Austin is known for its live music scene and festivals like South by Southwest, but what about its other side? If you’re looking for a quiet and relaxing approach to Austin, then check out these 5 recommendations of places to visit.

I had the chance to visit Austin for the first time with my husband and see it through the eyes of a New Yorker looking for a slow-paced way to connect with a new city. Imagine the kind of strolling that you do when you have all the time in the world and you don’t need to run to the next event or prepare for your morning deadline — that was my goal for this trip.

Whenever I travel, I like to use my senses — sight, taste, hearing, touch, and smell — to experience a new city. It gets you present to what’s going on right in front of you and enhances that moment.

Try out these fun ideas the next time you’re in the capital of Texas.

  1. Shop for curiosities along South Congress Avenue.

With numerous shops and places to eat along this central road, you can easily spend hours sifting through antiques, colorful handcrafted pieces, and used books before grabbing a taco or a burger.

Shopping along South Congress Avenue
Shopping along South Congress Avenue

Use your visual senses to take in something new at every turn at Uncommon Objects, a never-ending store filled with antiques and odd objects, some of which are grouped by color.

Uncommon Objects
Perusing hundreds of antiques and unique finds at Uncommon Objects.

 

Red
Fancy something red?

Each display offers something completely new and curious to your eyes and sense of touch.

You might not want to use your sense of touch with this one.
You might not want to use your sense of touch with this one.

At South Congress Books, you can find first edition and collectible books on every topic imaginable.

South Congress Books

Find a unique pair of used ostrich-leather cowboy boots like these that my husband found at Off The Wall. We spoke to the shopkeeper who ended up being from North Dakota, one of the many Austin transplants from out of town.

Cowboy boots

2. Visit the Cathedral of Junk.

Get ready to be wowed by this one. As a lover of antiques, I knew I had to go there when I first saw this online. Vince Hannemann started building this literal cathedral in his suburban backyard out of random found objects since 1988.

It has multiple stories that you can explore up spiral staircases, a labyrinth of open-air rooms, and a soaring main room that just looks like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie (you know, when nature has overtaken what’s left of the buildings that humanity’s left behind.)

Built entirely with found objects, this cathedral has multiple rooms and staircases to upper stories.
Built entirely with found objects, this cathedral has multiple rooms and staircases to upper stories.

All of this is rigged and wired together so well that even the City of Austin left it alone after neighbors apparently tried to get it taken down. Somehow, it’s structurally sound.

With CDs hanging everywhere, creating mini rainbows every time they reflected the sunlight, the cathedral created an uplifting sense of peace. Other visitors quietly walked through, examining each curious object and wondering how everything all came together.

It's a beautiful sight to see soaring ceilings, stained glass, and leaves.
It’s a beautiful sight to see soaring ceilings, stained glass, and leaves.

Marvel at the ingenuity as you go up the different sets of stairs that are made out of old tires and concrete. You may want to hold your breath as you gingerly walk along the roof-line and stare down over the side.

The stairs themselves are made out of junk and are surprisingly sturdy.
The stairs themselves are made out of junk and are surprisingly sturdy.
Everywhere you look, you can find inspiration.
Everywhere you look, you can find inspiration.

Visiting the Cathedral of Junk (4422 Lareina Drive) is by appointment only, so keep trying to get through to Vince Hannemann at (512) 299-7413 to set up a time. It’s a $10 per group donation.

3. Walk along the riverfront at Zilker Park.

If you’re a fan of beautiful scenery or public parks, then take a stroll along the riverfront to the Barton Springs Pool and Zilker Park. You’ll see many people running, biking and walking their dogs along this trail. Stop every so often to take in the juxtaposition of nature and man-made architecture.

Riverfront

Reflecting along the river.

The magic hour of long shadows and sunshine made this walk even more serene.

People run, bike and stroll along the waterfront.
People run, bike and stroll along the waterfront.

4. Watch the thousands of wild bats emerge.

Watch the sunset along Congress Avenue Bridge to see the nightly whirling and flight of the resident bats. We waited until after sunset to see and hear swarms of bats flying and chirping in the night. I couldn’t capture them with my camera in the dark, but it felt like the ground was moving when thousands of bats swirled effortlessly right underfoot.

People line up along the bridge waiting for the bats to emerge.
People line up along the bridge waiting for the bats to emerge.

5. Dance the night away at the beautiful Wild Onion Ranch.

Take a drive a few miles south of downtown Austin to enjoy the Texan sunset while dancing the night away. If you get a chance to attend a wedding or special event there, the Wild Onion Ranch is a feast for the eyes with its beautiful grounds and free-range long-horned steer that you can see right up close.

Wild Onion RanchLonghorn

 

So, take a break and remember to find the quiet side of the city the next time you travel. Let me know how it goes!

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