So you’ve probably taken to heart the old Southwestern student mantra “if you want to have fun, just go to Austin” and are planning on taking a little excursion down to the live music capital of the world. But there’s just one small, tiny, little detail you didn’t realize: there is a lot to do in Austin—almost too much. And now you have no idea where to even start.

Well, fear not my friend, for I have spent many years going to Austin whenever I need a break from Georgetown and have found numerous places that are extremely fun. Of course, this list isn’t fully comprehensive—even a local can only go to so many places—but the ones included are a great place to start. And just by going into the city, you’re bound to stumble on fun and exciting new places.

Shopping and hangout spots
  • The Domain: Honestly, if you had to pick only one place in Austin to go to, this would be it. There is such an insane amount of things to do and see that it’s kind of a small city in its own right. While people live at the Domain in apartments above the stores, which are all at ground level, there are tons of places to explore for nonresidents: incredible restaurants, a movie theater, escape rooms, arcades, clothing stores, makeup stores, spas, live music events, coffee shops, boba tea—you name it, and the Domain probably has it. Their website has a full directory of everything located there. 
  • The Alamo Drafthouse: This is Austin’s signature dine-in theater franchise. Six of them are located around the city, all of which will serve amazing full meals directly to your seat. I’m personally a big fan of the fried pickles (and yes, I know that’s not a meal! Stop judging me!).
Outdoor activities
  • Deep Eddy: This is the oldest human-made pool in Texas that draws its water from the Edwards Aquifer. This means the water is super cold, which doesn’t sound great on paper, but trust me, you’ll appreciate jumping into 60°F water when it’s 103°F outside. During the summer, they also have movie screenings, where you can chill in the pool and watch a movie (warning: they seem to really like screening Jaws for some reason). 
  • Zilker Park: This is the biggest park in the city. It’s home to the Barton Springs swimming pool, the Zilker Botanical Garden, an outdoor theater for stage productions, and an 800-acre nature preserve with trails you can hike along and cliffs you can climb.

A view of the Austin City skyline from Zilker Park.A view of the Austin City skyline from Zilker Park. Credit: Roschetzky Photography | Shutterstock.com

  • Lake Lady Bird: This an awesome spot to go paddleboarding, canoeing, or kayaking; you can rent equipment from the Rowing Dock. The water is pretty calm, so it’s not an intense experience. And if you head out close to sunset, you can watch the 1.5 million bats chilling under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge emerge. 

Austinites paddling on the Lady Bird Lake.Austinites paddling on the Lady Bird Lake. Credit: Skylar Dawn | Shutterstock.com

Festivals
  • SXSW: Held in the spring, South by Southwest is an annual citywide music, art, technology, video game, and film festival that attracts creators and attendees from all over the globe. The festival features live performances by an array of international and indie artists, big-budget and art-house movie premieres, TV show previews and promotional events, the SXSW Gaming Awards, and events hosted by guest speakers, ranging from politicians, actors, and authors to screenwriters, animators, and directors. This is the biggest event in Austin.

Live music being held at the SXSW festival in 2018.Live music being held at the SXSW festival in 2018. Credit: Agave Photo Studio | Shutterstock.com

  • ACL: Austin City Limits is a live music festival held in Zilker Park in the fall. It’s organized by the same company that directs Coachella and Lollapalooza, which gives you a sense of the vibe to expect. Just to give you an idea of who plays at this event, the 2019 headliners included Guns N’ Roses, Mumford & Sons, Childish Gambino, The Cure, Cardi B, Tame Impala, and Billie Eilish. 

The iconic Austin City Limits festival flags.The iconic Austin City Limits festival flags. Credit: Ismael Quintanilla III | Shutterstock.com

A handful of restaurants

I want to preface this section by saying that there are a lot of restaurants in Austin. No matter what you’re in the mood to eat, I can guarantee you that there are at least 10 different places that you could choose from. So I’m going to provide you with my four favorite restaurants in Austin. Whenever I head down there, I usually go to one of these places.

  • Ramen Tatsuya: I know you’re probably sick of ramen at this point, being a student and all, but you have not truly lived until you’ve had real gourmet ramen. This place always has a line out the door because it is 1,000% worth the wait. Be warned, though: you may not ever be able to enjoy instant ramen the same way ever again. In my opinion, it’s a worthy sacrifice. 
  • Kura Sushi: This is the most fun restaurant I’ve ever been to. It’s a revolving sushi bar, meaning a conveyor belt runs throughout the restaurant with plates of all types of sushi on it. If something passes by your table that looks good, you just grab it! Of course, if you’re looking for something specific or want one of their other offerings, like miso soup, dumplings, or mochi to name a few, you can use the order screen to have it literally shot to your table from a different conveyor belt. What a time to be alive.
  • Hopdoddy Burger Bar: This is my top pick for burgers in Austin (although the closest location to SU is technically in Cedar Park, but shh). They’re the kind of burgers you’re not sure if you should feel bad about eating: do you get to see them grind the beef and form the patties right in front of you? Yes. But are the burgers, like, six inches tall? Also yes. Now, the shakes you should definitely feel bad about; they’re that rich and delicious. Their signature offer, surprisingly, is their parmesan fries with truffle aioli. Ketchup? We don’t know her.
  • Home Slice: Every pizza here is made to order in a wood-fired oven, and you can choose from either a classic New York-style pizza or an extra-crispy Sicilian style. And if you’re looking to get a calzone that’s about a foot long and can feed four people, they have those, too. 

Again, everything I’ve written here is only scratching the surface of what the capital city has to offer. But I hope this has given you a little bit of direction on where to start when other SU students tell you to “just go to Austin.” And since you’ll be here for four years, you’ll have plenty of time to discover even more that the city has to offer. Maybe you’ll stumble across some things we seasoned locals didn’t know about.