Cool Things to Do in Austin This Winter

Get into comedy shows, live music, holiday lights, and more.

Musician Playing at Trail of Lights
Ice Rodeo | Trail of Lights
Ice Rodeo | Trail of Lights

Austin isn't exactly one of those fancy places with super distinct seasons. And while it doesn't always snow, there is still a marked change in attitude around here that opens up a new world of possibilities. It may not consistently stay cold here, but things change when people can reasonably bust out a jacket. Austinites trade in the devil-may-care attitude of long summer days for the cooler, more mysterious demeanor of going to shows and drinking a Lone Star while wistfully looking up at the moon on an open-air patio. Whatever attitude you're looking to embody this Winter, we've curated the perfect list of seasonal activities for you to check out this season.

Set out for some cool evening cocktails

Various locations
The colder months are a great time to hole up in a cool cocktail bar with some friends. Luckily, Austin has no shortage of great places to grab a drink. With the sun setting so early in the coming months, spots like the Roosevelt Room and Here Nor There will set you up for a cool, ambient evening that just feels right for the season. Alternatively, wine bars and places with great mocktail menus can provide a similar experience that suits you, whatever your relationship with alcohol is.

Trail of Lights Tunnel
Trail of Lights | Trail of Lights

Soak in the light shows

Various locations
While they are largely exclusive to December, it wouldn't be a true Austin Winter list if we didn't include the classic Austin light shows. The Trail of Lights is the biggest and most well-known. Running from December 8 - 23, the annual festival has managed to maintain that old Austin spirit throughout the years. It's a wholesome spectacle to attend with friends and loved ones. The 37th Street Lights are another local favorite. Walk through, enjoy the show, and donate if you can.

Performers at The Hideout Theatre
The Hideout Theatre | The Hideout Theatre

Laugh it up at the comedy clubs

Various locations
Austin has a burgeoning comedy scene, and the winter months are a great time to discover a new local favorite. From ongoing open-mic nights to venues with regular acts, the Comedy Club scene has something for every comedy fan. Both The Hideout Theatre and The Fallout offer an incredible slate of shows, especially if you're a fan of improv. Alternatively, Cap City Comedy Club and The Velveeta Room are excellent spots to check out stand up.

People Skating at Ice Rodeo
Ice Rodeo | Ice Rodeo

Glide across an ice skating rink

Various locations
There are a couple of good options for ice skating this season. Until New Year's Day, the Long Center offers an enjoyable ice rink experience with great views of the city and snacks. Ice Rodeo is a new event at the Four Seasons Hotel that allows you to skate as you look over the view of Lady Bird Lake. Running now until January 8, it has fire pits, s’mores, and all things cozy. Chaparral Ice is another classic option available long after the seasonal rinks close. If you're not ready to graduate to blades on your feet, you can ease into it with roller skating at Playland Skate Center or the Austin Roller Rink.

Woman Playing at Cidercade Austin
Cidercade Austin | Cidercade Austin

Enjoy a cozy board game night

Various locations
If you haven't been acquainted, Austin is home to many spots where you can both get a drink and settle in with a fun board game. Vigilante Gaming Bar is perhaps the best example. It offers a friendly atmosphere and a wide selection of games that can suit whatever type of play you and your friends are seeking. One big benefit of the venue is its game masters, who have an encyclopedic knowledge of every game they have in stock. At the press of a button, they can come over to explain all the confusing parts of diving into a new game. The Emerald Tavern is another fun location with a massive selection of games and a cool pub-style feel. While lacking the drink options, Tribe Comics and Games is also a great place to hit up for one of their game night events. Those have the added benefit of providing a welcoming space to meet new likeminded people.

Texas Craft Brewers Festival
Texas Craft Brewers Festival

Go all out at food and drink festivals

Various locations
Our city may have a lot of festivals, but if you haven't been to a flavor-based one, you (and your taste buds) are really missing out. To name a few, this season treats us to the Bloody Mary Festival, Jo's Chili Cook-Off, and the Austin Oyster Fest. Each one brings with it the opportunity to sample some of Austin's most joyous culinary experiences. It's always a blast to head out, be in community, and chow down on some delicious food.

Hot Luck
Hot Luck

GTFO of the city for a country getaway

Various locations
You may think of camping as primarily a summer-based activity. But honestly, unless you're adept at handling the Texas heat, you may have better luck tangoing with the Texas "cold." Many spots just out of city limits have little to no light pollution, making star gazing an easy and mesmerizing activity. Honestly, just drive a little ways over to our neighbors in Bastrop, and you'll have a wonderful view of the night sky. If you want a more robust, entry-level outdoor outing though, going to McKinney Falls State Park is a surefire bet. Alternatively, you can check out Austin East KOA for another solid camping and outdoor experience.

Uncommon Objects
Uncommon Objects

Hunt for vintage treasure

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Stock up on winter 'fits the sustainable way by pursuing Austin's vibrant second-hand shopping scene. Dig through the racks at Blue Velvet Vintage in search of single-stitch gems, or let the curated wonders at Charm School Vintage and Feathers Boutique Vintage freshen your wardrobe. And if you're looking to revamp your living space for cozy porch hangs, turn to Room Service Vintage and Uncommon Objects for fantastic furniture and decor.

Yard Bar, austin texas
Yard Bar

Various locations
Not that you need to be told to spend time with your dog, but if both you and your buddy have been spending too many days indoors, it's nice to have options for both of you to stretch your legs. For those lucky enough to count man's best friend among their households, there's a plethora of opportunities for you to enjoy winter with your pup. To start, there's Yard Bar, an Austin classic that lets you enjoy an adult beverage while your dog goofs off in their very own dog park (hence the name). There's also Armadillo Den in South Austin, where you can play a round of corn-hole while your furry friend roughhouses with fellow Fidos, and Easy Tiger East, where no one is going to judge you for bribing your dog to sit by offering them a bite of fluffy, doughy baked pretzels.

The Far Out Lounge and Stage
The Far Out Lounge and Stage

Check out some live music (duh)

Various locations
It's not called "the Capital of Live Music" for nothing. Two-step to some bluegrass at Sagebrush, catch the best of the local scene at The Far Out Lounge, or discover your new favorite bands at Hotel Vegas. And don't forget the city's trademark venue, ACL Live at the Moody Theater, which never fails to keep a stellar lineup of performances on the docket. Early January also treats us to Free Week, when countless bands and venues bring free live music to all who choose to attend.

Flickr/michaelcummings
Mt. Bonnell | Flickr/michaelcummings

Mt. Bonnell
It seldom gets cold enough that the view at Mt. Bonnell isn't worth the venture up. The 775-foot peak is the highest point in Austin and overlooks Lake Travis and the rolling Texas Hill Country below. It's a common misconception that seeing the view involves a big hike, but it truly takes less than five minutes of casual walking to go from the parking lot to the scenic view. It's always beautiful, and now is the perfect time to get a glimpse of the early sunset to kick off your evening.

Nixta Taqueria austin
Nixta Taqueria

Various locations
Perhaps the only dish more famous in Austin than barbecue is the almighty taco. Breakfast taco connoisseurs already know that Veracruz All Natural, El Chilito, and Habanero Mexican Cafe can best the tired old bacon-egg-and-cheese any day of the week, while Nixta Taqueria’s Duck Carnitas and Granny’s Chilaquil will leave you drooling over your plate. And, of course, there are always the classics: Tacodeli and Torchy’s. You really can’t go wrong.

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Molly Moltzen is a contributor for Thrillist.