Austin, Texas is famous for live music and refreshing swimming holes — it’s an urban world that boasts vibrant nightlife and spectacular nature areas. The Blanton Museum of Art, The White Horse Bar, and Barton Springs are popular attractions in Austin. On the other hand, the city is also home to hidden gems that cover everything from great little-known eateries to practically hidden pools and hiking trails. After getting settled into your Austin vacation rental, venture out to explore these incredible secret spots.

1. Hamilton Pool

hamilton pool
Source: Wikimedia Commons

While Barton Springs Pool and Deep Eddy Pool are packed with tourists, Hamilton Pool, a few miles west of Austin, is all about the solitude. This pool, which cuts into the rock to form a secret cove has waterfalls, beaches, and one-on-one time with nature. There are even some vacation rentals nearby for easy access. Be sure to make a reservation to visit and swim in the pool from January through October. November and December require only weekend reservations. After cooling off, visit Milton Reimers Ranch Park and Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center, both of which are nearby.

2. Habañero Mexican Cafe

food served at the habanero mexican cafe
Source: habanerocafe.com

If you want to try some of the state’s best Tex Mex sans the crowds, do so now; it’s only a matter of time before this hole-in-the-wall eatery becomes a major city sensation. Try the nachos habanero, which includes chili con queso, fajita meat, beans, and all the heat you can handle. If you’re torn between the taco and enchiladas, opt for the combo meal. Other unique offers are grilled catfish ranchero, lengua, and chicharrones. This eatery only takes cash, though, so come prepared (or use the ATM inside).

3. Cathedral of Junk

cathedral of junk
Source: Flickr/That Other Paper

The Cathedral of Junk isn’t just any backyard filled with odd ends, trash that hasn’t made it yet to the dump, and old parts; it’s a veritable castle created from found items over the past 30 years. This behemoth, totaling about 60 tons of stuff, is perhaps Austin’s strangest work of art. There are several rooms and levels to explore. Just make sure to call ahead for a tour, offer a modest donation, and don’t try to add on to what is an individual work of art. Because this spot is located in a neighborhood in south Austin, you can find a vacation rental nearby and avoid the busyness of the downtown area.

Find the perfect Austin vacation rental on Tripping.com. Tripping.com is the world's #1 vacation rental search engine with over 10 million properties!

4. Midway Food Park

the midway
Source: themidwayfoodpark.com

Get a large variety of good food without feeling crowded at the Midway Food Park, a place where food trucks congregate. Located just southwest of the downtown area, the park offers picnic tables, live music, and a playground for the kiddies, a good way to relax after spending time exploring the Barton Creek Wilderness Park, only a stone’s throw away. Some of the food trucks include Dock and Roll with amazing lobster rolls, Beirut Lebanese Food, Taconmaye, and Cheesecake Experience. You can order what you want while enjoying plenty of kid-friendly choices.

5. Poodie’s Hilltop Roadhouse

poodies roadhouse
Source: poodies.net

Poodie’s Hilltop Roadhouse combines three of Austin’s favorite things: food, drinks, and live country music. Located 30 minutes west of downtown Austin, not far from Hamilton Pool, it’s not at the center of the action, so this eatery is often overlooked. Fortunately for you, this means you might hear some famous country singers croon their stuff; Toby Keith and Willie Nelson have both been known to perform here. There’s an open-mic series on Wednesdays for country music hopefuls. If the live music isn’t enough, then make room for the famous Poodie burger with pepper jack cheese and grilled green chiles or the shrimp po-boy, always a good choice. There’s even a kid’s menu available, making it a great night for the entire family.

6. Mayfield Park

mayfield park
Source: Wikimedia Commons

There are a handful of popular parks in Austin which draw out the crowds, but Mayfield Park isn’t one of them. Located by the Colorado River in Austin’s northwest residential neighborhoods, it’s a popular place for locals to visit. Take a stroll through the park’s extensive walking trails that wind through the trees, then take a look at the Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Garden. Most importantly, keep your eyes peeled for the peacocks that roam freely.

7. Wild Basin Preserve

wild basin trail bridge
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Wild Basin Preserve is surrounded by the Barton Creek Habitat Preserve, Barton Creek Wilderness Park and Greenbelt, and the Emma Long Metropolitan Park, so this relatively tiny park at 227 acres is not the popular choice, giving you plenty of freedom. This wild preserve lives up to its name with thick, tangled woods, streaming waterfalls and ponds, and challenging hiking trails. Several vacation rentals lie on the border of the preserve; wake up every morning for a hike in the woods before heading out to other activities.

8. Toy Joy

toy joy
Source: toyjoy.com

Visitors don’t go to Austin for the toys, but they should, because Toy Joy might be the best toy store in the world. The nostalgic items and modern selection make it a great place for both kids and adults. Pick out something to remember your vacation, or just play on the premises to your heart’s content. After, head down the block to the greenways lying along both sides of the Colorado River.

9. Balcones Canyonland Preserve

balcones canyonlands
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Northwest of Austin and North of Lake Travis is the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. Since it’s more than a half hour from the city, most tourists opt to stay closer to central Austin, but those who get a vacation rental out here have 3,000 acres of wilderness to themselves. Hiking and birding are favorite activities here; keep an eye out for the rare golden-cheeked warbler recognizable by its bright yellow face. The hikes take you through grasslands and stands of low-growing oak to old growth forests and rolling hills, a breath of fresh air with urban life just miles away.

 
Ready to go?  Check out these amazing Austin vacation rentals on Tripping.com.