Aside from being the Live Music Capital of the World, home of insane creative energy and way too many eats, Austin has some fun outdoor sights to see! This was my third time in town, but as both before were based solely around the SXSW Interactive conference, I was dedicated to getting a feel for actual Austin this time around. Planning 3 days before and after SXSWi with my bestie and a bite-size Mitsubishi Mirage to whip around the packed streets in was the perfect addition to the whirlwind of networking, panels and partying that has so positively shaped my impressions so far.
From 10 total days exploring, 4 Must See Austin sights:
Austin Street Art
In case the HOPE Outdoor Gallery wasn’t enough graffiti for you, Austin has some pretty inspired street art all over. It only took one drive-by of the “Unleash Your Passion” wall to plan a time for us to go back, and the “Historic 6th Street” mural outside the old Sanctuary print shop is almost as local-famous as the “I love you so much” tag on Jo’s coffee’s side wall. Jo’s Iced Turbo sweet coffee drink and Austin’s sweetheart tag merit their own trip, but your best bet to see both of the others in one shot is to park in the parking garage under I-35 at 6th and walk in either direction to both.
Just 15 minutes northwest of the heart of downtown, Mount Bonnell provides an unobstructed view of the downtown Austin skyline and Lake Austin portion of the Colorado River. A short but steep incline leads you up to the top, where you can take in the views from paved seating areas or tread down some rocky terrain on the lake side for a more intimate setting. Looking out towards the lake/river you’re facing west, so Mount Bonnell is a perfect spot to stop and watch the sunset!
If you’re a night owl like me, you’ll want to know up front that Austin’s main nightlife drags are split into 4 areas: “East” and “Dirty” 6th Street, South Congress (or “SoCo”) and Rainey Street.
Dirty 6th is exactly what it sounds like — dozens of college-status bar-crawl venues stacked on top of each other that leads to nothing but a healthy dose of debauchery. East 6th is Dirty 6th’s younger, hipper cousin, lined with music venues that only play bands you’ve never heard of with lines out the door, craft cocktail spots and yuppy wine bars (I dig). South Congress hosts the traditional lounge/nightclub scene and Rainey Street used to be a residential street that now hosts an array of bars/lounges/restaurants inside of the actual homes — and one made of shipping containers! Awesome.
Dirty 6th is blocked off to cars during the entire SXSW event, but I loved taking a photo walk the day it was transitioning from Interactive to Music. To paint the transition, the techies, creatives and agencies of the world were out and the emerging artist festival seekers were in. Major swag difference.
Saving the best for last, cavernous Hamilton Pool is another 45 minutes west of Mount Bonnell, and it’s 100% worth the trek. Some thousand years ago the dome over an underground river collapsed due to erosion and the result is an amazingly unique emerald watering hole that Austinites (and more) are still enjoying today. The preserve is open from 9am-6pm daily, with no entry after 5:30pm. Apparently it gets pretty hectic here on sunny days — we were warned to expect a big long line. Lucky for us we were headed out to Dallas this day and arrived around 4:30pm when the crowd was starting to leave which worked to our advantage (Pro tip — come late!).
Living in San Francisco and being on the road more often than not, renting cars is far more convenient (and economical) for me than owning, so I usually drive at least a few different models each month. The Mitsubishi Mirage is super mini and fuel efficient, which was extra helpful for navigating packed SXSW streets, squeezing into tiny parking spaces, pulling over for photo sessions and making lots of U-turns! Despite the size, it comfortably fit our two full-size suitcases and carry-ons between airports, housing swaps, exploring and onward en route to Dallas — all in just over a single tank.
I would have loved to also check out kayaking and biking along the Colorado River in Austin, as well as spend some time shopping around East 6th’s Uncommon Objects area, alas… the open road calls!
Where does Austin rank on your list of places to visit? Which must would you see first?!
#DriveMitsubishi provided the eco-friendly wheels for this trip, however all vehicle and destination opinions are, as always, my own.