7 Unique things to do in Downtown Austin

by Paul Joseph  |  Published March 15, 2018

Don’t be fooled by downtown Austin’s laid-back vibe – the city’s central business district on the north bank of the Colorado River rarely slows down for long. By day, sharp-suited business folk amble between its capitol building, condominium complexes and swish banks. But when the laptops are shut and office doors locked, a fresh energy envelopes the area thanks to the numerous bars clubs and music venues mainly dotted along 6th street. Meanwhile art galleries, fashion boutiques and record stores add to the neighbourhood’s sophisticated ambience.

Downtown Austin by night (Photo: Leon Bovenkerk via Flickr)

Whatever your recreational predilections, there’s sure to be something to suit your tastes in downtown Austin. And if you’re the type that likes to eschew the usual in favour of the less conventional, there are also plenty of unique things to see and do here. To give you a flavour, we’ve picked out 7 of the best.

1. Esther’s Follies

For a unique entertainment experience in Austin, this modern-day vaudeville theatre is hard to beat. The venue has been captivating sold-out audiences for over four decades with its diverse performances spanning everything from political satire and comedy sketches to Vegas-style magic and musical numbers. One of the most original aspects of the theatre is that the windows on its back-wall face out to the perpetually busy 6th Street, allowing performers to improvise with – and invariably poke fun at – those gathered outside.

LOCATION 525 East 6th Street HOURS Thurs 8pm-9.30pm Fri-Sat 8pm-11.30pm Closed Sun-Wed

Esther’s Follies

The sign above the entrance to Esther’s Follies vaudeville theatre (Photo: Dennis via Flickr)

2. Container Bar

What once comprised no more than a handful of old houses converted into bars has today grown into a full-blown entertainment district on the south-eastern edge of downtown. Perhaps the most unusual venue to be found here is the hip and happening Container Bar on vibrant Rainey Street, which has been ingeniously constructed out of recycled shipping containers. The containers are two stories in height and arranged to create a courtyard space with a bar in the middle, and an upper deck with outdoor seating. As for the entertainment, there’s drinks, DJs and disco music aplenty.

LOCATION 90 Rainey Street HOURS Mon-Thurs 4pm-2am Fri 2pm-2am Sat-Sun 12pm-2am

3. Join a Downtown Austin Tour

Austin has enough attractions to make planning an itinerary for your stay a daunting proposition. One way to avoid the fear that you’ve missed out on something special is to join a city tour – and for this you should contact Austin Detours, a family-run business that offers a huge variety of themed tours and experiences for individuals and groups of any number, including evening tours, food and drink tours, music tours, art tours and history tours. Combining visits to Austin’s most well-known sites as well as its more offbeat side, tours are hosted by people who are part of the fabric of the city, including local artists, musicians, foodies, writers and actors, all of whom will regale you with fascinating facts, stories and insights to take away with you.

Austin Detours

Guests pose for a photo during a tour of Downtown Austin (Photo: Austin Detours)

4. Euphoria Festival

Founded in 2012, Euphoria is a unique event on Austin’s cultural calendar, drawing tens of thousands of music lovers from far and wide. This year’s festival is part of a new series concept called Finding Euphoria that includes shows in Austin throughout the year, as well as community events like yoga, group dinner and movie night, all designed to promote sustainability and the Great Outdoors. As for the festival itself, the focus is on electronic music, but there’s also hip hop, indie, and jam band artists too, along with art installations, live painting and a variety of workshops. Also new for 2018, car camping will be available to festival-goers, as well as traditional camping.

LOCATION Carson Creek Ranch DATES 11-13 May

Euphoria Festival

Dazzling lights engulf the audience at a previous edition of Euphoria Festival (Photo: Euphoria Festival)

5. Swing Dance at The Fed

Once a week, the stylish hardwood floor of the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs Mansion (AKA The Fed) is taken over by the hopping, swinging and spinning of feet. The owners of these twinkle-toes are the Austin Swing Syndicate, an interactive dance class that offers both novice and expert dancers the chance to strut their stuff in a fun and friendly atmosphere. The dance community here opens its arms warmly to newcomers, and few dance halls anywhere in America feel quite as regal. Meanwhile side rooms host a rotating schedule of blues, blues, balboa, west coast swing, and soul music.

LOCATION 2312 San Gabriel Street HOURS Every Thurs 8pm-11.59pm

6. Kerrville Folk Festival

The Kerrville Folk Festival is a magical, transformational experience. What makes this so? Some say love, music that speaks to the heart, and some say it’s a world of its own. Attendees come from 40 states, and several foreign countries. Upon arrival, everyone is greeted with, “Welcome Home”, where life is simpler, kinder, and musical. Songwriters are booked to play and many past performers just return for the experience. Sometimes you may recognise the artist on stage as one you heard at a campground song circle the night before.

LOCATION Quiet Valley Ranch DATES 24 May- 10 June WEBSITE www.KerrvilleFolkFestival.org

Kerrville Folk Festival

Ellis Paul, a former Grassy Hill New Folk Winner, performing during a previous edition of the Kerrville Folk Festival (Photo: Kerrville Folk Festival)

7. Austin Ice Cream Festival

The 12th Annual Austin Ice Cream Festival will be more dynamic than ever before as there will be two unique events including a daytime, family-focused festival with delicious frozen treats from local and national brands, as well as contests, fun activities, live entertainment, local food trucks and more. As the sun sets, Fiesta Gardens will transform into After Dark at Austin’s Ice Cream Festival, a trendy party with headlining live music, frozen treat vendors, boozy frozen drinks and Austin’s favorite food trucks. There will be various ticket options available for purchase on May 16 at www.austinicecreamfestival.com.

LOCATION Fiesta Garden along Lady Bird Lake DATES 23 June

Austin Ice Cream Festival

The bar at Cedar Street Courtyard (Photo: Austin Ice Cream Festival)