Freshman guide to all the things you should do your first semester


People paddle board, kayak and swim on Lady Bird Lake in the middle of the city. Lake Austin separates north and south Austin and is a center of urban water sporting activities.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

Welcome, freshman. Your choice is simple: Go out and find yourself among the dozens of local coffee shops and small businesses this town has to offer, or stay in the cold, dark, damp loneliness that is your dorm room. 

These are the 15 scenester basics of living in Austin. Start out with these essentials to find your own favorite spots in the city. 

1. Tacos 

You are now obligated to eat tacos more frequently than you thought possible — some tacos will come to you, others you will have to find yourself. Taco Deli tacos can be found in coffee shops on campus. Venturing farther into the city, you will find El Chilito and Matt’s El Rancho. The list goes on. 

2. Bats

On a good evening, 1.5 million bats fly out from under the South Congress Bridge. Attend Bat Fest in late August or just go out there on your own time and see the largest urban bat colony headed out for their nightly hunt. 

3. Zilker Park and Barton Springs

Zilker Park is not only a great day park for picnics, Ultimate Frisbee and yoga, but it is the center of most of Austin’s outdoor festivals, including Austin City Limits and Kite Fest. Right across the street you will find one of Austin’s sacred gems: Barton Springs, which remains a refreshing 68 degrees year round. 

4. Spider House

Spider House is an all-in-one space. Close to campus, it’s a place to get a coffee and study, a restaurant with a pretty outdoor setup and good food, a bar where people under 21 can hang out and it hosts a variety of events and concerts in its connected Ballroom. This combination makes it a handy place to hit up for all kinds of occasions. 

5. Whole Foods Market at Sixth and Lamar

Whole Foods Market has become the cornerstone of shopping for the health-conscious, with food bars of international cuisine, a juice cafe and hundreds of local and organic products to shop from. This location is the chain’s flagship and comes with a multi-level parking garage and, in the winter, a rooftop ice rink. Get lost among the hemp soap and kale of this two story health superstore. 

6. SoCo

Also known as South Congress, this street is a long line of some of the best food and shopping in the city. Hit up Hopdoddy, shop the Saturday artist booths and top it off with some treats from Big Top candy shop or Hey Cupcake.

7. The Capitol

All true Texans know a few things about the pink building perched on a hill on Congress Avenue. It’s bigger than the nation’s Capitol in Washington D.C., it’s the home of the Texas legislature and it was featured on an episode of “Friday Night Lights.” Explore the halls and rooms of the building any day or sit in on a legislative hearing during a session.

8. Lady Bird Lake

Located right next to downtown, Lady Bird Lake is surrounded by a running and bike trail and provides a place to go kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding — which is like surfing on stagnant water with a paddle — against an urban backdrop. 

9. Chinatown

Located on North Lamar just past 183 stands a giant red-roofed archway that welcomes you to Austin’s small “Chinatown.” The area includes a large Chinese food market, a French-Chinese fusion bakery and authentic Chinese food restaurants. Escape your dorm food for an afternoon by taking the MetroRapid going north and getting off at the Chinatown stop. 

10. The Violet Crown Movie Theater

Forget ever going to the movies at a regular theater again. This place is like watching a movie in the comfort of your living room, but better. Located in the upscale Second Street district, The Violet Crown provides a place to watch the latest independent or art film and is complete with unlimited popcorn refills, reclining leather seats and a full bar. If that’s not enough, there is free parking for movie patrons. 

11, 12 and 13. 

Epoch, Blue Velvet Vintage and Breakaway Records on North Loop. This shopping center really has all the essentials: a great selection of vintage pieces, vinyl to add to your collection and 24-hour coffee. Epoch is filled to the brim pretty much all hours of the day and night if you’re ever looking for an alternative to the PCL. 

14. Graffiti Wall

Perfect for your new Facebook profile pic. Take your friends and model in front of a gallery of constantly changing legal street art. The wall holds everything from the best street artists in the city to high school scribbles proclaiming things like “Lauren and Derek forever.” 

15. Mt. Bonnell

A large flight of stairs stands between you and the tallest point in Austin. Looking over the city and the Colorado river, Mt. Bonnell is a place to get away from the noises and smells of the city and campus. Watch the sunset behind the UT Tower in the distance with a few of your closest friends, or watch it rise and soak in a view of the city that will be your home for the next four years. 

Because of an editing error, the original version of this article referred to Lady Bird Lake as Lake Austin. The article has been corrected to reflect the proper name of the lake. Note: The lake is sometimes also referred to as Town Lake.