• September 20, 2023
  • Lauren Critzer
  • 0

Charm Amidst the Unseen: Your Ultimate Guide to Austin’s Hidden Gems

Greetings, adventurous souls! If you’ve found your way here, then you’re certainly looking for an experience that deviates from the usual touristy cliches and ventures into the tucked-away delights of vibrant Austin, Texas. Channeling that local Austin spirit, I’ve crafted the ultimate guide to Austin’s hidden gems, encompassing the unique beauty, culinary delights, and engaging culture the city has to offer. Ready to dive into Austin’s uncharted territories? Here we go!

Soak in the Natural Beauty: Austin’s Underground Retreats

McKinney Falls State Park

Not too far south of Austin, you’ll find an oasis for nature enthusiasts in the form of McKinney Falls State Park. You’re sure to find your zen here amidst the following offerings:

  • Waterfall Wonders: Named after Thomas F. McKinney, a horse trader and one of Austin’s earliest colonists, the park plays host to two mesmerizing waterfalls – the Upper and Lower Falls. Whether you’re walking, biking, or swimming, you’ll be enchanted by the sight and sound of water cascading over limestone ledges.

  • Hiking Trails: McKinney Falls State Park provides an array of trails for all ages and skill levels. From the easy Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail to the more challenging Rock Shelter Trail, there’s a path perfect for you. Each meander brings unique sightings of stone overhangs, rocky pools, the ubiquitous Texas wildflowers, and even traces of ancient sea beds!

  • Wildlife encounters: You’re likely to catch sight of various beautiful creatures that call this park home. Watch deer delicately making their way through the trees, tortoises basking under the sun, and birds tweeting melodious harmonies. It’s a beautiful reminder that we share our world with an array of wonderful beings.

Bull Creek District Park

On the northwest fringes of Austin lies the gem known as Bull Creek District Park. Renowned for its lush greenery, waterfalls, and multiple recreational opportunities, this park presents a splendid retreat.

  • Waterfalls and Springs: Notable for its naturally occurring springs, the park’s swimmable creek is a sanctuary on hot Texas days. The waterfalls cascading from limestone formations make for a photogenic spot that screams tranquillity.

  • Trail explorations: Geology and botany enthusiasts will rejoice at the sight of limestone escarpments and unique local flora, including Spanish oaks, Juniper Ashe, and more. The trails guide you on an intimate journey deep into the verdant scenery.

  • Fishing and picnicking: Want a laidback day out? Grab your fishing gear or pack a picnic and settle near the babbling creek. Listen to the melodic flow of water and the chattering animals; unwind from the world’s hustle.

The Eyes of Texas are Upon You — Panoramic Views

Mount Bonnell

Mount Bonnell, also known as Covert Park, is well worth the 102-stair climb. Once at the top, there’s a feast for the eyes that you just can’t forget!

  • Spectacular Views: Regarded as the highest point in Austin, the summit at Mount Bonnell rewards you with an awe-inspiring panorama of Lake Austin, the city skyline, and the sprawling Texas Hill Country.

  • Climb History: The stone-stepped trail to the top is as historic as it is scenic. Since the 1850s, it’s drawn locals and visitors for its unparalleled views, witnessed many romantic proposals, and even inspired writers like O. Henry in his short story “The Higher Abdication”.

  • Picnics and Sunset spot: A favorite among Austin residents for sunset soirees, ascend at dusk to catch the glorious spectacle of the sun sinking over the lake, splashing the sky with vibrant hues. For the perfect evening, pack a picnic and make memories under the twilight.

Austin 360 Overlook

The sheer rock cliff at the Austin 360 Overlook (Pennybacker Bridge Overlook) offers an enchanting panorama steeped in natural beauty.

  • Bridge and Lake Views: The outlook vantage point presents an arresting view of the Pennybacker Bridge, an Austin icon notable for never touching Lake Austin’s waters—crossing it via the unusual suspension design leads photographers into an aesthetic delight.

  • Photographer’s Paradise: There’s no exact science to calculate the number of photos snapped from this point, but rest assured, they are plentiful. The overlook unfolds views that make it a favorite among amateur shutterbugs and experienced photographers alike.

  • Zen out spot: Bring your yoga mat and clear your thoughts to the soundtrack of gentle breezes, chirping birds, and mesmerizing vistas. It’s a serene setting for some inspiring meditation or relaxing outdoor yoga.

Eateries with a Twist — Unique Food Haunts

Carousel Lounge

Looking for a quirky, unique spot to enjoy quiet drinks with a live music underscore? Welcome to Austin’s Carousel Lounge! Here’s what awaits:

  • Quirky Ambiance: The bar’s decor provides a unique theme inspired by the circus complete with a carousel horse, colorful murals, and of course, a peanut-shells-on-the-floor policy. Get ready for an eccentric yet entertaining experience.

  • Live Music Scene: Carousel Lounge is known for hosting several local bands across diverse genres, giving you a taste of Austin’s vibrant music scene in an intimate setting.

  • Interesting Cocktails: Remember to try their distinctive carousel-styled cocktail glasses filled with delicious concoctions—the glowing reviews of the Pink Elephant (vodka, cranberry, soda) are a must-try!

The Soup Peddler

An Austin original, The Soup Peddler is the city’s beloved one-stop-shop for a comforting bowl of soup.

  • Rotating Menu: The enticing aspect? Their menu is never the same two days in a row! With a rotating list of gourmet soups to choose from, you’ll always find something new to satisfy your taste buds.

  • Local Produce: With a commitment to locality and purity, every ingredient in your bowl is sourced from surrounding farms, thereby supporting local businesses and ensuring a high-quality meal.

  • Homely Atmosphere: The Soup Peddler exudes a warm, cozy atmosphere. From the friendly staff to the mismatched furniture, it’s like stepping into a comforting kitchen away from home.

Arts and Culture — Beyond the Conventional

Cathedral of Junk

The towering, multi-storied structure mischievously hidden behind a house in a quiet suburban neighborhood known as The Cathedral of Junk calls out to the passionate art-lover in you.

  • Artistic Peculiarity: Made from 60 tons of discarded items like bike parts, kitchen utensils, car parts, and dolls, the structure stands as a testament to one man’s artistic vision and years of hard work. It’s art, marvel, wonder, and an eco-friendly stance—all rolled into one!

  • Hidden Charm: Gradually gaining a cult following, this fanciful spot has been a backdrop for weddings, photo shoots, and even intimate concerts. Its whimsical appeal draws in art and architecture aficionados.

  • Visit by appointment: The humble mastermind behind this artistic insanity, Vince, kindly opens by appointment. It’s best to call ahead and arrange a visit, and maybe even enjoy a lovely chat with Vince himself!

HOPE Outdoor Gallery

Tomorrow may present you with a whole new set of artworks when you visit the H.O.P.E Outdoor Gallery, thanks to the community-oriented spirit of Austin.

  • Community Canvas: HOPE is a testament to Austin’s love for arts, creativity, and community engagement. It’s a paint park where locals, tourists, and students collaborate to create beautiful graffiti, street art, murals, and much more.

  • Evolving Murals: No visit to HOPE is the same. As you stroll through the gallery, you’ll encounter fresh murals every time, the vivid colors and ideas breathing life into the concrete canvas.

  • Participate in Events: HOPE is not just a gallery; it’s also a vibrant venue for art events, from live paintings to concerts. Stay updated with their events calendar to not miss out!

Oh, time flies! We’ve already explored Austin’s best-kept secrets—a blend of nature, views, food, and culture.

Lauren Critzer

I was born in Charlottesville, Virginia and after college, I moved to San Francisco to explore new opportunities and broaden my horizons. I fell in love with the city's vibrant culture and unique atmosphere, but eventually, I moved again, this time to Austin, Texas.

As much as I loved living in different parts of the country, having a baby boy brought me back to my hometown in Charlottesville, where I now live with my husband, our little one, and two furry friends. I enjoy going to wineries, taking my pups everywhere, and spending quality time with my family.

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