TurnKey is exploring America’s most popular destinations – 72 hours at a time – starting with our home base in Austin, Texas.
Our local Austin team members put together a list of our favorite eats, things to do, hidden-gems, and of course, vacation rental homes for the perfect 3-day vacation in our favorite city.
If you’re looking for how to spend 3 days (or more) in Austin, Texas, you’ll find there’s plenty to do in the city, even while social distancing and respecting the local restrictions in place. From watching the millions of bats under South Congress Bridge at sunset, eating the best breakfast tacos and BBQ Texas has to offer, and stand-up paddleboarding on Lady Bird Lake, there’s something to do for every kind of traveler. Get ready for 72 hours of jam-packed adventure!
Here’s everything you need to know before planning your trip to Austin, Texas.
On your first full day in Austin, I suggest filling up on some breakfast tacos from Veracruz All Natural or the fan-favorite, Torchy’s Tacos. Veracruz makes some of my favorite Migas tacos in the city and Torchy’s smoked beef brisket taco, “The Wrangler” will help you understand why breakfast tacos are a thing. Each taco spot has more than one location, but I suggest the Veracruz on Manchaca, or as locals call it; “The Radio location”, due to its proximity to Radio Coffee & Beer (also a great visit!) and the Torchy’s on South Congress.
After breakfast tacos or a much-deserved lie-in, spend some time outside exploring the murals and one-of-a-kind local shops on South Congress Ave. On weekends the sidewalks can get especially crowded, so if you’re in Austin on a Thursday or Friday, I suggest hitting up the street then.
The infamous I Love You So Much graffiti wall at Jo’s Coffee.
The Greetings from Austin Mural
The Willie for President Mural
Shops to visit:
Allens Boots — I mean, you can’t come to Texas without at least stopping by a real cowboy boot shop.
Vintage shops — There are too many cool vintage shops to only suggest one, so I recommend allotting some time to Prototype Vintage design, Feathers Boutique, Off the Wall and Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds.
South Congress Bookstore— Small, artsy bookshop selling used & vintage books. Perfect place to pick up a quick new read for your Austin vacation or some souvenirs to take home with you.
Afternoon: Get lunch at Hopdoddy Burger Bar then go for a dip in the lake
All that walking will have worked up an appetite, and you’ll notice quickly there are no shortage of restaurants around. If you want to stay in the area I suggest Hopdoddy’s Burger Bar for a family-friendly restaurant and the best burgers and milkshakes around, Home Slice Pizza if you want something quick and on-the-go, Elizabeth Street Cafe for something more upscale and healthy, or Fresa’s on South 1st for a mix between casual, healthy and convenient.
Not far from SoCo is Lady Bird Lake and Zilker Park. If you have some extra energy after a day of shopping and photo ops, take a dip at Barton Springs pool or rent a paddleboard, canoe, or tube on Lady Bird Lake.
Not much of a swimmer? Skip the water and head to Zilker park to watch the dogs chase frisbees and catch the Austin skyline in full view.
2100 Barton Springs Rd, Austin, TX, zilkerpark.org
If your trip is planned anytime between May and August, you absolutely have to see the South Congress bats. For most of the year you can see swarms of bats flying out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge just before sunset. There are group and boat tours to see the bats from the water, but I’ve seen them from the S Congress bridge and the view is still spectacular.
If you’d rather eat at home, I recommend stopping by the flagship Whole Foods to pick-up everything you need to cook dinner at your vacation rental. From farm-fresh vegetables, take and bake pizzas, and to-go sushi, Whole Foods has you covered.
Put on your comfy clothes for a day of exploring. Stop by Mozart’s Coffee and enjoy freshly roasted coffee, waterfront views, and homemade treats from their in-house bakery. I recommend bringing a book and relaxing on their tree-covered outdoor patio for a while.
While you’re in the area, I suggest taking a long walk or drive down Sunset Drive where you’ll see unmatched views of the lake and breathtaking homes right on the water. Towards the end of Sunset Drive take a left turn on Pecos and a right turn on 35th street to explore Mayfield Park and Nature reserve where you’ll find two dozen or so resident peacocks wandering the grounds freely.
Afternoon: Have lunch at Better Half and explore the Austin greenbelt
Not far from Sunset Dr. is a charming cafe serving American fare plus coffee, draft cocktails, wine, craft ciders & beer. From 9am to 3pm they serve their brunch menu, offering one of my favorite brunches in town. I suggest the Better Half Breakfast sandwich, Granola bowl (for breakfast) or the Better Half cheeseburger and cauliflower tots on the side (sounds weird, tastes great)! They also do a happy hour from 1pm to 4pm every day serving $5 burgers and $5 sangria.
There are several different ways to explore the Greenbelt. A favorite entry point is past Loop 360 off of the Capitol of Texas Highway. If you hike about one hour in you’ll be greeted with waterfalls (but not always during the hottest months of the year!)
If you need a break from the Texas heat, check out North Loop for an array of cool vintage shops and the most unique and independent stores in Austin.
Evening: “Hike” Mt. Bonnell and fill up on Patrizi’s pasta
Don’t let the “Mt.” in Mt. Bonnel scare you. There are just about 100 steps to the top and the walk to the peak will only take you a few minutes, but the short hike is well worth the view.
3800 Mt Bonnell Dr, Austin, TX
Actually located in Covert Park, Mount Bonnell is generally considered the highest point in Austin at 775 feet! The peak is named for George Bonnell, who served as Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Texas Republic.
If you’re adventured out, I suggest Austin’s oldest drive-in movie theatre (socially distanced approved!) at Blue Starlite Drive-In.
For dinner, Patrizi’s is a must-visit during your trip. And if you’ve been adventuring all day, homemade pasta will be just what you need. If pasta isn’t your thing, check out Pool Burger for all-american burgers and fare with a flair.
I often joke that JuiceLand is my favorite restaurant. To be fair, when I was a vegetarian this was kind of true, and it’s still partially true. JuiceLand has a variety of plant-based juices, smoothies, to-go meals and vegan treats perfect to start your last day in Austin. With locations across the city, just search for the one closest to your vacation rental or visit the one on Lake Austin before your walk on Lady Bird Lake (also known as Town Lake).
Located in the heart of downtown, the trail on Lady Bird Lake runs 10-miles with multiple access points for bikers, runners, and walkers to enjoy lake views up-close. Currently, the trail is running one-way to encourage social distancing.
While the Texas State Capitol isn’t currently holding tours, there is still plenty to see outside. On the lawn, the capital features several monuments and memorials, and my favorite is the Texas African American History Memorial which depicts Juneteenth in Texas: June 19, 1865 when African Americans were freed from the bonds of slavery.
Erected in 2016 by sculptor Ed Dwight, this sculpture honors the many African-American contributions in Texas, including Barbara Jordan.
Afternoon: Pre-order takeout from Franklin BBQ and browse records at Waterloo
The best BBQ in Texas is in Austin at Franklin BBQ. Hands down. And usually you’d have to wait all morning to get a taste, but due to restaurant restrictions during COVID-19, Franklin BBQ now lets you order ahead of time for pick-up. Be prepared to order a few days in advance, because even ordering Franklin BBQ online and to-go they sell out!
After devouring the best meal of your life, you may need to go back to your vacation rental and relax for a bit. If not, check out the famous Waterloo records shop.
Evening: Fancy dinner at Emmer & Rye and a virtual show through ACL Live
Since Austin is the live music capital of the world, you can’t finish your trip without a live performance, even if it’s a “virtual” version.
Where to Stay in Austin
I think a vacation rental in Austin is the ideal place to enjoy a well-deserved getaway, but don’t let me convince you, hear what our most recent guests had to say about their visits.
Whether you’re looking for a romantic vacation rental tucked away in the Texas hillside, an upscale condo near downtown or a large family house with a private pool, we have the perfect home for your next vacation in Austin, TX.
Where to eat and what to do in Austin during COVID-19
Our Austin food recommendations: Veracruz All Natural, Torchy’s Tacos, Whole Foods, Mozart’s Coffee, Better Half Bar, Loro, The Line at P6, Patrizi’s, Pool Burger, JuiceLand, Franklin BBQ, Carve, Emmer & Rye
Our Austin “Things to do recommendations”: Take a dip in Lady Bird Lake, see the bats on the S Congress Bridge, visit the Mayfield peacocks, shop at North Loop vintage shops, photos at S. Congress murals, walk the Greenbelt, take a ride on Scenic Dr., see a movie at Blue Starlite Drive-in, hike Mt. Bonnel, check out the Texas state capital sculptures, visit Waterloo records, go to a virtual ACL Live concert