Actually Cool Things to Do in Austin this Fall

Hill Country wineries, eerie ghost tours, and ACL’s star-studded return.

Austin City Limits Festival
Austin City Limits Festival | Photo by Chad Wadsworth
Austin City Limits Festival | Photo by Chad Wadsworth

Fall feels like a breath of fresh air in Austin—literally, after the “it makes hell look temperate” summers we go through here. And since you can feel comfortable outside again without having to immediately submerge yourself in a body of water, it’s high time we take advantage of all the amazing fall-themed excursions around the city.

Whether you’re craving a pastoral pumpkin-filled autumn, a ghastly spooky season, or the chance to spend a weekend getting down to Megan Thee Stallion, we got all your seasonal plans on lock. If anything, they will be great distractions to the sobering thought that 2022 is only months away (eek).

Austin City Limits Festival
Austin City Limits Festival | Photo by Roger Ho

Zilker Park
It’s the event Austinites wait for all year-long—and the one that inevitably causes your out-of-town friends to hit you up and ask if they can crash at your place. So pull out the air mattress, pre-hydrate, and pack your sunscreen, because it’s time for the two-week bender that is the Austin City Limits Music Festival. As per usual, the lineup is delivering all the variety we’ve come to expect over the years. You can go deep in your country feels with legend George Strait, get hungry like the wolf with Duran Duran, and impress your TikTok-loving little cousin by watching Billie Eilish do her thing. And it wouldn’t be an Austin party without some local love— be sure to catch Austin darlings Black Pumas and give them a big hometown welcome.

Haunted ATX
Photo courtesy of Haunted ATX

Haunted ATX
One up your annual visit to Spirit Halloween by taking a tour of Austin’s ghostly haunts in your very own hearse limo—that’s right, we said hearse limo—courtesy of Haunted ATX. Fulfill all your morbid dreams of being the final girl in a classic slasher film as their talented tour guides drive you around to some of the city’s scariest spots including the Tavern, Clay Pit, Littlefield House at UT, and many more. For those who prefer to save the hearse for the trip to the graveyard, they also have public van tours. And while they will provide plenty of stories about spirits, you’re also encouraged to bring your own—the whole experience is BYOB.

Barton Hill Farms
Photo courtesy of Barton Hill Farms

Barton Hill Farms
How can anyone let fall pass without at least one visit to a pumpkin patch? Forgo the usual search through the bin of old pumpkins at H.E.B. and pick out a perfect one for carving at Barton Hill Farms. Lean in hard to the October mindset by not only grabbing your own personal pumpkin, but making your way through their five-acre corn maze, hopping on a hayride, and, most intriguing of all, firing their “apple cannons.” After all those autumnal activities, refresh with a pint or a frozen sangria while listening to live music at the farm’s airy biergarten.

Texas Hill Country Wine
Photo courtesy of Texas Hill Country Wine

Various locations
Ramp the usual wine-and-Bachelor night up a notch by actually going somewhere besides the couch—yep, we’re talking about the return of the much-loved Texas Wine Month Passport Event. This month-long October series lets you take in the wonderful vistas of the gorgeous Hill Country (about an hour drive from Austin), while also taking in as many glasses of rosé as you can possibly handle. Purchase a ticket to get your tasting on at up to four wineries per day over the course of the month, as well as exclusive discounts on bottle purchases. That’s enough quality fermented juice to put those econo-sized boxes of Franzia Sunset Blush to shame.

Pumpkin Nights
Pumpkin Nights

Pioneer Farms
Get that Instagram feed into spooky shape by checking out the always-spectacular Pumpkin Nights Austin. Throughout the half-mile trail, you’ll encounter “lands” made entirely of everyone’s favorite orange gourd—and we don't just mean some half-assed jack-o’-lanterns. These are full-out displays, built using over 5000 real and artificial pumpkins and depicting everything from a pirate cove to an underwater reef to China’s famous imperial residence, the Forbidden City. After you’ve had your fill of autumnal thirst traps, hit up the Village Center for games and entertainment—plus a drink and a slice of pumpkin pie, of course.

Uncommon Objects
Photo courtesy of Uncommon Objects

Hunt for vintage treasure

Various locations
Stock up on falls ‘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. If you’re looking to revamp your living space for October horror movie hangs, turn to Room Service Vintage and Uncommon Objects for fantastic furniture and decor.

Easy Tiger
Photo by Sydney Gawlik

Various locations
It often feels like Austin is a one-dog-minimum-per-person kind of city city and, for those who are lucky enough to count Man’s Best Friend among their households, there’s a plethora of opportunities for you to enjoy fall 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 the spot’s fluffy, doughy baked pretzels.

Leander, Texas
Just because summer is over, doesn’t mean you can’t hit the lake—afterall, you do live in a place where it’s still 90 degrees in October. Head to Lake Travis Zipline Adventures to relive the adrenaline rush you last felt during your family trip to Costa Rica in middle school. Cross canyons and glide over Lake Travis via five of the longest and fastest ('cause that’s 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 lakefront property where you can relax on hammocks between flights.

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

Hit up an outdoor market

Various locations
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.

Barton Creek Greenbelt
Barton Creek Greenbelt | Kim Hefner/Shutterstock

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 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)

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. 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.

Cruise 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 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.

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

Sleep under the stars
Various locations
Since the weather has finally cooled down a touch, there’s no better feeling than enjoying Texas’ natural beauty by camping out in the elements. 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 simplest 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 considered the world’s largest bat colony.

Mt. Bonnell
Mt. Bonnell | Roschetzky Photography/Shutterstock

Mt. Bonnell
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 temperate waters. Before you pack the van, make sure to check local listings for rental outlet locations and availability.

Smokey Denmark
Smokey Denmark | Dan Gentile/Thrillist

Various locations
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 pick-up only, selling their world-famous brisket on a curbside 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.

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 Thrillist contributor.