Not going to lie, you had me at mini pecan pie! Austin looks fantastic. I love all the street art and the look of all that tasty food! It’s pretty cool that they have so possibilities to eat outside with all the stress of the pandemic!

    1. Sunny Austin is the place to be during the pandemic, especially when it comes to eating outdoors. Thanks for the comment!

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