Austin City Guide
Visit Austin and you’re likely to find residents who pair friendly smiles with T-shirts that read, “Welcome to Austin. Please don’t move here.” Their attempt at migration control isn’t working: Recently, Austin had the highest population growth rate in the U.S., beating out hip cities such as Miami, Denver, Seattle and Portland.
It’s easy to understand Austin's popularity. Austin is not only known as a start-up and tech hub, it also has trend-setting restaurants and bars, an accessible outdoors scene, and cutting-edge music and arts. Whether you’re in Austin for a short or long stay, check out our guide to get you on your way -- you may just want to move here.
What to See & Do
Get your city bearings on Lady Bird Lake Trail, a walking and biking path that’s well utilized by spandex-clad bikers, rowers and runners channeling their inner Lance Armstrong. It rings a waterway that cuts through Austin’s center, and links to some of Austin’s best green spaces, such as Zilker Park, where the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival takes place every fall, and Barton Springs Pool, a public swimming hole fed by natural springs.
Austin’s top local shops and music venues are scattered throughout the city’s distinctive neighborhoods. In the urban Second Street District, savvy shoppers can find smart architectural jewelry at Eliza Page. Down the sidewalk, Wee sells haute baby clothes and furnishings. Moody Theater, where PBS show Austin City Limits Live is taped, has already hosted the likes of Coldplay, the Buena Vista Social Club and Willie Nelson.
Cross the bridge to South Congress Avenue for a show at Austin’s oldest music venue, the Continental Club, where well-loved couches and chairs surround a modest but legendary stage. The once-seedy thoroughfare is also the best place to nab an only-in-Austin souvenir, thanks to a row of quirky boutiques with imaginative storefronts. At Uncommon Objects, treasure-seekers will appreciate the well-curated collection of antiques and vintage finds. Hit up Tesoros for Mexican home accent pieces such as tin sacred hearts and hand-carved masks. Get ranch-ready at the original Allen's Boots, the best pit stop in town for cowboy hats and embroidered boots. If colorful sundresses are more your style, stop by the Impeccable Pig.
In the evening, head to Congress Bridge for stellar city views. The wide avenue is crowned by the Texas State Capitol building (leave it to the Lone Star State to build a capitol taller than the nation’s in Washington, D.C.), though the bridge itself is more famous for its resident Austin bats, a colony of over 1.5 million that flood out at dusk.
Where to Eat & Drink
While Austin has long been known for 6th Street, the Texas equivalent to New Orleans’s Bourbon Street, more laid-back nightlife can be found less than a mile away on Rainey Street, a collection of square blocks where bungalows with big backyards have been converted into bars and cafes. At Lustre Pearl, Tom’s Shoes-clad 20-somethings take turns playing washers and ping-pong. Clive has local brews (Fireman's #4 and 512 IPA) on tap and a small stone house devoted entirely to mezcals.
To balance out what could easily turn into a liquid diet, map out your breakfast, lunch and dinner itinerary. Start the day at Elizabeth Street Cafe, a cheerful French-Vietnamese restaurant with striped awnings and turquoise shutters, where diners pair espresso with house-made chocolate croissants or pork-belly buns. Caffe Medici serves Austin-roasted Spyhouse and Wild Gift coffee and local Taco Deli breakfast tacos. The Vaquero, made with egg, corn and roasted peppers, is one among many standouts.
For lunch, line up at one of A-Town’s food trucks, parked outside of loft-style apartment buildings or grouped in pseudo trailer parks. Mighty Cone is known for its hot-and-crunchy chicken cones, chicken breast sautéed in chili flakes, sesame seeds and almonds, and wrapped in a tortilla with crunchy slaw. Asian and Southern U.S. influences collide in dishes such as bahn mi sliders cooked up by Tokyo-born chef Eric Silverstein at the Peached Tortilla.
While Austin’s dress code is generally casual (most offices go so far as to encourage jeans) dinner spots range from elegant and celebratory to casual and communal. At Second Bar + Kitchen, chef Casey Wilcox prepares artful Nuevo American plates for diners seated under contemporary chandeliers. Tables share pails of crispy wings and drumsticks and fight over the last bite of s’mores pie at Lucy's Fried Chicken. The most coveted reservations in town are at Japanese farm-to-table restaurants Uchi and Uchiko, helmed by James Beard Award-winning chef Tyson Cole.
Where to Stay
Bunk up with musicians and artists at the Hotel San Jose, a former 24-hour motel with minimalist rooms. An outdoor lounge space has a pool and the best micheladas (beer with lime juice and hot sauce) in Austin. Across South Congress, Kimber Modern reinvents the bed-and-breakfast concept with seven contemporary rooms, some of which have deep-soaking tubs and floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto a tropical courtyard. History buffs will love The Driskill hotel, built in 1886, for its restored marble lobby and plush, stately rooms.
Austin’s Capital Metro buses (just over a $1 per ride) are on time but infrequent; schedules can be tracked to the minute on Google maps. If you’re staying in downtown Austin, the city is also pedestrian- and cab-friendly.