17 Actually Cool Things to Do in Austin This Summer
Celebrate Pride, barbecue, and the best Austin swimming holes this season.
To live in Austin through multiple summers almost requires a sort of amnesiac condition—in order to make it in the sweltering, miserable, over-100-degree days of August, you have to forget about them until they come around again. However, despite what that throbbing sunburn on your neck might tell you, the summer in the city isn’t all bad, in fact, it is jam-packed with some of the best activities going down in any season. Whether you want to experience the outdoors from the comfort of a body of water, or experience the indoors within the comfort of a working HVAC system, we got the down-low on the ways to take the summer by the (long) horns—just don’t forget to hydrate.
GTFO of the city for a country getaway
The summer heat in Texas is nothing short of oppressive. Between that, and the long work days, Julys spent in the city can feel like you’re cooking in your own stress-induced oven. Fortunately, there are great vacation spots close to Austin where you can be reminded that your life does not revolve around your inbox. For an individual adventure or a romantic couple’s trip, check out one of the Instagram-able vacation yurts at The Yurtopian. With locations in both Wimberely and Dripping Springs, you can take glamping to a whole new level with one of their private, remote yurts—all of which include a personal hot tub, fire pit, bathroom, kitchen, and rooftop deck with hammocks. If you want the whole crew to get out of the city and get down, book a stay at Camp Hideaway in Fredericksburg. Their ranch house sleeps eight and comes with plenty of amenities, including a private pool, hot tub, fire pit, and putting green, to keep everyone entertained between sessions of hitting up the nearby, legendary Fredericksburg Wine trail. Finally, if you want to put some serious distance between you and the city (approximately 450 miles, that is), head to El Cosmico, the dessert-laced paradise in Marfa. There, you can camp with your pups in one of their famous tepees, tents, trailers, or yurts, and take in the expansive, starry sky while soaking in one of their wood-fired hot tubs.
For those confused (“Isn’t Pride in June?”) let us explain, Pride is celebrated in Austin in August for reasons which citizens speculate have to do with everything from rain insurance to the return of college students. Regardless, we are happy for any reason to break out the bubbly and hit up a drag show; however, it's important to remember while getting loose, we must show support for our LGBTQIA+ neighbors not just this month, but year-round. While the official lineup of events is still in the making, we can guarantee one shindig going down that is not to be missed—the official Pride Parade. Grab your rainbow gear, guzzle enough liquid courage to give your number to some strangers, and watch the extravaganza stroll down Congress on August 13th. And, due to its prime city location, you can either find a spot on the street, or dangle from a bar’s patio, to catch all the spectacle of exquisite floats and live performers.
Take a dip into refreshing waters
It can be slightly unbearable to be outside in the summer in Austin without being fully submerged in a body of water. Whether you’re looking for a natural option, or one with a cocktail bar, there are plenty of ways to beat the heat by sitting in a floatie. There are the mainstays of course—Deep Eddy Pool and Barton Springs Pool, whose consistent temperature of 68 degrees will have you shivering with delight when August hits. For those looking to make more of a day of it, pack up the car with food and drinks and head to Commons Ford Ranch or make a reservation to sit lake-side 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 a tree-lined oasis. If you prefer your water treated with chlorine, you can join the Austin Motel Swim Club, whose membership includes access to their retro-themed pool for two, special discounts, and the chance to soak in the sun while sipping on one of their signature, frozen Peach Bikini Martinis.
Considering Juneteenth originated in Texas, there is even more reason to celebrate this important day of freedom for African Americans in Austin. On June 18th, you can join in on the official festivities as the city’s parade, complete with floats, music, and lots of joy makes its way through the streets. You can also roll by the family-friendly, community-geared Park Festival that takes place at Rosewood & Boggy Creek Park, where you can shop goods from local Black makers and dig into some delicious grub from various food trucks. And, while other events for the holiday are still yet to be announced, check out the following links for ways to support local, Black-owned businesses and Austin’s Black community in general year-round.
The Paramount Theatre
As much as we want to spend our free time in the summer taking advantage of the sunshine, sometimes—such as when the thermometer hits 102, or we are sweating out a Sunday hangover—the only acceptable activity has to involve a dark, cold room. Luckily, this summer, one of the city’s most beloved annual events returns to provide just that—the Summer Classic Film Series at the Paramount Theatre. For those who haven’t had the chance to catch a flick at this historic location, let's just say that, with its flashing marquee, colossal screen, and buttery popcorn, it’s nothing short of a cinephile’s dream. The series starts with the traditional showing of Casablanca on May 26th, and continues to give the film buffs what they want with a variety of themed collections throughout the following weeks. We’re especially looking forward to the “How To Steal a Movie” series, featuring movies with scene-stealing supporting performances including Singin’ In The Rain and Goodfellas, as well as the accompanying “How to Steal Everything Else” grouping, featuring crime-time favorites like Reservoir Dogs and Bonnie and Clyde.
Hunt for vintage treasure
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 the curated wonders at Charm School Vintage and Feathers Boutique Vintage upgrade your pitifully stagnant wardrobe. And if you’re looking to revamp your living space for summertime porch hangs, turn to Room Service Vintage and Uncommon Objects for fantastic furniture and decor.
It often feels like Austin is a one-dog-minimum-per-person kind of city and, 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. For starters, there’s Yard Bar, an Austin classic which 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 we won’t judge you for bribing your dog to sit by offering them a bite of a fluffy, doughy baked pretzels.
Hit up an outdoor market
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. Looking for killer vintage or one-of-a-kind artisanal products? Follow Austin Flea for updates on their roving band of vendors. WoC-centered Frida Friday ATX is another local sensation—not only does it always feature vendors with amazing wares, but its mission to amplify BIPOC, WoC, and community creatives is just as inspiring as the artwork it hawks. Finally, for those who want to fit in some adulting, stop by the Texas Farmers’ Market at Mueller every Sunday for fresh groceries and wholesome times.
From mouthwatering food to the great outdoors, Texas is a vacation destination unto itself. Breathtakingly diverse landscapes, like Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park in West Texas, offer a natural respite for outdoor enthusiasts while the San Antonio River Walk is a 15-mile oasis for the urban explorer. No matter your interests, the Lone Star State is waiting to be explored, so, plan accordingly.
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 unparalleled weekend adventure. 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.
Check out some live music (duh)
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. That’s not to 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.
Jester King Brewery & The Salt Lick BBQ
When you get tired of the urban landscape, refresh your spirits with a trip out to Hill Country. It may only be 45 minutes away, but the mesmerizing vistas and dramatic sunsets will make you forget all those emails you have sitting in your inbox. Start by making a reservation at Jester King Brewery, where you can sip on their section of sour beers in the breezy, crisp sunshine. Then grab dinner at nearby Salt Lick, where the legendary barbecue constantly ranks as one of the country’s very best.
The weather may be hot, but you can soak it all in by camping out in the elements at one of Texas’ amazing parks. See for yourself by booking a spot at one of Texas Hill Country’s breathtakingly gorgeous parks. McKinney Falls State Park, Pedernales Falls State Park, Inks Lake State Park, and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area are all a stone's throw away from Austin proper (though, once there, you’d never know it).
South Congress Avenue bridge
“The bats!” are one of Austin’s top tourist attractions. Head down to the South Congress Avenue bridge in downtown Austin at the end of the day and pick a vantage point, 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 little creepy critters to emerge. About 1.5 million bats live underneath the bridge in what’s widely considered the world’s largest bat colony.
Challenge yourself to jog, bike, or walk through the gorgeous neighborhood on Scenic Drive through Covert Park to the top of Mt. Bonnell. The 775 foot peak is the highest point in Austin and overlooks Lake Travis and the rolling Texas Hill Country below. Pro tip: Bring a picnic to enjoy on the pavilion at sunset for a unique date night outing.
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. Bundle up, pop on your shades, and enjoy a few peaceful hours of serenity bobbing amid the serene waters. Before you pack the car for the day, make sure to check local listings for rental outlet locations and availability.
If there’s one upside to the way COVID-19 changed the world, it’s that you can now try Aaron Franklin’s famous barbecue without staking out a spot in line at 6 am. Franklin BBQ has gone curbside pick-up, selling their world-famous brisket on a to-go basis for the time being. And they’re far from the only meaty game in town—our other favorites include la Barbecue, Distant Relatives, and LeRoy and Lewis, and it just so happens that legendary Austin pitmasters tend to agree with us.
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.