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....
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)
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.
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)
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.]
Contigo – Abby 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)