Austin is Weird.
Top Weird Things to Do in Austin
See the largest urban bat colony in North America
It’s impossible to have a list of Austin oddities without mentioning the enormous Mexican free-tail bat population living under the Congress Avenue Bridge. Over 1.5 million bats roost in the crevices underneath one of the most popular roads in the city connecting South Austin to Downtown. If you’re lucky enough to visit between April and May, you have a good chance of seeing these little gals (it’s a maternity colony) emerge right at sunset. An even crazier sight comes in late July to early August during the peak season when you can observe the full population of moms and babies fly as the sun goes down.
Add your tag at the HOPE Outdoor Graffiti Gallery
You’ll spy plenty of bizarre yard art and illegal graffiti around the city, but at this abandoned construction site tucked away off North Lamar, tagging is encouraged. The cement slabs and crumbling walls have been transformed into the HOPE Outdoor Gallery, where local graffiti artists and amateurs alike come to practice their skills. The artwork is constantly changing, and the top-tiers of this sloping hillside offer up an inspired view of the Downtown skyline. Sadly, this space will soon fulfill its original destiny as a condo development. Go while you still can.
Pose in front of Austin’s iconic public art pieces
Austin has a slew of oft-Instagrammed permanent pieces of street art. One of the most popular is “I love you so much,” spray-painted on the side of Jo’s Coffee on South Congress. “Greetings From Austin” is a mural painted onto Roadhouse Relics — inspired by an old postcard, you might also find it on, ya know, actual postcards. And of course, the endearing “Jeremiah the Innocent,” a friendly frog off of Guadalupe St. that just wants to say “what’s up”. He’s been greeting folks since 1993, when Daniel Johnston painted him on the side of what was then a record store, Sound Exchange, for $100 and as many records as he could carry.
Check out the more, uh, unusual museums
If indoor art is more your thing, Austin has its share of impressive art collections at the Blanton Museum of Art and The Contemporary Downtown. But for something a little more eclectic, smack in the middle of the debauchery of Sixth St sits the Museum of the Weird. In addition to a two-headed sheep and a Fiji Mermaid, you’ll find a freak show upstairs where an employee will happily put a nail through their nose and point out that Johnny Depp stayed in the building while he was filming What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
The Museum of Natural & Artificial Ephemerata (MNAE) is part of Scott and Jen Webel’s home. The pair will hold tours through their gallery of etcetera: memorabilia from World’s Fairs, a clipping of Elvis’ hair, a fork bent by telekinesis, and that’s only scratching the surface. Be sure to ask about the contents of the small bottle by the door.
Also unmissable is artist Vince Hannemann’s backyard, which doubles as the Cathedral of Junk in South Austin. The “cathedral” is a breathtaking sight — Hannemann has molded trashed objects into towers and tunnels full of color and texture, like a dystopian playground filled with an undulating architecture of debris.
Party at the moontower
Matthew McConaughey’s career began here on the set of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, playing the mustached David Wooderson. Erected in the 1890s, these tall skinny structures of crisscrossing metal beams used to be the only lights illuminating the streets at night. 15 towers still remain around the city today — the only known surviving light towers in the world.
Rent a VHS at I Luv Video
If you’ve got three bucks and a hankering to support Austin’s independent businesses, get thee to I Luv Video, a beloved institution that’s been renting out flicks to locals since 1984. Sadly their hole-in-the-wall location on the Drag closed, but the store on Airport Blvd. still boasts an absolutely massive inventory — two floors’ worth — of DVDs, VHSs, and wacky movie memorabilia. “Netflix is going out of business” is the catchphrase here. Chat with the freakishly knowledgable staff, watch whatever B movie they’ve got playing, and drink a beer while you browse obscure movie box covers you haven’t laid eyes on since your hometown Blockbuster in 1994.
Order a sandwich at a century-old grocery store
Hyde Park gets even weirder just a few blocks from the Elisabet Ney Museum. Smack dab in the middle of a block of houses on 44th St, you’ll stumble upon another anachronism: Austin’s oldest delicatessen and grocery store. The Avenue B Grocery & Market has been slicing up fresh deli meat for Hyde Park residents since 1909. You’ll find the owner Ross behind the counter, the daily special written up on the chalkboard, and patrons lounging on the front porch munching on their groceries.