Take It Like a Tourist: Austin Nightlife

Take it Like a Tourist

You live in the great city of Austin. Surely you have friends and family who constantly want to visit you so they can hang out with all the cool people. In case you need some fresh ideas about taking on the city as tourists, we’ve created this nifty Take It Like a Tourist series to help you out. So, we might write about packing up the family to check out a swimming hole, taking part in a tour or checking out a nearby resort for a staycation. Here’s to exploring the best city around!

Admit it. Once you’ve got your PJs on, there is really no reason to get out. Wow, my pillow sure is comfy. Perhaps I should get a head start on all that laundry that’s been piling up the last few days. And I can catch up on all my shows…

As parents, and particularly when we have itty bitty ones, we certainly expend so much of our energy during the day that it’s hard to drag us out at night. So, what happens when your college roommate comes into town for the weekend? Or, when that former work colleague emails to say she has never been to Austin and would love to hang out one night? “I haven’t been out for months….make that years!” you might lament to your partner. If you have spent so many weekend nights at Target that you have no idea where to start, here are some ideas:

Dance at the Broken Spoke

Despite the fact that, like the Mean Eyed Cat, the Spoke is being surrounded by a new development, this old-time dance hall stands as a testament to old-time Austin. On Tuesday through Saturday nights, bands grace the stage where the likes of Willie Nelson and George Strait once played (you can check the “Tourist Trap Room” in the restaurant area for photographic proof). You can arrive early and play pool or shuffleboard or see if you think the Spoke really has the best chicken fried steak, or just head there to see some adorable couples slide across the dance floor (or get your boot scoot on yourself). And don’t worry if you never learned to dance: on Wednesdays through Saturdays, lessons are given from 8-9pm.

Bar Hop on East Sixth Street


Years ago, Sixth Street was where all the bars were located in Austin, east of Congress and west of IH-35. As downtown expanded, this area gained the nickname “Dirty Sixth” as it became frequented by mostly college kids and the Warehouse District on Second and Third Streets, west of Congress was the place to be if you were in your 20s and 30s. Now, East Sixth has emerged as a fun place to go where parking is easier, you can walk from one bar to the next and things are pretty casual, which is nice if you look in your closet and realize you no longer have anything to wear to go out. If you want to grab some dinner first, Takoba (technically, on 7th, but close) has good food and drinks. If you have a real foodie on your hands, you could see if Qui is worth the wait (they don’t take reservations at this time). Some of the bars you might want to hit include Yellow Jacket Social Club, Rio Rita, The Liberty, Scoot Inn, Hotel Vegas/Volstead Lounge and the White Horse. You are guaranteed great people watching and I promise you won’t feel like the oldest one at any of these fine establishments.

Listen to some live music

Yes, it’s loud, and yes, it’s late, but if you can fit in a visit to hear some live music, as you know, it’s happening all across town, seven nights a week. You can check out the Chronicle’s music listings to get you started, and they usually recommend one show each night, so you can get some more information on who is playing, if you don’t feel like Googling band names. Some other places where you can get a slice of Austin along with a side of music are the Carousel Lounge, Cedar Street, Club de Ville, Donn’s Depot, the Elephant Room and the Saxon Pub. You can also visit Stubb’s for bigger shows, or even bring the fam along for Gospel Brunch on Sundays.

See the bats

Yes, bars are certainly not for everyone. It might be hard to find a band to agree upon. Not a fan of dancing? Have you ever watched the bats come out? If not, depending on the night, you might get a chance to see a few hundred of the estimated 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats which live under the Congress Avenue bridge and emerge to find some dinner. Luckily, we have a Bat Hotline (512-327-9721) which will tell you the latest flight times and there is a large area next to the Austin American-Statesman building where you can sit to watch the bats come out. Another option is to book a Bat Sightseeing Tour from Capital Cruises or a Bat Watching Cruise from Lonestar Riverboat. You can even take a canoe tour! If you want to eat beforehand closeby, you can dine at Threadgills on Riverside, where there is lots of music memorabilia and some tasty comfort food.


Want to avoid downtown? There are a few other spots which have fun ways to pass the time. You could do Adult Skate on Tuesday nights at Playland Skate Center or get in a game of bowling at the Goodnight. Late night Blazer Tag games are discounted on Fridays and Saturdays. You can even participate in Karaoke Underground, which is geared towards folks who like to belt out tunes which aren’t on the pop charts. If your guests prefer to watch instead of participate, you can see if there are any UT games on tap, or catch a game of the Austin Aztex, Round Rock Express, or watch a roller derby bout (flat track or banked). You might even be able to take in a flick by seeing if there is a Girlie Night at the Alamo while you have friends in town (if they are girlfriends). Lastly, did you realize Barton Springs is free between 9 and 10pm every night? That’s the ultimate tourist attraction, but a totally different (and very cool…literally and figuratively) way to experience the heart of Austin.

Eat your way through town

Although I have already scattered restaurant suggestions throughout the post, you could go on a culinary tour, just hitting the trailers throughout the night. You can download the Austin Food Carts app or just check out Yelp. Of course, you might need to make a pilgrimage down to Salt Lick for BBQ, get some ice cream at Amy’s or have a breakfast taco at Tacodeli, but at least the family can join you for that part.

Any other places you like to take out-of-towners?

About Nicole Basham 793 Articles
A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 10-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau's words, her mission is to "suck out all the marrow of life", or in her son's words, to cultivate in him a love of "advenchers".

1 Comment on Take It Like a Tourist: Austin Nightlife

Comments are closed.