Like an oasis in the middle of the Texan desert, Austin has a palpable vibe that is all its own. Tacos, BBQ, and live music aside, this laid-back city has so much to offer in the way of art, high cuisine, and outdoor adventures. The people are incredibly friendly, the mood is casual, and I could not recommend this city more highly for a long weekend excursion.
Where to Stay
I’m lucky enough to have journeyed to this fair city more than once, and have stayed both in the heart of downtown Austin at the W (note: rooftop pool) and at a friend’s residence in Allendale. I would recommend that first-timers stay in North or South Austin not too far from the river, as this is the easiest area for venturing out to explore from. Also note that Uber/Lyft/Via do not operate in Austin, so plan to do some combination of walking and cabbing via my preferred car service app in the area, GetMe.
Where to Eat
Barley Swine – For a Texan twist on farm to table, I could not recommend the Barley Swine dining experience more highly. We loved the shiitake pasta dish so much that we ordered it twice, and they have an inventive cocktail menu as well. Don’t miss this spot for a creative and delicious dinner on the town.
Jo’s Coffee – This tiny South Austin coffee shop is perfect for grabbing a cold brew while exploring the area’s plentiful shops and street art. Bonus: there is a well-know mural on the side of their building that is very social media friendly.
Amy’s Ice Cream – The quintessential Austin ice cream experience. Best known for their Mexican Vanilla, I also recommend ordering the salted caramel biscoff cookie flavor and having them fold in additional biscoff cookies.
Elizabeth Street Cafe – When Vietnamese cuisine meets classic brunch items, you know that you have a home run. Sit outside on the charming patio and order the breakfast pho, beignets with housemade jam, and an egg-tastic bahn mi for a morning well spent.
Torchy’s Tacos – Torchy’s may look like a fast-food joint from the outside, but take one bite of their tacos and you will see that the exterior is incredibly deceptive. Ask for the secret menu, and I recommend springing for the green chili pork missionary style and the trailer park hillbilly style. And don’t forget queso and a cerveza on the side.
Gordough’s – Like no doughnuts I’ve ever had before, but worth every bite. Served out of a tiny trailer in South Austin, this doughnut spot serves them warm and topped to order. I chose fresh strawberries and dark chocolate on mine, but there are some pretty inventive combos at the decadent spot.
Franklin BBQ – Last (but by no means least), Franklin is the mecca for smoked meats in this country and more than lives up to its overwhelming reputation. Be prepared to make a day of this experience – we went on a Sunday at 9am, and waited until 1pm to be served. Bring folding chairs, entertainment, and an appetite. And don’t make dinner reservations that evening. Double up on the brisket and ribs, but also get a bit of the pulled pork, sausage, and smoked turkey so you can taste it all. Sides and pies were not superstars in my book. Focus on the MEAT.
What to Do
Explore South Austin – Vaguely reminiscent of East Nashville, this character-filled neighborhood south of the river has it all. Start with brunch at Elizabeth Street Cafe or Gordough’s, and swing over to South Congress to hit up some of my favorite shops in the city. Don’t miss Stag Provisions, Nannie Inez, JM Dry Goods, and Uncommon Objects, and be sure to swing by Jo’s for a caffeine kick mid-day.
Zilker Park – I am always on the lookout for spots of greenery in the midst of an urban jungle, and Zilker Park provides the perfect escape from the city. I loved wandering through the Botanical Gardens there, but also don’t miss the Barton Springs Pool and the Lady Bird Lake Trail.
Explore Downtown Austin – One of my favorite main drags in the heart of Austin is North Lamar Boulavard. My recommendation for a lovely afternoon adventure is to start at the top at Kettle and Brine, my ultimate home store, and make your way south, stopping at Kick Pleat, Hope Outdoor Gallery (it’s an insane graffiti park), Amy’s Ice Cream, and ending at the original Whole Foods (it’s like the Disneyland of grocery stores).
Lake Travis – No trip to Austin is complete without a boat day on Lake Travis. We packed up a picnic to bring aboard and spent the day cruising the lake, getting some color, and meeting fellow lake-goers.