Did you know that Austin is the original weird city? (Yes, Boulder Colorado is weird, but Austin is…well, weirder. More weird. Whatever.) There’s even a “Keep Austin Weird” campaign, complete with bumper stickers, t-shirts, and books, as well as a weird museum. After spending some quality time in Austin, I have a lot to say. Today, we tackle first things first: the weird stuff.
Here are the most weird things to do in Austin. Warning: this article is probably not suitable for minors. Consider yourself warned.
Get a Tattoo
Austin has the most tattoo shops per capita than anywhere else in the world. I saw a lot of tattoos, but not an obscene amount. Which begs question: where exactly are people getting these tattoos? Don’t answer that. The bulk of the parlours can be found in South Austin (which even has its own culture club), but these shops are dotted along pretty much every side street throughout town. Brave people will actually get a tattoo and mark this item complete on your weird things to do in Austin checklist, but just checking out the colourful shops will also suit just fine.
Visit the Cathedral of Junk
One of the real highlights of my entire tip was checking out the Cathedral of Junk. The cathedral was built by Vince Hannemann, an Austin local whom I actually got to meet (and in fact, I found him quite personable and not all that weird). Vince wouldn’t say what the future holds for the cathedral but didn’t rule out expansion. Hard to believe it being bigger – you actually can climb upstairs, and there are several various rooms and enclaves to check out. The structure reminded me a lot of the The Watts Towers in Los Angeles, but instead of mosaic patterns, the cathedral is more a conglomerate of whole pieces of… well, junk.
(Editor’s Note: The owner of the cathedral has been asked by the city to cut back on the junk. At this time, it is unclear if it will end up closing for good.)
Watch the Bats
Despite staying at the Embassy Suites, a fabulous hotel right off of the Congress Avenue bridge, I didn’t get to see the bats as it was out of season. No, not in season like they are a delicate fruit, but just that it wasn’t warm enough in Austin for them to come and hang out. But the bat is definite a cult classic symbol in Austin, and the crowds gather at dusk on the bridge to catch all the action. Don’t miss it – besides, the view of downtown Austin from here is gorgeous at sunset.
Eat at a Trailer Park
We’ll go into details further, but one of the best weird things to do in Austin is to eat. At a trailer. Park. yes, there are trailer parks with food. Some of Austin’s best food is served from these mobile units, and that’s saying something because Austin is definitely one of America’s foodie destinations.
If the idea of trailer park food is weird, the menus get even weirder. Consider some of these tasty delicacies on your next trip:
- a Dirty Sanchez taco at Torchy’s Tacos
- a ball of cake on a stick at Holy Cacao
- a doughnut with chicken and honey at Gourdough’s
- fried chicken, avacado, and corn flakes in a cone at the Mighty Cone
Go to Weird Wednesday at the Alamo
No, not that alamo – the Alamo Drafthouse! This was at the top of our unique movie theaters list, and for good reason, because this place rocks. They say you come for the films and stay for the beer, but if you want to Keep Austin Weird, then the most weird thing to do in Austin on a Wednesday night is to go to the Alamo’s Weird Wednesday. They show cult classics at midnight, and the host of the show is…unique, to say the least.
Play Chicken Sh!t Bingo
I told you this was an adult show! Ginny’s Little Longhorn, a dive bar by any stretch of the imagination, packs them standing room only on Sunday afternoons when you can watch what must be the weirdest of the weird things to do in Austin. Yes, ladies and gentleman, the subtitle is correct: this is chicken shit bingo. I think from the photo the rules of the game are straightforward. Come early and get a few drinks down you – you might need them.
Take your Clothes Off at Hippie Hollow
They don’t take kindly to public nudity in central Austin (the following entry non-withstanding). If you want to strip down to your birthday suit – and the high temps of a Austin summer can certainly make such a though quite palatable – then you’ll need to head out to Hippie Hollow. From what you’ve seen already and if the name is any indication, you can imagine what kind of crowd gathers here. But hey – the water is clean, and somehow I don’t suspect the crowd is one to judge, so take the plunge and tick one more item off your weird things to do in Austin list.
Meet the ‘Mayor,’ Leslie
You don’t really have to try hard to run into Leslie. If wearing a weird squirrel hat, pearl necklace, and thong don’t qualify as some of the really weird things to do in Austin, then you’ve got me beat for sure. I didn’t see Leslie on my trip – I hear that he’s not been well, which is a shame, as a mayor should be out meeting with the tourist and mingling with the public. There is a souvenir shop on North Congress that will sell you a refrigerator magnet though, for one of those gifts that just keeps on giving.
Listen to the Wild Parakeets
We close out our Keep Austin Weird: Weird Things To Do in Austin list with a Hitchcock-esque classic: listen to the wild parrots. Or parakeets. I’m not sure of the difference, but it will not matter once you hear these chatterbox squawkers hovering above you on the power lines. Word has it they love to hang out in East Austin, as well as Auditorium Shores. I think they’re more creepy that weird, but who am I to say?
Places to Stay
If you’re wanting to hang out for awhile in Austin, here are some suggestions for places to stay – but I must warn you. They aren’t all that weird. Sorry.
- Budget: Austin Motel – it’s right on Congress Avenue, just south of downtown, and their attached bar/restaurant is one of the best in town. Not to mention you’ll be steps from trailer trash food, Jo’s coffee, and another great taco joint.
- Moderate: Embassy Suites – with huge rooms and gut-stuffing breakfast (not to mention the way-too-tasty margarita’s at the free daily happy hour), the Embassy Suites are fantastic. They are just south of Congress
- Luxury: Four Seasons – a great location downtown, the Four Seasons has the polished decor and service that you’d expect of the brand. Best happy hour in Austin and best wine in town. Go. Even if you’re not staying here.
Photos by author except metro ticket (Liz henry), Tattoo Parlour (mookielove), Bats (jessicareeder), Alamo (alamosbasement), Chicken Bingo (sanfranannie), Hippie Hollow (satanoid), Leslie (faster panda), Parakeets (B&M Photography)
Disclosure: Portions of this trip were sponsored by the Austin CVB. This sponsorship in no way affects the editorial content of this piece.