Austin is one of those specials places to me. I went to undergrad here at the University of Texas (Hook ’em!) and quickly fell in love with the fun and quirky. It’s not hard to see why Austin is currently one of the fastest-growing cities in the US: from live music, amazing food, nightlife, plus outdoor activities – it’s hard to have a bad time here!
I’ve been going down to Austin my whole life! My parents both when to college at Texas and subsequently so did each of my siblings and me. It’s a close place to our hearts and a beloved place to most Texans.. because it’s such a funky and fun town and so different from the rest of Texas. The city has always had an undercurrent of counter-culture, from hippies in the 60s to today’s hipsters.. way before the city slogan “Keep Austin Weird” was ever adopted.
It’s Texas’ capital city and it’s the “live music capital of the world.” The food scene is both eclectic and phenomenal – you won’t find as many delicious cuisines packed into a city the size of Austin (or at least I haven’t!). Because Austin is situated in the Texas Hill Country, it offers so many adventurous outdoor activities that those of us in Dallas or Houston don’t have: Hiking, natural pools, lakes, kayaking… So it’s easy to stay busy and well-fed while in Austin!
It’s funny to think about, but while in school at UT, we never even thought about attending South By Southwest (SWSW) the major tech, music, and film festival/conference that for many, put Austin on the map. It’s held every year in March and is strategically placed during the student’s spring break so that the city can accommodate the influx of visitors. At the time, we were more focused on our spring break trip and than some film festival. Oh, how the times have changed! Over the past 10 years, the city has expanded immensely. There was a running joke that the Austin city bird was a “crane,” referring to all the construction and skyscrapers going up and skyline littered with cranes.
The food truck scene was exploding when I was in college. It coincided with the invention of Twitter, and it was now possible to “follow” your favorite food truck on social media to see where they were going to be that day! It’s wild and so amazing to see but now most of these food trucks are permanent brick & mortars! East Austin has also blown up as 10 years ago it was an underdeveloped neighborhood with no bars or restaurants worth going to, maybe just a few food trucks. NOW… it’s almost a whole new 1/4th of the city! There are apartment complexes that have shot up and fun hip dining destinations that really make the East worth venturing to! This city guide is long overdue, as Austin has been my most requested guide. Had an outdated list that I would sheepishly send people, and always caveat with, “this list is old, and so much has popped up there.”
If it’s your first time in Austin, I’d stay downtown as you’ll be central to everywhere. Try the Proper Hotel, LINE hotel or the South Congress Hotel – those would be my first picks! You’ll want to grab coffee at Jo’s and grab some breakfast tacos at either Torchy’s Taco or Taco Deli! Go walk town lake (“Lady Bird Lake”) and get your bearings of the city and grab a smoothie at Juiceland after! Shop along South Congress (SoCo) and check out the new Music Lane development – where Equinox and Soho house is! Grab some drinks on the patio at Perla’s or head to Able’s on the Lake for some sundowners.
TexMex is a must while in the city! A classic Austin staple like Maudie’s, El Arroyo, or Matt’s El Rancho will hit the spot or you could try a more contemporary spot like Suerte, Comedor, La Condesa, or ATX Cocina. Can’t go wrong with any of them! If true Texas BBQ is what you’re after, Franklin’s BBQ is bar none the best, but you might be spending some time in line. Ironworks or Terry Black’s are classic, no-frills. But if you have a car and are willing to trek for BBQ, The Salt Lick is about 30-min outside of town and my personal favorite (also quite the experience!). For drinks you’ll need to hit up Rainey Street, a little neighborhood that was converted into house-bars, it’s more fun during the day! You’ll need to hit up 6th Street downtown, where all the bars are. “Dirty 6th” refers to anything East of Congress St. and is cheaper and usually a younger, rowdier crowd. “West 6th” is everything west of Congress street and has more cocktail bars and classier establishments. Now, since I’ve been in college, there’s an “East 6th,” which is everything east of I-35!
I know I put entirely too many spots into this guide, but I wanted to give you options and there are way too many great spots here! I put an “*” by my must-gos!
- *Suerte – Contemporary spot serving interior Mexican specialties & delicious craft cocktails. Get the Choripapa Sopes, Tuna Tostada, Sunchoke Huarache and the Suadero tacos!
- Matt’s El Rancho – Family-friendly Tex-Mex spot that’s been drawing crowds with enchiladas & margaritas since 1952. This spot is famous for their “Bob Armstrong,”
- Maudie’s – Long-running local Austin chain serving Tex-Mex faves & margaritas in a lively, casual setting.
- Taco Deli – Some of my favorite breakfast tacos in the city! Build your own, the Migas or the Jess (and don’t sleep on the Dona hot sauce!)
- *Comedor – Mexican-inspired fare & drinks by a popular chef with high ceilings & a modern, industrial design.
- *Torchy’s Taco – My ultimate taco in Austin. Torchy’s started out as a food truck and quickly expanded from there! Get the Baja Shrimp and Green Chili pork (on corn), a Trailer Park (and get it “trashy”)! And don’t forget their queso and street corn! Their classic breakfast tacos are just delicious as well!
- Velvet Taco – This is a pretty different kind of taco joint with an eclectic menu of globally-inspired tacos. Don’t sleep on the street corn!
- Cisco’s – Breakfast faves at this daytime institution with modest decor include migas & biscuits. Favorite for Mexican breakfast! I’m a fan of anywhere that has a squirt bottle of butter on the table.
- El Arroyo – If you haven’t heard of this institution (which means “the ditch”), you have definitely seen their signage with witty sayings that pre-dates social media! This Casual Tex-Mex joint boasts a sizable outdoor patio with a full bar, TVs & live music on weekends.
- *Fresa’s – Wood-grilled Mexican fare, cocktails & more in a colorful space with a patio & takeaway window. Get the La Fresa & El Santo Tacos, some guac & queso as well as the grilled sweet potatoes.
- Nixta Taqueria – Trendy tacos & tostados
- *La Condesa – An award-winning modern Mexican restaurant located in Austin’s vibrant 2nd Street District. Helmed by Executive Chef Rick Lopez, La Condesa’s menu features interior Mexican dishes made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients, plus a renowned bar program with one of the largest collections of tequila, mezcal, and other Mexican spirits in the city.
- ATX Cocina – Modern Mexian cantina
- Juan in a Million – Eastside staple with breakfast tacos & traditional dishes in a basic setting with an outdoor patio.
- Taco Joint – Great breakfast tacos!
- Chuy’s – Casual Tex-Mex
- Fonda San Miguel – Sophisticated takes on traditional Mexican cuisine served in a colorful, hacienda-style space.
- El Alma – Inventive Mexican cuisine & cocktails in a chic setting accented by local art & a rooftop deck.
- Licha’s Cantina – In a town with so many Mexican restaurants, this one stands out.
- Clark’s Oyster Bar – upscale-casual seafood spot with an open kitchen, marble-topped bar, plus indoor & outdoor seating. Get the Crudo plate, Ceviche, Beef Tartar, Crispy Snapper, and can’t go wrong with a side of french fries!
- *Perla’s – Prime patio on South Congress! Fish, oysters & surf ‘n’ turf are dished at this laid-back spot with an open kitchen & shaded patio!
- *Ranch 616 – Texana oddities adorn this buzzy hangout serving Southwestern eats, plus occasional live music. Cozy inside, and fun outdoor patio. Gotta get a “Ranch Water” here, where they were coined!
- Eberly – Fun spot for brunch in this vast setting for chic American dining & lounging areas, plus a study, rooftop bar & Cedar Tavern.
- Hopdoddy – Hip, eco-minded burger joint with all-natural meats, housemade buns, shakes & interesting beers. favorite burgers are the Buffalo Bill, Goodnight/Good Cause, or El Diablo, and get the chili cheese fries!
- Shoal Creek Saloon – If you’re cravin’ cajun and a good patio, his hopin’ cajun bar has crawfish, jambalaya, and cold beer!
- Central Standard (at the South Congress Hotel) – New American dishes, a raw bar, wine & drinks are served in modern digs in the South Congress Hotel. Worth stopping by for a drink if you’re shopping along South Congress!
- *Eddie V’s Prime Seafood – Elegant fine-dining chain with a seafood & steak menu, plus a cocktail lounge featuring live jazz
- Tiny Boxwood’s – Upscale garden cafe with open, airy vibe serving American fare & famed chocolate chip cookies. Go for brunch!
- Sour Duck – Casual restaurant serving American fare made from locally-sourced ingredients plus market & bar
- Texas Honey Ham Co. – In Westlake, a 15-minute drive from downtown, visit this cozy counter-serve for sandwiches made with its signature ham & breakfast tacos. So dang good.
- Odd Duck – This airstream turned brick-and-mortar is an upscale eatery doling out locally sourced New American chow & drinks in a contemporary setting.
- Z’Tejas – Southwestern eatery known for its large margarita selection & happy-hour deals. Who doesn’t love table cornbread + butter?! Fun brunch here!
- *Summer House (at Hotel Magdelena) – Beautiful interior and fun outdoor space. Perfect place for brunch! Get the Eggs in Purgatory, Hashbrowns, and the Avocado salad!
- Arlo Grey (at the LINE) – Modern, airy lakeside stop from a Top Chef offering French & Italian-inspired plates & cocktails.
- Texas Chili Parlor – Tex-Mex & American cuisine, with chili (from mild to XXX hot) & drinks in a kitschy setting.
- *P. Terry’s – All-natural burgers & fries at this amazing Austin burger chain!
- Jeffrey’s – Posh fine-dining icon featuring upscale New American cuisine in a tony setting plus an active bar.
- *Walton’s Fancy & Staple – One of my favorite sandwich shops! This brick-walled bakery, deli & flower shop has a rustic-chic interior & a variety of gifts.
- Contigo – Farm-fresh Texas fare meets seasonal cocktails & beer, plus a large all-weather patio.
- *Café No Sé (at South Congress Hotel) – A bright spot with seasonal menus in a chic, rustic-modern space. Great for brunch or lunch!
- Fixe – Upscale southern comfort eatery for grits, biscuits & creative seafood & steak options in chic dining rooms.
- *Bird Bird Biscuit – Neighborhood eatery serving house-made buttermilk biscuit sandwiches for breakfast & lunch.
- Foodheads – Cafe for daily housemade soups, sandwiches, ice teas & more from a converted home with yard seating.
- Pool Burger – By the Deep Eddy Pool, this poolside airstream is serving up some of the burgers in Austin along with tiki cocktails & homemade soft-serve!
- Barley Swine – Foodie hot spot serving a fixed-price menu with seasonal American small plates & a deep beer list.
- Josephine House – Stylish yet casual spin-off of neighboring Jeffrey’s offering seasonal New American dining.
- *The Peacock (at The Proper) – Fun spot for brunch! The menu is inspired by the colorful culinary styles of Israeli and Turkish fare and includes spit-roasted meats and vegetables grilled over the restaurant’s wood-burning oven, flavorful tagines, and hearty mezze platters and dips ideal for sharing.
- *Aba – Posh destination for elevated Mediterranean fare & cocktails, plus a lounge-style rooftop patio. Sitting outside under the tree is a must (make reservations early!)
- Justine’s Brasserie – Steaks & snails plus wine & cocktails in a little bungalow with a light-strung patio.
- Le Politique – Bright downtown brasserie, cafe & patisserie serving French fare in contemporary surrounds.
- Devil May Care
- Red Ash – Craft Italian fare, from wood-fired specialties to housemade pasta, plus wine in rustic-modern digs.
- *Via 313 Pizzeria – Delicious Detroit-style pizza from this airstream turned restaurant!
- Il Brutto – Best patio to enjoy a spritz! Serving classic Italian pasta dishes, wood-fired pizza & heartier entrees along with wine, cocktails & beer.
- Sammie’s Italian – A little taste of old Italy in this new spot that took over Hut’s Hamburgers (RIP!). Classic Italian joint meets trendy & curated!
- North Italia – Buzzy, modern Italian option with a patio for thin-crust pizzas & sophisticated Italian fare.
- Taverna – Casual Italian joint featuring pizzas, risottos & sidewalk seating. Great for a boozy brunch!
- Emmer & Rye – Heirloom Grains, Whole Animal Butchery, Handmade Breads & Pastas.
- *Home Slice Pizza – Some of the best pizza in Austin! Thin-crust slices & pies for dining in or carry out, open late for takeaway on weekends.
- Gusto – Charming neighborhood trattoria adorned with Italian-themed graffiti for simple but refined cooking.
- *Franklin’s – The BBQ joint you’ve probably heard about. Long lines form early for brisket, pulled pork & other smoked meats at this lunch-only spot.
- *The Salt Lick [30-minute drive outside of Austin] My favorite BBQ! It’s BYOB at this venerable cash-only, BBQ spot with a rustic setting & live music outdoors. If you don’t have the time to make it out to the venue, you can always grab it in the Austin Airpor on your way out of town!
- Ironworks – Barbecued meats, including signature beef ribs, & specialty sauces in a historic former iron shop.
- Lambert’s – Upscale BBQ in a refurbished general store with an upstairs bar with live music.
- Terry Black’s -Spacious, casual stop for pit-smoked meats & housemade sides from famous 4th-generation pitmasters (from Lockhart!)
- La Barbeque – Hopping BBQ counter in a small market offering brisket, pulled pork & sausages, plus outdoor tables.
- Loro – Asian smokehouse meets Texas barbecue in a rustic spot with beer, wine & cocktails plus a giant patio. From the same guys that started Franklin’s, so you know it’s legit!
- Wu Chow – Sichuan cuisine & weekend dim sum brunch served in a contemporary space.
- Madam Mam’s – My favorite Thai spot! We used to go to here every Sunday night for dinner in college! Gotta get the Chicken Pad Thai (my favorite, ever!) and their fried rice!
- Sway – Contemporary Thai spot for curries, seafood, & creative desserts along with scratch Kombucha & cocktails.
- *Uchi – Sushi plus creative hot & cold dishes from chef Tyson Cole in a stylish, sophisticated setting.
- *Elizabeth Street Cafe – Charming Vietnamese noodle house offering French breakfast bites & creative Vietnamese plates for lunch & dinner!
- Neighborhood Sushi
- Lin – Health-conscious eatery serving Chinese fare plus Dim Sum with locally sourced ingredients.
- *Qi – From the same family that started Lin, this modern Asian kitchen with a beautiful interior with a fun large patio. Get the Chicken Taro Egg Roll, Shanghai Soup Dumpling, Basil Chicken Dumpling, Sesame Chicken, and the Combination Fried Rice.
- Ah Singh Den – Bar serving Asian-inspired hot & cold dishes, plus sweets, cocktails & sake in an intimate setting.
- Oseyo– Homestyle Korean fare & craft cocktails on offer in this bright, rustic-chic kitchen. Get the Kentucky fried chicken or beef.. great cocktails!
- The Sushi Bar ATX – hottest reservation in Austin. Hidden within Austin’s beloved East Side restaurant, Bento Picnic, Sushi|Bar is Chef Phillip Frankland Lee’s Omakase Speakeasy that serves up a whimsy of its namesake fare in 17 courses. Behind an unmarked door lies an intimate counter housing 10 prized seats where you will sit right up to the chef’s cutting boards.
- Kemuri Tatsu-Ya – Casual izakaya & bar serving meat-centric shareable plates with Japanese & Texan influences.
- Lucky Robot – Hip option for Tokyo-inspired street fare including Asian tacos, sushi & dumplings, plus sake punch.
- *Juiceland – Health-minded chain serving juices, smoothies & hot drinks, plus noodle bowls & salads. Always my favorite to grab after a walk/run along Town Lake! Sucker for the Strawberry Mylkshake protein shake, but best smoothies & juices in town!
- Vinaigrette – Design-your-own salads, plus soup & sandwiches, served in a modern, colorful space with a wine bar.
- Nektar Juice – Local Austin juice-bar chain offering specialty drinks, cleanses & health-conscious snacks.
- Flowerchild – Health-oriented, bohemian cafe for custom salads, grain bowls & soups with additive-free proteins. My favorite is the Mother Earth Bowl!
- The Well
- *Picnik – Paleo-friendly grab-and-go meals, pastries & coffee with a couple of tables on a grassy knoll. Their Chicken Tenders are great as well as their Fish Tacos and Quinoa bowls!
- Sweedish Hill Bakery – Longtime bakery with a cozy ambiance & outdoor seating selling baked goods, breads & lunch fare.
- Tiny’s bos
- Milk bar (?)
- Amy’s Ice Cream – Austin staple serving inventive ice creams, milkshakes, ices & frozen yogurts with clever fixings.
- Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream – Midwest chain scooping creative flavors of ice cream & frozen yogurt made from local ingredients.
- Yummy Joy – Craft sodas, mix-and-match candy, & coffee, plus vegan ice cream in playful, cartoon-ish surrounds.
- Sno-Beach – Snowcone airstream serving up some delicious combinations
- Big Top – Colorful, circus-themed sweets store featuring old-school confections & a soda fountain.
- Jo’s coffee – My favorite coffee in the city! Location on 2nd street or South Congress (with this iconic “I Love You So Much” graffiti!
- El Tigre Coffee – Rad coffee shop on the east side serving up some delicious coffee!
- Flat Track – Coffee shop serving up craft beverages & pastries in spacious industrial-looking digs.
- Two Hands – This Aussie café from NYC is serving up some of my favorite coffee and great brekkie!
- Little Brother’s Coffee & Kolaches – This coffee kiosk is located in the Marifas store, perfect pick-me-up if you’re shopping South Congress!
- Alfred’s (located in the LINE Hotel) – The LA coffee hot-spot
- Here Nor There – Stylish invitation-only bar & lounge serving globally-inspired cocktails, taking bookings by app. (make reservations!)
- Donn’s Depot – Piano bar with live music, 2 dance floors & a diverse crowd, set in old rail cars & a former depot.
- Parlor & Yard – Welcoming bar & lounge with board games & sports in the yard, plus a full bar, pub grub & more.
- P6 (at the LINE hotel)
- LoLo Wine Bar
- Easy Tiger
- Kinda Tropical
- The Courtyard Lounge (at Hotel San Jose)
- The Rustic Tap
- Midnight Cowboy – Intimate reservations-only lounge known for its hip speakeasy vibe & old-school cocktail menu.
- Better Half Coffee & Cocktails – All-day cafe serving American fare plus coffee, draft cocktails, wine, craft ciders & beer.
- Cain & Able’s – Where we sent half of college. Longhorn hangout with bar grub that’s a fun spot to pre-game UT events or hang. Get a “Texas Tea,” if you dare!
- Able’s on the Lake – This sister spot from Can & Able’s, has the same menu, but views of Lake Austin!
- Green Light Social
- The Roosevelt Room -Inventive craft cocktails are served in an airy, industrial-chic space with a cozy upstairs lounge.
- Rainey Street:
- Dry Creek Café & Boat Dock – A Genuine Austin Tradition dating back to 1953. Owned by the founding family, Dry Creek is a throwback accepting cash only, 45 rpm jukebox, and serving only beer at this joint.
- The White Horse – Live country music is served up in this hip, upbeat, sprawling honky-tonk with a taco truck outside.
- Continental Club – Rock, country, jazz & blues acts, national & local, are found at this legendary South Congress club. In college, we used to see James McMurtry play here all the time!
- Lazarus Brewing Co. – Cozy brewery for house beers sold only on-premise, plus root beer, kombucha, espresso & house tacos.
- Whistler’s ATX – Rustic-chic watering hole featuring handcrafted cocktails & a patio with frequent live music shows. They’ve got a fun mezcal tasting room if you’re into it!
- Central Machine Works – Microbrewery beer hall & pub grub menu in a spacious converted machine works with an outdoor area. It’s far on the East Side, but worth it!
- STAG – One of my favorite menswear stores! This trendy men’s boutique stocks designer labels such as Faherty, RRL, Rogue Territory, plus books & accessories.
- St. Bernard’s
- ByGeorge – High-end women’s & men’s boutique boasting designer clothing & accessories in a chic, airy setting.
- Neighborhood Goods – A new type of department store, featuring an ever-changing landscape of the world’s most thoughtful, progressive, and exciting brands.
- Manready Mercantile – Taxidermy & hides line this rustic-chic menswear store with quirky gifts, denim, magazines & jerky.
- Buck Mason – One of my favorites. All my t-shirts are exclusively from here!
- Service – Slick men’s clothing shop offering a selection of apparel, shoes, swimwear & accessories.
- Howler Bro’s – Men’s causal & fun apparel with a western twist!
- Tecovas – If I was looking for some great boots in Austin, I’d start here! Cozy boutique selling handcrafted Western-style boots & accessories for men & women.
Things to do:
- Watch the river bats at sunset along Congress Ave. Bridge
- Hang out in Zilker Park
- Paddle Board or Kayak on Town Lake (Lady Bird Lake)
- Walk Town Lake Trail – This 10-mile loop around Town Lake (Lady Bird Lake) is perfect for a walk or jog!
- Swim in Deep Eddy – Deep Eddy Pool is a historic, man-made swimming pool in Austin, Texas. Deep Eddy is the oldest swimming pool in Texas and features a bathhouse built during the Depression.
- Tour the Texas State Capital
- Explore + hike the Greenbelt
- Rent a boat on Town Lake or Lake Travis
- Float “the river“
- See a movie at Alamo Drafthouse
- Catch a live performance at ACL Live at the Moody Theater
- Hike Mount Bonnel
- Take a dip in Barton Springs – Barton Springs Pool is a recreational outdoor swimming pool that is filled entirely with water from nearby natural springs. It is located on the grounds of Zilker Park
- Take a hike + dip into Hamilton Pool
- Hotel San José – Set in a revamped 1930s motor lodge located on South Congress near buzzy bars and music venues, this hip hotel is 2 miles from the Texas Capitol building. There’s a leafy courtyard bar offering light snacks, occasional DJs, and jazz music, plus a wading pool. Breakfast can be served in-room or in the courtyard.
- *The Proper – The design of this hotel is one of my favorites in Austin! With stylish rooms and There’s an upscale Mediterranean restaurant, as well as 2 casual eateries and a cocktail bar. Other amenities include an outdoor pool, one of the best fitness centers I’ve seen in a hotel, and a yoga studio.
- *The LINE Austin – The location of the LINE is so great! Set in a midcentury building that once housed a jazz club, this stylish hotel has chic rooms and a hip, modern restaurant with a bar that features views of the river plus a terrace. There’s also an Alfred’s coffee shop located in the lobby!
- Hotel Magdalena – Tucked behind the new Music Lane, this cool, upscale hotel with a 1970s vibe is in a great location in South Congress. Hip rooms are colorful, with Southwestern-inspired decor views of South Austin. There are loaner bikes and yoga mats are complimentary. A leafy courtyard features an outdoor pool and sun loungers. There’s also a trendy restaurant (Summer House) and a poolside bar!
- *South Congress Hotel – this trendy hotel in a contemporary low-rise is situated right in the heart of bustling South Congress. Chic and spacious rooms as dining options include a casual lobby bar, a vibrant cafe, a trendy American restaurant/bar and an upscale Japanese eatery. Oh, and don’t forget about the pool!
- Commodore Perry Estate – Set on 10 acres of gardens, this stately hotel in multiple buildings, including an Italian Renaissance Revival mansion. Amenities include an art nouveau restaurant, an outdoor pool, and a gym. There’s also a chapel, a jewelry store, a music room, and an elegant lounge with a library.
Have you ever been to Austin? Maybe it was for South By Southwest or the ACL music festival, but I hope you got to explore the weird Texas town! Let me know your favorite taco joint or Austin Gem!