Visiting Austin on a Budget

See the city and still afford your flight home

Zilker Park (photo by Jana Birchum)

Traveling can be expensive, but there’s plenty to do in Austin where you can make your dollar count. With these money-saving tips, you’ll be able to see the sights and leave for home with a couple souvenirs packed in your suitcase.

Spend the day at Zilker Park

Zilker Park is a massive (we’re talking 361 acres) public park that has something for everyone. Whether you want access to Lady Bird Lake or Barton Springs, enough land for the kids to run around and tire themselves out, or a place to have a picnic while overlooking Downtown Austin, Zilker Park is a great way to bask in the sunshine that won’t cost much.
Free parking Mon-Fri, $5 parking fee on the weekend

Go for a hike on the Greenbelt

One of the best perks of Austin is that you never have to look far to find nature. There are lots of ways to enter the Greenbelt, which means there are seemingly endless possibilities to spend the day without spending a cent.
Free (possible parking fees)

Swim in one of Austin’s public pools

The heat in Austin can tempt you to seek refuge in air-conditioned bars, restaurants, movie theatres, and other places where your need for comfort might overpower your wallet. Why not embrace the heat and use it as an excuse to dive into one of Austin’s 45 aquatic facilities? The natural-springs fed Barton Springs Pool, located inside Zilker Park, charges only a $5 entry fee, but there are plenty of other public pools in Austin that are free of charge.
Free to $5+

Cool off on Lady Bird Lake

Looking for another way to beat the heat? Try out Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake; renamed in 2007 in honor of LBJ’s widow), which represents a dividing line between Downtown and South Austin. Many places on the river offer affordable rentals for pedal boats, kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards. It’s a cheap way to relax, exercise, and to get the best view of the Downtown Austin skyline. Keep in mind, though: There’s no swimming in Lady Bird Lake.
Free to $5+, hour/day rental fee dependent on company

Daniel Johnston's "Hi, How Are You" mural (photo by Philip Kromer / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Check out some of Austin’s most photographable murals

Did you really go to Austin if you don’t have a distinguishable photo to geotag on social media? The most obvious answers to this dilemma are the Greetings From Austin mural on South First and the I love you so much mural on Jo’s Coffee on South Congress – both photo ops are tailor-made for your Instagram feed. Check out the East Austin area, where you can find Rhapsody, by John Yancey, a loud and colorful mosaic, or Daniel Johnston's iconic Hi, How Are You mural in West Campus. No matter where you are in the city, you’re never far from stumbling across something worthy of stopping you in your tracks.

Grab something to eat at a food truck

Austin is known for its food trucks, dishing out chow for any kind of appetite at any time of day. Want the big hitters? Try Veracruz All Natural for breakfast tacos, Arlo’s for vegan street food, or Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ for some Texas barbecue. Whatever you’re craving, someone in Austin is selling it out of a truck window. (See the Chronicle’s annual First Plates Awards for a list of Austin’s 50 best food trucks.)

Happy hour at Kinda Tropical (photo by John Anderson)

Look out for some happy hour deals

If you’re looking to forget the night but not forget your spending cap, look for happy hours in Austin’s lively restaurant and bar scene. Check out Kinda Tropical if you’re into a backyard party vibe, Better Half Coffee & Cocktails for craft cocktails, or La Condesa for agua fresca mimosas at Sunday brunch.

Try your luck at the thrift scene

Walking through the mall with arms full of paper bags brimming with cheaply made fast-fashion threads is out. Digging through $5 bins armed with your reusable shopping tote is in. Austin is a competitive thrifting town, with a large population of college students, but if you’re willing to brave the crowds, you could walk away proudly with a few choice finds (along with some scrapes and bruises). Thrift Town and Buffalo Exchange always have wide selections, but there are also smaller vintage stores worth checking out, like Lo-Fi, Never Knew, and Room Service. The prices tend to get a little steeper at the boutique vintage stores, but even if you leave empty-handed, just browsing is fun enough to get a feel for Austin’s unique style.

Soak up some culture at one of the city’s museums

If you’re in the mood for something more refined, many of Austin’s museums offer free admission on certain days or reduced prices for students, seniors, and children. The Blanton Art Museum of Art, located on the University of Texas campus, and The Contemporary Austin in Downtown Austin are both free to all visitors every Thursday. Just blocks away from the Contemporary, the Mexic-Arte Museum has free admission every Sunday. The meditative Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, located adjacent to Zilker Park, is only $7 for adults and $3 for students. If history is your thing, the Bullock Texas State History Museum offers free admission every first Sunday of the month; you can spend the cash you saved on a movie at the giant on-site IMAX screen.

For more ideas on what to do while you're visiting Austin, see our Welcome to Austin page.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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