Austin is one of my favorite places in the United States, I lived there for six months and found it hard to leave. I absolutely loved the food and music scenes but I could see how a tourist could “do it wrong”. Here’s a list of tourist traps and things to be aware of before you visit.
AUSTIN’S TOURIST TRAPS
If you only have a few nights in Austin, you should AVOID these so you don’t leave unimpressed.
- Cathedral of Junk – What a let down! How does this have 4.5 Yelp stars!? My sister and I included this in our fun filled day itinerary when she was in town and when we pulled up we were both disappointed. First of all, a grumpy old man lives here and would not let us in till we had an appointment, but it didn’t seem cool enough to schedule an appointment. You can see it from the street and it isn’t nearly as big or interesting as we imagined. Skip it, there are much better things to do around town.
- The Oasis on Lake Travis <–Did you click on that link? Click it. Those views are NOT WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE. The food is disgusting and Lake Travis looked like a swamp. The best part of this restaurant was not the food or the view, but the fireplace inside with comfy couches – ha! Note the drive getting here is beautiful, unfortunately not worth it once you’re there. If you’re ever dragged here against your will, don’t go hungry and just order a cocktail.
- The Alleged Bats – I went to see these alleged “bats” multiple times and refuse to try and see them again. I’ve almost come to the conclusion they don’t exist! Along with my like minded skeptic friend, we decided to give it one last attempt and this time we did not waste time standing on the Congress Ave Bridge (where they fly out from). So, we went to the Radisson Hotel to see them from the bar. This time we could eat and drink while our anticipation grew. And of course, they never flew about. Now, the Bat expert that hangs out below the bridge, along with the Bat hotline (call, it’s hilarious: 512-327-9721) will tell you they fly “nearly every night” but even when I drove near the area around sunset I did not see them. So, sure, “they exist” and locals will tell you “I’ve seen them multiple times!”, but I have gone and gone again and never saw them! So, if this is on your must see list, lower expectations. And, if you have been and seen them, consider yourself lucky. I have learned, they DO NOT always fly!
- Umlauf Sculpture Garden – Unless you’re a sculpture art enthusiast, you can skip this. There were only like 15 sculptures total? Unless we missed something! They were oddly positioned throughout the garden. It felt like they received a sculpture shipment and someone having a bad day just plopped ’em down wherever they wanted. They also have TERRIBLE hours which I suppose is a good thing since I’m not recommending you go 🙂 The ONLY saving grace of this place in my opinion is the yoga in the garden. My friend who went with me would agree!
Note: Most of these traps I also found on this buzzfeed list, the author of which must not have gone these, I hope (#3, #12, #24 doesn’t exist anymore, and #32).
Reset Your Expectations
Few things shocked me when I lived in Austin. If you go expecting the below you will be disappointed, so reset your mind on the following:
- Keep Austin…Weird? – But wait, where’s the weirdness? I never quite picked up on why Austin promotes itself as weird. When I arrived, I thought it would be very apparent but then after a few months I found myself searching for the weird, and never found it. Therefore, don’t go expecting weirdness to jump at you, unless you live under a rock. I moved here from San Francisco where I experienced my fair share of “weird”. In fact, I can write an entire post on how San Francisco beats Austin and Portland in the “weirdness” factor combined. When I looked into this slogan more I realized it has to do with promoting small business and highlighting aspects of the town that are “really weird”. The “Keep Austin Weird: A Guide to the Odd Side of Town” references segway tours and weird local businesses (pretty sure every city has these though) and recommends a visit to the cathedral of junk (my 1st listed tourist trap).
- Nightlife – I was surprised at both the lack of variety and amount of bars in Austin. Can you find a dive, a club and a lounge? Sure! But there aren’t MANY overall and if you’re looking for subcategories there within, forget it. I wouldn’t describe myself as a partier, but I do like to check out nightlife from time to time and living there felt like going to the same scene on repeat. Austin feels like a small town in the nightlife department and (caveat!) of course I compared it to the cities I previously lived in (Chicago & San Francisco). There are only so many areas to go out and only so many bars. I’ve embarrassingly been to maybe 70%+ of the nightlife options while there! Some of my favorite bars I went to happened to be where all the hot bearded men hung out, which was nice 🙂 If you are going for a short weekend, you will definitely enjoy your time out. If you are moving there from a big city and nightlife is a significant part of your life, it might feel dull. Also, AVOID Dirty 6th unless you are in your early twenties or in a “party all the time” phase, whereby you could like it. I imagine this will all change as ATX continues to grow.
- Safety – Though Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., when I got there it felt much more like a large town than small city. So, I felt very safe. I started to hear a few horror stories when I moved to my fave hood of Austin though, the east side. The east side is historically known as the rougher area of town and parts are gentrified to an extreme. There’s one particular area I was always nervous walking near at night. Note during the day it’s not dangerous, but at night do not walk under the 35 highway bridge at 6th street. Sure, there is a Wendy’s nearby and popular bars just blocks away, however, I heard countless stories of gang members that hang there. Without getting into disgusting gory details, let me just say they aren’t afraid to commit a crime or two. Please AVOID!
- Weather – As mentioned previously, this was a huge shocker to me. One reason I moved to Austin in winter was because it’s located in the south, so I expected warm weather. Do not visit in winter if you’re looking for a warm vacay (it’s “you need a warm coat & an ice scraper for your car” kind of cold). Also, do not underestimate the heat during summer (it’s “how naked can I be and get away with it in public” hot). Go in spring and/or fall!