The coolest of cool events, Austin’s annual SXSW festival (the acronym translates to “South By Southwest” for you squares), kicks off its 2016 run on March 11. And for nine days, the music festival/film festival/interactive media conference will take over one of the hippest cities and elevate its coolness to stratospheric heights with breaking bands, big name celebrities, and cutting edge leaders in tech. But before all that, we decided to take a look at some pretty awesome and unique things to do during any trip to Austin that’ll leave the hippest of hipsters envious of your cool.

Oh, feel free to take in live music and nosh on food truck offerings between these jaunts (because, you know, it’s Austin).   

1) See the Congress Bridge Bat Colony

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The largest urban bat colony in the world, this massive population of Mexican free-tailed bats has become the center of a distinctively Austin adventure over the years. Each spring, as many as 1.5  millions bats migrate over and make the area under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge their home. The Austin American-Statesman’s Bat Observation Center is a must-see. Located near Lady Bird Lake, this is a wonderful destination for summer evenings when visitors can watch the bats fly at dusk.

2) Skinny Dip At Hippie Hollow

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Austin is a city riddled with swimming holes. Spend any time there over the summer, when many days reach over 100 degrees and most are over 90, and you’ll understand why. But Hippie Hollow, located along Lake Travis in the northwest past of the city, is probably the most famous of them all. That’s because it’s the only legal clothing-optional public park in the Lone Star  State. So bring your bathing suit—or don’t.     

3) Explore the Cathedral of Junk

"Cathedral of Junk" by reader of the pack is licensed under CC 2.0.

Located in South Austin, the Cathedral of Junk stands in the backyard of a private residence. You’ll need to call ahead to make an appointment and you’ll need to write down the address to find it, but this bizarre stop is supposed to be pretty amazing. Built by the home’s owner, Vince Hannemann, the Cathedral of Junk is exactly what its name implies: an ornate building with trusses, stairways, passages, multiply levels, vaulted ceilings, and more, constructed from thrown-out machinery, metal, old appliances, and other—well, junk.  

4) Take in Some Rare Books at the Harry Ransom Center

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An amalgamation of an archive, a museum, and a library, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin has something for everybody. They have a copy of the uber-rare Gutenberg Bible, a first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and even the personal papers, libraries, and/or manuscripts from such literary heavyweights as Ezra Pound, James Joyce, David Foster Wallace, and a whole lot more. There’s even a rare comic book collection and artifacts from the golden era of Hollywood, including the sunglasses worn by Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard.

5) Snap Some Pics at the Baylor Street Art Wall

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The leftovers from the early stages of a condo development that fell through, the Baylor Street Art Wall at 11th & Baylor Street is a mecca for graffiti and street artists (as well as their fans). It offers some striking pictures, especially with a castle leftover from the old Texas Military Institute in the background, as well as some great views of downtown Austin. The owners actually encourage the artists to paint and tag, so there’s always a new addition and visitors are allowed to climb the structures, giving them an almost interactive experience with the art.    

Are you in the know about what’s hip and cool in Austin? Got something to add to our list? Leave it in the comments section below!

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About The Author

Dave Odegard

Dave Odegard is an ex-army brat turned internet word person, whose work has been published on Maxim Online, USAToday, Buzzfeed, and more. He is currently the Senior Content Writer at Fareportal (CheapOair's parent company) and spends his free time exploring the wilds of Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Sweden.