Texas’s capital city is filled with weird and wonderful things to do, see, and eat. But they say everything’s bigger in Texas, and that includes the area this city covers. Austin comprises about 305 square miles (compare that to San Francisco’s 49 miles, or Manhattan’s 23 miles), so getting to and from all that cool stuff can take some planning. Fortunately, if you’re staying at HI Austin hostel, there are a ton of iconic Austin experiences nearby, many within easy walking or biking distance. Here are six of our favorites.
1. Stand-Up Paddle Boarding on Lady Bird Lake
HI Austin’s backyard opens up right onto Lady Bird Lake, a particularly wide section of the Colorado River. Just in back of the hostel, you can rent kayaks or stand-up paddle boards to get out on the water and take in views of the city skyline and local wildlife while getting some exercise and some sunshine. (Want to keep moving? Check out our guide to more outdoor activities in Austin.)
2. Bike or Walk Along the River
The Ann and Roy Butler Hike & Bike Trail picks up just outside the hostel’s back door, providing easy access for runners, cyclists, and urban hikers. Along the 10 miles of trail you’ll find great views of downtown Austin, public art installations, and even a resident colony of bats!
3. Visit the Buzz Mill
HI Austin staff favorite the Buzz Mill is quirky, fun, and oh-so Austin. Modeled after a wild west outpost, the Buzz Mill serves coffee and breakfast tacos by day; by night, it turns into a bar specializing in house-infused spirits that guests sip in the huge backyard while listening to live music or comedy and chowing down on food from local vendors.
4. Cross the River to East Austin
East Austin’s one of those “up-and-coming” neighborhoods that’s already got enough cool stuff to keep you plenty busy for a long afternoon and evening. You can take the Butler trail most of the way there before crossing over the river, then walk a few blocks north to East Caesar Chavez Street, where much of the scene is concentrated. Grab a table outside at Blue Owl Brewing and camp out with a tasting flight of their locally made sour beers; once you’re done, they’ll rinse out your glass and wrap it in tissue paper for you to take home as a free souvenir. From there, keep wandering Caesar Chavez and you’ll discover quirky shops, restaurants, food truck parks, and more to keep you entertained for hours.
5. Bike to S. Congress Ave.
South Congress Ave., one of Austin’s favorite destinations for shopping, eating, and drinking, is a bit of a trek on foot, but will only take you about 15 minutes to bike to from HI Austin (the hostel rents bikes on site, and there’s also a public bike share station right outside the hostel’s front door). You can spend hours here window shopping at countless quirky stores (our favorite is Parts & Labour, which stocks only items made in Texas, from T-shirts and jewelry, to candles and souvenirs), noshing on everything from pizza to tacos, and snapping photos of iconic murals.
6. Bike to Zilker Park and Barton Springs Pool
Grab a bike and pedal out to Zilker Park, a natural oasis in the middle of the city. Within the park, you’ll find Barton Springs Pool, a man-made pool fed by a natural spring. With an entry fee of just $3, it’s the cheapest and best way to cool off during the hot Austin summer. The park also hosts loads of events throughout the year, from kite festivals and outdoor theater productions, to the legendary Austin City Limits music festival.