There’s no denying it: Austin is a little different.
The most liberal city is an otherwise very red state, Austin stands out among the crowd. Full of amazing food, quirky street art, a laid-back vibe, and friendly locals, there’s just no way you can’t love Austin.
I’d dare you to find a more welcoming city in the US. Austin’s changed a lot in recent years thanks to a population boom. Austinites are not exactly thrilled about it either: locals will often tell you how great their city is, but then urge you not to move in.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that Austin is very protective of their city and motto to “Keep Austin Weird”. And as they should! It’s this free-spirited quirkiness that makes Austin so darn loveable!
Experience the weird for yourself with these 8 awesomely weird things to do in Austin:
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1. Visit the HOPE Outdoor Gallery
On the edge of Downtown Austin, you’ll find the HOPE Outdoor Gallery, also known as the Baylor Street Art Wall. Started by the HOPE Campaign as a creative outlet for artists in the community, the outdoor gallery has become a favorite place for locals to come with a can of spray paint to leave their mark. The walls that tower up the side of the hill serve as the canvas, and every square inch of concrete is covered in some sort of bright color.
If you visit, I’d urge you to leave the spray paint at home. The HOPE Campaign wants only professional artists decorating the walls, and the random tagging really detracts from the awesome street art.
2. Watch the Congress Avenue Bats Fly
Every evening during “bat season“, just after sunset, 1.5 million bats descend from under the Congress Avenue Bridge to do their nightime hunting. It’s said to be the largest urban bat colony in North America!
And it’s quite a sight to see. We had a tough time spotting the bats ourselves, since we didn’t arrive at the bridge until 15 minutes before sunset when the bridge was already packed. I had no idea so many people would be there to see these bats!
Sure enough, just after sunset, the bats started to make their way out of the bridge in a flurry (though it was hard to capture on camera!) For your best bet to see the bats, I recommend booking a bat cruise with Lone Star Riverboats. You’ll be guaranteed to have a good look at the flighty creatures while taking in some additional sightseeing on your way.
3. Eat in a Trailer Park
Austin loves its food trucks, so much so that food truck trailer parks are a pretty regular sight throughout the city. Some of the most notable ones can be found at South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery on 1st Avenue, and The Picnic on Barton Springs Road. Expect good food, but not necessarily cheap prices – these food trucks are serving up some pretty fancy dishes from their 2-axle eateries.
4. Explore the Cathedral of Junk
When Vince Hannemann starting creating his shrine to all things junk, it wasn’t because there was some profound meaning behind it. He just “did it because it was kinda cool“. And while his disgruntled neighbors have tried to have it removed several times, their efforts been to no avail. The structure is rock solid!
Sadly, we didn’t get to see the cathedral ourselves. You have to call Vince to make an appointment, and admittedly, I should have called sooner than the day before we wanted to visit! Vince was full of appointments for the week, so we had to save this one for next time. If you do want to check it out, I recommend you call at least a week in advance and bring a $10 suggested donation.
5. Shop for Oddities on South Congress
The epicenter of Austin’s weird, SOCO is full of odd treasures, along with plenty of goods paying homage to the Lone Star State. Uncommon Objects and Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds are two classic favorites, while Ev and I enjoyed browsing Co-Star and Parts & Labour as well. And you can’t miss strolling through aisles and aisles of boots in every size and color at Allens Boots.
6. Search for Faeries in Zilker Botanical Garden
Zilker Park is a true gem in Austin and a place where you’ll undoubtedly be spending some of your time. If you’re visiting during the summer, why not check out the Woodland Faerie Trail through Zilker Botanical Garden? Sprinkled among the garden’s walking paths are tiny faerie and gnome villages, each a little different and unique. Once you’ve found them all, continue exploring the rest of the 26 acre gardens.
7. Hunt for Austin’s Iconic Murals
The HOPE Outdoor Gallery isn’t the only place to find awesome street art in Austin. Throughout the city you’ll find plenty of Instagram-worthy murals that are just as fun to photograph. “You’re My Butter Half”, “Greetings From Austin”, “I Love You So Much”. You just can’t leave Austin without catching a few yourself. You can find a great guide to Austin’s most famous street art here.
8. Browse Neon Art at Roadhouse Relics
On the side of his studio at 1st and Annie, Todd Sanders’ claims to have the most unique art gallery in Austin. It’s a small space, but inside Roadhouse Relics you’ll find his massive, vintage, Americana-inspired neon signs, which each sell starting at $3,500.
We stopped by on a whim (Todd said the gallery is open on “South Austin hours”, so if he’s there, it’s open), and were lucky enough to get a peek out back where musicians and others often do photoshoots. Todd’s become pretty famous for his work and does mostly custom pieces, like a horseshoe he recently crafted for Willie Nelson, or a piece he did for Kings of Leon’s 6th album cover. If you’re in the neighborhood, it’s definitely worth stopping by!
Where to Stay in Austin
If you want to experience all the Austin weird, it’s best stay in the heart of it all in SoCo! These swoonworthy hotels make for a perfect overnight stay:
Hotel San Jose | In the heart of quirky South Congress, the Hotel San Jose offers a sleek, modern getaway. Delivery of nearby Jo’s Coffee and Polaroid cameras on loan from the front desk are just a few reasons to love this place.
Compare Prices on Hotels.com | Booking.com
Austin Motel | The Austin Motel will remind you of that kitschy 80’s motor inn, but make no mistake about it, after a recent renovation this hotel has become one of the coolest spots to stay in town. Between the “best swimming pool in Austin” and the patio bar, you’ll never want to leave.
Compare Prices on Hotels.com | Booking.com
Which of these weird Austin experiences would you most like to try?
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