Travel

Actually Cool Things You Can (Still) Do in Austin Right Now

All social distancing approved.

Congress Ave. Bridge
South Congress Avenue Bridge | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
South Congress Avenue Bridge | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

One of the benefits of Austin’s eternal summer is that we can still eat, drink, and explore outdoors well into the fall and winter months. The city looks a lot different right now, but Austinites are nothing if not resourceful and creative.

Put a spin on Austin’s traditional fall activities with the guide below. Make sure to adhere to distancing guidelines when socializing with people outside of your household, and always plan ahead and double-check website listings for last-minute closures and changes in hours due to COVID-19.

Barton Creek Greenbelt
Barton Creek Greenbelt | Kim Hefner/Shutterstock

Make a reservation to visit the Greenbelt

Barton Creek Greenbelt, Bull Creek Greenbelt
Free
Get your hiking shoes on! The City of Austin reopened the Barton Creek and Bull Creek Greenbelts to visitors in August after shutting down the trail system earlier in the summer due to overcrowding. Entry is available by reservation only, so make sure to visit the website and select an open time slot before you plan your trip. With 12 miles of gorgeous hiking trails, creek beds, and waterfalls, the Greenbelt is a must-visit for every Austinite.

Visit the pumpkin patch

Barton Hill Farms
$
Barton Hill Farms’ annual Fall Festival and Pumpkin Patch is still on schedule for October and November, with additional social-distancing precautions in place. The 118-acre farm in Bastrop is just 30 miles outside downtown Austin and offers lively activities every weekend to entertain the whole family after you’ve picked the perfect pumpkin. Stick around for the corn maze, live music, face painting, fishing, hayrides, archery, petting zoo, yard games, and more. Adults can enjoy the beer and cider garden, and local food will also be available for purchase.

DIY ACL Music Festival

Zilker Park
Free
The iconic Austin City Limits Music Festival is canceled for the first time since its founding in 2002 due to COVID-19, but you can create a decent substitute with a good playlist. Grab a picnic blanket, portable speakers, and a few close, socially distanced friends to set up your own version of ACL Fest in Zilker Park. You can even pick up ACL-approved snacks from The Picnic, the recently reopened food truck park on Barton Springs Road. 

Go on an Oktoberfest-themed tour of Austin’s breweries

At home
$-$$
Create your own Oktoberfest by visiting a few of Austin’s iconic breweries and sampling their seasonal brews. Some taprooms have reopened and others are doing to-go sales only, so be sure to double-check websites before planning a beer crawl. A few ideas: In North Austin, check out Austin Beerworks, Celis, Circle, and Adelbert’s; in Central Austin, stop by Hi Sign, Live Oak, and Pinthouse Pizza; if you’re on the East Side, check out Friends and Allies, Hops & Grain, Blue Owl, Lazarus, Zilker Brewing, and Austin Eastciders; in South Austin, visit The ABGB, Independence, and St. Elmo’s. For a day drive (or ambitious bike ride), add Jester King, 12 Fox, and Vista Brewing to your list. Another safe option is to pick up a create-your-own six-pack at HEB and enjoy a flight from the comfort of your own home.

Sunset at Pedernales State Park near Johnson City, Texas
Pedernales State Park | JB Manning/Shutterstock

Sleep under the stars

Various locations
$
Once the weather finally starts to cool in late October, there’s no better feeling than enjoying Texas’ natural beauty and sleeping under the stars. Reserve a spot online to camp out this fall at one of Texas Hill Country’s beautiful state parks. McKinney Falls State Park, Pedernales Falls State Park, Inks Lake State Park, and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area are just a few parks just a quick drive away from downtown Austin. 

Watch the bats from the South Congress Avenue bridge

South Congress Avenue bridge 
Free
“The bats!” are one of Austin’s simplest tourist attractions. Head down to the South Congress Avenue bridge in downtown Austin at the end of the day and pick a spot either on top of the bridge, or below on the Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail -- careful to stand six feet apart from other groups -- and wait until dusk for the bats to emerge. About 1.5 million bats live underneath the bridge in what is the world’s largest bat colony.

Catch the sunset atop Mt. Bonnell

Mt. Bonnell
Free
Challenge yourself to jog, bike, or walk through the gorgeous neighborhood on Scenic Drive to Covert Park and the top of Mt. Bonnell. The 775-foot peak is considered the highest point in Austin and looks over Lake Travis and the beautiful Texas Hill Country. Bring a picnic to enjoy on the pavilion at sunset for a unique date night.

Make your tour of Austin’s iconic murals

Various locations
Free
Everyone knows about the “i love you so much” tag at Jo’s Coffee on South Congress and “You’re My Butter Half” on East MLK. But there’s a ton of new, inspiring street art waiting to be discovered since Black Lives Matter movement gained new momentum this spring. Add the “Black Artists Matter” tag down E. 11th Street and the George Floyd and Colin Kaepernick mural at Native Hostel to your must-see list.

Run, bike, or walk along the Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail on Lady Bird Lake

Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail
Free
The 10-mile Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail around Lady Bird Lake is key to the city’s reputation as an outdoor enthusiast’s mecca. Located in the heart of downtown Austin, the trail has multiple access points for runners, bikers, rollerbladers, and hikers to traverse a route of their choosing.

Get on the water at Lady Bird Lake

Lady Bird Lake
$-$$$
Whether your preferred vehicle of choice is a paddle board, kayak, canoe, or inner tube, there’s plenty of buoyancy to be found on Lady Bird Lake. Spread on some sunscreen, pop on your shades and enjoy a few peaceful hours of serenity on the lake. Check local listings for rental outlet availability.

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Smokey Denmark
Smokey Denmark | Dan Gentile/Thrillist

Try Austin’s world-famous BBQ

Various locations
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If there’s one upside to quarantine life, it’s that you can try Aaron Franklin’s famous barbecue without staking out your spot in line at 6am Franklin BBQ has gone to a reservation-only system for selling their world-famous brisket. For even more options, check out our full guide to Austin BBQ here. Make sure to check with individual restaurants for adjusted hours and take-out/delivery options due to COVID-19.

Go on an Austin taco taste-test tour

Various locations
$-$$$
Perhaps the only food more famous in Austin than barbecue are our world-class taco offerings. Whether you’re a breakfast taco connoisseur or prefer to mix-and-match tacos with happy hour margaritas, Veracruz, Tacodeli, and Torchy’s are amongst the classics. Check out our full guide to local Mexican restaurants here. Make sure to check with individual restaurants for adjusted hours and take-out/delivery options due to COVID-19.

Tune in at home to ACL Live’s streaming series

Virtual
Free, but donations accepted and encouraged
Austin didn’t earn its reputation as the live music capital of the world for nothing. Even during quarantine, the city’s local musicians have partnered with iconic venues like ACL Live to provide entertainment virtually. Keep tabs on ACL Live’s website for updates on their next livestream concert. Performances are free, but viewers are encouraged to donate to the artists’ virtual tip jar and/or the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM).

Visit the Blanton Museum of Art

Blanton Museum of Art, 200 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
$
The University of Texas’ Blanton Museum of Art recently reopened in August after closing for most of the spring and summer due to the pandemic. Don’t miss Ellsworth Kelly’s iconic Austin, a 2,715-square foot stone building with gorgeous glass-colored rainbow windows. 

Dance all night with DJ Mel

Virtual
Free
Austin’s very own DJ Mel drew hundreds of thousands of viewers to his impromptu Facebook livestream set after SXSW was canceled. Now, the tastemaker is taking to the tunes every Saturday night from 6 to 10pm for a family-friendly dance party. Set up your speakers, move your furniture, and get ready to bust a move.

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Johanna Gretschel is a Thrillist contributor.