With fall upon us, there’s no better time to head south for new adventures in the vibrant, thriving capital of Texas. Despite being the fastest-growing major metropolitan area in the United States, Austin maintains a quirky, laid-back atmosphere unlike any other Texas city. In addition to Austin’s buzzing live music festivals, my family always enjoys the ever-evolving food scene and stunning outdoor experiences. This city upholds its mantra to “Keep Austin Weird” in all the right ways, placing value on local businesses and creative spirits, which lend to the diverse food and fun Austin has to offer. Check out this three-day itinerary to kick off your family’s fall season.
The drive to Austin is about six hours from Oklahoma City down I-35, so Ft. Worth is a convenient midway point to stop for a bite to eat and stretch the legs. Lodging options in Austin are plentiful, including both hotels and VRBO rentals to fit every family’s budget. In September and October, the weather is prime for patio dining, but Austin’s fall temps can still reach into the 80s, so dress accordingly.
Also, keep in mind that one of the country’s largest celebrations of music, Austin City Limits, takes place over the first two weekends in October, so crowds and inflated lodging prices can be expected during this event. ACL is an amazing outdoor music festival for all ages, featuring more than 100 musical performances. Kids 10 and under are admitted free with a ticket-holding adult, and they can enjoy their own lineup of family-friendly musicians and fun at “Austin Kiddie Limits.”
Most of today’s activities will be spent outdoors near Lady Bird Lake, just south of downtown Austin, so your family will want to fuel up with a nourishing breakfast at Cenote. This charming coffee shop has a little bit of everything one might crave in the morning, but the migas and breakfast tacos are always solid choices to accompany your iced coffee.
Spend the morning cruising the 10-mile Ann and Roy Butler Trail & Boardwalk by bike. Barton Springs Bike Rental & Tours offers a wide range of bikes to rent, including attachable kids’ seats and trailers, so your family can meander along the river’s edge for premiere views of Austin’s downtown skyline. During your ride, stop for a brisk dip in the Barton Springs Pool, a 3-acre spring-fed pool with an average temperature of 68 degrees year-round.
The South Congress district is a perfect place to grab lunch at one of many Austin-original eateries, such as Home Slice Pizza, where they are passionate about New York-style pizza and steadfast hospitality. Stroll down the street to explore a variety of unique shops, including Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds, a huge costume shop to get your family Halloween attire, or Monkey See Monkey Do, a haven for vintage toys and eclectic gifts. Satisfy your sweet tooth at Big Top Candy Shop and don’t miss a family photo-op at the famous “I Love You So Much” mural, all within walking distance along South Congress Avenue.
Your afternoon would be well spent at Zilker Park, nestled in the heart of downtown Austin, where families can visit the Zilker Botanical Garden, play a round of disc golf or venture onto the water with a stand-up paddleboard (SUP). Rowing Dock or Austin City Kayak Tours are convenient places to rent kayaks or SUPs nearby.
A busy day calls for a relaxing dinner at Loro, an Asian smokehouse that has brilliantly fused the techniques of Southeast Asia with the traditional smoky flavors of Texas barbeque. Loro’s award-winning chefs have created a beautiful, laid-back space, including a large outdoor patio, to relax and enjoy a delicious, refined meal. Just before sunset don’t miss Austin’s most popular attraction at Congress Avenue Bridge, where more than one million Mexican free-tailed bats, the largest North American bat colony, pour out from under the bridge into the evening sky.
Kick off your morning on the patio of Cherrywood Coffeehouse, a neighborhood gem with stellar coffee, breakfast sandwiches and tacos served fresh daily. Mueller Lake Park, just five minutes away, is a beautiful area to wander and let the kids climb the park’s welcoming playscape. If you visit on a Sunday, stop by the bustling Texas Farmers’ Market to shop for local food and listen to live music. If Sunday brunch is more your speed, nearby Contigo serves up innovative eats on an expansive, ranch-style patio. Across the street from Mueller Lake Park is one of our boys’ favorite destinations, the Thinkery, an interactive children’s museum featuring STEAM-based fun. Kids can watch wind swirl into a tornado, experiment with water currents or test their coordination in an outdoor play zone.
Lunch is served at Paperboy, originally a food truck, but now a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Central East Austin. Request a table on their gorgeous rooftop patio, lined with terra cotta breezeblocks, to savor one of their delightfully fresh salads, bowls or sandwiches. Reservations are encouraged or you can order online for pickup to avoid long wait times.
Austin is home to the world’s largest bouldering gym at Austin Bouldering Project, where patrons can rock climb indoors without using ropes or harnesses. The boulders rise only 15 feet high, with several “kid-friendly” climbing walls and safety pads throughout the facility. If your family would rather spend the afternoon outdoors, consider a visit to McKinney Falls State Park to hike or bike along the Onion Creek trail while taking in the rugged beauty of the cascading falls.
Another full day of play will have everyone eager for dinner in Austin, which is known as a food truck mecca. There are more than 1,000 mobile food vendors to choose from in Austin, but residents rave about the homemade pasta from Patrizi’s, located in the Vortex theater’s courtyard. After experiencing the perfectly plated Carbonara Alexandra or the Great Leopold, you’ll soon see why this authentic Italian cuisine sells out fast.
Our family is always happy to reconnect with each other and nature while out on a trail, and Austin’s treasured Barton Creek Greenbelt is a refuge for outdoor enthusiasts, with multiple access points along 12 miles of shaded trails. In the summer, it’s a great place to cool off in the shallow creeks, descending waterfalls and swimming holes, but this urban oasis is equally stunning to explore in the fall.
By this point, you’ve probably noticed tacos are basically their own food group in Austin, and Veracruz All Natural will satisfy everyone’s hunger with some extraordinary tacos that may have you pondering a move to Austin! After years of hard work and perseverance, the Vazquez sisters now own and operate six Veracruz locations around Austin, bringing authentic, fresh flavors from Mexico to each of their handcrafted menu items.
Downtown Austin is full of photo-worthy stops, including our favorites: the corner of Lamar Boulevard & 5th Street boasts a colorful “atx” public art piece that attracts tourists regularly and the mural of “Jeremiah the Innocent” eagerly welcomes all to come say hello. When you crave a mid-day snack, enjoy the harmony of summer fruits and fall spices in a homemade pie from Tiny Pies. These adorable, individual servings of pie are made fresh daily with a flavor for everyone, including gluten-free and vegan options.
Adults and children alike will appreciate an afternoon at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, a botanical garden and arboretum brimming with native Texas plants and playful landscapes. Every October, they host “Fortlandia,” a diverse collection of artistically designed forts for families to explore. Book reservations online before you arrive.
Your family can’t depart from Austin without experiencing its legendary barbeque, and this city has scores of outstanding restaurants from which to choose. Micklethwait Craft Meats is a consistent crowd pleaser without the lengthy wait times often found at equally lauded barbeque joints. This Central East Austin food truck serves up flavorful family-style meals of carefully smoked meats and standout side items, like jalapeño cheese grits and lemon poppyseed slaw. Your family can even preorder food a couple of days in advance to secure a delicious dinner for the end of your trip.
Our crew has been visiting family in Austin for years now. We love that no trip is ever the same, each uniquely wonderful and full of personality in its own way. Between the great outdoors, local music festivals, quirky finds and an endless list of restaurants, Austin has plenty to discover during your fall family getaway.