Austin has a lot to offer, from parks and great outdoor recreation, to the arts, music and cultural events. Continually rated one of the best places to visit and live, Austin is a cosmopolitan city that offers everything without losing its small-town feel or quirky energy. If you have only 48 hours in the city, here are some of the best ways to catch the unique vibe here that’s so different from the rest of Texas.
Austin embraces its moniker of “Live Music Capital of the World” whole-heartedly, even greeting airport arrivals with song the moment they arrive in our city. The “Music in the Air” series is staged in the center of the terminal, and performances have included local favorites such as W.C. Clark, Guy Forsyth and Carolyn Wonderland.
Start downtown, where you can take a free tour of the State Capitol, recently restored. Afterwards stroll down Congress Street, perhaps stopping in at shops and galleries such as the Authenticity Gallery or Mexic-Arte Museum Store. For lunch, head east on 6th Street for a block to the historic Driskill Hotel. There you will find one of Austin’s best lunchtime spots, the 1886 Café & Bakery, which serves homemade gourmet sandwiches, soups and salads – but the real draw are the sinful desserts.
Your afternoon and evening will take you just across the river, to South Congress Avenue. Known as SoCo, this stretch is home to numerous boutiques, vintage stores, restaurants and clubs. Shop to your heart’s content, and when you need to recharge, sit down with some sweets from old-fashioned Big Top candy store or the cupcake trailer. On the First Thursday of every month, SoCo is filled with vendor booths and a party that lasts into the night; most weekends also see a large number of artisan booths and food trailers.
For a late dinner, check out the South Congress Café for a happening scene, or funky Guero’s Taco Bar for down-home Austin Tex-Mex – this was Bill Clinton’s favorite restaurant in town. Now it’s time to head across the street to an Austin institution, the Continental Club. With a rockabilly 1950s décor and decades-long history of top musical acts, a night out doesn’t get much better than this.
You may want to work off a bit of last night’s food and drink, and taking advantage of Austin’s extensive natural beauty is a great way to do it. Head to Lady Bird Lake to rent a kayak or paddleboat, or go around the corner to the sprawling oasis that is Zilker Park. It’s 358 acres spread through the heart of the city and has a playground and toy train for the kids. In warm weather don’t miss Barton Springs, a natural underground spring-fed pool that stays a cool 68 degrees year-round. The Umlauf Sculpture Museum right across the street is wonderful.
After the morning outdoors, afternoon presents a perfect opportunity to visit one of Austin’s museums. The Blanton is the city’s newest fine art museum; the Austin Museum of Art, Harry Ransom Center, Laguna Gloria and DiverseArts Culture Works round out the art-lover’s experience. If you are traveling with children the Austin Children’s Museum is home to dozens of interactive exhibits and fantastic temporary installations.
Round out your Austin visit in the perfect way by witnessing the most spectacular sunset in Texas at The Oasis. This Hill Country institution is perched on a hillside overlooking Lake Travis, which lies 450 feet beneath the sprawling, multi-leveled restaurant. Food is pretty standard fare and portions are huge – but people really come here for the drinks and the views from one of the Oasis’ many decks. A bell ringing ritual accompanies the ball of fire sinking into the water, and is a great moment to toast your visit.