The Associated Press recently published an article called "5 Free Things to Do in Austin, Texas." The piece garnered quite a bit of attention with several blogs, travel outlets and the Huffington Post picking up the story.
Referring to Austin as "Festival City" and "River City" (please don’t do that), the piece details the usual suspects of free tourist-friendly excursions including downtown, the Harry Ransom Center, Texas State Capitol, Zilker Park and of course, The Bat Colony (which I’ve learned is also free terror if you’re on a run under the bridge when they unleash).
Not to diminish the AP’s suggestions, they are all free and wonderful symbols of a fantastic — and increasingly popular — city, but when you visit Austin, there are also great things to do that take money. So here are suggestions for things to spend your money on when visiting Austin.
Eat a taco (or anything, really)
You may have heard that tacos are kind of a thing in Austin. Breakfast? Taco. Lunch? Two tacos. Hungover? A whole bunch of tacos. Austin tacos are pure miracles, each and every one. They’re completely void of calories and help you live longer. (Editor's note: May not be true.)
Branch out and try TacoDeli, Veracruz All Natural (where the locals go), Las Cazuelas, Taqueria Arandas, Taqueria Guadalajara, Paco’s Tacos, Taco Joint, Tamale House East (the tacos are as good as the tamales, maybe even better). You can track down a taco in every one of Austin's super cute neighborhoods.
Discover for yourself. Be adventurous. Try lengua! And don’t forget to wash it all down with the sparkle magic of Topo Chico. You’ll look super cool and local.
Now, they might be “weird” in Austin, but they’re not insane. They don’t have tacos all the time. The city's also home to some of the finest food establishments in the country. So leave the Atkins Bars back at your AirBnb and forget about your dietary restrictions. (Unless they are regarding gluten intolerance or a vegan lifestyle, in which case Austin will totally cater to your needs.)
And don’t forget, on Sunday, everyone is required by law to attend brunch.
Get a haircut and a tattoo
Make sure to pick up a Keep Austin Weird Shirt or little Texas State Capitol magnet as a wonderful little token you’ll cherish for the rest of your life. Better yet, alter you body and come back, literally, a changed person.
The easiest solution is to get an Austin haircut. There are plenty of salons and barbershops around town that will freshen up any look and style. Guys: Ask for a good ol' boy. Ladies: Show up with bangs. All genders: Rattail. And if the options overwhelm you, just head into a Bird’s Barbershop. (There’s a location near the cool neighborhood you're eating all those tacos in.) No appointment is needed and you get a free beer, which should loosen you up just enough to say, “Just make me look good.”
While you’re getting that sweet new ‘do, you’ll notice your stylist has a bunch of tattoos. Find out where he or she got that fresh ink. Your family and friends are spending the next two hours waiting for the bats to fly out from the South Congress Bridge. You’ve got time to kill so why not get tatted up?
Ditch the car
How are you getting around Austin? We don't know if you've heard, but the traffic is pretty rough. So why not save the world and rent a bike? Like Houston, Austin has the bike sharing program called B-cycle. Just pop your credit card into a station, grab your red ride and own the town.
Biking isn’t the only option. Some places will even rent you a scooter. And if you’re into getting attention from and being mocked by Austinites, you can rent a Segway. There are ride share options that can also get you around Austin. Just think of it as a way to meet cool new friends. Getting a taxi is always an option, but good luck finding one when the bars let out. There's a bus system and a fast new Metro Rapid with WiFi, too.
There are also plenty of pedicabs downtown. And while they're not the cheapest mode of transportation, taking one could save you from getting lost. Plus you’ll get to know a fit Austin local. Extra fees may apply for hills and bridges. Now, where to go?
Support live music
The reason Austin is the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World is because there are endless opportunities to take in music. After your taco, tattoo and bike ride, you’ve earned a night out.
A big act you’ve wanted to see could be playing at Stubb’s or Emo’s. An indie group you want to know more about could be at Red 7 or Mohawk. Head east and catch a DJ set at Volstead Lounge or dance up a storm at The White Horse.
During that free walk downtown AP is touting, stop into a bar you’ve never heard of and get blasted by metal. There’s something for everyone. Just make sure to give a few bucks to that bucket that's going around. It will help at least one Austin musician eat that night.
That's not all
This list is just a drop in the bucket of a 10-gallon hat when it comes to getting the most out of Austin. Other options include vintage shopping, record collecting, Hill Country exploring and art collecting. Check out some museums. Play in the water. Enjoy theatre. See some improv comedy. Drink all the beers.