Help keep Austin weird without breaking the bank.
In this new monthly series, we’ll teach you how to maximize your vacation budget and visit your favorite cities for less than a typical weekend at home. We’ll furnish a two-day itinerary of free and insanely cheap things to do and places to eat, but how you get there and where you stay is up to you. With variable pricing based on travel dates, to find discount accommodation, consider all options from hostels and hotels to b&bs. To score the best flight deals, always compare multiple booking sites, try different airline combinations, and be as flexible as you can with your plans.
As the capital of Texas and the new capital of cool, Austin has become a mecca for weekend warriors in search of an easy getaway in the United States. An eclectic “choose your own adventure” destination, Austin has plenty to offer any type of traveler, from music lovers to boozehounds. For the budget travelers especially, though, the options are seemingly endless. Since you’re in a college town, do as the college students do—amuse yourself for cheap.
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Breakfast: Juan in a Million
Breakfast tacos? Yes, please. Cheap breakfast tacos? Even better. Juan in a Million has been serving up some of the best hangover food in Austin for three decades. Whether you had a rough night or a late morning, their tacos will put a little pep in your step. Allegedly filling enough to feed a family of four, there’s an ongoing competition to see who can put away the most in one sitting. The current record is nine, although Man v. Food could only muster four.
Morning Activity: Tour East Sixth Street
The city’s main vein, Sixth Street is the heart and soul of Austin’s entertainment district. Unofficially divided into three parts–East, West, and Dirty Sixth (the rowdy section if you will)–you can wander each to get a feel for its vibe or head right to East Sixth. What has become one the city’s hippest neighborhoods and hipster enclaves, the area is home to several dive bars (longtime establishments like Shangri-La and The Liberty are a guaranteed good time) and newer spots like Hops and Grain Brewing and Whisler’s who are starting to make a name for themselves.
Lunch: The Picnic – Food Truck Park
Austin boasts the fastest-growing food truck scene in the U.S. with over 1,000 wheeled eateries patrolling the city at any given time. Food truck parks are a great way to score cheap eats and try a few bites at once. As one of the best downtown, the Picnic’s vendors dish up everything from gumbo to ice cream. If you’re on a health kick or are just feeling hipster, the acai bowls from Acai Hut are surprisingly the most reasonably priced option, with fruit-filled granola creations just $4.95.
Afternoon Activity: Hike Mount Bonnell & See the Bats
Mount Bonnell is the highest point in Austin, which offers one of the best views of the river and city. More of an overlook than a hike, the short 0.3-miles up 100+ stairs make sure you earned that landscape. It’s a popular spot at sunset, which is conveniently right around when the bats come out. March through early fall, crowds gather on the Congress Avenue Bridge to witness the largest colony of urban bats in America take flight. As 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats ascend in unison, it’s a phenomenon you truly have to see to believe.
Dinner: Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken
Cost: Plates start at $6.95
When in the South, do as the Southerners do. A Memphis tradition that’s made its way across the country, Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken is regularly voted one of the best fried chicken joints in America. Known for its crispy, fried, spicy skin, plates include chicken, baked beans, slaw, and white bread for a hearty supper.
Honky Tonk Badonkadonk: Get Your Groove On
With more venues per capita than any other city, Austin’s the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World®. And you don’t have to wait until ACL or SXSW to catch a show. You can find up-and-coming artists performing at local restaurants and bars almost any day of the week. One of the favorite watering holes is Broken Spoke, a traditional Texas dancehall with live music and dance lessons. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to two-step, this is the place to do it.
Breakfast: The Omelettry
An old-fashioned, family-run joint, The Omelettry has been a staple of the community since the ‘70s. Regularly voted one of the best breakfasts in Austin, their “eggonomical” plate includes two eggs, bacon or sausage, and your choice of pancakes (buttermilk or their famous gingerbread), toast, beans, fruit, cottage cheese, or home fries.
Morning Activity: Make a DIY Mural Crawl
From the postcard-perfect “Greetings from Austin” to “You’re My Butter Half” and the “I Love You So Much” wall, Austin’s murals have been memorialized by many on Instagram. They are spread around the city, but your best bet is to head to South Congress or downtown. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can also rent a Lime scooter to explore, which costs just $1 to unlock and 15 cents a minute.
Lunch: Ng Café
A bahn mi shop with a cult following, Ng Café is a no-frills, Vietnamese and Thai lunch spot that used to serve sandwiches out of the back of a supermarket. They’ve since upgraded to a strip mall, with the same enticing, fresh-baked baguettes made from scratch daily. Choose from pork, chicken, tofu, or meatloaf and pate, and add the salad bar for just $2 extra.
Afternoon Activity: Hit the Local Watering Hole – Barton Springs
You know the saying, “The bigger the hair, the closer to god?” Texas humidity is no joke and swimming holes are a major part of the local culture. The crown jewel of Zilker Park, Barton Springs is fed by underground spring water that maintains an average temperature of 68-70 degrees F, perfect for splashing around any time of the year. It’s also a federally protected habitat and home to the endangered Barton Springs Salamander.
Dinner: Dirty Martin’s Place
An institution since 1926, Dirty Martin’s (formerly “Martin’s KumBak”) is known city-wide for its classic cheeseburgers, fries, and milkshakes. What used to be an eight-seat drive-in with carhops has since expanded into a real sit-down restaurant but is still Austin’s original and most beloved greasy spoon. A standard burger and fries will set you back just eight bucks, but they also offer more bougie options like truffle tots and black bean burgers these days.
After Dinner: Do Your Part to Help Keep Austin Weird
Cost: $2 per bingo ticket
Your classic honky-tonk with a twist. Every Sunday from 4-8 pm, the Little Longhorn Saloon has lines out the door for Chicken Shit Bingo. The game is as straightforward as it sounds. A chicken is placed on a giant bingo board, while people bet where it will do its business. If it poops in your square…well, you win.