I’ve been hearing about how cool and weird Austin, Texas, is for years. So when my brother-in-law moved there to attend graduate school, I knew it was the perfect excuse to finally see this city for myself. I don’t consider myself an Austin expert after only a few days, but this is what we loved (and didn’t) during our stay.
When To Go
It gets meltingly hot in Austin in the summer, so the best times to visit the city are in the fall, winter and spring. When we visited at the end of October/beginning of November, the temperatures were in the 50s/60s in the morning/evening and in the 70s/80s during the day. It was perfect sight-seeing weather and a nice break from Somerville’s already-chilly temperatures. Also keep in mind the massive South by Southwest festival that happens in Austin every March when thousands of people descend on the city. We wanted to see Austin as it is, not with hoards of other tourists, so we opted to skip South by Southwest, but I’ve heard it can be a raucously fun experience.
Where To Stay
Austin is a big, sprawling city and we wanted to stay close to the action. We looked at the Hotel San Jose, which was recommended by some friends, but the high price and lack of available rooms kept us away. Just down the street is the iconic Austin Motel and other boutique hotels are tucked into the nearby neighborhood. There are the usual chain hotels located in Austin’s downtown, but the prices were comparable to the locally owned shops, so we pretty much only looked at those.
We opted for the Park Lane Guest House, which ended up being perfect for us. We loved staying in a real neighborhood and meeting some Austin residents. Plus the cabin we stayed in was both incredibly charming and highly functional. We were served a delicious breakfast each morning and really enjoyed having a beautiful place to retreat to each day.
What To Do
There is no shortage of fun stuff to do in Austin, so here’s just a sampling of what to expect.
South Congress: This was the main drag near our guest house, so we spent a lot of time walking up and down South Congress. There are fun boutiques, cute restaurants and bars and a funky vibe that’s a lot like Somerville. Grab coffee at Jo’s, ice cream at Amy’s and browse the independently owned, quirky shops.
Downtown: Austin’s downtown is pretty typical of most big cities. Highlights include: 6th Street, which is a mash-up of Nashville and Las Vegas at night with barkers tempting you with drink specials, college students stumbling around and tons of live music; during the day, stop by the Texas Capitol, a gorgeous building where the recent Wendy Davis filibuster took place; and make your way over to the University of Texas to take in the big, beautiful campus with its Spanish-inspired architecture.
Whole Foods: This grocery store chain (which recently came to Somerville) got its start in Austin and the mothership is still located there. The store is a sight to see, with several food stations (including a wine tasting bar), seemingly endless bulk bins and a killer salad/hot food bar. Grab lunch and a local kombucha (it’s everywhere there!) at Whole Foods and savor it on the store’s outdoor patio.
Parks, Paths and Green Spaces: Austin is home to dozens of walking/running/biking paths, parks and green spaces. One of my favorite parts of the trip was running along the trail next to the Colorado River in the morning and seeing hundreds of fellow exercise junkies. If you’re looking for a little more adventure, rent a kayak at one of the many retailers along the river. And don’t miss the spectacular view from Mount Bonnell, the highest point in Austin.
See the Bats: The Congress Avenue Bridge is home to the largest urban bat colony in North America and each night, the furry fliers take to the skies in search of food. Stand on or near the bridge near sunset to see them take flight. The best time to see them is in the spring and summer, but we spotted some in the late fall.
Listen to Live Music: Austin seems to be constantly hosting music events, whether they’re small shows at local bars or big outdoor concerts, there’s something happening all the time.
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema: We caught a showing of Captain Phillips at this movie theater/restaurant and loved it–both the movie and the experience. The food wasn’t spectacular, but it was tasty and having a meal while watching a movie was super fun. (Pro tip: Don’t miss the warm cookies!)
Leave the City: We were fortunate to be visiting a local, giving us access to a car and knowledge about things to do we might have otherwise missed. One of the highlights of the trip was leaving Austin and heading to Pedernales State Park. The landscape was unlike anything I’d ever seen and it was so neat to see what Texas looks like outside the city. On your way back to Austin stop by the Jester King Brewery to sip beer in the sunshine.
What To Eat/Drink
Austin has an interesting dining scene with loads of restaurants to choose from. These are just a few of the highlights from our trip.
Jo’s Coffee: We grabbed several cups of coffee from Jo’s that were pretty delicious. There’s also a cute mural on the side of the South Congress location that acts as a great photo backdrop. Jo’s serves tasty breakfast tacos and other morning goodies, so don’t be surprised to wait in a line during prime time.
Amy’s Ice Creams: A major culinary highlight of the trip was ice cream from Amy’s, where they ask for your flavor and mix-ins and make your order fresh. The coffee was outstanding, the Tito’s Vodka flavored ice cream turned out to be much better than expected and the pumpkin pie special perfectly captured the flavors of the season.
Rainy Street: This enclave of bars spontaneously sprang a couple of years ago and is now home to some terrific spots to grab a drink. Outdoor seating is huge in Austin and you’ll find plenty of it here.
Tacos: Breakfast tacos are to Austin what the breakfast sandwich is to the Northeast. They are everywhere, so pick some up one morning for a true Texas experience. For lunch, hit the Mellizoz Tacos food stand (terrific mushroom tacos, fish tacos and lots of meaty options).
Easy Tiger: We enjoyed beers and snacks (delicious giant pretzels) on Easy Tiger’s outdoor patio. The rest of the menu looked terrific too and I’d definitely make this a stop on a return trip to Austin.
Kome: The best of the trip happened on our last night in Austin when we ventured to Kome, which serves Japanese food small plates and sushi. I’d never been a Japanese restaurant like this before, but it was amazing. The food was so flavorful and fresh, the atmosphere was super festive (even for a Sunday night) and the staff was helpful and funny. As you can probably tell, we loved our meal at Kome. It’s not in Austin’s downtown, but it’s well worth the short drive.
Midnight Cowboy: Located on 6th Street, this massage parlor turned speakeasy-style bar serves handcrafted cocktails in the style of Backbar. Reservations are highly recommended for tucking into this tiny spot. Be prepared to be shocked by the hootenanny of 6th Street when you leave Midnight Cowboy’s quiet, refined atmosphere.
Whip In: What started as a convenience store has grown to include a liquor shop and restaurant serving Indian food in a small, cozy setting. We had a casual, tasty meal here and I’d recommend it for vegetarians and anyone with a keen sense of humor.
One of my biggest takeaways from visting Austin was the need for a car there. We’re walkers and used that to our advantage during our stay, but the city is a massive, sprawling place and some of the best stuff is only accessed via car. There is a handy bus system, but I’d recommend getting a vehicle for at least part of your stay.
We had a terrific time in Austin, though we didn’t think it was a weird as everyone said. Perhaps it’s because we live in a pretty weird and awesome place (see: Fluff Festival) that we love so much. Austin was definitely fun for a visit and with family in the area, I’ll be happy to make a return trip!
Austin is a huge city and there’s so much that we didn’t get to in our short visit, so I’d love you to recommend your favorite bar, restaurant or activity in the comments!