Last week, the Associated Press published an article called "5 Free Things to Do in Austin, Texas." The piece garnered quite a bit of attention with several blogs, travel outlets and the Huffington Post picking up the story. Referring to Austin as "Festival City" and "River City" (please don’t do that), the piece details the usual suspects of free tourist-friendly excursions including downtown, Harry Ransom Center, Texas State Capitol, Zilker Park and of course, The Bat Colony (which I’ve learned is also free terror if you’re on a run under the bridge when they unleash).
Not to diminish the AP’s suggestions, they are all free and wonderful symbols of our fantastic — and increasingly popular — city, but when you visit Austin, we would love it if you actually spent some money while you were here. Forking over even just a little bit will give you a real lasting Austin memory and turn those precious bucks into tax dollars that help educate our kids, keep the city running and maybe even fund our fantasy subway system.
So here are our suggestions for five things to spend your money on when visiting Austin.
Eat a taco (or anything, really)
You may have heard that tacos are kind of a thing here in Austin. Breakfast? Taco. Lunch? Two tacos. Hungover? A whole bunch of tacos. You should see what happens to the people I work when they find out it’s Taco Friday. Austin tacos are pure miracles, each and every one. They’re completely void of calories and help you live longer. (Editor's note: May not be true.)
No doubt, you want to go to Torchy’s because you’ve heard about it. College kids and out-of-towners go bananas over it. And you should go order yourself a Republican. But don't stop there. Branch out and try Tacodeli, Veracruz All Natural (where the locals go), Las Cazuelas, Taqueria Arandas, Taqueria Guadalajara, Paco’s Tacos, Taco Joint, Tamale House East (the tacos are as good as the tamales, maybe even better). You can track down a taco in every one of our super cute neighborhoods. Discover for yourself. Be adventurous. Try lengua! And don’t forget to wash it all down with the sparkle magic of Topo Chico. You’ll look super cool and local.
Now, we might be “weird” here in Austin, but we’re not insane. We don’t have tacos all the time. We are also home to some of the finest food establishments in the country. So leave the Atkins Bars back at your AirBnb and forget about your dietary restrictions. (Unless they are regarding gluten intolerance or a vegan lifestyle, in which case we’ll totally cater to your needs.)
And don’t forget, on Sunday, everyone is required by law to attend brunch.
Get a haircut and a tattoo
Make sure to pick up a Keep Austin Weird Shirt or little Texas State Capitol magnet as a wonderful little token you’ll cherish for the rest of your life. Better yet, alter you body and come back, literally, a changed person.
The easiest solution is to get an Austin haircut. There are plenty of salons and barbershops around town that will freshen up any look and style. Guys: Ask for a good ol' boy. Ladies: Show up with bangs. All genders: rattail. And if the options overwhelm you, just head into a Bird’s Barbershop. (There’s a location near the cool neighborhood you're eating all those tacos in.) No appointment is needed and you get a free beer, which should loosen you up just enough to say, “just make me look good.”
While you’re getting that sweet new ‘do, you’ll notice your stylist has a bunch of tattoos. Find out where he or she got that fresh ink. Your family and friends are spending the next two hours waiting for the bats to fly out from the South Congress Bridge. You’ve got time to kill so why not get tatted up?
Ditch the car
How are you getting around Austin? We don't know if you've heard, but traffic here is pretty rough. So why not save the world and rent a bike? Austin has a super cool new bike sharing program called B-cycles. Just pop your credit card into a station, grab your red ride and own the town!
Biking isn’t the only option. Some places will even rent you a scooter. And if you’re into getting attention from and mocked by Austinites, you can rent a Segway. There are rideshare options that can also get you around Austin. Just think of it as a way to meet cool new friends! Getting a taxi is always an option, but good luck finding one when the bars let out. We have a bus system and a fast new Metro Rapid with WiFi, too!
There are also plenty of pedicabs downtown. And while they're not the cheapest mode of transportation, taking one could save you from getting lost. Plus you’ll get to know a fit Austin local. Extra fees may apply for hills and bridges. Now, where to go?
Support live music
The reason Austin is the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World is because there are endless opportunities to take in music here. After your taco, tattoo and bike ride, you’ve earned a night out. Go see a show! See two shows! A big act you’ve wanted to see could be playing at Stubb’s or Emo’s. An indie group you want to know more about is at Red 7 or Mohawk. Head east and catch a DJ set at Volstead Lounge or dance up a storm at The White Horse.
During that free walk downtown AP is touting, stop into a bar you’ve never heard of and get blasted by metal. There’s something here for everyone. Just make sure to give a few bucks to that bucket that's going around. It will help at least one Austin musician eat that night — and you’ll go back to where ever you’re from feeling cultured and charitable.
Adopt a dog
Since you're feeling so charitable from your weekend of live music, and because you saved so much money doing all that free stuff, the best souvenir you can take home with you is the gift of unconditional love.
The City of Austin is committed to becoming a no-kill city, but it’s not easy. The city shelters 23,000 animals each year and there are plenty of popular rescue organizations around town that have started just to help match families with their perfect pet. Our residents are in on it, too, fostering strays and usually being more concerned with where you adopted your pet than what breed it is. Our hearts would swell and burst if you would help any of our furry friends find a place to live. Wherever you live, don't forget to remind them where they come from.
That's not all
This list is just a drop in the bucket of a 10-gallon hat when it comes to spending money in Austin. Other options include vintage shopping, record collecting, Hill Country exploring and art collecting. Check out some museums. Play in the water. Enjoy theatre. See some improv comedy. Drink all the beers.
Thanks for visiting Austin. We’re a cool city with endless options for fun and we’re proud of them all. But we do have to charge you for them.