Free Yoga Day began in Austin, an example of the city's "Keep Austin Weird" slogan designed to promote its small businesses. Bat City also has turtle races, a Cathedral of Junk, yard art and plenty of other unique sights and traditions. Aside from being Texas' state capital, it's also the Live Music Capital of the World. Just when you think you understand what Austin's all about, you might want to rethink – weird.
We at GET.com have wrapped our heads around a few ways to get more out of your visit to Austin.
Finding cheap airline tickets is always a first step (unless you like the idea of a road trip). We're always looking for the best deal on round-trip basic economy fares, with departure and return spaced about a week apart.
From Philadelphia, we could travel via Southwest Airlines on Tuesdays for as little as $200 total, but we had to change planes; on average, most Wanna Get Away trips averaged about $260. We went with a Tuesday-to-Tuesday nonstop flight package for $254 on Frontier. It had easy morning departure and noon return takeoff times. When we slid over to Frontier's site, we found it for $10 less. On Kayak, most nonstop basic economy fares began around $350 or so, and any combination involving Friday travel immediately crossed the $400 mark.
Traveling nonstop from San Francisco and back, we found that Sundays were the day to avoid; Mondays weren't much better. Any other day, basic economy nonstop round trips averaged about $320 to start. We liked a United fare for $317 that had Wednesday 11 a.m. departure and 5:30 p.m. return takeoff times. Economy Plus would have added $200 to the fare. Many of the fares (nonstop or with stops) were more likely to start around $400 for basic economy, $600 for Economy Plus and $1,000 for Economy Plus Enhanced.
Using Miami as base, we learned that a Monday departure with a Sunday return was our worst option, with the lowest fare $463 and the next-best jumping to $510. Midweek nonstop flights started closer to $320, but if we were willing to use Fort Lauderdale's airport and accept a stop at Houston (1 hour going and 2 hours returning) we could travel on United for $223 total. However, Southwest could fly us nonstop from Fort Lauderdale for $225 with nice 9 a.m. departure and 5 p.m. return takeoff times; Anytime and Business Select fares were more likely to cost $900 to $1,000.
With "bargains" starting well over $200 and quickly climbing, downtown Austin hotels will have you eating through your hard-collected hotel credit card rewards at breakneck speed. To find well-reviewed lodging that averaged closer to $100 a night and would supply a free breakfast, Wi-Fi and parking, we opted to look toward the airport.
Staybridge Suites had 1 queen bed for $120; with taxes and fees, a week totaled $966. Comfort Suites had a nonrefundable king room with a sofa bed that was normally $189 for $118; a free cancellation option would have increased the nightly rate to $148. At the lower price, we could stay the week for about $950. Hampton Inn & Suites and Best Western Plus in the same area started around $158 and $163, respectively.
A number of 3-star hotels further north along Interstate 35, by Round Rock, were affordable and had "excellent" reviews; they provided free breakfast, Wi-Fi, parking and other amenities, too. Home2 Suites by Hilton Austin Round Rock started around $117 for a queen room that slept 4; $2 more made the room refundable, costing $956 for the week.
Similar 3-star Round Rock "excellent" bargains included Homewood Suites at $118 a night, Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham at $125 and Hampton Inn at $132; making them refundable, costs for a week for 4 totaled $1,004, $1,211 and $1,176, respectively.
Airbnb had a wide range of properties and prices. After some careful searching for a space that would sleep 4, we found a self-contained sunroom suite in central Austin for $70 a night; with fees, it came to $560 for the week. We also found a downtown studio apartment for $100 a night but just $693 for the week. It had free parking and plenty of amenities. Not far away, we found an entire 2-bedroom bungalow that slept 6, was kid- and pet-friendly and was also close to hiking trails for just $789 for the week.
Check out our GET.com guide to finding cheap hotel stays.
Austin does not lack for inexpensive eateries. Experiment to your tastes, but these are our picks:
- Fricano's Deli on Nueces Street serves "award-winning sandwiches" and salads; specialty sandwiches like the Italian club or Paul's spicy Reuben run $5.95 for a half or $8.25 for a whole, and the big spinach salad is under $8. You can custom order, too.
- For healthy, Asian and beautifully prepared foods with lots of options, try Koriente Restaurant and Tea House on East 7th Street; from pan-seared ahi tuna to shiitake tofu or japchei, $11 has you covered.
- Torchy's Tacos is a chain, but if you're looking for inexpensive Mexican with plenty of choices (breakfast burritos, queso and chips, or fried avocados) you can pick most up here for $3 to $5.
- With a bicycle rack outside and a Bohemian vibe, Bouldin Creek Café on 1st Street focuses on blending healthy with tasty and has gluten-free options for breakfast all day, lunch and dinner. The menu spans the full vegetarian range of sweet and savory, and expertise extends into the coffee and happy hour realms.
- More Home Slice Pizza on South Congress Avenue is a favorite for many, serving specialty New York-style pizzas by the slice or by the pie, medium or large. You can also order calzones and hot sandwiches as well as salads. Wine lovers can order by the glass, carafe or bottle.
- For satisfying breakfasts or brunches starting well under $10 check out the Omelettry, an Austin breakfast destination since 1978.
Though carrying some cash is a good idea, using a restaurant rewards credit card whenever possible can help you save by earning cash back or rewards.
Go Local Austin
Depending on where and how long you plan on visiting, you may want to investigate the Go Local Austin card or key tag. For $15, it provides various discounts in 10 categories: arts and entertainment; beauty; food and drink; health, fitness and outdoors; home and garden; pet; retail; services; weddings, events and lodgings; and workshops, schools and classes. Check the website for current participating attractions and businesses. AustinTexas.org also has insider coupons for local businesses.
Free Things To Do
The American League of Bicyclists awarded Austin gold status in late 2015, listing the community as one of the most bicycle-friendly in the nation. Austin B-cycle allows you to rent bicycles all day long for half-hour stints to tour the city, which has "more than 250 miles of bike lanes, including 30 miles of protected and buffered bike lanes" as well as the "crown jewels of our urban trail network, like the Southern Walnut Creek Trail, the Boardwalk and the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge." Austin is also SpinLister-friendly, with loads of individual bike rental listings.
In keeping with the active theme, Austin has literally hundreds of parks throughout the metropolitan area, with "most-loved" Zilker Metropolitan Park's 358 acres hosting its Zilker Zephyr miniature train, canoes, hiking and hiking trails, picnic areas, Barton Springs Pool, a disc golf course, sand volleyball courts, the Zilker Botanical Gardens, Austin Nature and Science Center, Zilker Hillside Theatre, Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, and numerous seasonal festivals and events.
Image courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Rugged in its beauty, McKinney Falls State Park is just 13 miles southeast of the state capitol building. You can hike, camp, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, picnic, fish or swim. You can experience waterfalls in Texas, and if you're really lucky, you can snag one of the newly renovated cabins for just $86 a night.
1 day a year, through the Austin Museum Partnership, all museums are free for the day. In 2016, the date is September 18. In the meantime, the Texas Military Forces Museum is always free, offering 45,000 square feet of militia and volunteer force history from 1823 to 1903 and on to current-day conflicts. It also has extensive research library archives.
For historians, Bullock Texas State History Museum has Free First Sundays, and the State Capitol Building is always free; don't forget the visitors center exhibits and activities, either.
The University of Texas at Austin has several attractions. In addition to walking the campus, you can tour the Texas Memorial Museum, a natural science museum with Texas-found fossils, dinosaurs and a working paleontology lab. Admission is $4 for ages 13 and up and $3 for ages 2 through 12. Active or retired military and their dependents only need $1 each, and college students pay just $2.
The Blanton Museum of Art has free admission every Thursday. Otherwise, adults cost $9, seniors $7, and youth 13 or older and college students $5. Active-duty military as well as Big Brothers, Big Sisters and their "littles" are always free. Finally, the university's LBJ Presidential Library posts free days throughout the year on its website. Otherwise, admission costs $8 per adult, $5 for seniors, and $3 for children 13 to 17 and college students. Active-duty military are always free.
If you happen to use Bank of America or Merrill Lynch, scheduling your visit for the first full weekend of the month can help you shave a few bucks off museum visits. Just showing your Bank of America credit card and some ID gives you free entry into Bullock Texas State History Museum, The Thinkery (formerly Austin Children's Museum) and The Contemporary Austin (both Jones Center and Laguna Gloria locations).
More Things To Do
The Austin Rodeo is normally held in early spring, and offers a close up sampling of cowboy culture. Expect live music, livestock shows, carnival entertainment, a wild west show and a full-blown Chow Town food market. Guaranteed fun for cowboys young and old, but with rodeo and concert tickets running from $20 - $175 it isn't for the ultra-tight budget.
Austin is a city for vigorous daytime physical recreation and lively nighttime entertainment. Its reputation as the Live Music Capital of the World is an authentic and serious one. The Entertainment District that used to be just Pecan Street is now known as 6th Street and extends into the Warehouse and Market Districts and South Congress Avenue, or SoCo.
With more than 100 live performances scattered across various city stages each night, it's a perfect place to stroll, check out shops and galleries, sample culinary delights and enjoy some libations. Just make sure to budget and be gentle on your wallet as you let the good times roll.