Sunday, June 17, 2012

What should I be doing in AUSTIN??

Sooooooooo I've been in Austin for almost a week, visiting my MIL, helping H with a shoot, and mostly sitting on my ass. I begged Kat (one of my fave Texans I've never met) to write something that would inspire me to drag H out of the house....

Here's Kat:

Helloooooo ESB-ers! As we all know, Austin pretty much kicks ass. In fact, Ms. ESB is there right now (and for some reason HAS NOT EATEN FRITO PIE YET). As such, she’s asked me to put together a wee lil what-to-do-in-Austin post.

Now, this list is by no means all-inclusive. My husband and I visit a lot because we have family and friends there. We tend to do things on the cheap so that we can spend our dollars on really great, locally-made stuff from incredible artists. We’re also kind of outdoorsy and like to spend a lot of time hiking, walking, or just sitting outside in the shade with a good beer. Austin is perfect for being outside (when the weather isn’t super hot), so I cannot recommend enough that you explore the outdoor activities the city has to offer!


Torchy’s Tacos, Tacodeli, and Taco Shack – All Austin institutions. Pretty delicious. I prefer Tacodeli, but really, it’s like picking a favorite ice cream. Can’t lose.

Spider House Cafe – A funky neighborhood coffee/tea spot. Kombucha on tap (if you like that stuff. GROSS.) Great atmosphere.

Caffe Medici – Seriously good coffee, and the one on West Lynn is in an adorable neighborhood.

P. Terry’s – Austin’s (much better) version of In-N-Out burger. Their black bean burger is delicious, and their fries are great. We always try to hit it. Several locations around town.

Iron Works – Really good old-school Texas barbeque in downtown Austin. They have a 2-story porch that overlooks the creek.

(Iron Works BBQ via Meat Meister)

El Chilito – An order-at-the-window taco shop that’s pretty tasty.

Amy’s Ice Cream – An amazing Austin ice cream shop (that’s spread all over Texas). Actually, it’s more like frozen custard. Really intensely rich and so, so good. My father-in-law calls all locations near him when it’s time for Peppermint Ice Cream to hit the coolers and stocks up for the year.

Kerbey Lane – Pretty delicious breakfast around the clock. Fun pancakes like lemon poppy seed, etc, that change pretty frequently. My favorite thing to get is the Eggs Francisco: English muffin topped with scrambled egg, tomato, avocado, and queso. Ask for black beans as a side.

Mi Madre’s – Excellent Mexican food. We try and go for breakfast. And don’t worry if it looks crowded or if you have a hard time finding a parking spot – the restaurant has TONS of seating, so send someone in to check if there’s a wait. There usually isn’t.

Thunderbird Coffee – good coffee, great atmosphere.

Stuff to Do:

South Congress – This is typically what we do on any given trip. It’s touristy and popular, but for a reason: it’s Austin in a nutshell. There are great shops, restaurants, and street vendors, and the whole drag is walkable. I recommend starting with breakfast either at Magnolia Cafe (on S. Congress & Johanna) or at Jo’s Hot Coffee & Good Food (the sight of the famous “I Love You” graffiti, on the north end at S. Congress and James). Do it before it gets too hot. You can eat lunch anywhere on the strip – there are tons of food trucks and a few good restaurants worth checking out. They offer everything from cilantro lemonade to Thai food, so I recommend surveying before settling on one place.

6th Street – Hit 6th Street after dark if you’re into bar-hopping. If you go around dinner time, lots of bars have rooftop seating and you can enjoy a nice drink before all the college kids get there. It’s a major spot for college students and bachelorette parties, so be aware that it gets kind of loud and crazy after 10 pm. They close the street down at night for safe(ish) walking conditions.

Hamilton Pool Nature Reserve – If you can spare the 30-minute drive, this is totally worth it. A great swimming hole and perfect for the humid and hot Austin summers.

Barton Springs Pool – Also a great place to swim, but in Austin proper. It’s COLD, so be prepared!

(Barton Springs via The Edwards Aquifer Website)

The Texas Capitol Building – I love touring the capitol building. It’s beautiful, there’s tons of history.

Bob Bollock Texas State History Museum – Again, I’m kind of a nerd about these things, and I love it. The last time we were there, artifacts from the “Belle” (La Salle’s ship) were on display. Really, really awesome.

Tubing on the Guadalupe – There is nothing better than taking a day to drink beer and float on the river when it’s blazing hot outside. It’s one of the post popular things to do in the Texas Hill Country (and for good reason). So if you have an extra day to do it, pack up a cooler (here are the rules about open containers) and head south on I-35 for about 30 minutes to New Braunfels. Now, you can tube on most rivers in the area, but the Comal recently adopted some strict rules about river activities. So tubing the Guadalupe is the way to go. AND DON’T FORGET SUNSCREEN. You will fry otherwise!

Here are the directions (there are a couple of ways to get there): The first is to go south on I-35 and exit for FM 306. This way tends to be packed and slow-going, so if that’s the case, then do this: go south on I-35, take the exit for 306, go straight until you see Hwy 337, and turn right onto Hwy 337. You’ll cross over Hwy 46 once, but when you see it again, turn right on it, then turn right onto FM 2722 and then take another right on FM 2673. It’ll be on your right when you dead-end into FM 306.

Pedernales Falls – Less than a hour away, this state park is really beautiful. A nice break from the city. Great hikes.

Uncommon Objects
 – Fantastic thrift/junk-type shop on South Congress. I could spend hours in there.

(Uncommon Objects via The Curious Reserve)

By George – Beautiful clothes. Can’t say enough good things about this boutique.

Toy Joy – A really, really cool toy shop stocked floor-to-ceiling with all kinds of neat shit.

Prototype Vintage Design – on South Congress and Milton. Not thrift prices, but really great. Honestly, any vintage shops on South Congress are very well-stocked and not too expensive. I’ve found some amazing stuff on this street.

Hike in Zilker Park – Austin has good parks and is famous for outdoor activities, and this is no exception.

Places I haven’t tried, but are on the list:

Salt Lick (in Driftwood, NOT ROUND ROCK) – One of the most famous barbeque places in the state. Nick is chomping at the bit to try the one in Driftwood after a visit to the mediocre location in Round Rock. I’m vegetarian, but I would totally try their brisket.

Uchiko – Everyone is raving about this Japanese food place, so it must be good. It’s on the list. [Editor's Note: My MIL took us here the day after I arrived. It is NOT cheap -- we did a tasting menu, and I'd rather not know what the final bill came to -- but it was truly an incredible meal.]

ContigoAbby Powell did a little spot about it on her blog, and I’m now VERY interested in eating here.

Yellow Jacket Social Club – I honestly don’t know why we haven’t been here yet. The food (I’ve been told) is fantastic.

Taco Xpress – I’m always on the hunt for a good migas taco, and rumor is, theirs is awesome.

Bows + Arrows – This shop’s stuff has made the rounds on the interwebs and looks really fantastic. Can’t wait to go there. [Update: The proprietress of Bows + Arrows up and moved to Nashville. Her new shop, Arrow and Arrow, is online only. There is a pair of cute stores, JM Dry Goods and Spartan, at 215 South Lamar where B+A used to be. ]

Take Heart – Again: gorgeous stuff.

Schatzelein – Beautiful jewelry from independent designers.

Finch – Sells some fun stuff, including Heath Ceramics.

Strut – Great prices. From what I’ve heard, some really fun things can be found here.

Eastside Café – Have heard so many good things about this place. Definitely worth a shot.

So I hope that’s enough to get you started should you ever be in the area. Austin is always changing and new shops and restaurants are constantly opening. You really can’t go wrong as long as you stay away from chains!

(Photo at top: Daniel Johnston's Austin mural via myspace)


  1. Beers to try while in Texas: (from Austin) Austin Beer Works, 512, and Real Ale and (from Houston) Saint Arnold.

  2. When my friend's kid was about 2 we visited them in Austin. If you mentioned P. Terrys he would repeat "hamburger" in various inflections for over an hour. Fortunately it erred on adorable, and we ended up eating delicious burgers.

    Its a day trip, but Krause Springs is gorgeous and worth it.

  3. Oh noes-- for bbq, don't waste time on (or break vegetarian diets for!) Salt Lick or Iron Works. John Mueller BBQ and Franklins are the Texas BBQ kings, but you'll need to go early (like, before 10am) before they sell out. Also, the Paramount, Alamo Drafthouse, and Violet Crown movie theaters are v. important and should be on this list! As are the Mohawk, Club DeVille, and Cheer Up Charlies for live music... and the Sunday gospel brunch at Stubbs...

  4. Oh, and, I'm not sure who is known for Frito Pie generally, but for vegetarians, Wheatsville Coop and Yellow Jacket both have really great veggie frito pies (Wheatsville is my favorite, though Yellow Jacket's is served straight out of the bag...). Also for food, don't miss Justine's Brasserie! For cocktails, don't miss East Side Show Room. Have a great stay, ESB!

  5. I second what Bridget says about BBQ.

    I would never go near 6th street. Go to east 6th - a much chiller & frankly hipper atmosphere. Liberty Bar is pretty great with an awesome food trailer behind it run by the same people who do Uchiko, Rio Ritas is awesome, they make an excellent margarita - plus there is a giant food trailer heaven with lots of options including a vegan food trailer.

    Justines French restaurant is open till the early hours and is AMAZING & has a fab ambiance.

    I would also never go to Kerby or magnolia unless it was 4am & I was starving. Mi Madres right across from Thunderbird coffee does an amazing & huge veggie burrito. OH & Mothers in hyde park- sooooo yummmy for vegetarian food.

    The Odd Duck Food trailer on South Lamar is delish.

    Some good vintage stores with excellent pricing on North Loop.

    Smoothies from Dailey Juice.

    Mt Bonnell (actuallly in town) for the view. Then get your ass to Barton Springs to cool off. It's $3 to get in.

    I miss Austin with my whole heart so I hope you live it up & eat some tacos for me.

    1. Odd Duck is closed! The former owners now run Barley Swine, a brick and mortar on south lamar.

  6. The Peached Tortilla and Yume Burger are two food trucks started by a friend of mine from college. They get awesome reviews, but I haven't been back since he opened. Eat there for me, won't you? :)

  7. FOOD:
    I highly recommend Bouldin Creek cafe for breakfast/brunch.
    Also second the vote for Mothers, and El Chilito.
    Food Heads for a good sandwich.
    Lastly, check out the Vegan Yacht and get a "Freeto" Pie is amazing.

  8. You should definitely check out Feathers Boutique for some great vintage shopping. My best friend lives in Austin and I think I've bought something here every time I've visited.

    The same owners also have a consignment shop that carries more designer stuff called, Moss.

  9. MUST DOs:
    -Moonshine Grill- amazing food, cool venue (one of the oldest buildings in Austin, an old mill) and great drinks. Get a Ruby Slipper and thank me later.

    -Roller derby. Austin is where modern roller derby was reinvented both on the banked and flat track and those girls know how to put on an awesome show while playing some kick ass derby. Texas Rollergirls play flat track and are top 3 in the world (BIG DEAL) and Texas Roller Derby is banked and a real production complete with penalty wheel shennanigans.

    -Torchy's. Their fried avocado taco is enough to have me considering relocating to the same city as my MIL.

    -The bats. An Austin institution. It's pretty crazy to see about a kajillion bats all fly out from a bridge at once.


    -Cooper's. This is the best BBQ I have ever had. It's a trek (1 hr drive to Llano - say "lah-no" but it's so worth it. You pick the meat you want out of pits (have it "dipped") and they charge you by weight. Don't skip the peach cobbler.

    -Jester King brewery is about 10-15 minutes outside of town. But they run daily tastings and have great beer, show you around the brewery and are all around magnets for cool people to have a drink under the misters with and play cornhole.

  10. -i second justines. THE best place in austin. not only for the food, but the environment and the staff. its got the whole je ne sais quoi thing down. i recommend sitting at the bar and chatting with Pierre with a bottle of the very affordable house red wine. the pork chop is tdf. closed on tuesdays.
    -east side king food trucks, of the now famous paul qui. there are three locations, but my favorite is the one on the back patio at liberty bar on e. 6th. get the chicken karaage and the brussels sprout salad.
    -uchi, oh uchi. you'll easily spend a paycheck here, so i recommend going for happy hour. order everything on the menu and drink the unfiltered sake for $3. uchkiko (further north) is nearly the same thing, but id probably go with uchi.
    -graj mahal - a food truck turned restaurant. great indian food. byob. tents and twinkle lights and gypsy bands.
    -foreign and domestic is up north in hyde park.really creative menu, good for brunch. open kitchen. nice to get away from the east side sometimes. and just cruising through the cute neighborhood up there is great.
    -oh and brunch at Frank downtown is also Amazing. get the Texas Benedict and a decked out bloody Mary.
    (i could go on forever about all the places to eat!)
    -go to a move at the alamo draft house (the s.lamar or ritz locations). get there early and watch the thoughtfully curated video montages. usually have something to do with the film you are about to watch. there's tons to order to eat and drink, but their popcorn with herbs and parmesean is so good. and Endless. the best movie theater in america.
    - if youre a book person, half price books is a used book store chain in texas, so great. one on s. lamar and one on n. lamar.
    -Domy books is the sickest art book store. they also sell gifts, dvds, periodicals and such. ask the guy behind the counter to show you around, point some things out. if its the red headed bearded guy, his brain will knock your socks off.
    -if you're feeling adventurous, rent a kayak on the river. paddle east towards mopac and it gets all Pocahontas and mystical.
    -pick up an Austin Chronicle and read it. it's probably the best city weekly i've ever seen. tells you everything that's going on.
    -go to whole foods! and grab some lunch and people watch. or sit at the wine bar and eat cheese and get a wine flight. or get wine on tap! that's a thing now...
    - do yall by records? there's tons of record shops, but End of an Ear is pretty great. while you're down there you can shop around at the vintage stores along s. 1st and get a lemon square at sugar mama's bakeshop!
    i could go on, but i wont. obvs i love living in austin. have fun!

  11. I love Pedernales Falls and definitely recommend it, but I'm not sure about going there at this time of year. The rocks reflect the sun like crazy, making it feel even hotter than it is, and there's no shade out on the rocks. You might die. But if heat doesn't bother you as much as it does me (I admit, I'm pretty heat-sensitive for a native Texan), do it!

    Have fun in Austin--I'm super jealous of you.

  12. Food:
    For brunch El Meson on Lamar is great for cheap mimosas and migas. Also Taverna is amazing for brunch as well with $1 mimosas and bellinis . They also have the best omelets. 24 Diner has the best potato hash and everything is very fresh. Opal Devine's - The Freehouse has a great atmosphere and good food. Sushi Zushi has fantastic rice and an extensive menu. Hey Cupcake! has fantastic cupcakes out of a cute food trailer on South Congress.
    Places: Mount Bonnell - go here for a beautiful view of Austin. Sunset is the best. All the shops on South Congress are great to check out. I second going to any of the parks. There's a wide variety of outdoor space for swimming and hiking. Just be cautious of the heat!

  13. EAT, please God EAT. My #1 recommendation is Barley Swine, it will change your life. Justine's is a wonderful hole in the wall that will charm your f*ing pants right off, and they have so pretty amazing by the bottle house wine prices. The Backspace Pizza is one of my new favorites, but for the best try Homeslice. The best sandwich spot is Foodheads, they have great options, try them all.

    DRINK often. Happy hour starts when you wake up. You will never be judged for ordering a margarita even for breakfast. Whatever you do, please do not go to 6th Street. It smells like cigarettes and vomit and no one who actually lives here goes there. The east side is where it's at. While your over there, you can peruse one of the 3 bars that have an East Side King trailer for some good grub, the tongue buns are amazing. There is also a amazingly disgusting dive called Lala's. It is always Christmas and the people who run it are the friendliest bunch around. For a Margarita you can't beat Chuy's, it's a little touristy but they have delicious margs and mexican martinis, if you get there for happy hour they have a free nacho bar.

    GO OUTSIDE. Yes, it is very hot here. Please don't talk about it, we already know. Barton Springs is my mecca If you go early it isn't crowded and can be really serene. The water is cold and it costs $3 to get in, you won't regret it. The downtown farmer's market is worth a try on Saturday mornings. There is a place with blueberry lemonade that you will dream about. There is also BYOB putt putt on the corner of Barton Springs and Lamar, get a case of Lonestar and go. You can also rent a canoe/kayak on Ladybird Lake, please don't swim in the water, just trust me.

    Don't get in a car between the hours of 4:30 and 6:30 pm. You will immediately regret it.


    1. H lived here for 6 years when he was at UT, and HE WON'T SHUT UP ABOUT LALA'S. He doesn't even drink anymore.

      Now I really need to go there.

  14. okay let's sort some things out:

    sixth street NO
    east sixth YES
    chuy's NO
    justine's YES
    foreign & domestic YES OH GOD YES
    mother's MEH
    yellow jacket YES
    domy YES
    half price NO

  15. also, YES to lala's

    but know that you are walking into a david lynch christmas special.

  16. um, im going to austin on saturday for a week. THANK YOU.

  17. i know this is SUPER late to be asking a question about this blog entry, but i randomly found this post via pinterest. i'm surprising my hubs with a trip to austin for our anniversary in a month, and he will crap his pants with excitement if i can find out where the 'hi how are you' daniel johnston mural is!!! can you help a girl out?! {smile}