The best under-the-radar Austin experiences

Tired of the typical tourist spots? Spice up your routine and go for one of these under-the-radar experiences around Austin.

Photograph: Michele Cape
So you've explored Austin's up-and-coming neighborhoods, had your fill of the Capitol ever since that school field trip, hit up the best live music venues and paddleboarded to your heart's content—what now? Whenever you feel like you've checked off all the best things to do in Austin, try something totally different with one these under-the-radar Austin experiences. Added bonus: You'll get to tell all your friends about the cool new thing you just discovered.

Under-the-radar experiences in Austin


Radiolab Austin Detour

Get ready for an audio tour that blows those boring museum guides out of the water. Using location tracking, this Radiolab-produced audio experience leads you around downtown Austin, shedding knowledge on various landmarks and focusing on the true story of a serial killer who stalked the city’s streets in 1885. Download the Detour app, put in your headphones and prepare to travel back in time. The tour takes a little over an hour, and your best bet is go Tuesday through Sunday between 12:30pm and 5pm. Otherwise, you risk missing the full experience (no spoilers!).

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NLand Surf Park

Thanks to NLand Surf Park, surfing in Texas is more than just a pipe dream. While technically in Del Valle, the park is only a 20-minute drive from downtown Austin. Using modern, self-sustaining technology, NLand transforms rainwater to a wet pond to a reservoir to waves that novice and pro surfers alike can enjoy. You can snag a surf pass to use in one of their four different zones, or you can get schooled in surfing with a coaching session. Don’t worry about not having a board—a softboard is included with any session, and you’re welcome to rent out high performance demo boards, too.

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Greater Austin

Texas Saké Company

The Hill Country is known for its abundance of wineries and breweries, but why not shake things up with saké? When you’re ready to cheat on your go-to drinking holes, head over to Texas Saké Company, a craft saké brewery. While most of the building is brewing equipment, there’s a small bar area where you can enjoy tasting hours on Fridays and Saturdays from 6pm to 11pm. We recommend getting a flight so you can try their three mainstays—the crisp Junmai, the sweet Junmai Nigori and the smooth Oak Junmai. Kanpai!

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Tittie Bingo

Tittie Bingo at the Highball is not your grandma's bingo. It combines the classic game with an entirely raunchier form of entertainment: porn. Well, porn parodies that is. After a couple rounds of bingo, winners compete in various comedic, compromising activities on stage for naughty prizes to the sheer delight of the audience. The titillating evening wraps up with a final visual round based on an edited, and completely hilarious, porn parody. The event is free, but it is 21+ and a whole lot more fun if you leave your scruples at the door. You can catch a game every Tuesday night at 10 pm at the Highball.

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J. Lorraine Ghost Town

If you’ve ever left the city traveling east on Highway 290, chances are you’ve driven past the turn-off for J. Lorraine Ghost Town. By no means a historic site, this delightfully strange recreation of an 1800’s Western town is free to the public and boasts an old, eery atmosphere. Then again, it also happens to have a maze, an outdoor movie screen, a grill and bar serving up their signature Ghost Burger and, oddly enough, a water slide. Who knows—when you’re wandering around the property, maybe you’ll have your own paranormal encounter.

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Quarry Lake

Austinites are blessed with plenty of local swimming holes to cool off in, but we bet many don’t know about this hidden gem up north. Tucked away behind the Pure Austin Fitness on Braker Lane is Quarry Lake, the gym’s privately owned lake. The good news is you don’t have to be a member to take a dip; just grab yourself a day pass instead. Whether you want to make use of the full 750m course, or you just want to enjoy some casual water recreation, Quarry Lake makes for a great swimming spot to add to your rotation.

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UT RecSports Adventure Trips

With its many parks and 300 days of sunshine a year, Austin makes for a pretty awesome playground for outdoor enthusiasts. When you’re ready to amp it up, join one of the University of Texas' adventure trips, which have included caving, rock climbing and stand-up paddleboarding in the past. These trips are open to Longhorns and non-Longhorns alike (students just get a little cheaper deal), and they’re offered mostly in the fall and spring to coincide with the university’s semesters. You can even sign up for extended destination trips like canoeing in Big Bend or backpacking in Hawaii.

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Kitchen Underground Cooking Class

Try your own hand at culinary arts by attending a Kitchen Underground cooking class. Rather than having a traditional set curriculum, these intimate classes change focus depending on who’s teaching and what they’re passionate about, making for a diverse offering from cheesemaking to camping cuisine to everyday Thai. Venues vary as well, with addresses being emailed out a few days before the class. If you really want to level up your cooking game, you can even pitch an idea to teach your own class!

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Party World Rasslin'

Pair dramatic wrestling with improv comedy and what do you get? Party World Rasslin’—a theatrical wrestling league that puts on slams every few months at 4th Tap Brewing Co-Op. Rather than charging for admission, PWR funds its events through Indiegogo campaigns so that you can save your bucks for delicious brews on-site. Feast your eyes on so-called party athletes dressed up in ridiculous costumes, bringing to life even more ridiculous storylines of good versus evil for the enjoyment of all ages. Now this is the kind of stuff that keeps Austin weird.

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North Burnet

Austin Biplane

It’s one thing to experience the city walking or driving through the streets, but it’s quite another to experience it flying through the skies. With Austin Biplane, you can take 20- to 45-minute flights around downtown, Lake Austin and Lake Travis in an open-cockpit biplane. So what exactly is this biplane like? Think: two pairs of wings and the barnstormer days of leather flying caps, goggles and bomber jackets, and you’ll probably have the right idea. While you don’t have to sign up for an acrobatic flight, that’s totally an option for all you thrill-seeking, Red Baron wannabes.

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Austin Steam Train

Swap the headache that is Austin traffic for an old-fashioned ride aboard one of Austin Steam Train’s flyers. The trains make round trips from a depot in Cedar Park, and you can choose which car you’d like passage on—each one is its own vintage piece of locomotive history. The signature 66-mile train ride takes you through Hill Country, complete with a leisurely layover in Burnet where you’ll witness a staged Wild West gunfight (weather permitting). Keep an eye on their calendar for themed rides throughout the year like the Beer Train, Murder Mystery and North Pole Flyer.

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Shit-Faced Shakespeare

Shakespeare is often taken as serious, highbrow entertainment, but that couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to Shit-Faced Shakespeare. At one of these shows, you’ll have the pleasure of watching a troupe perform an abridged version of a Shakespeare play where—get this—one of the actors is legit shit-faced. The result is a wacky performance where the cast expertly improvises around the drunken actor’s hilarious ad-libs, asides and antics. The Austin company aims to put on a show at least once a week, and they’re currently performing at Spider House Ballroom and the North Door.

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