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So, you’re visiting Austin and wondering how many fun things you can pack into one day? Here’s a local’s guide to get you going!
There are a lot of guides out there about what to do in Austin. A lot of them are written by people who don’t live here and who don’t have a sense of the real city. I’m here to act as your local guide. I’ve lived here for several years and have intentionally sought out things to do outside the downtown bubble. I wrote this guide in the hopes of helping visitors to find the hidden gems in and around Austin and to help people really experience Austin the way we locals do.
For each meal, I’ll suggest a budget and a splurge option. You can decide what’s in your budget for your visit, but I wanted to make sure you have choices.
How To Spend One Day in Austin
Breakfast or Brunch in Austin
First off, you should know that brunch is a serious business in Austin. It’s so important that we brunch on both Saturdays and Sundays. And most restaurants have some sort of breakfast option during the week as well.
Sawyer and Co is my favorite place for breakfast or brunch. The bananas foster french toast is a great sweet start to the day. They really excel at providing delicious food with excellent service! (They also have a really great happy hour).
For a splurge, make a reservation at Mattie’s on the Green. They only serve brunch on Sundays and it is definitely pricey, but the food is so good, it’s worth it. Do NOT miss the buttermilk biscuits and you really can’t go wrong with any of the entrees!
Lunch in Austin
I’m sending you way off the beaten path for some lunch options. It’s not that there aren’t great lunch options in town, but there are so many options outside the downtown area! My budget suggestion is 888 Pan Asian Vietnamese Restaurant. This locally owned eatery may seem unassuming in its strip mall location, but it has the best (and one of the largest) Asian food selection anywhere in Austin. From pho to fried rice, there’s something for everyone. I personally recommend the clay pots!
If you want to splurge on lunch and don’t mind a bit of a drive from downtown, Garbo’s Fresh Maine Lobster is an excellent option. Seafood may not seem like an obvious choice in the middle of Texas, but as a native New Englander, I’ve found their food to be on par, if not better than, what I can get in Boston. Everything is fresh and delicious and with an added Austin twist. They have both a brick and mortar location and food trucks that move around the city. For the best selection, I recommend visiting the restaurant location, but you can’t go wrong with either.
Dinner in Austin
My favorite place to go to dinner in Austin is not actually in Austin. Sure, there are plenty of places downtown that are great, but you came here for the less obvious options, right?
When we’re going out for a nice evening, we almost always choose SP Brazilian Steakhouse in Lakeway. Its a bit of a hike from downtown, about 45 minutes, but totally worth it. They’ve served some of the best prime rib I’ve ever had (and I live in Texas, I’ve had a lot!).
A budget option would be Mighty Fine Burgers. They’re a local chain, but of all the burger places in Austin, they’re my favorite. Its counter service and usually there isn’t much of a line, so if you want something delicious, inexpensive and easy, its a great option. I recommend adding a milkshake as well.
Things to Do in Austin
Austin Central Library
I’m going to make an unexpected suggestion: Visit the Austin Central Library.
Hear me out. The central library is an award-winning LEED Platinum-certified building in downtown that was built with the intention of being the library of the future. Not only that, but the thing is gorgeous. There is a central Hogwarts-esque staircase, tons of light and space, and it was designed to house twice as many books as it currently holds.
You don’t need to be a library member to take a walk around and see the various art installations and amazing architecture. I highly recommend starting on the 6th floor on the outdoor rooftop garden, with amazing views of downtown and overlooking Lady Bird Lake.
Tour the Texas Capitol
The Texas Capitol building offers free daily guided tours. This tour is amazing. You can see all the important rooms in the Capitol and stand under the awesome central dome. They’ll also teach you just how far Texans took that “Everything’s Bigger in Texas” mantra when building it. The Texas Capitol building should be a must visit in your one day in Austin itinerary.
Get Outside Nearby
Austin loves to get outside, which means our outside spaces are usually pretty busy. If you want to get away from the crowds, check out McKinney Falls State Park. It’s about 15 minutes outside downtown and has camping, hiking, and swimming available in a beautiful natural setting. I recommend booking your day passes ahead of time as they do sell out!
My favorite suggestion, if you don’t mind a bit more of a drive (about an hour), is to book a guided kayaking or canoe tour on one of the local rivers. I’ve used Texas Canoe and Kayaks several times over the years (and they run the local REI guided river trips) and I can’t recommend them more highly. They have several options for duration and difficulty and you can even do a multi-day trip!
Get a Taste of Local Art
Austin is known for its local art scene. There are a ton of options for finding local art in Austin, from the Umlauf Sculpture Garden or the Dougherty Arts Center, which always has a gallery installation by a local artist running. Austin City Hall also has incredible art on display throughout the halls and offices that are rotated through every year.
Come Visit Austin!
There are tons of guides out there for the hottest new restaurants or the most Instagrammable spots in the city. I hope my local’s list of the best things that AREN’T on those guides helps you get out and experience the real Austin.
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