Once called the “slacker capital” of Texas, Austin is now one of the fastest growest tech centers in the U.S., with new headquarters for Google, Facebook, Oracle, and Tesla. Last year, it was named the second-fastest growing city in the U.S. by the American Growth Project, just behind equally tech-centric San Francisco.
Austin is also proudly “weird.” It’s a city where an independent spirit prevails and art and music lovers from around the country converge for events such as the annual South by Southwest festival. It’s home to more than 200 notable public murals, a foodie paradise, the birthplace of breakfast tacos (at least according to local Austinites), and home to some of the best barbecue in the country. There’s also a hopping live music scene, and outdoor pursuits abound on and around beloved Lady Bird Lake.
Here’s where you can take it all in during a free day in Austin.
Four Seasons Hotel Austin
With a premier perch facing Lady Bird Lake, you can’t beat the location, or the views, from the Four Seasons. The hotel is a perfect amalgam of top-notch service and laid-back Austin vibes. The outdoor patio and gardens include a large pool that’s both heated and cooled, a boccie court, corn hole, and grassy lounge where locals and guests can watch the sunset. Local ingredients make appearances on restaurant Ciclo’s menu with large format prime ribeye at dinner, sweet corn empanadas, and brisket tacos for breakfast. The 294 sleek and spacious rooms and suites have plush beds, Nespresso machines, and bird’s-eye views of the lake and the greenery surrounding it.
Lady Bird Lake
The beating natural heart of the city is this 469-acre expanse of water, really a reservoir, surrounded by trees and greenery. Jog or stroll the 10-mile Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail around the water, or follow the locals’ lead and rent a paddleboard or kayak at the boathouse located just a few yards from the lawn of the Four Seasons Hotel. If you don’t want to paddle, cross the Congress Street Bridge and take a guided boat tour. You’ll pass right under the bridge to witness the largest urban bat population in North America, all 1.5 million of them, streaming into the evening sky.
Terry Black’s Barbecue
Carnivores make pilgrimages to Austin for barbecue smoked over a wood pit from morning ’til night. But queuing at the justly famous Franklin’s can mean hours-long wait times so, instead, try the equally tasty (we’ve tried both, so trust us) Terry Black’s. The wait is typically less than an hour, even on a prime Saturday night, and you’ll hit several pop-up bars as you snake your way past the smoker where homemade sausage, beef brisket, and pork and beef ribs cook under a woodsmoke haze.
Take a break from calorie consumption with a cultural immersion at the Blanton Museum on the University of Texas campus. There’s a deep permanent collection of Latin American and Renaissance art, plus exhibits of contemporary Texas artists that put a modern spin on classical stylings. One of the most impressive sights here is actually outside the museum: The adjacent, immersive Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin,” a white, chapel-like space with walls dotted in an arc of technicolor glass squares that imbue the interior with a prism-like glow. The museum also recently unveiled its new Moody Patio, comprising a combination of outdoor art and public spaces.
Historic Rainey Street
Live music is a full-time passion and pastime in Austin—you’ll hear someone strumming, singing, or playing every day of the week. Rainey Street is where to head for a somewhat more manageable experience than perennially packed 6th Street. There are food trucks galore for snacking anytime and bars filled with people listening to live musicians and DJs. One suggested home base is Bangers, a sausage/beer/outdoor/indoor live music venue that literally has something for everyone (including a free tattoo of their sausage logo should the mood strike for a lasting Austin memory).