When someone asks me, “Hey, do you want to go to Austin with me?” I don’t hesitate. Would you?
The live music capital of the United States is one of my all-time favorite destinations because of its unapologetic and unique culture. Locals don’t try to be anything other than their fashion-forward, on-trend natural-selves. They city beckons travelers looking to explore a high-energy city that appeals to outdoor enthusiasts by day and band-chasing, craft cocktail sipping visitors by night. Austin is just my brand of city.
With a population pushing almost 1 million, the city’s neighborhoods are distinctly different much like the people who live there. I prefer to explore the downtown district since it is a hub for live music clubs and within walking distance of food trucks and restaurants. If you consider yourself a bit against-the-grain or counter culture, then Austin will feel like a home away from home.
The downtown area is crowded with high-rise hotels. We chose to stay at the Sheraton at Austin adjacent to East 11th Street, a gateway into the center of the city. Having booked our room only a couple days before our visit, I was impressed with the accommodations. (Note: Visitors can expect to pay a pretty penny during festival weeks and will need to reserve a room well in advance.) Fortunately, we stayed in the city during the off-season and were able to find a room (and request a skyline view) without issue.
Upon check-in, I made sure to update my registration with my Marriott Rewards member information that upgraded our stay to include free Wi-Fi. The room came fully stocked with standard hotel amenities plus a view extras including a soft, cotton robe and quality bath towels. Although the room included a refrigerator, it did not include the promised microwave, an extra some travelers appreciate. I thought the room was quiet (I don’t mind the woosh-woosh white noise from the elevator) and the bed was super soft and comfortable.
The hotel features a library lounge, The Yard (a downstairs restaurant and bar), heated indoor pool and crystal clear hot tub, as well as an outdoor entertainment area complete with an Airstream trailer and chairs to stretch out and enjoy the Texas sunshine. Travelers seeking a grab-and-go breakfast or coffee will appreciate the on-site Starbucks cafe in the lobby. To be clear, we didn’t eat at the hotel’s restaurant The Yard because we wanted to save our appetite for a day of visiting downtown food trucks, an absolute must when in Austin!
By the way, valet and parking garage parking is available at the hotel. Although we expected to pay $30 a day for parking garage access, we didn’t pay a dime upon checkout. Bonus!
NAVIGATING THE CITY
A car is a necessity if you’re planning on traveling to the outskirts of the downtown area to explore parks or shopping districts and don’t want to use public transportation. To navigate from the airport, one could use an airport shuttle to their hotel and then rely on the use of rental, electric JUMP scooters or bikes in the downtown area. Of course, walking the downtown district is an option but I would recommend wearing comfortable shoes and stopping mid-route for a breather since you’ll likely want to traverse different pockets of the urban area. The rental electric bikes and scooters are meant for short distances.
Now, more about those speedy, on-demand scooters and bikes! They are everywhere. There’s no need to try to find a “rental station” to check one out using the JUMP app since people simply abandon them anywhere and everywhere they want. In fact, it’s almost overwhelming how many scooters you see standing (and fallen over) on the side of the road. Renting a scooter is 15 cents a minute so they make a smart option for someone who just wants to head to and from a bar or explore the city a bit. The Uber app recommends wearing a helmet (and you might want to because they are a bit unstable), but no one does. Ride at your own risk and have a blast!
Consider yourself a “foodie” who likes to taste a variety of ethnic cuisines? Austin is the mecca for an authentic, chef-prepared food truck scene. You can’t walk too far before spotting a food truck or ten! Sometimes hidden behind another business, some of the city’s best food trucks, like Via 313 Pizza are nestled in the backyard of another business like Craft Pride. It is tucked away but deserves to be found!
We also enjoyed walking up to a grouping of trucks that included Tex-Mex standards, pizza by the slice, smokey barbecue dinners, gourmet hotdogs, and Mediterranean faire. Honestly, I could’ve watched the cook at Ditty Dog prepare hotdogs with layers of toppings all night. She moved at lightening speed adding cream cheese, crumbled chips, and sauces to each order. ::Excuse me while I wipe drool from my face::
Interested in hunting down the Austin food truck scene? I recommend using Eater Austin to plan your meals and read up on the city’s favorites.
Looking for award-winning cuisine? Welcome to Austin! Whether you’re on the search for fresh seafood or an artfully stacked sandwich, the city’s kitchens are putting out delicious meals. Check out a few online resources prior to your visit. The sheer number of restaurants is overwhelming. Resources like Thrillist, Eater Austin or Yelp Austin are good places to start.
Note: Austin is known for its Sunday brunch specials. Keep this in mind when doing your research. Many restaurants serve bottomless mimosas and craft cocktails with a deep menu of breakfast options. I appreciated the fully-loaded, mouthwatering tacos from Torchy’s Tacos and the Taco Joint. I ate two breakfasts in one day just because I couldn’t resist the food options!
Our first dinner downtown was spent at Moonshine Grill — talk about historic vibes! Located on the corner of 3rd Street and Red River Street, the building dates back to 1852. Originally a trading mercantile used by visitors traveling across Texas, the restaurant’s ambiance harkens back to its early days. Stone walls, wood accents, and historic photographs set the vibe. Instead of waiting at least an hour for a table on a Saturday evening, we stalked the open seating in the bar area and quickly nabbed two vacated chairs.
Because it was National Margarita Day during our visit, I ordered a salty margarita made with Pepe Zevada Tequila Resposado. It was phenomenal! Later, I asked the bartender the same question I recommend all travelers ask, “If it were your shift meal, what would you order from the menu?” Having served in restaurants for years, I appreciate knowing what meal the staff wants to eat, not necessarily the special for the evening of what the manager wants pushed to patrons. We dined at the dimly lit bar on savory chicken sandwiches and copious amounts of steak fries. The meals are huge!
CRAFT BEER SCENE
Always a sucker for a hazy IPA or locally-crafted lager, I did my research before visiting Austin to find what the locals consider the best craft brewery in town. Craft Pride and Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden were mentioned favorably numerous times, and since our hotel was a short drive from the Rainey Street District, we had to try them.
Craft Pride is a Texas-only beer bar with 54 taps, and it’s adjacent side room includes single cans and bottles of even more beer! To access the bonus beer room and patio, exit the main tasting room and follow the signs. While I appreciated learning more about the brews from the bartender, I wanted to spend the most time drinking leisurely and listening to bluegrass music outdoors. Visitors will fall in love with the permanent food truck, Via 313 Pizza, open every day in the rear of Craft Pride. Have you ever tried Detroit-style pizza? They serve authentic square pies that are thicker than New York style pizza but less carbolicious than Chicago-style pizza. It is delicious and even better with a cold beer to wash it down! I recommend ordering The Carnivore loaded with two kinds of pepperoni, ham, Italian sausage, and bacon.
The outdoor patio scene is vibrant in Austin – in every neighborhood! The warm weather beckons townies and tourists to the Rainey Street’s Banger’s Sausage and Beer Garden. I went for the beer (they have 100 taps!) but stayed for the people watching. Known for Austin’s largest tap wall, visitors order their beer using a number that corresponds to their brew of choice. I appreciated that our bartended, one of a half dozen or so, was patient and took as much time as we needed to order. The choices were overwhelming.
You’ll enjoy the outdoor patio that stretches wide and up close to Rainey Streets main drag as it is the perfect vantage point to watch visitors celebrating sunshine, tasty beer, and delicious eats. Order a bierwurst sandwich and enjoy the scene from your perch sitting high above the bustling sidewalk.
While I haven’t been to every Austin neighborhood, I can speak to what it’s like to experience the downtown district, Rainey Street, and some of the surrounding suburbs. Keep in mind that Austin is a big city. I recommend planning your excursions.
The downtown area has numerous big name hotels intersected by high-end restaurants and live music bars. A tourist attraction, Dirty 6th (6th Avenue) is dotted with high-energy bars boasting everything from happy hour specials to pulsating live music every night of the week. In my opinion, I’ve outgrown the hard rock, punk rock vibe scene and would much rather have a great meal coupled by relaxing, live music. No matter your preference, you can find the vibe you’re looking for along downtown Austin’s streets.
My favorite shopping district is South Congress. Lined with eclectic clothing boutiques, home good stores, and locally owned restaurants, the area is several blocks long. Street parking is available but you’ll need to reverse into your spot. Because I was traveling light, I brought home a few tiny gifts for myself including a Anthony Bourdain drink coaster. I strongly encourage you to take an hour out of your Austin stay to peruse the retail shopping on South Congress.
Willing to wait hours to dine on Texas bbq? Bring your own chair and a six-pack of your favorite beer while you wait in line at Franklin Barbecue, a popular local joint. Rumor has it that visitors wait over two hours to dine there. We didn’t, but I suppose that’s because we were already full from a day of eating. The restaurant is located in a humble suburban neighbor not far from downtown Austin.
Love to exercise and explore? Austin is an active community! We saw hundreds of people enjoying the weekend’s sunny weather at Zilker Park. The area was dotted with runners, scooter riders, bikers, kayakers on the water, and dog walkers along the Lady Bird Hike and Bike Trail.
Don’t forget to bring your swimming suit so you can take a dip in the city’s crown jewel, the Barton Springs Pool. Visitors and locals flock to the banks of the area to picnic, sunbathe, read a book while relaxing or play outdoor games with friends. Note: Starting during the spring (later in March), visitors must pay an admission fee to take a swim but if you’d rather avoid the price, you can enjoy a small waterfall area for free near the edge of the pool. Ask the customer service attendant for details.
We enjoyed our time in the city. You’re guaranteed to love Austin! In fact, you’ll love it so much you’ll probably start planning your next visit while you’re still there. I’ve barely scratched the surface of all that Austin offers for fun. Have a fun suggestion to add? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.
Happy travels, friends!