Out and About in the Lone Star State’s Capital City
With upward of 400,000 attendees, the Austin Pride celebration is one of America’s largest, swelling Texas’ capital each August with revelers of every rainbow stripe. And it’s no wonder it’s so popular. This quirky city has long been a respite for LGBTQ travelers and offers all manner of attractions and amenities beyond its trademark daylong festival and parade, which have been central to Austin PRIDE festivities going on three decades.
Attendees will find plenty worth lingering for after Austin PRIDE — and all the associated events leading up to it, like drag-queen story times, bar crawls and movie screenings — quiets down. Make a long weekend of it by exploring the city’s urban charms, and by escaping to the surrounding Hill Country for peace and quiet (and some true Texas barbecue). Just be sure to pack your dancing shoes, or at least pick up some cowboy boots on South Congress Avenue once you arrive. You’ll be needing them.
Dip Your Toes in the Water
You may be in town for PRIDE, but Austin and its environs offer plenty of chances to get away from the crowds and soak up the Texas sun. Start with a swim at Barton Springs Pool, where locals and visitors alike flock when weather allows. A unique urban swimming hole, these hot springs aren’t exactly “hot” — they hover at a refreshing temperature year-round that is heavenly in summer. For an afternoon of hiking, Barton Creek Greenbelt offers easy trails. Begin at Zilker Metropolitan Park, a busy expanse of green where locals gather for concerts and picnics, and take the access trail, which passes by gushing streams and beautiful trees.
Head east on the oak-shaded Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail along Austin’s scenic Lady Bird Lake. You’ll eventually reach Fiesta Gardens in Edward Rendon Sr. Metro Park, which serves as the thumping heart of the PRIDE festival, playing host to entertainers, family activities, vendor booths and more. Nearby, East Cesar Chavez Street, the culinary hub of the neighborhood, beckons with bars and restaurants touting everything from vegan mole enchiladas to bacon-wrapped hot dogs topped with sesame miso.
Dance Your Way Across Downtown
Austin PRIDE’s free evening parade, held the same day as the festival, begins downtown at the State Capitol and heads down Congress Avenue to the Warehouse District. But there’s plenty more to experience off the parade route.
South Congress, the neighborhood just opposite Lady Bird Lake from the Warehouse District, is a good place to get your bearings. The hubbub is centered on South Congress, which is jampacked with local eateries, quirky shops, bars and live music venues. Browse the wares at costume-and-vintage emporium Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds, or flip through the vinyl collection at Waterloo Records, a favorite of local audiophiles since 1982. Nearby, you can explore Uncommon Objects, an antique collective full of beautiful oddities and treasures, like American Indian turquoise jewelry, vintage guitars and mounted deer antlers. And if it’s live music you’re after, check out the lineup at The Continental Club, a venue welcoming blues, rock, jazz, country and just about every other genre onto its world-famous stage.
Just across the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge — home to the largest bat population (1.5 million!) in North America, which emerges nightly just after dusk — you’ll find yourself near the terminus of the parade route: Rain on 4th, a disco-ball-shimmering dance club. Oilcan Harry’s, Austin’s oldest gay bar, is nearby. Locals have been flocking here since 1990 for stiff drinks and big-name drag queens. At Cheer Up Charlies, you can catch everything from hip-hop DJ sets to live bluegrass bands. A backyard food truck serves delicious vegetarian fare to satisfy late-night hunger pangs.
Soak Up Some Culture
It’s not all about disco balls and dive bars in Austin — there’s plenty of high-brow fun to be had too. Downtown, you’ll want to make a stop at The Contemporary Austin’s downtown gallery, Jones Center on Congress. Here, you’ll find artist-centric exhibitions and conversation-sparking events and educational programs, solely focused on contemporary artists. On the University of Texas campus, you can wander the 18,000-piece collection at the Blanton Museum of Art, home to a 252-square-meter installation by American icon Ellsworth Kelly, named, appropriately, “Austin.”
For art with more urban appeal, keep an eye out for the city’s dozens upon dozens of colorful murals, dreamed up across town by enterprising street artists. You’ll find many of these in the equally colorful South Congress area, which is an Instagrammer’s delight.
Head for the Hills
After the PRIDE festivities have died down, turn your sights on the rolling expanse of Hill Country, right on the western doorstep of Austin. Start by making your way west to Driftwood for lunch at a true Texas institution: Salt Lick BBQ. The aroma of smoky hunks of meat on the grill greet you upon walking in. Come hungry for all-you-can-eat servings of beef brisket, pork ribs, sausage and coleslaw (but be prepared to wait in line).
After lunch, continue west through the hills to Fredericksburg, a former German settlement where some locals still speak a Texas German dialect. The peaceful town is filled with ranches and wineries, which pour Rieslings and Cabernets that can often be enjoyed with live music on the lawn. While in town, sample German delicacies like almond-crusted schnitzel and pork chops with applesauce, and be sure to save some time for antique-store browsing. Then it’s back to Austin for more music and dancing.