Actually Cool Things to Do in Austin this Summer

The livin’ is (finally) easy.

Everyone in Texas knows there’s “summer” (April through June), and then there’s “real summer” (July through September). For those new to the Lone Star, let us explain the fine details: “summer” means the weather is hot, while “real summer” means the weather is incredibly, unbearably, inhumanely hot. But before committing yourself to an indoor Netflix binge after seeing the temperature crest at 101 for the seventh day straight, check out our list below for a whole slew of activities you can do without transforming into a melted puddle of humidity within the first five minutes. Hey, it certainly beats testing out whether it's warm enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk (spoiler alert: it is).

Float the river 

Various Locations 
It’s not summer in the South unless you spend at least one Saturday afternoon locked in a bottleneck of rubber inner-tubes cracking into your fourth Lone Star. So grab your friends, ice down a cooler, charge up a water-proof speaker, and take part in the great Texas tradition that is floating the river. When it comes to precisely which river to float, hit up Texas State Tubes to sunbathe the day away on the San Marcos River (about a 35-minute drive from Austin). There’s also Rockin’ R River Rides on the Comal River in New Braunfels—it’s a bit of a longer drive (approximately an hour), but making a pitstop at gas-station mecca/essential Texas experience, Buc-ee’s, on the way there more than makes up for the extra car time.

Alamo Drafthouse
Alamo Drafthouse | Photo by Nick Simonite

Support your local movie theater

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Let’s face it—some days, the ever-oppressive Texas summer heat makes it impossible to fathom spending more than five minutes away from the cool blast of an air conditioner. And the only logical solution is to spend the day indulging in the guilty-pleasure of a big name summer blockbuster or an eye-opening art film. Thankfully, Austin’s theaters are getting back in the game after a prolonged pandemic shutdown, once again providing the ideal setting to catch your favorite superheroes and Oscar winners in all their big screen glory. There’s the classic standard, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, whose numerous locations, diverse food and drink menu, and special film-themed events make it a surefire bet every time. For Downtowners, there’s the Violet Crown, where the RSVP Cinema program allows patrons to rent their own personal theater and project selected blu-rays to entertain their crews in style. Lastly, the true film buff will invariably make a beeline to the Austin Film Society—their upcoming outdoor screening of Without Getting Killed or Caught at Laguna Gloria is bound to be a banner event for celluloid fanatics.

Whisler’s | Photo by Tanner Britton

BYOB wherever you please

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We know you think quarantine has upped your barkeep skills to Tom-Cruise-in-Cocktail levels, but we have some harsh truth to lay down: A strong pour doesn’t always equal a good drink. Luckily, some of Austin’s top spirits-slingers have you covered with an outstanding collection of to-go cocktails, a COVID-era trend that has become so popular, it continues to thrive in our post-vaccine world. Standouts around town include Whisler’s Tarantino-inspired rum and coconut dream, the 5 Dollar Milkshake, drink.well's tropical whiskey sour, alongside the brain freeze-inducing Frozen Guava Margarita courtesy of Contigo. Grab one (or all) of these babies, and head to Zilker or Mueller Lake Park for a DIY patio bar experience. Live a libation-free lifestyle? The recently released pre-packaged acai and smoothie bowls from Austin sensation Blenders & Bowls are poised to provide a sweet (and healthier) buzz. 

Hunt down a good old-fashioned swimming hole

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As any Texan can attest, a person can only brave the blazing summer heat so long without needing to fully submerge themselves in a body of water. Fortunately, the area is rife with natural aquatic escapes perfect for an afternoon refresher. There are the mainstays of course—Deep Eddy Pool and Barton Springs Pool, where the consistent 68-degree temperatures will have you shivering with delight all throughout August. For those looking to make a day of it, pack up the car and head to Commons Ford Ranch or make a reservation to lounge lakeside at Emma Long Metropolitan Park. If all of these Austin locations have you saying “been there, swum that,” road trip out to Wimberley’s Blue Hole Regional Park for an idyllic tree-lined oasis.  

Uncommon Objects
Uncommon Objects | Photo courtesy of Uncommon Objects

Hunt for vintage treasure

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Stock up on summer ‘fits the sustainable way by pursuing Austin’s vibrant second-hand shopping scene. Dig through the racks at Pavement Vintage in search of single-stitch gems or let Charm School Vintage’s curated wonders upgrade your pitifully stagnant quarantine wardrobe. If you’re looking to revamp your living space for vaccine-fueled patio hangs, turn to Room Service Vintage and Uncommon Objects for fantastic furniture and decor finds.

Easy Tiger
Photo by Sydney Gawlik

Spend the day with your furry friend

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It often feels like Austin is a one-dog-minimum per person city and, for those who are lucky enough to count Mans Best Friend among their family members, theres a plethora of opportunities for you to enjoy spring with your pup. As always, theres the classic Austin spot, Yard Bar, which lets you enjoy a drink from their bar, while your dog plays in their dog park (hence the name). New to the scene is Armadillo Den in South Austin, where you can play a round of corn-hole while your dogs play around in their dog park, and the recently opened Easy Tiger East, where we wont judge you for bribing your dog to sit by offering them a bite of the spots fluffy, doughy baked pretzels. 

Zip line around Lake Travis 

14529 Pocohontas Trail, Leander, Texas 78641
While zip-lining might be more associated with vacations to Mexico or Costa Rica, with all the COVID-precautions still in play, Lake Travis Zipline Adventures is giving you the chance to feel all the rush and excitement of the activity in your own backyard. Cross canyons and glide over Lake Travis through five of the longest and fastest ('cause thats what really matters) zip lines in the state. Also included in the day is a nature hike through the Texas Hill Country with a professional tour guide, as well as all-day access to a lake-front property where you can relax on hammocks between zips.

 Texas Farmers’ Market stand
Courtesy of the Texas Farmers’ Market

Hit up an outdoor market

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If you want to build on your usual Sunday Funday—without sacrificing any of the opportunities for a pint or two before the Monday scaries hit—grab your crew and head to one of the amazing outdoor weekend markets in Austin. If youre looking for killer vintage or one-of-a-kind artisanal  products, be sure to follow Austin Flea for updates on where their roving band of vendors will set up shop next. As well, local favorites, Kinda Tropical, Sagebrush, and Cherrywood Coffeeshop, host markets more weekends than not—letting you get your drink on while you also get your shop on. Finally, for those who want to fit in some adulting, stop by the Texas Farmers’ Market at Mueller every Sunday for groceries and good times.   

Barton Creek Greenbelt
Barton Creek Greenbelt | Kim Hefner/Shutterstock

Work up a sweat at the Greenbelt

Barton Creek Greenbelt, Bull Creek Greenbelt
Time to bust out those hiking boots. With 12 miles of gorgeous manicured trails, rustic creek beds, and rushing waterfalls, the Greenbelt is a must-visit for every outdoorsy Austinite. Round up your buddies, pack some snacks, and leash up the pups for what promises to be an unbeatable weekend activity. And while you can’t go wrong with any of the Greenbelt’s access points, the Spyglass Trailhead is tough to beat—not to mention the fact that its proximity to a nearby Tacodeli easily facilitates a pre- or post-workout migas stop.

Take a tour of Fredericksburg’s Wineries 

Fredericksburg, TX - Various Locations
For a long weekend or just an adventurous day trip, consider a visit to Texas’ very own version of Napa Valley—Fredericksburg. It’s about a two hour drive from Austin to the acres of orchards that populate this area, and just the sheer amount of different wineries that have set up shop will cause any vino-lover’s heart to pump with excitement. Be sure to check out Becker Vineyards, whose beautiful estate and lavender fields add some background to your Bordeaux, and the Fat Ass Ranch & Winery, which may not only have the best name but also the best frozen sangria you’ve ever tasted. Note, though, that both are operating at limited capacity and require online reservations. 

See some live music

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Even though COVID may have alerted how we see shows for the near future, it cant keep the Capital of Live Music down. There are still many places around the city to groove on down to some tunes—albeit, in a safe, CDC-complaint way. Two-step to some bluegrass at Sagebrush, catch the best of the local scene at The Far Out Lounge, or discover your new favorite tracks at Hotel Vegas. Thats not to forget the citys trademark venue, ACL Live at the Moody Theater
which may be opened with limited capacity, but has a calendar lineup of performances which guarantees unlimited good times.

Take a drive out to Hill Country for beer and BBQ 

Jester King Brewery & The Salt Lick BBQ
When you get tired of the urban landscape, refresh your eyes and spirits with a trip out to Hill Country. It may only be 45 minutes away, but the long vistas and dramatically beautiful sunsets will make you forget all those emails you have sitting in your inbox. Start in the early afternoon by making reservations at Jester King Brewery, where you can sip on their section of sour beers in the breezy, winter sunshine. Then grab dinner at nearby Salt Lick, whose legendary BBQ has constantly ranked them as one of the best places to grub down on some brisket in the country.

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

Sleep under the stars

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Since the weather has finally warmed down, theres no better feeling than enjoying Texasnatural beauty and sleeping under the stars. Reserve a spot online to camp out this fall at one of Texas Hill Countrys 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 
The bats!are one of Austins 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 worlds largest bat colony.

Catch the sunset atop Mt. Bonnell

Mt. Bonnell
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.

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, theres plenty of buoyancy to be found on Lady Bird Lake. Bundle on up, pop on your shades and enjoy a few peaceful hours of serenity on the lake. Check local listings for rental outlet availability.

Smokey Denmark
Smokey Denmark | Dan Gentile/Thrillist

Try Austin’s world-famous BBQ

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If theres one upside to quarantine life, its that you can try Aaron Franklins 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

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Perhaps the only food more famous in Austin than barbecue are our world-class taco offerings. Whether youre a breakfast taco connoisseur or prefer to mix-and-match tacos with happy hour margaritas, Veracruz, Tacodeli, and Torchys 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.

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Molly Moltzen is a Thrillist contributor.