As temperatures drop, it gets easier and easier to choose to spend your free time piled under blankets and binging that new true crime show. And, while we would never deny you the latest limited series, we are here to remind you that there are still plenty of things to take advantage of around Austin for the next few months. Whether you’re looking for activities that have a seasonal twist, want to get out in nature, try some new flavors, or straight up celebrate a traditional Sunday Funday by drinking the day away, there’s an option here for you. So change out of those sweatpants you’ve been rocking for the past few days, put a pause on that Netflix queue, and get out there!
Barton Creek Greenbelt, Bull Creek Greenbelt Free Get your hiking shoes on! The City of Austin reopened the Barton Creek and Bull Creek Greenbelts to visitors in August after shutting down the trail system earlier in the summer due to overcrowding. Entry is available by reservation only, so make sure to visit the website and select an open time slot before you plan your trip. With 12 miles of gorgeous hiking trails, creek beds, and waterfalls, the Greenbelt is a must-visit for every Austinite.
Chaparral Ice $ While in Austin we may not have the type of weather that allows us to glide on frozen ponds Charlie Brown-style, there are still options available for those who want to lace up their skates. North Austin’s Chaparral Ice is open daily for public skating so you can go and get your Michelle Kwan on. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for kids five-years-old and younger, and $5 to rent skates-be sure to make a reservation in advance online though.
Fredericksburg, TX – Various Locations $$-$$$$ For a long weekend or just an adventurous day trip, consider a visit to Texas’ very own version of Napa Valley-Fredericksburg. It’s about a two hour drive from Austin to the acres of orchards that populate this area, and just the sheer amount of different wineries that have set up shop will cause any vino-lover’s heart to pump with excitement. Be sure to check out Becker Vineyards, whose beautiful estate and lavender fields add some background to your Bordeaux, and the Fat Ass Ranch & Winery, which may not only have the best name but also the best frozen sangria you’ve ever tasted. Note, though, that both are operating at limited capacity and require online reservations.
Watch a movie (safely) at the drive-in
Blue Starlite Drive-In & Doc’s Drive-In Theatre $$-$$$ Austin is a city of film fanatics-which means that even COVID can’t keep its residents from enjoying a flick and some popcorn. Take in all the joy of the silver screen from the comfort (and appropriate social distance) of your own car at one of the area’s many drive-ins. Two of our favorites are Blue Starlite, which has locations around the city and in Round Rock, and Doc’s, which is located a short, 30-minute drive away in Buda. Both places have a calendar stacked with classic favorites, like “The Fifth Element” and “Labyrinth,” as well as fairly-new movies, like “Tenet.”
Warm up with hot food and cocktails
Various locations $-$$$ Anyone who has lived in Texas knows there is only a limited pocket of time in the year where warm-weather food and drinks can be consumed in public without someone thinking you are legally insane. Well, those “winter” months have arrived, and it is time to take advantage of the options springing up around the city! Grab some soup, like the poblano corn chowder, at local institution Soup Peddler, hit up Michi for some delicious ramen, or go for the pho at Thanh Ni. If you want the extra warming power of booze, stop by Kinda Tropical for their mezcal-spiked Oaxacan Hot Chocolate or Contigo for their take on the Hot Toddy.
See some live music (really!)
Various locations $-$$$ Even though COVID may have altered how we see shows for the near future, it can’t keep the Capital of Live Music down. There are still many places around the city to groove on down to some tunes-albeit, in a safe, CDC-complaint way. Two-step to some bluegrass at Sagebrush, catch the best of the local scene at The Far Out Lounge, or discover your new favorite tracks at Hotel Vegas. That’s not to forget the city’s trademark venue, ACL Live at the Moody Theater, which may be opened with limited capacity, but has a calendar lineup of performances which guarantees unlimited good times.
Hunt for some vintage treasure
Various locations $-$$$ Put those holiday bonuses to excellent use by indulging in some local, sustainably-minded shopping at the many vintage shops around Austin. Dig through the racks of Pavement Vintage to find some single-stitch gems or let the curated choices of Charm School Vintage make you look effortlessly fashionable. If you’re looking to revamp your living space for the New Year, great furniture and decor finds can be unearthed at Room Service Vintage or Uncommon Objects.
Take a drive out to Hill Country for beer and BBQ
Jester King Brewery & The Salt Lick BBQ $$-$$$ When you get tired of the urban landscape, refresh your eyes and spirits with a trip out to Hill Country. It may only be 45 minutes away, but the long vistas and dramatically beautiful sunsets will make you forget all those emails you have sitting in your inbox. Start in the early afternoon by making reservations at Jester King Brewery, where you can sip on their section of sour beers in the breezy, winter sunshine. Then grab dinner at nearby Salt Lick, whose legendary BBQ has constantly ranked them as one of the best places to grub down on some brisket in the country.
Various locations $ Since the weather has finally cooled down, there’s no better feeling than enjoying Texas’ natural beauty and sleeping under the stars. Reserve a spot online to camp out this fall at one of Texas Hill Country’s beautiful state parks. McKinney Falls State Park, Pedernales Falls State Park, Inks Lake State Park, and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area are just a few parks just a quick drive away from downtown Austin.
South Congress Avenue bridge Free “The bats!” are one of Austin’s simplest tourist attractions. Head down to the South Congress Avenue bridge in downtown Austin at the end of the day and pick a spot either on top of the bridge, or below on the Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail — careful to stand six feet apart from other groups — and wait until dusk for the bats to emerge. About 1.5 million bats live underneath the bridge in what is the world’s largest bat colony.
Mt. Bonnell Free Challenge yourself to jog, bike, or walk through the gorgeous neighborhood on Scenic Drive to Covert Park and the top of Mt. Bonnell. The 775-foot peak is considered the highest point in Austin and looks over Lake Travis and the beautiful Texas Hill Country. Bring a picnic to enjoy on the pavilion at sunset for a unique date night.
Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail Free The 10-mile Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail around Lady Bird Lake is key to the city’s reputation as an outdoor enthusiast’s mecca. Located in the heart of downtown Austin, the trail has multiple access points for runners, bikers, rollerbladers, and hikers to traverse a route of their choosing.
Lady Bird Lake $-$$$ Whether your preferred vehicle of choice is a paddle board, kayak, canoe, or inner tube, there’s plenty of buoyancy to be found on Lady Bird Lake. Bundle on up, pop on your shades and enjoy a few peaceful hours of serenity on the lake. Check local listings for rental outlet availability.
Playing tour guide around Austin requires a versatile ride. The 2020 Acura ILX can handle a run to pick up the country’s best BBQ just as well as a trek to watch the sunset from the edge of town.
Various locations $-$$$ If there’s one upside to quarantine life, it’s that you can try Aaron Franklin’s famous barbecue without staking out your spot in line at 6am Franklin BBQ has gone to a reservation-only system for selling their world-famous brisket. For even more options, check out our full guide to Austin BBQ here. Make sure to check with individual restaurants for adjusted hours and take-out/delivery options due to COVID-19.
Various locations $-$$$ Perhaps the only food more famous in Austin than barbecue are our world-class taco offerings. Whether you’re a breakfast taco connoisseur or prefer to mix-and-match tacos with happy hour margaritas, Veracruz, Tacodeli, and Torchy’s are amongst the classics. Check out our full guide to local Mexican restaurants here. Make sure to check with individual restaurants for adjusted hours and take-out/delivery options due to COVID-19.
Blanton Museum of Art, 200 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. $ The University of Texas’ Blanton Museum of Art recently reopened in August after closing for most of the spring and summer due to the pandemic. Don’t miss Ellsworth Kelly’s iconic Austin, a 2,715-square foot stone building with gorgeous glass-colored rainbow windows.
Virtual Free Austin’s very own DJ Mel drew hundreds of thousands of viewers to his impromptu Facebook livestream set after SXSW was canceled. Now, the tastemaker is taking to the tunes every Saturday night from 6 to 10pm for a family-friendly dance party. Set up your speakers, move your furniture, and get ready to bust a move.Sign up here for our daily Austin email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.
Great news: there’s no need to drive to HTX to get your fill of delicious overstuffed sandwiches (or wait for the pop-ups to come back), Local Foods is here to stay. The Houston restaurant finally opened its first ATX brick-and-mortar shop in the 2nd Street District, following overwhelming public demand.
Founders Benjy Levitt and Dylan Murray and partner Martin Berson have been peddling sandwiches since 2011. Their latest addition follows the company’s ethos of clean, locally sourced hyper-seasonal ingredients from local farmers and purveyors, with a subsidiary mission to give back to the community. Local collaborators in Austin include Fresh Tofu, Pure Luck Dairy, Antonelli’s, Joe’s Microgreens, Basic B Chai, and Dos Lunas. “We’re still getting our feet wet in the Austin market in a post-COVID world and seeing which local suppliers are a good fit. We’ve spoken to thirty or forty so far, and have another thirty or forty on our list.” Berson tells Thrillist, who adds that the bread, however, will continue to be sourced from Houston. “We partnered with Slow Dough since the beginning, helping each other grow, and we still believe the quality of their bread is unrivaled.”
Menu staples and fan-favourites include the Crunchy Chicken Sandwich made with roast chicken breast, nut-seed crumble, salad, pickles, and buttermilk ranch, stacked high on a Slow Dough pretzel bun; and new for Austin is the roasted beef sandwich that shows up on the special’s board. “We’ve been crushing on the roast beef sandwich our chef Zack Sutton created,” says Berson. “He’s roasting a chuck roll from 44 Farms and serving on toasted ciabatta with Dos Lunas Black Pepper Cheddar and horseradish aioli. It will be around for a while.”
Though their sandwiches are the talk of town, Local’s all-day soups, salads, sides, and sweets boast the same attention to detail. Good examples are the seasonal Harvest Salad that currently features leafy greens, organic veg, Pure Luck goat cheese, and Texas watermelon-basically a giant bowl of nutrients-and the Classic Chicken Posole, which though hot, soothes with a tangy broth topped with cilantro.
No weekend on 2nd street is complete without a stiff beverage, and Local’s booze cabinet plucks the best of local and regional. Wines hail from the likes of Southold Farm + Cellar, Wine For The People, and Pedernales Cellars, while an all-local beer list consists of Fairweather Cider, Live Oak, Hops and Grain, Pinthouse, and Independence Brewing. Those adult bevys can be enjoyed in the comfort of two floors of chic AC’d seating, or out on the streetside patio. “The space was designed by Micah Land, who designed the first few Snap Kitchens and the last couple of Local Foods before the Austin store,” says Berson. “We’re on an amazing corner surrounded by a dynamic mix of retail and restaurant neighbours, offices, hotels and residential buildings. There’s so much energy and activity around us all day, every day.”
Berson and co. are currently scouting non-profits to benefit local communities. “In Houston, we’ve been a long-term partner with Pro-Vision Farm,” he says. “They’re an inner-city community garden teaching sustainable methods to at-risk youth in a self-sustaining business model. They have an amazing track record of helping kids forge a positive path during critical stages of their lives. And the produce is phenomenal.”
Local Foods is now open on 454 W. 2nd St, 11am – 8:30pm. Parking is free at the 2nd Street District AMLI garage on San Antonio St, weekdays before 5pm for two hours. A brunch menu and early morning takeout window for breakfast sandwiches, pastries, matcha, and coffee will begin this fall.
James Wong is a Libra who spends his time pretending to be a vegan, watching wildlife clips, and booking plane tickets. Born in London, lived in Tokyo, and now residing in Austin, his greatest achievement is giving Posh Spice a hug in 2016.