Austin's Best Air-Conditioned Activities to Beat the Heat

grayduck Gallery
grayduck Gallery

Austin can be a brutal place to spend your summers. The free outdoor theater, endless games of Ultimate Frisbee in the park, and waterfall-based hiking are all wonderful ways to spend June and July, but once August's triple-digit days come a-calling, we’re all pretty burnt out on bright sunshine (sometimes literally). Locking yourself in your room and blasting the air conditioner is both expensive and dull, but fortunately, there are lots of places in town that are happy to do it for you! Here are some of our favorite ways to get out of the heat while still enjoying the best that Austin has to offer.

Mexic-Arte Museum
Mexic-Arte Museum

Meander through the Mexic-Arte Museum

Downtown Austin
All the major museums in town have occasional free days, where Austin residents can go soak up some cold air and culture on the cheap. Any institution you’re interested in checking out will likely have a day where it offers free or reduced admission, but our favorite is the Mexic-Arte Museum, which has been exposing Austinites to Chicanx arts, culture, and literature since 1984. There's free community admission here every Sunday, so you can explore their vast permanent collection of Mexican, Latino, and Latin American art, and check out the tail end of their exhibition celebrating the work of young Latinx artists.

City Theatre Company
City Theatre Company

Catch a play at the City Theatre Company

Austin's one of the best places in the country to be a fan of independent theater, but all that culture can get pricey. Fortunately for us less-flush fans of the stage, the prestigious City Theatre Company offers $10 general admission tickets every Thursday night. Sit in darkened comfort and allow yourself to be transported to a less brutally hot world -- right now, the theater's in the last few weeks of Tracy Lett’s Pulitzer Prize-winning black comedy August: Osage County, the perfect acerbic wake-up after a long afternoon spent wilting in the heat.

Independence Brewing Co.
Adam Dugas

Crack open a cold one at Independence Brewing Co.

Southeast Austin
There many wonderful tasting rooms at Austin’s many wonderful independent breweries, where you can kick back with friends and soak up the air conditioning (with a few pints of cold suds for good measure), but our favorite is the space at Independence Brewing Co. If the prospect of its refreshing Power & Light pale ale, or a taste of the floral and crisp special edition cucumber Berliner weisse isn’t enough of an enticement for you, the tasting room also features live music, informative tours, and themed food events throughout the summer.

Browse the shelves at BookPeople

Downtown Austin
If you’re as much of a summer-sports-hating nerd as we are, you probably have fond summer memories of hiding out with your friends in the air-conditioned young adult section of your local bookstore, reading a book from cover to cover. Meandering through Austin’s largest independent bookstore is a fun way to relive that experience, and with an excellent cafe on-site selling iced coffee and pastries, you can easily while away an afternoon deciding on your next beach read. If you’re lucky enough to be there on a day where it's hosting a reading, which bring big name authors to town and are always crowded with Austin literati, it’s worth sticking around.

grayDUCK Gallery
grayDUCK Gallery

Be a non-sweaty art critic at grayDUCK

Austin is better known for its music scene than visual arts culture, but with more and more noteworthy galleries opening across the east side and beyond, that’s starting to change. grayDUCK, which has been presenting the work of up-and-coming Austin artists since 2010, is a great place to start your exploration, especially since its cute bungalow of a gallery is air-conditioned -- the porch is also equipped with a wall of refreshing misters, where you can cool down with friends and discuss the amazing work you just saw before you braving the heat on Cesar Chavez.

Have a blast from the past at Blazer Tag

Laser tag's a great way to pass a few cool, dark, and totally sun-free hours during the summer, and if you’re a laser tag fan living in Austin, you already know about Blazer Tag Adventure Center; if not, now’s a great time to check out that weird UFO-festooned building you always see from the freeway. There's a full menu of arcade snack classics to refuel you between matches, the private party rooms are BYOB, and Blazer Tag's open 'til midnight on the weekends, which means you've basically got the entire "sun avoidance" package here.

Austin Bouldering Project
Jacob Bodkin

Reach new heights at the Austin Bouldering Project

If you’re friends with any alt-fitness types, you’ve been hearing a lot about bouldering lately -- why not try it out for yourself? The hyper-trendy Austin Bouldering Project offers free passes for member’s friends, so you can get in a workout on the cheap, working up a sweat in the pleasantly cool room (which claims to be the largest bouldering gym in America). Afterward, thank your friend with a walk around the corner to buy them a few pints at Hops and Grain, which opened just a few months ago and has already earned a reputation for making well-crafted, eminently drinkable beers.

Cool down with karaoke at The Common Interest

North Shoal Creek
Karaoke can be a daunting prospect for some, but the idea of those dark, cold, windowless rooms is tempting enough to get even the shyest singers out of their shells this time of year. Austin has plenty of great options for private-room karaoke, but one of our most affordable favorites is The Common Interests, where on weekdays you and your most trusted friends can get a room for free and sing your little hearts out, fueled by ridiculously affordable $3-4 daily drink specials. Face it: You’d probably be at home trying to cool off by singing a few tunes in your freezing cold shower anyway.

Nicolai McCrary

Bring the food truck indoors at St Elmo Brewing

St. Edwards
We Austinites love our food trucks, but when temperatures reach into the hundreds, casually grabbing a table in a sunny parking lot can be a death sentence. Fortunately, many of our favorite food trucks come tied to air-conditioned bars, and Soursop is no exception. The truck combines two excellent muggy weather food traditions (Southeast Asian and American Southern) to create a unique menu of brightly flavored options, all of which can be enjoyed indoors at St Elmo Brewing next door. Grab an order of the wildly popular sambas chicken wings, and head inside for some cold air and a pint of refreshing Mahalo pineapple pale ale.

the domain austin
Courtesy of Simon

Embrace your inner mallrat at The Domain

North Burnet
Sure, it might seem obvious, but with a wide array of high-end shopping and places to eat, including not one, not two, but THREE ice cream options, there’s a reason The Domain's one of the most popular malls in town. Get a burger and a milkshake at Shake Shack if you’re feeling indulgent, frozen yogurt at Yogurt Planet if you’re being sensible, or walk over to the SPUN Ice Cream truck for some radical cooling with flash-frozen liquid nitrogen ice cream. And, of course, air conditioning is plentiful throughout.

Coldtowne Theater
Coldtowne Theater

Enjoy margarita-fueled comedy at ColdTowne Theater

North Loop
Austin is home to a thriving stand-up scene, and, fortunately for us, all of the major theaters in town have air conditioning, so you won’t slide out of your seat laughing. ColdTowne Theater puts that promise right in its name, and on Friday nights, at the perennially popular Movie Riot series, it delivers big time. Ten dollars not only gets you a seat in a gloriously cold air-conditioned theater where you can watch five of Austin’s funniest comics create a never-before-seen, totally improvised movie live on stage, but it also buys you access to free pre-show candy, popcorn, and, yes, margaritas, in the (equally air-conditioned!) lobby before the hilarity starts.

Chaparral Ice
Ross Bonander

Strap on some skates at Chaparral Ice

Austin isn’t exactly known for winter sports enthusiasm, but ice skating is a great way to cool down after a long, sweaty day in the Texas sun. Ice rinks have to be immaculately air-conditioned to keep their skating areas at an even freeze, and between that and the cool air radiating off the ice, you might even have to bust out the coat you wear for three hours between November and December every year. Chaparral Ice, a rink with public skate times every afternoon, is the perfect place to test out those dormant cold-weather skills.

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Emily Beyda is a writer and mail artist who lives in East Austin with her roommates, three chickens, and a dog named Laughing Gravy.