Austin TX Highlights: Including Free Things To Do


You're My Butter Half Mural Austin
Mural Love

Why We Love Austin

Austin is always a favorite place for us, and not just because we find so many free things to do! Besides it being in the Hill Country, an incredible playground for all things outdoorsy and musical, it’s also where half of our kids live. Our son, Zach, and daughter in law, Rachel, have lived in Austin for 5 years or so and were married there. It’s such a fun and vibrant city with an energetic feel. It’s full of art, culture, great restaurants, bars, green belts and the University of Texas (with 50,000+ students). Austin is also our state capital, providing an additional and significant facet to this unique city.

Texas Capital Building Austin TX
Texas Capital Building
Willie for President Mural Austin TX
Not to be political, but… haha

Lots to do in Austin

Maybe you just think about Sixth Street when you think of Austin. This is the hopping bar district for bar hopping and live music. I’ve not checked out Rainey Street, but I understand it’s another live music bar strip with individual houses including backyard spaces, which sounds cool. There is so much more to ATX though. Not to take anything away from these areas. After all, Austin is the live music capital of the world and sometimes musicians can be heard here when they can’t get a break for a big audience elsewhere. But, we want to highlight a few other things to see, eat and do also. Many of these are free to do-shopping and eating excluded. haha

Jo's coffee shop Austin TX
Jo’s…grab a cup of joe
Walking along South Congress Austin TX
Strolling thru a neat little Asian restaurant space
Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds Costume Shop SOCO Austin TX
Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds Costume Shop

Austin is Beautiful

When our son was moving to Austin, years ago, he and I went down in November to find him an apartment and scope out his new work site. It was then, I realized how beautiful Austin is. The trees had fully turned golden and orange against the rocky cliffs making for an inviting rustic landscape.

One of the prettiest areas is headed out of Austin over the 360 bridge and on in to Bee Cave. 360 is the road you will be on and the bridge is actually Pennybacker Bridge. You can pull over just before going across, and hike up to the Pennybacker Bridge Overlook. It’s a short and shady hike, but it’s rocky and uneven. I’ve done it in sandals, not that I necessarily recommend that. I do enjoy the view up there though! Bee Cave itself is a growing city about 30 minutes west of Austin, vibrant with upscale shopping and dining. Certainly worth the enjoyable drive out.

Pennybacker Bridge from overlook 360 Bridge Austin TXone of the free things to do
Pennybacker Bridge view from overlook
Pennybacker Bridge Overlook is the cliff behind the suspension lines 360 Bridge Austin TX
Pennybacker Bridge Overlook is the cliff behind the suspension lines

The Domain

There is never a shortage of shopping in Austin and one of our favorite places to shop is The Domain. This is a booming shopping, dining and residential area. Something for everyone. You can grab something trendy that doesn’t break your budget at shops like H&M or perhaps you do prefer budget-breaking as in a new Tesla. Yep! Most of the options fall somewhere in between from department stores like Macy’s or Dillard’s and tons of specialty shops, including large ones like Dick’s Sporting Goods and a Microsoft store. We won’t be buying a car here, but I did buy my laptop at Microsoft and have frequented other shops and restaurants.

North Italia at The Domain is a fav and we just went there recently to celebrate our son’s birthday. It’s a wonderful Italian restaurant and we love Italian food.

The Domain Austin TX free parking and free activity to walk around
Zach & Rachel at The Domain
The Domain Austin TX

Austin is for Foodies

Speaking of Italian food, Juliet is another amazing Italian restaurant in Austin. We had the rehearsal dinner here for our son and daughter in law’s wedding last year and could not have been more pleased. The food was fabulous and so were the event planners and hosts. We dined under the tents on the patio and it was perfect.

Juliet Italian Kitchen Austin TX
Juliet Italian Kitchen Austin TX

When in Austin, you must eat Tacos. Really, how could you not? There are Taco and Mexican food places everywhere you go. Torchy’s Tacos originated here and there are several locations. They even catered the wedding reception last year with their big food truck at the venue. There was so much food and it was awesome. They do events right. Also, Chuy’s originated here and even tho I’ve driven by the original location many times, we haven’t eaten t that location yet. We have eaten at several taco spots and they have all been very good. One that we ate at over the weekend was Pacos. The tacos were good. Big Dog got a bowl and customized it, yummy also. I hear Guero’s on South Congress is another great Mexican food restaurant. They are certainly friendly out on the street at the walk up order stand beside the main location. And they have a mural. Murals make me happy.

Pacos Austin TX
Pacos Austin TX
Guero's SOCO Austin TX
Love the vintage signs on South Congress
Guero's South Congress Austin TX

We had lunch one day at a Mediterranean place called Cava. I had a peta and soup, Big Dog had the greens and grain bowl. We were able to pick all of the ingredients and sauces. It was a delicious and healthy lunch. I would definitely go back.

Jewboy Burgers Austin TX
Jewboy Burgers Austin TX

Luckily, when searching for a burger to grab on the way out of town, Jewboy Burgers popped up. It wasn’t quick or typical. The bun is a potato bun, which I love. The meat has onions grilled in for a nice flavor. Customize the way you want it. I ordered some potato latkes to go along with mine. Just know that the spices are very potent in the latkes!

The Jewboy Burger in Austin
The Jewboy Burger customized
Potato Latkes Jewboy Burgers Austin
Potato Latkes Jewboy Burgers Austin

Another lunch spot we enjoyed was Home Slice in Soco (South Congress-more on that fun district in a minute.) This pizza place has a vintage feel and appears to have been an original in the neighborhood, even though it opened in 2005. It and has even expanded to the corner next door with the renovation and popularity of this part of the street. You can get full pies or order by the slice. The white pizza with broccoli was great, as was the margarita pizza! Love the 70s vibe inside too.

Home Slice Pizza SOCO Austin
Home Slice Pizza SOCO Austin
Home Slice Pizza SOCO Austin
Home Slice Pizza SOCO Austin
Vintage decor Home Slice Pizza
Home Slice Pizza SOCO Austin
Vintage menu Home Slice Pizza


Our son took us to a cool district of Austin called Soco. This is South Congress Street and it is a completely revitalized and booming neighborhood. It’s fun and funky has so many unique shops and restaurants. There are several original hotels still open such as Austin Motel and Hotel San Jose’ which have survived the decline of the neighborhood and the now current popularization. Retailers such as Allens Boots and Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds have been around since the 70s & 80s.

This area is so rich with history and every decade seems to have made it’s mark in creating the wonderful place it has evolved into today. It was nice just to walk around There is also Congress Avenue Bridge where you can watch thousands of bats fly out from under the bridge around sunset. It’s cool, if you’ve never witnessed a bat colony wake up and take flight! We just focused on the shopping/dining area of Congress this time.

SOCO Austin TX
SOCO Austin TX
SOCO Austin TX walking around is a free thing to do
South Congress ST view
SOCO Austin TX free to walk around

We stopped at Jo’s in SoCo for some iced coffee and to take a picture of the mural on the side of the building. We stopped at Home Slice for some wonderful pizza at lunch. Also amidst all of the original shops and restaurants is the coolest Kendra Scott store I’ve ever been in! Walking up to the store you step up to an opulent front porch with contemporary patio furniture. Then you enter the fancy store and it goes on and on to the back room where they engrave jewelry. At the front of the store is a little coffee tea and snack area. And they feature Tiny Pies!

Jo's SOCO Austin TX
Jo's SOCO Austin TX
Kendra Scott SOCO Austin TX


We were introduced to Tiny Pies before our son’s wedding, and I must have one on any Austin trip now. Instead of a grooms cake, he had individual Tiny Pies for everyone at the reception. The Tiny Pies are basically a cupcake size pie shell filled with your favorite pie flavor like cherry, pecan or Texas two-step. Texas two-step is my favorite. It’s a yummy (especially warmed) brownie pecan pie! Another raved about dessert location is Amy’s Ice Cream. There is a location in Soco, we didn’t take the time to stop there, but my son said that it is really good. There are food trucks all over Austin, but I love this cupcake truck parked in Soco for another treat option!

Tiny Pies Austin TX
Tiny Pies are the best!
Amy's Ice Cream SOCO Austin TX
Amy’s Ice Cream SOCO
SOCO Austin TX

Outdoors in Austin

Outdoor activities abound in ATX. There are huge green belts and one of the favs is Zilker Park. Barton Springs Pool is at Zilker Park which is actually the swimming area fed by a natural spring so it’s 70° all year long. That and Hamilton pool are on my list of outdoor places to check out on other trips.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a wonderful place to explore Texas native plants. We went in the spring when all of the wildflowers and bluebonnets were in bloom. It’s a great place to learn the names of all of those roadside wildflowers. I picked up some seeds in the gift shop and didn’t realize how the Evening Primrose would take over in my flower bed! I’ve also planted bluebonnet seeds and they do well here in East Texas in full sun.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Austin TX
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Austin

Pecan Street Festival

The weekend of our last trip happened to be the Pecan Street Festival. Several streets downtown are blocked off and there are blocks of tents set up with all kinds of local art vendors. It was hot, but there were some very cool creations and I actually started my Christmas shopping while there. Parking was a bit of a hassle, as in any major city, but once you find a spot and get to the festival, you’ll enjoy the shopping, food and live music. This festival happens twice a year in Austin and it’s another free activity.

Free Street Festival Austin TX
Pecan Street Festival Austin

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Free Pecan Street Festival Austin TX


On the East side is an enormous planned development of the previous airport site called Mueller. I love that they kept the air traffic control tower amidst all of the new construction. It’s over 700 acres of multi use and has boomed with retail, offices and residential. Multi story, single family residential developments seemed to have exploded in Austin, and this area is no exception. Each with their own personality, but similar zero lot line design, these communities are rapidly filling the landscape. Who needs a big backyard when there are so many green belts of park land and trails, not to mention other activities, to keep you busy? As Mueller has filled up, the area revitalization just keeps expanding in similar fashion.

Air traffic control tower at Mueller in Austin is always free to drive by.
The old air traffic control tower remains at Mueller.

Each time we leave Austin, we think of so many things or places we didn’t get around to. This time was no different. Can’t wait to go back for some barbecue, Mexican food, Italian food, desserts, art, music, shopping and lots of outdoor activities! This is just a sampling of some of the things we’ve experienced, including lots of free things to do, and there is so much we haven’t touched. Go explore Austin and let us hear about your trip!


If you don’t have your own guides, check out some of these tours when in Austin. We’ve found that guided tours are the best when traveling! We’ve learned so much that we would not uncover on our own when taking tours. These aren’t ‘free things to do’, but we usually find them well worth the money.

Getaway to Fredericksburg soon! You'll love it!

About Us

We are Bud and Debbie Lilly, two travel lovers from Texas. Spending an enormous amount of time researching each location to find the best places to eat, sites to see and things to do is actually something I love to do. Not for everyone, I know. But, we are blogging our experiences to let you know what you can expect in each location and so you don’t have to redo the research. Let us know if you go on any of the same trips and if you find places that impress you. We would love to hear from you!

We feel so enriched by the people we meet and the places we see. Thank you for supporting our blog!

59 thoughts on “Austin TX Highlights: Including Free Things To Do”

  1. So fun! I have several friends that recently moved there – for sure on my list to visit soon.

  2. I feel like Texas has such a wonderful culture in itself – I always love to visit the Mexican restaurants there and the street art is a new edition in most cities now! I haven’t been to Austin, only Houston and I really enjoyed my time there. Next time I visit Texas, I will make it a point to stop there.

  3. Since we can’t travel right now – love looking for places to visit in the future – this looks like a great time!

  4. My boys have been wanting to go to Texas! I will keep this post in mind when we can travel again. Thanks for sharing.

  5. It’s been about 15 years since I’ve been to Austin; I need to get back. I actually lived in Round Rock for about six months then. I need to go back and help the economy—by eating those tacos!

  6. Looks like a fun place to explore! There’s so much to do in Texas that I feel like we would need to do a 2 week or more road trip to see all we want to see!

    1. At least Eva! Lot’s of other Texas town highlights on my blog you’ll have to check out when you plan that trip 😉

  7. Austin is so incredible! I have only briefly visited the city and hope one day to return and properly see it.

  8. I love Austin! I have quite a few friends and family out there so we try to go every now and then. Each time there is something different for us to do which is super awesome! Not a dull city for sure.

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