Austin, Texas is a city that is absolutely packed with personality. From colorful street art to delicious food trucks, you will feel the creative weirdness that makes this city feel like a black sheep in the heart of Texas. I have visited Austin twice, and on both of my visits, I came away with a love for this unique and quirky city.
Although you could easily spend a week visiting (and eating) all the incredible things that Austin has to offer, a weekend getaway will give you the perfect taste of this city—and maybe even inspire a return visit! The city has a small enough footprint you’ll easily get around from one cool neighborhood to the next without wasting too much time on a short visit. With 48 hours in Austin, this itinerary will help you visit the major highlights and enjoy some of the incredible cuisine that Austin is so well known for!
Spend 2 perfect days in Austin, Texas with this comprehensive itinerary!
Morning: Self-Guided Street Art Walk or Bike
Street art is something that I seek out on my travels, and Austin is a wonderful destination for public art. Well-known for its colorful and diverse street art scene, checking out some murals is an absolute must-do activity during your 48 hour visit to Austin, Texas. I recommend starting with a self-guided tour of Austin’s street art because you’ll really get a sense of the creative weirdness that Austin is so well known for! Exploring street art is a free travel activity to try and will make your Instagram feed look amazing. I wrote a separate post all about the most Instagrammable street art murals in Austin, Texas.
You can easily explore street art murals on foot, but I think that bikes are more efficient because you can cover lots of ground while still being able to easily hop on and off as you see something beautiful to snap a photo of. Plus, Austin has a great and cheap bike sharing program with stations all around the city. Many of the iconic murals are clustered together in a few key areas in the city, such as east Austin, Soco, or Downtown. Simply wander or bike around to discover murals on your own. Keep your eyes open for spontaneous stops and murals that aren’t featured on my list. There is always some new street art to discover in Austin, Texas!
Afternoon: Shopping + Eating on South Congress
Many of Austin’s famous street art murals are located in the South Congress neighborhood, making it the perfect place to spend your afternoon. South Congress, or SoCo as the locals refer to it, is a popular area for shopping and restaurants just south of downtown Austin. Full of small boutiques, tasty taquerias, and quirky people, it is easy to spend a whole afternoon wandering around the South Congress neighborhood!
There are plenty of other SoCo guides out there on the internet today, so I won’t spend too long talking about stops to visit. Plus, I think South Congress is pretty straightforward. You just walk on one stretch of road and stop at the places that seem interesting to you. In fact, I stayed at the Austin Motel on South Congress during my 2 day visit to Austin, making it easy to pop out and visit lots of different places. A few highlights to recommend include Jo’s Coffee, Big Top Candy Store, Torchy’s Tacos and the Willie for President Mural.
Early Evening: Culinary Highlights
Looking for an especially quirky Austin thing to do? Before leaving the SoCo area, head over to the Congress Avenue Bridge around sunset to get a view of bats. Yes, that’s right. Bats. Apparently Austin loves bats! The bridge is home to a large colony of bats, which people congregate to see every night at dusk. It’s strange, but a very Austin thing to do.
Far from an under-the-radar foodie destination in the USA, Austin has long been known for its culinary prowess, drawing talented chefs from around the state and country to open high-quality restaurants. Whether you’re in Austin for 24 hours or a full week, you’ll be eating very well the entire time. Austin is truly a food lover’s dream destination and I summarized all of my favorite restaurants in a comprehensive food + restaurant guide.
For your first night in Austin, I would recommend doing one of two things for dinner: 1) eat some delicious Texas BBQ or 2) make a reservation at one of the city’s more prestigious restaurants. If you’re going the BBQ route, check out one of the places from this Condenast Traveler list or this Visit Austin list. I only ate at two BBQ joints during my time in Austin, so I am not an expert.
If you’re going the fancy restaurant route, well I can definitely make some better suggestions! I personally loved my experience at Arlo Grey. Run by a female Top Chef winner, the diverse seasonal menu features a lot of local ingredients prepared with French and Italian techniques but with a Texas twist. Another great option is Kemuri Tatsu-Ya. Rated the best restaurant in Austin 2017, this is a Japanese Izakaya with a love of Texas BBQ, the kind of unique cuisine hybrid that could only exist in a city like Austin. You’re going to find some really unique and funky combinations on this innovative menu!
Late Evening: Live Music
It should come as no surprise that one of the best things that Austin has to offer is the local music scene. You are bound to have a good time in the Live Music Capital of the World! Attracting famous musicians from around the world during festivals like South by Southwest or Austin City Limits as well as smaller acts throughout the year, there is always live music to discover in Austin.
Even the smallest of bars offer open mic or local musicians so you are never far from your favorite genre of music. Every night of the week you can find live music at some of Austin’s legendary music venues like Stubb’s, Emo’s East, Antones and The Parish. Typically businesses will post their live music lineup on their website or Facebook so you can easily check who is playing that night. If it’s the weekend, head over to 6th Street, which becomes pedestrian-only after 10:30 p.m. You can barhop while watching street performers and enjoy the cacophony of music blaring out onto the street.
Morning: Outdoor Activities
Austin is a city that loves being outdoors and with mild, nice weather throughout the year, it is easy to get out and be active! The city has plenty of green spaces, and you will find them packed with locals and tourists alike.
Zilker Park, the location for the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival, is a great choice if you want to get a feel for what Austin residents do outside. Plus it has a great view of the city! You’ll see pick up frisbee games, slack lines strung between trees and everything in between. Zilker Botanical Garden is another beloved attraction in the park. With 26 acres of local and exotic flora, you can stroll through the Tamiguchi Japanese Gardens or amble among the hundreds of roses. Also inside the park is the city’s more famous (or infamous) public pool — Barton Springs Pool. Pack your bathing suit to take a dip in this massive spring-fed pool, which is 3 times larger than a football field!
Hiking more your thing? Take a sunrise hike up the rock stairs to Mount Bonnell for an incredible view of Austin in the morning golden hour. There is a conveniently located pavilion at the top which offers splendid views of Ladybird Lake and the Colorado River. Pack a coffee to go for a memorable morning.
If you’re a fan of getting out on the water, check out Ladybird Lake. It’s not really a lake, by the way, but rather a specific stretch of the Colorado River. Rent a kayak from Congress Kayaks ($15 per hour) or stand up paddle boards from Live, Love, Paddle ($20 per hour) to get out on the water. The views of downtown Austin are fabulous from the river. The further away from downtown you go, the more green space and parks you’ll see. Austin is such a green city!
Afternoon: Cultural Sights + Museums
As the capital of Texas and one of the biggest states in the USA, Austin is full of excellent cultural attractions and museums. For Texans, a pilgrimage to the Texas State Capital is a must because it is a source of pride. Built between 1882 and 1888, it’s actually taller than the U.S. Capitol and it is the largest state capital in the country (would you expect any different in Texas?). There is a lovely park around the capitol grounds with shaded walking paths. Located at 1100 Congress Ave, the capitol rotunda is open daily to visitors from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday. You’ll need to pass through security to enter, and there are optional free tours available from 8:30am to 4:30pm.
Need a little history in your Austin travel itinerary? I would recommend visiting the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library which covers a particularly interesting section of American history. I find that presidential libraries are especially good museums, and the LBJ library is no exception. The 1960s are absolutely packed with significant historical events which are well-chronicled at this museum. With fascinating exhibits about the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, as well as timely rotating exhibits that offer contemporary insights on the 1960s, this museum gives its visitors a window into a period of history that forever shaped the USA’s future.
Early Evening: Food Truck Parks
A quintessentially Austin activity, snacking your way through a food truck park is the best way to enjoy your last meal in Texas’s capital city. Food truck parks are exactly what they sound like—a collection of food trucks parked together in a specific area. There are many food truck parks throughout the city, so you are never more than a few miles away from one. Plus lots of them are open late night, perfect after a night of drinking. You can typically find a good combination of cuisines in one park, from Greek to Mexican to BBQ, which makes it easy to visit a food truck park with friends who have different tastes.
When choosing which food truck park to visit, use this exhaustive Thrillist list for guidance. I also love the list curated by fellow food + travel blogger Authentic Food Quest because it is more personalized!
Late Evening: Bar Hopping
If you are a fan of nightlife, Rainey Street is a perfect place to end your 48 hour visit to Austin, Texas. This street is lined with historic bungalows that have been converted into trendy bars and quirky eateries. There is a food truck park here as well, so you can easily combine this with the activity above. Once you’re on Rainey Street, pop into whichever bars seem interesting to you — there is hardly a bad one to choose from. I personally posted up at Banger’s Beer Garden which my husband loved, thanks to their 100 beers on tap. Another fun option is the Container Bar, which is made out of repurposed shipping containers.
Where to Stay in Austin:
There are tons of lovely accommodation options throughout Austin to match any budget. For an Instagrammable stay perfect for a couple or small group, check out the Austin Motel. It is an adorable renovated motel off of South Congress Street in the heart of central Austin. With colorful designs and cute decor, I knew I wanted to stay at this boutique hotel as soon as I discovered it on Instagram. It mixes my love for vintage with my love for cool, well-designed spaces. Join me on a tour of my room and the grounds of the Austin Motel in this video I made from my stay!
If you’re traveling in a big group, especially around event times, I can recommend the amazing Bali Meets Austin Loft House on AirBnb. I stayed here with my colleagues during a staff retreat, and we loved the grounds of this artist designed home. Located on Austin’s southside, the serene home is super spacious with a very open layout and floor to ceiling windows overlooking the pool and cactus garden. From the minute you walk in, this welcoming 4 bedroom modern home is an oasis, perfect for a relaxing vacation. The warm burnt orange paint makes the house feel lived in, and the mixed fabrics throughout the home made it cozy. Sharon, the owner, travels a lot as an artist and has collected some amazing treasures, many of which are from Bali and Southeast Asia. Mixed with her own pieces and quirky doll decor, every little corner features something!
This post is a compilation of blogs originally published in April 2016 and October 2018, then updated in January 2021.