Where to take visiting friends and family for a fun time in Austin
A Lyft driver recently remarked to me that he once drove a college graduate and his mom downtown to celebrate his freshly earned degree in engineering — but hesitated to take them where they wanted to go, Sixth Street, and recommended they try the West Sixth area instead. He ultimately dropped them off at Z’Tejas and still wonders if they had a good time.
“I just can’t imagine they would’ve enjoyed Sixth Street. That’s just not a place to take your mom,” he said.
His musings got me wondering. As locals, we have favorite places we like to frequent, but they might not be the best place to take Mom and Dad. Conversely, we can take an upcoming visit from a childhood friend as an opportunity to show them a side of Austin both of us haven’t seen before. It can be enlightening, as a local, to walk the city in tourist shoes — albeit knowledgeable ones that know which direction to go.
Here, we offer this guide about where to take your visiting loved ones in Austin.
- The Continental Club, 1315 S. Congress Ave. As the self-professed Live Music Capital of the World, Austin has an endless number of music venues to choose from, but the South Congress staple is always a safe bet for good live beats and has been since 1955. Count on residencies like the up-and-comer Peterson Brothers on Monday evenings and James McMurtry on Wednesday nights (through at least Aug. 30) to keep your toes tapping no matter what day of the week you have relatives visiting.
- Esther’s Follies, 525 E. Sixth St. The state of the world is somehow always made hilarious thanks to the funny folks at this longtime comedy show, which might be why weekends constantly sell out. Esther’s, which you could say is a bit like Austin’s version of “Saturday Night Live,” has been cheering up its audience for more than 40 years with political satire, musical numbers, magic tricks and more.
- The Blanton Museum of Art, 200 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The University of Texas art museum completely revamped its permanent collection of pieces this year, promising a mesmerizing afternoon looking at previously displayed and rediscovered-from-the-vaults paintings, sculptures, installations and more.
- Bullock Texas State History Museum, 1800 Congress Ave. Is history more your pop’s preference? Treat him to a day at this sprawling multi-story museum where Texas’s past, present and even future take the spotlight, from a 17th-century French shipwreck to the state’s influence in the video-game world. The museum also boasts the largest film screen in Texas with its multimillion-dollar IMAX theater.
- The Broken Spoke, 3201 S. Lamar Blvd. Locals and Austin newcomers alike should visit this classic honky-tonk at least once. Squeezed in between high-rise multi-use complexes as a more than 50-year-old relic of Old Austin, the Broken Spoke offers dance lessons that will have you two-stepping in your cowboy boots like a pro in an hour’s time; plus, there are plenty of live country crooners to round out the night. Austin legends like Dale Watson and Willie Nelson have all played here.
For food and drink
- Freedmen’s, 2402 San Gabriel St.: If you and your family don’t want to spend an entire morning outside waiting on the heavenly brisket from Franklin Barbecue and then an entire afternoon in a food coma, try Freedmen’s in the campus area. The barbecue joint might have lost pitmaster Evan LeRoy to his new LeRoy & Lewis food truck, but the food is as solid as ever. And there’s air-conditioning.
- Infinite Monkey Theorem, 121 Pickle Rd. Speaking of LeRoy & Lewis, the purveyor of new-school barbecue is now parked near one of South Austin’s urban wineries, the Infinite Monkey Theorem. The Denver export has plenty of Austin cool, with graffiti art on the walls and not a single matching chair in the quirky tasting room. There is also canned wine.
- Food trailers at Radio, Coffee and Beer, 4204 Manchaca Rd.: Tacos from Veracruz All-Natural, all-day breakfast sandwiches from Paperboy and local beer on tap at the southerly coffee shop — introduce your old college buddy to an easy Austin afternoon here.
- Mattie’s at Green Pastures, 811 Live Oak St.: If your folks want both a taste of one of Austin’s top restaurants and a glimpse of its old soul, take them to this born-again restaurant in an old Victorian home surrounded by stately old trees and happy-to-be-Instagrammed peacocks. The Southern food was recently highly rated by our restaurant critic, Matthew Odam, and we can both vouch for the strong Southern-tinged cocktails.
- Holla Mode, 1800 Barton Springs Rd. Austin has a plethora of ice cream, gelato, custard and frozen yogurt shops, but when my sister came to visit recently, taking her to the Thai-style ice cream truck was at the top of my list of things for us to do. Watching the frosty dessert get rolled up like edible pieces of parchment is a treat in itself.
- Barton Springs, 2131 William Barton Dr. You don’t need guides like this one to tell you this natural pool will have just about anyone feeling cleansed to the core following a swim in its cool waters. The pool might not be the advertised 68 degrees, but it’ll be a refreshing dip nonetheless.
- Mount Bonnell, 3800 Mount Bonnell Dr. Be prepared for a small hike (102 steps, to be exact) to get to the top of what is considered Austin’s highest point, but the stunning view of Lake Austin and surrounding green space is completely worth it.
- Ballet Austin’s Butler Center for Dance & Fitness, 501 W. Third St. It’s not quite like the training that the elite troupe of ballet dancers do to prepare for their en pointe performances. Nonetheless, the Butler Center is a distinctly Austin way for your out-of-town relatives to exercise in an air-conditioned setting. Everyone’s first drop-in class is free, and there are dance classes of all kinds — from hip hop to hula — seven days a week.
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Ave. The botanical gardens here, created by the former First Lady and her friend, actress Helen Hayes, in 1982 offer a scenic walk among colorful wildflowers. Choose a trail, visit a particular garden or get your kids engaged in art and science at the Little House or the McDermott Learning Center. This photo tour of the Family Garden offers a small glimpse of what’s in store at a day trip to this far South Austin treasure.
- Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park, 517 S. Pleasant Valley Rd. This East Austin waterfront park has one of the best disc golf courses in town, but even if your old college buddy isn’t a golf enthusiast, walk the 12 miles of green trails to feel as though you’ve stepped a world away from Austin. This place is an underused gem.
Have small kids in tow? We’ve got recommendations for where to take the whole family, too.