Austin’s Coolest and Most Romantic Fall Date Ideas

Late-night swims, Hill Country charms, and a breakfast taco showdown—now that’s romance.

Forget the Super Bowl, the World Series, and, dare we even say it, UT Football itself—the most important playoffs are well underway: we’re speaking, of course, of cuffing season. As the temperatures descend and holiday season approaches, it's time to narrow that Tinder pool of potentials into one grand prize winner. And in order to do so, you’re going to need to embark on some dates that really tap into the pros and cons of every match—that’s where we come in.

Whether you’re testing their ability to cope with fear (in the form of a haunted house), chart any waves that may come your way (through skilled boat navigation), or, simply, season a steak correctly, we’ve got every activity you need to find—and woo—that lucky special someone.

Barton Creek
Barton Creek | Trong Nguyen/Shutterstock

Barton Springs Pool
While Austin’s seemingly-endless summer weather might be a burden most of the time (like when it's been over 100 degrees for 13 days in a row), there is a light at the end of the tunnel: the perfect 80-degree weather that stretches through November. Make all of your exes suffering beneath New York’s grey autumn skies jealous by taking your new flame for a night swim at Barton Springs Pool. The legendary three-acre Austin spot boasts refreshing, natural waters with a temperature of 68-degrees all-year-round, making it perfect for those crisp fall nights. The glow of the moon against the water adds a touch of romance to this essential city experience and, with free admission from 9 to 10 pm, you can get a lot of bang for zero bucks.

House of Torment
House of Torment

House of Torment
For the Tinder date you’ve spent hours debating the pros and cons of the recent Halloween installment with, House of Torment might just bring you two ghouls together. Talk about a great excuse to jump into the arms of the man of your dreams, without having to define the relationship—and, with three different spooky spaces, there’s multiple chances for you to casually brush up against each other. Themes include The Boogeyman, which features the main character from your childhood nightmares, and Operation: Laughing Place, which is probably one to avoid should you want to be able to look at clowns in a positive light ever again. Afterwards, grab a beer and a slice at nearby Little Deli & Pizzeria, and try to discuss some happy topics to, you know, even things out.

Lady Bird Lake
Want to impress your date with a cool ride, even if you’re picking them up in your grandad’s old beater Buick? Rent one of the vintage Cadillac-inspired boats from Retro Boats to jet around Lady Bird Lake, and you’re both guaranteed to feel like Sandy and Danny cruising off into the sunset at the end of Grease. The best part about these boats is they don’t just look old-school, they actually are—all of the vehicles have been repurposed and fitted with eco-friendly motors (which is something Grease Lighting was certainly lacking). While you can’t go wrong with any of their beauties, the millennial pink-hued Gidget, or the dog-friendly June, might be the ideal way to pull into the running for a second date.
 

Table22
Table22

Various locations
We don’t blame you if 90% of your dates involve take-out and HBO Max—you’re only human after all. However, one of Table22’s new local restaurant kits will allow you to step away from the Postmates for a night and get in some quality bonding time—in addition to a home-cooked meal that won’t have you grimacing while chewing. Created in response to the devastating toll the pandemic took on the restaurant industry, Table22 sources ingredients and recipe guides from some of Austin’s favorite places to grab grub. Take the “Sojourn Through The South” kit from Olamaie that, of course, includes their famous biscuits, or L’Oca d’Oro’s Regional Pasta and Wine Share kits, which will have you cooking with all the confidence of native Sicilian (or just have you drinking enough wine to think you are).

Little Trouble
Little Trouble | Photo courtesy of Little Trouble

Take a day trip to Lockhart

Lockhart, TX
Escape Austin’s bachelor and bachelorette party crowds by making the 30-minute drive out to Lockhart. This small Texas town has long been known as a barbecue mecca—you and your date can strive for the triple crown by feasting at legendary spots Black’s, Smitty’s Market, and Kreuz Market all in the same day. If you aren’t into getting a serious case of the brisket sweats, check out Little Trouble instead. You can still get your meat fix via the mouthwatering grilled ribeye and be sure to sip on the Dolly, a quirky cocktail served in a mammary-themed glass worthy of the Queen of Country herself. Later, walk it all off by browsing the amazing antique stores just off the town square, as well as local favorite Bluebonnet Records, where the knowledgeable staff will help get your musical stylings into tip-top shape.

Bull & Bowl
Bull & Bowl | Photo by Jasmin Porter

Bull & Bowl
There’s a lot of downsides to traditional bowling: Lanes that reek of old cigarette smoke, the impossibility of getting a clean strike without bumpers, and, chief among them, nasty old bowling shoes (because, gross). Luckily, restaurant and gameapalooza, Bull & Bowl, is here to change all your perceptions of Lebowski’s favorite game. Bull & Bowl offers Austin’s first duckpin bowling alley, which is like the traditional game but with a smaller ball, shorter lanes, and, if we haven’t already mentioned it enough, no shoe rental. Plus, with big screen TVs stationed above each lane, you can convince your date to roll one out even when the big game is on. When you get tired of bowling, there’s also a mechanical bull, pool tables, and a variety of arcade games to keep the competition pumping—not to mention a full food and drink menu that puts the stereotypical mozzarella sticks and chicken tenders routine to shame.

Desert Door
Desert Door | Photo courtesy of Desert Door

Desert Door
Forgo the typical (i.e. boring) happy hour meet-up and treat your date to a different kind of drinking experience at Desert Door distillery, located just a 30-minute drive outside of Austin in Driftwood. Sotol, the agave-based spirit produced onsite, boasts a brighter, grassier flavor profile than its tequila and mezcal cousins, and Desert Door is the best place to wet your whistle. The experts in their tasting room (which just so happens to be dog-friendly) will introduce you and that Hinge cutie to their two housemade varieties. Add a food truck with heightened farm-to-table grub (think: Spinach and Chard Dip) served amid the distillery’s gorgeous wildflower-strewn expanse, and you and your date are bound to feel the buzz.

Sushi | Bar
Sushi | Bar | Photo by Liam Brown

Sushi | Bar
Pamper your honey with a decadent 17-course tasting menu at stunning Austin newcomer Sushi | Bar. The intimate space, which only hosts three seatings each night, puts you right there in front of the chefs while they prepare a lineup of expertly constructed and incredibly delicious bites, omakase-style. From Japanese Yellowtail with sweet corn pudding and sourdough breadcrumbs to a buttery, citrus-spiked Bluefin Tuna, you’ll want to jump for joy with each new plate—not to mention each new sake pairing courtesy of the onsite sake somm.

Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In
Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In

Catch a drive-in movie

Various locations
Do Spooky Season right with a scary movie at the drive-in—after all, with trucks of every shape and size barraging the roads of Texas, you may as well put those spacious flatbeds to use. Pack up lots of pillows and blankets and park that big bad boy in Doc’s Drive In Theatre or The Blue Starlite Drive-In. Check out fan favorites like The Shining or Beetlejuice, playing virtually every night of the week, all from the comfort of your private open-air lounge.

Tap into your animal instincts

Johnson City
Show your date you’re the next Steve Irwin by taking them for a drive-through visit to The Exotic Resort in Johnson City. There, you can roll through the zoo in the socially distanced comfort of your car while feeding animals like antelopes, ostriches, and buffalos, all out of your vehicle’s window. We recommend you buy tickets, as well as pre-buy bags of feed, ahead of time on The Exotic Resort’s website—especially if you are planning to visit during peak weekend hours.

Hops and Grain
Hops and Grain

Various locations
Take “let’s grab drinks” one-step further by going straight to the source of the libations themselves: one of Austin’s many local breweries. Favorites like Central Machine Works, Celis Brewery, and Hops & Grain not only offer delicious drinks, but also spacious outdoor areas so you can get to know each other in the (fingers crossed) cooler autumnal weather. If you’re organized enough to plan ahead, you can even make a reservation to take your date to Jester King in Hill Country, which specializes in sour beers and boasts a romance-inducing bucolic backdrop.

Rent a private movie theater

Alamo Drafthouse
For long-term lovers celebrating an anniversary—or those willing to shell out some extra bucks to really wow their date—consider taking in your own personal screening at the Alamo Drafthouse. Yes, that’s right—one huge movie theater to yourselves, with a full menu of food and drinks to order from while you enjoy the film of your choice. The Alamo Drafthouse does make you choose a movie from a pre-selected list to watch but, with everything from classics like Casablanca to throwback nail-biters like The Thing in stock, picking your cinematic poison will surely be easier than deciding on your next Netflix binge.

Have a picnic in the park

South Austin
You know what they say—if it ain’t broke, don't fix it. The same can be said of this age-old date idea—and, considering Austin is plentiful in both culinary delights and greenspace, there’s no better wingman. With all the diverse take-out options available in South Austin and a beautiful view of the city skyline, Zilker Park is the ideal location to get your picnic on. Grab some burgers and milkshakes at Sandy’s Hamburgers before walking over or, if you’re more of a gourmand, opt for brisket and cocktails from Loro, located just a quick five-minute drive from the park.

Wu Chow Tiki Drink
Wu Chow Austin

Embark on a DIY tiki tour

Various locations
Conjur all the vibes of a tropical vacation with none of the TSA-induced waiting by organizing your own tiki bar crawl through the city. Kick things off with a Mai Tai at Pool Burger, then head to Wu Chow for the pineapple- and tequila-spiked Green Dragon. Finish up at Nickel City, where you can choose from three levels of Painkillers based on how strong you’d like your nightcap (depending on how the date’s going, we won’t judge you if you head straight for a suped-up level three).

Ride the bike trails

Various locations
Roll off into the sunset together at one of Austin’s many gorgeous bike trails, like the Southern Walnut Creek Trail in the East or the Ann and Roy Butler Trail, which hugs the banks of Lady Bird Lake. If you don’t own your own two-wheeler, you can always rent one through Barton Springs Bike Rental—they even have tandems for the true love birds. If you’re less nature-inclined, rent one of the city’s Metrobikes and tour landmark locations downtown like the Capital or the Willie Nelson statue.

The Original Pinballz Arcade austin
The Original Pinballz Arcade

Channel your inner pinball wizard at an arcade

Various locations
There’s nothing like the nostalgia of smashing the Street Fighter buttons mixed with the adult ability to have a beer while doing so. A tried-and-true Austin staple, The Original Pinballz Arcade, allows you to do just that—enjoy their huge selection of games, including their room of vintage pinball machines, in a space that is BYOB-friendly. A newer addition to the scene in South Austin, Cidercade, boasts unlimited play, pizza, and, as the name suggests, plentiful hard cider on tap.

Take in some outdoor art

Various locations
Show off how cultured you are by taking your date to one of Austin’s outdoor art museums. At the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, you can take in the work of renowned American sculptor Charles Umlaut while walking through the lush greenery blanketing every inch of the space. In West Austin, there’s Laguna Gloria, which features pieces by contemporary artists on the grounds of a 1916 villa sitting on the shore of Lake Austin.

Veracruz All Natural breakfast tacos
Veracruz All Natural

Various locations
Challenge your date to answer the ultimate Austin question: who has the best migas? Start your journey at Radio Coffee & Beer, where you can pair a drink with the selection from the Veracruz taco truck. Save room for the massive portions at your next stop—Juan in A Million on Austin’s East side. Finally, figure out if you're meant to be by dropping into rivals Torchy’s and Taco Deli. Be warned though: disagreement over which one tops the other might be a huge red flag for a future relationship. Looking for other great places to grab some date night grub? Check out our list of Austin’s most romantic restaurants.

Get off the beaten trail

Various locations
Test their Tinder profile’s claim that they “love the outdoors” by suggesting a hike through one of greater Austin’s lesser known, yet incredibly beautiful, trails. About an hour north in Belton lies the Chalk Ridge Trail at Chalk Ridge Falls Park, where you'll encounter both a rushing waterfall and a swinging suspension bridge—all in the space of three miles. For those looking for a longer adventure, check out Crockett Garden Falls in Georgetown’s Cedar Breaks Park. Pack a lunch and bring your bathing suit for a six-mile trek culminating in the most gorgeous grotto you've ever seen.

Bouldin Creek
Arriving at Peter Pan Mini-Golf and spotting the giant neon green T-Rex towering over the front of the course guarantees this place goes way beyond the standard windmill hole-in-ones. Toss in the collection of wacky acid trip-inspired animals that decorate the green and the joint’s BYOB policy, and you have a great outdoor date on your hands.

Johnson's Backyard Garden farmers market
Johnson's Backyard Garden

Peruse a farmers market

Various locations
Kill two birds with one date by turning grocery shopping into a breezy fall sojourn to any one of Austin’s fantastic weekend farmers markets. On Saturday, from 9 am to 1 pm, head to the Barton Creek Farmers Market at the Barton Creek Square mall, where you and your prized partner can grab fresh tomatoes and bell peppers from Johnson’s Backyard Garden. The Texas Farmer’s Market at Mueller, which runs from 10 am to 2 pm, is the Sunday darling—be sure to grab a fresh sourdough loaf from Texas French Bread while you’re there.

West Austin
We all know what’s really important in any potential relationship: What does your pet think of them? Get the party started by toting your furry friend along with you on your next date, and bonus points if your paramour has a dog of their own (it’s Austin—they obviously do). Red Bud Isle, perched on the west side of Lady Bird Lake, is the ideal off-leash location for your meet-cute. Afterwards, the four of you can get your fill at one of Austin’s best dog-friendly bars and restaurants.

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Molly Moltzen is a Thrillist contributor.