How to Cool Off in Austin on a Hot Summer Day

Jessica Serna

Summer in the Lone Star State is not for the weak-hearted — you can bet that the sun will be shining, the temperatures will be high, and the struggle will be real. However, for those tough enough, summertime in Austin is also chock full of some of the best activities the city has to offer. If nothing else, it feels like a return to the tried-and-true things that make Austin great to begin with — catching some killer live music, relaxing in the midst of natural wonders, and, of course, drinking margaritas. Should you have the honor of swinging through town this summer, dig into our list of hand-picked activities to get the most out of the season — just make sure your SPF goes as hard as you do.

Take a dive into a natural spring

If you’re looking to spend time outdoors during the Texas summer, a good rule of thumb is to never be too far from a body of water. Fortunately, Austin and its surrounding areas have a plethora of natural pools to cool off in. No matter how hot it gets, the spring-fed waters of Barton Springs Pool always sit at a refreshing, invigorating 68 degrees. Another standard city swimming haunt is Austin’s oldest pool, Deep Eddy, which often hosts summer movie nights where you can enjoy a film while enjoying the water. For the days when you need to get out of the city, head to Spicewood’s Krause Springs, where you can bask in the grotto that sits beneath their natural waterfall like a real life mermaid. The adventurous can get in a thrill, along with a dip, at Jacob’s Well Natural Area in Wimberley. While there, you can plunge into the preserve’s famous cave, whose deceptive surface hides a depth of 30 feet. For those who prefer to not get their feet wet, you can bring a picnic and sit by the glorious marvel that is Hill Country’s Hamilton Pool Preserve — while swimming is not currently allowed there, the sight of the area’s 50 foot waterfall makes the trip more than worthwhile.

Courtesy of Cheer Up Charlies

Beat the heat on the Red River circuit

The normal solution to heat is to pop into an air-conditioned bar, but Austin doesn't do "normal." There’s a reason Austin is known as the “Live Music Capital of the World® — and nowhere is that more apparent than the Downtown stretch of Red River Street. On any given night, you can walk its three-block radius and find music pouring from the doors of every place on the street — it would almost feel like sensory overload, if it weren’t for the fact that the musicians who play this strip of bars and nightclubs are consistently talented. There’s the divey vibes of Swan Dive, where you can discover the best of the local scene, and the darkly lit nightclub, Elysium, which is the go-to spot to catch alternative tunes of every genre. The latest and greatest touring acts are often found either rocking the outdoor stage at city favorite, Mohawk, or playing the legendary Stubb’s, where you can chow down on some of their famous barbecue and crack a few cold beers while watching a set. Going to Cheer Up Charlies is akin to a technicolor dream — from the neon lights, to the giant pink parachute hanging above their outdoor dance floor, to their on-tap hard kombuchas and kale lime margaritas, everything there seems to set the ultimate tone for their themed DJ nights, not to mention the always spot-on selection of amazing bands on stage. Last but not least, there is the dance floor mecca that is Barbarella. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes when hitting up one of Barb’s renowned patio parties — such as the weekly treat, Tuezgayz, one of the best events in the city on any given weekday.

Take a shaded hike to Sculpture Falls

The best weekend hang in the city sits at the end of a shady hike along the Barton Creek Greenbelt Trail. Every aspect of Austin converges alongside the flowing waters of Sculpture Falls — from picnicking families, to koozie-carrying college students, to gaggles of pups adorably running through the brush. There is also the simple joy of exploring the Greenbelt in general, one of the city’s best natural features, comprising twelve miles of trails that surround Barton Creek. The boulders that populate the area make it a great destination for rock climbers, and the twists and turns of various trails create a challenging, yet rewarding, biking experience. However, athleticism is not a requirement to enjoying the Greenbelt — as evidenced by the large number of Austinites taking mid-day siestas in the hammocks perched between the area’s trees.

Kinda Tropical | Jody Horton

Sip on an icy drink

Considering how the summer temperatures can often hit "sweltering," it’s important to stay hydrated — which is the perfect excuse to indulge in some frozen libations. There is perhaps no drink more refreshing than the classic cocktail cornerstone, the margarita — and, considering the wide varieties of this particular drink, which are available virtually everywhere in the city, it might as well be considered the official beverage of Austin. In fact, at city institution Matt’s El Rancho, the margarita options take up a whole page of the menu by themselves — whether you order the standard version, the burnt orange margarita, or the one laced with a swirl of sangria, all pair perfectly with their renowned Tex-Mex dishes. On those sweltering days where the temperature goes above 100 degrees, head to the bar at East Austin’s Kinda Tropical, where their delicious frozen mango margaritas will cool you down enough to enjoy the sunshine on their expansive outdoor patio. However, with all apologies to our tequila-laced compadre, there’s another drink on the scene that, in recent years, has taken the summer by storm — we’re talking about the ubiquitous frozen treat that takes wine to the next level: frosé. And no one does the drink better than the Hotel San Jose, located on bustling South Congress Avenue. Sipping on one of the lemon-tinted frosés in their plant-filled courtyard lounge is the perfect respite after a day of cruising around one of the city’s busiest streets.

Courtesy of ACL Radio

Picnic and jam out at a city tradition

Austin's parks are some of the city's great treasures, not to mention a great place to picnic during the sunniest hours. One of the best examples of the authentic Austin spirit is Blues on the Green, a free summer concert series in Zilker Park which has been bringing the tunes for more than 30 years. This year, the concerts will occur in two rounds of consecutive Tuesdays and Wednesdays: June 14 & 15, and July 19 & 20. The line ups are hand-picked by Austin City Limits Radio and feature some stellar local bands, plus they tend to start later in the evening, so you'll miss the worst of the heat. As if you need another reason to love Blues on the Green, the whole thing benefits the Austin Parks Foundation, a nonprofit which works to keep the green spaces in the city accessible and enjoyable for generations to come. In other words, slice up some watermelons, pack a cooler with plenty of ice, and gather your crew for a memorable night that celebrates all that is great about Austin. Be sure to get there early though, as the popularity of the event means it does get packed — on the plus side, however, you’ll have the chance to make new friends by sharing a beer with your blanket neighbors.

Lady Bird Lake | Courtesy of @PrettyATX

Paddle the day away on a local lake

If you're not into driving there’s still a method of transportation around the city that's as freeing as ever — exploring Austin by water is the ideal way to take in the beauty of both the natural and the urban elements of Texas’ capital. There’s no doubt that Lady Bird Lake, a reservoir of the Colorado River that hugs the span of the city, shines bright as one of the area’s greatest gems. You can’t throw a rock along the lake’s edge without hitting a place where you can easily rent a kayak, canoe, or paddle board — which allows you to get up close and personal with both the lake itself, plus take in the skyline from a new perspective. You can also head a few miles northwest from Downtown to the less crowded banks of Lake Austin, where the cool breeze rising off the water makes it an ideal place to find some weekend tranquility. Those who own their own preferred form of water transportation can find a more off-the-grid experience at Walter Long Lake, an East Austin reservoir that’s also a popular spot for fishing.

Catch a breeze at the new Moodys

Nightfall provides a reprieve from the temperatures, so you can afford to surround yourself with people at a live show. This year, the Austin music scene blessed us with two new venues with similar names: the outdoor Moody Amphitheater, located in the gorgeous greenery of Waterloo Park, and the Moody Center, the state-of-the-art arena on the University of Texas Campus. The lights of the city skyline, and the starry expanse of the night sky, are the perfect accompaniment to the artists playing the Amphitheater this summer — a list which includes indie darlings, soulful singers, and even the classic rock legends. Hard-core fans can spring for seated tickets which are closer to the stage, or you can bring a blanket and catch a breeze on the lawn with a general admission ticket. If you’re in the mood for spectacle, the recently opened Moody Center is where the big names come to play — we’re talking a killer line-up of headliners including EDM legends and one of the greatest rappers of all time.