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My List of Must See Things To Do When in Austin

Austin is known for its incredible music, delicious restaurants and food trucks, excellent university, and vibrant tech scene. It’s a city on the move, where people who love the outdoors, warm weather, and succulent BBQ flock to live. And with its never-ending conferences and music and sports events, it’s one that attracts people from around the world. Austin is a weird little big city that I have yet to see someone not love.

I’ve been living here since May, and in the last couple of months since taking a break from my travels, I’ve buried myself in two things: writing and keeping active (OK, copious amounts of eating and drinking, too).

Since you’ve already seen the writing (it’s all in the previous blog posts), I want to share some of the favorite things I’ve done in this amazing city (for when you visit — come stay at my hostel, HK Austin, when you do!). I hope they’ll help you fall in love with it just a little more quickly.Barton Springs

People relaxing at Barton Springs in AustinBarton Springs is a pool/creek that everyone flocks to in the warm summer months. Fed by a natural cold-water spring in Zilker Park (see below), the city-run Barton Springs Pool features manicured lawns that are great for lounging on and relaxing with your friends. The wide pool gives you plenty of room to float around and cool off, as the temperature can hit 100 degrees in the summer. The pool costs $3 to get into (for residents, but they never ask for proof), and while there’s lots of space around it, I often prefer to lounge on the creek itself. While the banks are rockier and there are fewer places to lounge, it’s free, it’s the same water, and you can drink and eat along it (something that is prohibited in the pool).Zilker Park

Gardens in Zilker Park in AustinZilker Park is in the heart of South Austin and offers many different types of outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, kayaking, jogging, and anything else you can do in a park. Barton Springs (see above) is here, and there’s a botanical garden and the ever-awesome outdoor Umlauf Sculpture Garden, centered on the artistic works of Charles Umlauf.The Greenbelt

A trail on the Barton Creek Greenbelt in AustinLocated in south-central Austin, the Barton Creek Greenbelt contains 12 miles of gorgeous trails where you can bike, run, or walk. There are even beautiful limestone bluffs for rock climbing and — when there’s enough water in the creek — several swimming holes to cool off in. If you are looking to get out and enjoy the nice weather, this is one of the best places to do it. It’s a favorite of everyone in the city and one of the best things about Austin!Two-stepping

Performers playing at The White Horse in AustinWhen in Rome…err, Austin, two-step! Country dancing is all over the city, with the White Horse being the most famous spot (if you go on Wednesday, they give free two-step lessons). The Broken Spoke is another popular place too.Movie at the Alamo Drafthouse

The Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TXThe Alamo Drafthouse is a local institution with multiple locations, where you can watch a movie, drink beer, and order food. Besides showing mainstream movies, they also screen quirky movies and weird previews, host the local Rocky Horror event, and play many classic and cult films throughout the month. This place is more than just a theater, it’s a place for those who love and appreciate film.LBJ Library

Lyndon B. Johnson Library in AustinLyndon B. Johnson was one of the most powerful US presidents of the 20th century. A complex man, he helped push forward the Great Society, expanding civil rights and the social safety net, while at the same time expanding the war in Vietnam. His presidential library is in Austin, and while it’s not a “hot” thing to do, I highly recommend a visit to learn about one of the most colorful and controversial presidents the country has ever seen.Rainey Street

Rainey Street in Austin, TXThis nightlife area is filled with old houses that have been converted into bars. Originally the “hipster” part of the city, it’s now mainstream and teems with people on the weekend. Personally, I hate coming here on the weekends: it’s too crowded and there are too many bachelor/ette parties. I find the scene a little too wild for me (though you may not). Instead, my favorite time to visit is for after-work drinks, when there is just the right amount of people to feel busy and exciting but not overwhelming. From Banger’s for Sunday brunch to Clive Bar, Half Step, and Bungalow for drinks, and Craft Bar for craft beer, Rainey is an eclectic and fun place to hang out — as long as you avoid the weekends.First Thursday

People celebrating at an event in Austin, TexasOne the first Thursday of every month, the South Congress Hotel hosts a huge event with musicians and an all-night happy hour. It’s one of the biggest nights of the month for young professionals and a wonderful place to have fun, meet new people (Austinites are very friendly), and drink cheap. You don’t want to miss this if you’re in town. It’s one of my favorite monthly social activities.Drink a cocktail

Drink a cocktail in Austin, TXWhile beer and cheap drinks are still king here, there is a growing cocktail bar scene in the city. I’d personally rather drink a cocktail than be at a noisy bar. If you’re looking for the perfect cocktail, try Firehouse Lounge, Floppy Disk Repair Shop, Midnight Cowboy, Garage, Whistler’s (see below), and Weather Up (but only for happy hour, as their drinks are slightly overpriced).Whistler’s

Lots of whiskeysThis bar on the east side of the city is one of the coolest in town, and when I’m in Austin, you’ll probably find me here (it’s also pretty close to my hostel). You’ll also find a robust whiskey selection, knowledgeable bartenders, a cool crowd, and a giant outdoor patio space. On the weekends, an upstairs mescal bar opens. Whistler’s also hosts one of the most famous food trucks in Austin, Thai Khun, which serves some of the city’s best Thai food (the khao man gai (chicken with rice) is spot on). This is a must-visit bar!Music

A crowd enjoying music at Stubb's in Austin, TXAustin’s music scene is world-renowned, and there’s always some live music going on or a big musician in town. You’ll find a lot of music on Sixth Street and in the downtown area. Most of the bars host musicians. Stubb’s is a world-famous music venue downtown and hosts a lot of big-name musicians in its outdoor venue. Try to see a show there if you can!Eating

Delicious Austin, TX BBQAustin’s food scene is damn good (though it needs a few more ethnic places). From BBQ to American to organic to Mexican, you can’t go wrong here. Here are some of my favorite spots (longer list can be found here) that will help you put on 10 lbs. before you leave:

Bar Chi (206 Colorado St., (512) 382-5557, this site) – Decent sushi but an unbelievably affordable happy hour (5-7pm each day). My friends and I come here because it satisfies the sushi craving on the cheap! Wu Cho (500 W. 5th St. #168, (512) 476-2469, – This is one of the best Chinese restaurants in Austin. It serves a very popular dim sum brunch on Sundays. Be sure to come early as it gets packed during dinnertime and Sunday brunch, and the wait for a table can be up to an hour. Launderette (2115 Holly St., (512) 382-1599, – Located in an old laundromat, this restaurant is one of the hottest spots in town and serves an amazing menu of Americana and seafood, as well as a decent selection of wine. Some of my favorite dishes include crab toast, burrata, okra, Brussels sprouts, and grilled octopus. If you’re coming for dinner, come early, as it fills up fast. Truluck’s (400 Colorado St., (512) 482-9000, – This is my favorite steak restaurant because it’s one of the few places where you can also get fresh seafood (crab, oysters, lobster). It’s not cheap, but if you want an upscale steak house, try this. Péché (208 W. 4th St., (512) 494-4011, this site) – A New Orleans–inspired restaurant serving Bayou food, with a very friendly staff, tasty cocktails, and an extensive whiskey list. La Barbecue (1906 E. Cesar Chavez St., (512) 605-9696, this site) – BBQ is a matter of perspective. A lot of people say Franklin’s is the best, but La Barbecue is #1 to me. It opens at 11am. Expect two-hour waits during lunchtime, so get here early. Veracruz (1704 E. Cesar Chavez St., (512) 981-1760, – The best food truck in town (conveniently located across the street from my hostel). It makes wonderful breakfast tacos, and the migas was voted #1 in the country. There is never really a line, but service is slow. Torchy’s (multiple locations, – World famous (and another spot where the president ate), this taco restaurant has multiple locations around town. It lives up to all the hype! The food here is pretty spicy. I’m a big fan of the fried avocado and “trailer park” tacos. Every location is always packed, so expect a wait, especially on the weekends. P. Terry’s (multiple locations, – This is the best burger bar in town. It’s delicious and cheap (you can get a burger, fries, and a drink for $6 USD), with filling portions. This is one of my all-time favorite spots in Austin, and since it’s close to my house, I tend to eat here too often! Leaf (115 W. 6th St., (512) 474-5323, – This new lunchtime salad place is incredible (also the line is long). Its gigantic salad bar has anything and everything you could ever want to put in a salad. It’s one of my favorite places for a healthy meal in Austin. True Kitchen (222 West Ave. #HR100, (512) 777-2430, – This new restaurant is incredibly popular with people after work. All its food is natural and organic. You’ll find healthy wraps, salad bowls, sandwiches, and fresh and flavorful seafood, as well as an incredible selection of wine and cocktails. Perla’s Seafood & Oyster Bar (1400 S. Congress Ave., (512) 291-7300, this site) – Some of the best seafood and oysters in town! Home Slice Pizza (1415 S Congress Ave., (512) 444-7437, this site) – Hands down the best pizza around! Clark’s Oyster Bar (1200 W. 6th St., (512) 297-2525, this site) – Another awesome spot for seafood, with an incredible oyster happy hour from 3 to 7!

Whole Foods

Whole Foods Market in Austin, TXWhy visit Whole Foods? I mean, they have those everywhere, right? Well, this one is special. This is the original store — and it’s massive. Its salad bar goes on seemingly forever, there are very good restaurants in the store, the rooftop features patio seating, and musicians play on the weekends. It’s an amazing place that is also a popular spot for after-work drinks and Sunday brunches. Stop by at least once to get your fill (and enjoy the walk-in beer fridge).***

Austin is a perfect little city, offering visitors a plethora of activities to fill the 3-4 days most people spend here. It’s a city to live in. You don’t really sightsee here; you get active. You go out, hang out, and eat out. Skip most of the local museums, get outside, enjoy the food, the drinks, and the music, and get the most out of one of the best cities in the United States — and the place I call home!

Travel Tip Put Away Your Damn Phone

Before you read this post, watch this awesome video:

OK, you watched it? Great! No? Dang. Who has 15 minutes, right?

Well, in this video, Simon Sinek, one of my favorite authors, discusses millennials in the workplace. I found it to be an insightful and incredible discussion on exactly why companies have such a hard time with millennials. To Sinek, one of the major problems is millennials’ addiction to their phones. Back in the day, before a meeting started, you would socialize with your coworkers, ask about their families, talk about work, etc. Now, no one talks because everyone is glued to their phone. It drives him up the wall, because this very important form of socialization and bonding in the workplace is now disappearing.

It’s not just a workplace issue, either. How many times are you out to dinner and everyone is checking their phones? How many times do you walk into a glass door because you are looking intently at the phone (not saying I did this recently or anything)? How often do you talk to someone while staring at the phone (“I’m paying attention, I swear!”)?

When I first started traveling in 2006, if a hostel had a computer, it was a big deal. I remember taking pictures and going to Internet cafés to upload them to my MySpace page or waiting for my turn at the hostel computer to check my email. No one I knew traveled with a phone. If you made plans to meet someone in another city, you just had to hope they would stick to them or wouldn’t get delayed. You were connected sparingly, but that never seemed to matter. You wanted to be disconnected, because that was the whole point — to break away and explore the world.

But over the last few years, I’ve seen a remarkable shift in social interactions in hostels. Now, it’s all like “This hostel’s Wi-Fi doesn’t even reach my dorm room!” While hostels are still incredible places to meet new people, they aren’t as incredible as they used to be, because everyone is on their phone, computer, or iPad, watching Netflix, working, or checking Facebook. No one is just hanging out and interacting with each other like before. I find this really sad and depressing.

I’m not against technology or all this beautiful Wi-Fi. We now have Google Maps, and we can book rooms and flights from our phone, stay in touch easier, and communicate better. Wondering why your friend isn’t at the appointed meeting spot on time? No problem! Now you can just ping them a message on WhatsApp. Problem solved!

But, as much as technology has helped us, I think we’ve really lost one of the most beautiful aspects of travel. Constant distraction keeps us from observing the place we are at and being present in the moment. Too often we’re glued to the phone, Snapchatting and Instagramming that moment but never really being in it. We’re in a hostel reading the news online or chatting with our friends back home instead of meeting people. We’re at dinner looking up Facebook “for just a second,” wondering how many people liked our last photo. Or on some adventure activity but Snapchatting the experience.

A few years ago, I read the book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. In it, the author Marshall Goldsmith talked about how if you are doing something else while talking to someone, you are subtly signaling to them that they aren’t important, even if you can parrot back everything they said. I thought about that and realized I did that all the time. I was only ever half there. That book made me rethink how I interact with people. It taught me to put away my phone, to make better eye contact, and focus on the people around me.

It was a very hard thing to do, as I was totally addicted to my phone. (And the video above reminded me that recently I’ve backslid into my old ways: too often I use my phone as a crutch when I’m bored or have downtime.)

Last year, as part of my anxiety-reducing initiative, I cut down the amount of work I do when I travel. When I go some place new, I put the computer away. If I’m not going for a “workcation” or a conference, the computer is off.

I write this from Malta. During my four-day jaunt around the island with friends, I didn’t open my computer. I didn’t write. There were a few tweets and posted pictures, and when someone was caught on their phone, we reminded each other to put it down. We focused on enjoying the destination and being present.

I don’t want this to be a “get off my lawn” kind of post, but think about it — how often and how long do you go without your phone? When you travel, how many times are you “pulled away” from the experience while commenting on someone’s last post? Did you travel around the world so you can check on what your friends back home are doing, or did you go for the adventure?

This year, as we travel, let’s pledge to put our damn phones away. Let’s not retreat into our safe zone when we feel slightly uncomfortable around strangers or in silence. Let’s interact with the people and places we are visiting. Observe the amazing scenes around you. Say hello to someone new. Give yourself 15-30 minutes max — and then put the computer or phone away, step out the door, and take in the world!

This year I am going to refocus on getting off my phone and being more present when I travel. Join me in doing so!

If you’re traveling with someone, tell them to remind you to put the phone away. Eventually, you’ll break your habit. If you are traveling alone, leave your phone in your dorm when you go downstairs. You’ll be forced to interact with people.

Let’s make 2017 the year we stop curating our lives, cut the umbilical cord to home, put away our phones, and enjoy the moment and beauty in front of us!

P.S. – Looking for another way to kick start your new year? Over at the forums, we are doing our quarterly Travel Action Challenge, where you can win prizes (like a $100 USD gift card) just for traveling!