A Longhorn’s Guide to Austin


It’s Friday afternoon and you’re wondering where the weekend will take you. You look down at your phone, and a friend says “let’s get lunch and see a concert this tonight!” All of your friends are in, but when you check your bank account, you know you can’t afford to go. Never fear—here’s a list of fun things to do in Austin when your pockets are empty. Just because you have a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time!

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The Barton Creek Greenbelt is a hiking trail that winds 7 miles through the green hills of Austin. The greenbelt is the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon with friends. When planning our day we used this guide to help us choose between the various access points. My favorite is the Spyglass access point, which is conveniently located across the street from Taco Deli and a corner store full of snacks. Pack waters, a speaker for music, hats, towels, and spend the day hiking and swimming! There are countless places to swim in the green belt- you can even start at the trail head and float the whole thing- but it’s best to swim a few days after it rains so it’s deep enough to swim everywhere. At the Spyglass entrance, walk down and take a left at the creek and you will find a beautiful rock to jump off of; walk down and take a right at the creek and you will see a rope swing! Needless to say there are many opportunities to spend no money and have a great day at the Greenbelt.

Dance Across Texas’ Dance and Poker Nights

Invite your friends to a free poker and two step dance night courtesy of Dance Across Texas. The poker tournament begins at 7:15 and is free to play. There is a $100 cash prize so you might be able to buy your friends some drinks if you are lucky! Free line dance lessons begin at 8:30 so don’t forget your cowboy boots. Check their website and Facebook page for details about upcoming events. Dance Across Texas also hosts College Night on Thursdays. Bring your student ID and enjoy free entry, discounted drinks, and lots of two-stepping with your friends.

Mount Bonnell

The best sunset view in town is from the highest point in Austin, Mount Bonnell. Drive north down Guadalupe St. and take a left on 35th to avoid traffic, and you’ll arrive at 3800 Mount Bonnell Road, where you can hike and enjoy beautiful panoramic views of Lake Austin. I recommend getting there at least an hour before sunset so you can find a good spot to sit and beat the crowd that will arrive just as the sun is starting to go down. I recommend bringing a blanket, a speaker for music, snacks and drinks so you can spend a few hours enjoying the view. Mount Bonnell is a great place to read and tan during the day, just make sure to lock your car and bring your valuables up the stone stairs (which are a great work out!). Mount Bonnell is dog friendly and a great free photo-op.

 Follow @whenwherewhataustin on Instagram

whenwherewhataustin announces free or discounted events at restaurants, bars, music venues, and much more around Austin. Recently my friends and I spent a great night watching a free screening of Dazed and Confused because I saw it posted on the app. Last week the Instagram account announced a free wine tasting at Italic downtown. The account also posts about events with big DJs that often offer free liquor and drinks. Follow @whenwherewhataustin to be updated on the latest free events around Austin, and check the account frequently so you won’t miss a free activity for you and your friends.

The Blanton Museum of Art

The Blanton is a wonderful museum on campus with a beautiful permanent collection of art that has recently doubled in size. The new renovations highlight the Blanton’s vast collection, including art of the Ancient and Spanish Americans and Native American art. The Blanton also features rotations of collections from around the world. Just bring your UT student ID and get in for free! Last fall, I saw a very cool Andy Warhol exhibit (for free) that I had been waiting months to see. Check the Blanton’s website to see what exhibitions are on display and for how long.

 Lake Austin

Campus is ten minutes from beautiful Lake Austin, where you can spend a nice day relaxing on the boat. It’s important to have a local friend to show you around, and lots of kids from Austin have access to boats. You don’t need to spend any money to have a great day- just enjoy the sun and refreshing lake water. If you don’t have a friend from Austin and you constantly find yourself without money, get a job on the lake! Executive Water Sports runs a wake boarding summer camp, and counselors are in charge of driving the boats. This will boost your bank account, and you’ll be able to take your friends on the lake!

Zilker Park

Friends wanting to brunch but you don’t have money? Suggest a picnic at Zilker Park—not only will you get to enjoy the the vast green space and sunshine, there are dogs everywhere! Pack a blanket, snacks, and some water, and you’ll be sure to make a few canine friends while you’re there. Parking is available on Stratford Drive, but on busy weekends, check out the map for more options.

During the summer Blues on the Green hosts free concerts at Zilker Park. Check the website for the schedule (to be released soon), which has previously featured acts such as Gary Clark Jr., Los Lonely Boys, and Wild Child. To secure a good spot, I recommend getting there an hour before the concert starts, but if you arrive late, the views of the stage and crowd from the top of the hill are great too. Blues on the Green is a great, free way to spend a summer night with friends.

Around Christmas time, Zilker glows as the Trail of Lights winds around the park. In the middle of the trail of bright lights is a giant 155-ft tall Christmas Tree, and the tree lighting ceremony features food and live music. The Trail of Lights begins closing its gates around 10 p.m. so I would recommend going around 9 p.m to avoid the crowds. As you can see, Zilker has an abundance of free activities to entertain when pockets are empty.

Other ideas…

Graffiti Park

Gregory Gym

Yoga on Whole Foods rooftop plaza

365 Things Austin‘s calendar of daily activities

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