Austin

8 Totally Free Things to Do in Austin This Fall

Get out of the house without breaking the bank.

Pease Park Conservancy
Pease Park Conservancy
Pease Park Conservancy

So much of American hangout culture is based around spending money. Want to catch up with a friend? Buy a drink. Going on a date? Split the bill for dinner or pay for a movie. While that’s fine and all, it’s still sometimes nice to be able to spend time with the people you care about without the expectation of burning through some cash. Fortunately, there are plenty of free parks, venues, and activities in Austin that you can plan a day around. Whether you’re an outdoors type or insist on hitting up locations with AC, here are some of our favorite free things to do in Austin.

Treehouse at Pease Park

Old West Austin
The Treehouse is a unique art installation in one of Austin’s oldest and most beloved parks. It’s designed to mimic the appearance of a seed pod that you might find on the ground. It’s a two-story structure designed to let you appreciate the surrounding nature and wildlife. The first story is a cozy hangout area with limestone seating, and the second is basically a giant hammock where you can relax and enjoy the surroundings.

Austin Public Library
Austin Public Library
Austin Public Library

Austin Public Library

Downtown
The Austin Public Library is an impressive space. It’s full of public art and is, arguably, one of the coolest libraries that you’ll find in any city. There’s a ton of comfortable seating and rooms to explore, including a scenic rooftop garden terrace that overlooks the river and the south side of downtown. The space comes as a result of years of development and collaboration. It boasts desktops, laptops, tablets, and board games, not to mention countless books you can peruse and read. It’s right next to Shoal Creek Park, and makes for a wonderful spot to kill some time in the AC. If you keep your visit shorter, parking is free for the first hour at the onsite lot, though it is unfortunately paid parking after that.

Free Mondays with Esquina Tango

Mueller
If you’re looking to up your dancing moves, Esquina Tango hosts free community Tango sessions every Monday at the Halcyon Mueller coffee shop. It’s a fun way to get moving and be around new people. The beginner class starts at 6:30 pm, and the Milonga (social dance) session goes from 7:30 to 10 pm.

Flickr/Kent Wang
Flickr/Kent Wang
Flickr/Kent Wang

Mt. Bonnell

Mt. Bonnell Terrace
A popular spot for tourists and residents alike, Mt. Bonnell offers a captivating mountainside view of the Colorado River. Many people make the mistake of preparing for a long hike. But it actually only takes a few minutes to trek from the parking area to the scenic view. It’s the tallest point in Austin city limits, beating out the Independent, a 58-story skyscraper on West Avenue. The well-loved place is ideal for romantic outings, or for anyone who wants to appreciate a beautiful sunset.

The Blanton Museum of Art
The Blanton Museum of Art
The Blanton Museum of Art

Free Thursdays at the Blanton-Art Museum

Campus
Arguably Austin’s best-known museum, The Blanton, is a flagship in the Austin art scene. It features a massive collection of works focusing primarily on contemporary American and Latin American art. Admission is entirely free every single Thursday. It houses beautiful permanent collections and pieces as well as rotating works, making it a great outing for anyone with even a passing interest in the arts.

Barton Creek Greenbelt

Barton Creek
When people think of the lush nature in Austin, they usually imagine the Barton Creek Greenbelt. It has over twelve miles of trails with options for hiking, biking, bouldering, and swimming. There are many different entry points, each allowing easier access to the various outdoor activities possible there. It can almost be overwhelming to know which is the right starting point you’re looking for on a given day. But to get you started, the Gus Fruh entrance is excellent for swimming, while the Main Access Point off of Capital of Texas Highway gives you good access to many of the main hiking trails.

Watch the Congress Avenue Bats

Bouldin Creek/Downtown
A seasonal affair, watching the bats emerge from under the Congress Avenue bridge is a popular tourist activity. A massive colony of up to 1.5 million Brazilian free-tail bats (sometimes called Mexican-free tail bats) live under the bridge. About half an hour before sunset, the bats begin their nightly flight, pouring out from under the bridge in massive waves of furry, winged cuteness. There are plenty of online guides you can find to plot out the best spots to view them from, but above all, remember to be a good bat-viewer. Keep your voice low, and avoid shining bright lights as it puts them at risk of capture by predators.

Elisabet Ney Museum
Elisabet Ney Museum
Elisabet Ney Museum

Elizabet Ney Museum

Hyde Park
With free admission, the Elizabet Ney Museum is a community staple that injects a lot of life into the local community. It’s a historic house featuring the works of 19th-century German sculptor Elizabet Ney. Located right in the middle of Hyde Park, the space has the largest display of Ney’s marble sculpture works, often featured alongside various contemporary exhibits. The museum has been known to host other free events like their Saturday Drawing Salons, where participants could draw Ney’s statues regardless of skill level with all the materials provided. Check out their programs page to see their current slate of activities.

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Jade Fabello is a contributor for Thrillist.

Austin

Get Lucky at These Irish Bars in Austin

Drink a green pint on St Patrick's Day at these Irish bars in Austin.

Photo by Melissa Vinsik, courtesy of Cork + Barrel
Photo by Melissa Vinsik, courtesy of Cork + Barrel
Photo by Melissa Vinsik, courtesy of Cork + Barrel

In the midst of all the SXSW chaos, it helps to remember that there’s a rainbow at the festival’s end-that is, the hangover-blessing we’ve been granted of having St. Patrick’s Day 2023 fall on a Friday. Whether you attribute this small win to the Gregorian calendar or the luck of the Irish, it’s sure to amp up the already liver-damaging activities associated with this cultural celebration. However, √Čire is more than just leprechauns and Colin Farrell-it’s a breathtaking land full of warm, welcoming, and good-hearted people. Fortunately, there’s a way you can get a taste of the Republic’s spirit, and a dark stout, at the same time by hitting up one of Austin’s various Irish pubs. From cozy, intimate spaces decked out like small taverns in Cobh, to modern dives with all the party energy of Temple Bar, our list has the best spots in the city to “erin go bragh” all out on March 17.

Photo by Jane Yun, courtesy of BD Rileys
Photo by Jane Yun, courtesy of BD Rileys
Photo by Jane Yun, courtesy of BD Rileys

B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub at Mueller

Mueller
With a giant model of a beer tap literally decorating their front door, you can’t miss B.D Riley’s, nor doubt that this East Austin hang is a spot to down some serious brewskis. And its name, and perfect pours of Guinness, aren’t the only aspects they draw from the Emerald Isle-the entire pub itself was actually designed and built in Dundalk, Ireland, and shipped over for assembly in Bat City. Such authentic decor calls for equally authentic sounds, therefore, on St. Patrick’s Day, B.D. Riley’s will feature an all-day, four-artist bill of live, trad-inspired music. So, while you may not start the day knowing all the words to “The Galway Girl,” you are bound to sing along by last call.

Kelly’s Irish Pub

Bouldin Creek
Having only opened this past December, Kelly’s is the new kid with a brogue on the block. Occupying the space which formerly housed tapas restaurant Winebelly, this pub had big shoes to fill for South Austin barflies, but quickly won them over with an impressive whiskey selection and friendly atmosphere. A big reason behind the real deal √Čire vibes can, most likely, be chalked up to the fact that one of Kelly’s owners was actually born and bred in Ireland-and the dedication to delivering a true-to-life experience is evident in everything from the shepherd’s pie to the witty bartenders. For St. Patrick’s Day, they are getting the party started early with live music and an opening time of 8 am.

Photo courtesy of Jack & Ginger's
Photo courtesy of Jack & Ginger’s
Photo courtesy of Jack & Ginger’s

Jack & Ginger’s

The Domain
While The Domain may boast more bars than you can shake a shamrock at, there’s only one spot in the North Austin entertainment behemoth that can be properly called an Irish pub: Jack & Ginger’s. Start off the night with selecting a tasting flight from their over 82 beers on tap, then, move onto shots poured straight from their Irish Whiskey Tours-after loosening up with a round or two, you might just find yourself with the gift of gab. And, before snapping a selfie over Jack & Ginger’s see-through glass floor, balance out that buzz with food offerings like a giant soft pretzel or a round of fried pickles.

Photo courtesy of Foxy's Proper Pub
Photo courtesy of Foxy’s Proper Pub
Photo courtesy of Foxy’s Proper Pub

Foxy’s Proper Pub

Downtown
Here’s a spot that visibly radiates with Irish pride-at Foxy’s, the glow of green beams out from the bar’s lighted panels, and across their chandelier made of Jameson bottles. When it comes to cups and chow, their commitment to the theme continues-the use of the word,”proper,” in the pub’s name alone indicates you’re in for a heavy pour of the standards. Consequently, the taps are abundant with essential Irish sips, including Guinness, Magners, and Smithwick’s. With Lone Star on draft, there’s also a nod to Texas tradition as well. But don’t fear if you’re bored of beer-Foxy’s variety of whiskey-based cocktails will let you switch it up (and still keep it Celtic). March 17 will find them celebrating with live music, whiskey tastings, and swag giveaways.

Photo by LEVY Architects, courtesy of Cork + Barrel
Photo by LEVY Architects, courtesy of Cork + Barrel
Photo by LEVY Architects, courtesy of Cork + Barrel

Cork & Barrel Craft Kitchen + Microbrewery

Round Rock
Compared to a flight to Dublin, the 30-minute drive to Round Rock’s Cork & Barrel is much more convenient-not to mention, won’t require waiting in a TSA line. A mix between a modern Austin beer garden and a historical Irish pub, this spot’s spacious interior and expansive outdoor patio guarantees there will be enough room for the whole crew to cheer “sl√°inte.” And, their microbrewery’s signature beers are the ideal drinks to do such a toast with. The menu of specially crafted drafts includes a blueberry wheat, an Irish red ale, and a vanilla stout. This St. Patrick’s Day also marks Cork & Barrel’s two-year anniversary, and they are throwing down for the double-celebration with live music, yard games, Irish food specials, and plentiful amounts of green beer and Irish Car Bombs.

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Molly Moltzen is a Thrillist contributor.

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