Kate Hofberg, a local to Santa BarbarA and freelance writer for Buzzfeed, writes Where to go and what to do exclusively for SB Travel.
Best of Austin, Texas
So you’ve heard that Austin is the place for finger-lickin’ good BBQ joints (where waiting for hours in line for a couple of pork ribs is what makes them taste all the more delicious) and the honky-tonks filled with cowboy-boot wearing men drinking Lone Star beers.
And it’s true!
But also, the city is so much more than taco trucks galore serving up breakfast tacos to hungry “Austinites,” a perpetual soundtrack of country western ballads playing, everywhere, always.
Because actually, Austin, Texas is cool.
Like, really cool.
It’s a place where there’s something for everyone: great food, eccentric shops, new hotels, art galleries and museums, and lots of opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Need help planning your trip to Austin?
Check out this list of the city’s best!
where to stay
The Ruby Hotel
For those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the ever-growing state capitol, the new Ruby Hotel in Round Rock, Texas (about a 30 minute drive north of Austin), nestled on the banks of Brushy Creek, offers modern and bright accommodations, with many of the rooms featuring balconies with creek views. During your stay, enjoy a cocktail from the Ruby Bar while relaxing pool-side, stroll through the gardens, or take a short walk to the shops and restaurants of downtown Round Rock.
Hotel San Jose
For those wanting to stay a little closer to all the Austin action, Hotel San Jose, located on the famed South Congress Ave., is a secluded, urban bungalow-style hotel originally built in 1936 as an "ultramodern motor court." Today, the 40 room property with an outdoor pool and lounge is cool, minimalist and totally unique. The owner of the hotel also operates Jo’s Coffee, the popular Austin coffee shop known for its hand-painted “i love you so much” mural.
The Four Seasons Hotel Austin
For our travelers looking for a little more "luxe" or traveling for business the Four Seasons is always a good call. The Hotel Austin is a great example of what the Four Seasons traveler is accustomed to. It is located in the heart of the city along the Colorado River and only a few minutes away from the capital. The hotel offers complimentary cooking classes and yoga as well as many activities for the fall season and is gearing up for the holidays.
What to do
For the outdoorsy adventurer, there are several rivers and lakes bisecting the Austin area and a handful of state parks that are perfect for a morning of exploring. Spend an afternoon swimming at Barton Springs Pool. Barton Springs Pool located on the grounds of Zilker Park is a recreational outdoor swimming pool that is filled entirely with water from nearby natural springs and is ideal for year-round swimming with an average water temperature of 68-74 degrees.
Make sure to visit the Texas Capitol Building. Any history buff will love a visit to the Texas Capitol. Did you know the Texas Capitol is the largest capitol building in the United States, standing 14 feet higher than the U.S. Capitol building? The Texas Capitol offers 30-minute tours which are a great way to learn about the history of the building, walk the historic halls, take pictures, and ask questions but those who prefer to tour at their own pace are invited to enjoy the building and surrounding grounds on self-guided tours. The best part? A visit to the Texas Capitol is free!
Spend the afternoon on South Congress Ave. This vibrant neighborhood south of the Congress Ave. Bridge, jam-packed with funky boutiques, chic eateries, cool galleries and live music venues, is a must-stroll for visitors of Austin. At Allens Boots shop from more than 4,000 pairs of real leather cowboy boots. Then, when you find the perfect pair, shop their cowboy hats, clothing and accessories to match your new boots! For a little afternoon pick-me-up, pop into Joann’s Fine Foods located in the Austin Motel. Take your margarita to their back patio and sip in a garden furnished with comfy couches and lounge chairs.
When dusk starts to hit, make sure to head down to Watch the Austin Bats at the Congress Ave. Bridge. From March through November every year, large groups of locals and tourists alike gather under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge to watch the roughly 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats that roost underneath emerge at dusk for their nightly feeding. In one night the bats eat roughly 20-30 thousand pounds of insects which helps to keep Austin’s insect population at bay. A sight of the bats aerial show is spectacular and should not be missed.
Where to Eat and What to Drink
In Austin, seemingly, you could eat forever. Of course, they’re serving up all your Texas favorites like brisket on white bread and corn tortillas piled high with taco meats, but in Austin they’re also serving up the best plates of oysters, bowls of pho, killer pizzas.
First things first, you need a coffee. Surely, there are a million coffee shops to try in Austin, but make sure to try and make it to Swedish Hill. Formerly “Sweetish Hill,” that opened in 1975, the bakery sold to new ownership in 2018, closed briefly for a revamp and just recently reopened in Spring 2019. The new Swedish Hill is meant to exude the same all-day vibes as Los Angeles small plates restaurant Gjusta, and they basically nail it. Order from a menu that features coffees, teas and cases with smoked fish, caviar, artisanal charcuterie, colorful vegetable dishes, and hearty salads.
To check some famous Austin tacos off your list, stop at Gueros Tacos on South Congress Ave. for a lunch of pastor and carne asada tacos. For those who like some spice, pair your tacos with a famous Gueros Tacos michelada.
At Elizabeth Street Café transport yourself to Southeast Asia and treat yourself to a bowl of ultra-authentic pho and an iced Vietnamese coffee on their charming patio.
Looking for a sophisticated fine-dining spot? You must stop at Josephine House of Clarksville. The cottage-turned-restaurant in a residential neighborhood of Austin features a small marble bar for coffee or cocktails, intimate tables in the dining room, shady nooks on the patio, and a grassy front lawn for lounging. Spend a few hours here enjoying a leisurely lunch or a cocktail in the early afternoon.
If you’re thirsty for beer, check out Easy Tiger Bake Shop and Beer Garden (several locations) for artisan bread, locally roasted coffee, house made meats, a full bar, and more than 30 local and boutique draft beers. All of the breads, meats, sausages and charcuterie are prepared in house, as well as their accompaniments. If you visit their 6th Street location, order a Blue Owl sour beer, (an Austin local favorite) and sip on a patio that overlooks the lush Waller Creek.
Now giddy up, y’all!
Austin is calling!