My Austin Field Guide
I know I'm a few weeks late on relaying my Austin experiences... but this trip was half work and half jam-packed fun so it's taken my a while to craft this post – none the less, I have lots of fun recommendations if you've been thinking about visiting Austin!
Austin is such a unique (and large) city; there are so many neighborhoods and hot spots to be found that it can be quite overwhelming if you try to reach them all in one trip. My advice is to choose a neighborhood to stay in that is walkable so you can explore on foot as much as possible. The remainder of your trip can be planned around neighborhoods; choose a few spots to explore in each neighborhood per day so you're not driving yourself across the country – trust me, it could feel like you drove the whole day or spent your monthly income on cabs... Without further ado, let me share my findings in the way of lodging, food and fun in hopes that you'll soon visit Austin yourself!
Where to stay:
1. Aloft at the Domain
I stayed at Aloft at the Domain (W hotels) during the week, this place is a great option. The Domain is packed with great shopping and dining – The Domain recently expanded, adding "Rock Rose" offers coffee, more dining and a few boutiques. The Domain is in North Austin and about 20 minutes from downtown but the area is very polished and has great accessibility to surrounding areas, downtown and is very walkable and accessible to great dining and shopping options on foot within the Domain itself.
The nice part about staying at the Domain is that everything you could ever need is within walking distance: food, coffee, smoothies and juices, cocktails, beer, great dining spots, boutiques and tons of shopping! If you stay or even visit, here are a few restaurants/bars and shops to check out.
The Domain's Northside 'Rock Rose' offers an overwhelming amount of restaurants and bars and is quickly becoming a new hot spot.
This is the second Dogwood to join Austin. This one is a two-story building with indoor and outdoor bars and a great rooftop! Homegrown food with a southern touch is their specialty. The bloody marys on the rooftop are pretty killer (depending on the bartender you get) and the tacos are a nice snack.
Fun craft cocktail atmosphere at the start of "Rock Rose". The food isn't anything to write home about but go for the environment and the cocktails - they have bowling too!
Jack & Gingers
Irish sports bar with a focus on beer, whiskey, and soccer. They offer over 82 different beers on tap! They also serve Irish American comfort food, including breakfast. Their soft pretzels could feed an army.
This California-based Ramen chain serves up a huge variety of ramen bowls with a wide array of ingredients to add. Simply delicious.
Ok, Whole Foods started in Austin so you have to give them some automatic credit but this specific store is part of the Domain and is new, shiny and extra good. Multi-level, full service coffee bar, they even have an outside beer garden or food truck park where they play live music!
This high end men's company was running exclusively online until it decided to launch it's first brick and mortar store at the Domain! The small store front has a great selection of casual, high quality men's brands, shoes, accessories and apothecary. It also has a small whiskey/coffee bar and open concept that gives a glimpse into their company and what they're working on.
Raven + Lily
I stumbled into this shop to find way more than expected. Filled with organic threads and feminine vibes, this shop's mission is to give back to the countries and makers that help them create their retail. They sell fair trade, eco-friendly clothing, jewelry and accessories that are locally sourced by women that they help employ. The company was created to alleviate poverty in women and they help provide them with jobs that pay fair trade wages, give access to safe jobs, sustainable income, healthcare, education and help break poverty.
Aloft at the Domain: The Domain, 11601 Domain Dr, Austin, TX 78758
2. Westin Austin Downtown
We definitely love to explore on foot and the majority of the spots we wanted to find were within "downtown" distance - there's definitely a lot of action downtown and plenty of music, food and nightlife to go around. We saved the "suburbs" if you will for day trips.
This hotel's design is stunning, they did a great job with the details. The finishes are superb, amenities are on par, kick back on the rooftop deck and sip a cocktail as you take in some stunning views of the skyline. Make sure you dine at the hotel restaurant, Stella San Jac – we ate here at least 3 times, which is unusual for us, new but breakfast, lunch and dinner are all excellent options from what I would classify, a five-star kitchen.
Westin Austin Downtown: 310 E 5th St, Austin, TX
3. W Austin Downtown
The W Downtown is just a few blocks away from Westin Austin Downtown; although I have not stayed here I can vouch for it's great location and proximity to fun. From what I've read from others, it's a very nice option with comparable amenities to Westin (same company and same W Hotels quality) and you'll have just as much fun right in the middle of the downtown scene – pick your fancy! Oh – and their rooftop is killer!
W Austin Downtown: 2nd Street District, 200 Lavaca St, Austin, TX 78701
Food truck heaven
We all know Austin (Texas in general) is known for it's BBQ, but I'm an even bigger fan of the food truck scene; a city with some of the most food trucks per capita, it's one of the top food truck cities in the US. Food trucks have seriously taken off in the last few years and are changing what it means to "eat out". Coming from the city of Minneapolis, which also has quite a few awesome food trucks, I had a list pre-made of all the spots to hit up – and no, I did not make it to all of them.
What I found especially neat about Austin's food truck scene is the fact that most find themselves a more permanent location so you can count on finding the truck in the same place every day - also makes for a less stressful trip trying to find out where they might be parked! Because they have more permanent locations it allows them to build out more outdoor dining spaces, canopies, awnings or offer a unique store front (we even found a food "bus"!). It's also pretty common to see food truck parks; a clump or co-op of trucks during breakfast and lunch hours - kind of a fun environment, like little pop up food communities.
Tip: If you're searching for BBQ, most of the good trucks are open during the day so don't plan on finding one come dinner time, save your food truck hunting for the day time.
Enjoy a breakfast sandwich and cup of joe while paging through a newspaper. They offer a curated menu of local produce, dairy, bread and coffee and a welcoming "patio" with seating. We enjoyed the "Sausage and Egg" and the "Hash Bowl". http://www.paperboyaustin.com/
1203 E 11th Street Austin, TX
Best breakfast tacos I've ever had were fro Pueblo Viejo. We actually found their tacos at Brew & Brew but they also have a food truck (2 locations) with all sorts of Mexican offerings on the East side of Austin. Favorite taco was the Taco Bueno (Egg, potato, chorizo and cheese) - mouth is watering... I would love to try every item on this menu, and you almost can for the affordable price points! http://www.puebloviejoaustin.com/
907 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702 2000
E Cesar Chavez 78702 Austin, TX at Craftsman Bar
Veracruz All Natural (tacos)
We tried multiple times to make it here but coudn't seem to make it work with their hours - but I am adding it to my list for my next Austin trip because I heard far too many good things. We did however find the original location and were delightfully surprised by the large school bus that they were serving tacos out of.
They started out by selling smoothies, snow cones and natural drinks in a tiny trailer and as more people visited, they started asking for food so they started making tacos and tortas. The owners are two sisters that were born and raised in Veracruz, Mexico - today they specialize in authentic tacos and salsas.
You can find it amongst some BBQ joints at it's original location on Cesar Chavez or grab their tacos at 3 other locations! http://veracruztacos.com/
1704 E Cesar Chavez Austin, TX 78702 (taco bus)
Radio Coffee: 4208 Manchaca Rd Austin, TX 78704
First brick & mortar store: 2711 La Frontera Blvd, Ste 320 Round Rock, TX 78681
Hotel Vegas: 1500 E 6th St Austin, TX 78702
There are a ton of Taco Deli's spread through Austin so you wouldn't think anything of them (it's technically a mini-chain) but they actually serve up some of the freshest, homemade tacos. I know by this point you might be on overload with tacos but it's worth a stop if you happen to pass by one. http://www.tacodeli.com
5 Austin locations, 1 Dallas (google it or you'll most likely drive by one....)
Also at Joe's Coffee on South Congress: 1300 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704
For the beer lovers:
In my opinion, the beer is better in Minneapolis but it's probably a matter of taste preference in beer, not that it's good or bad - they like 'em a little lighter down south and it just doesn't satisfy like a hoppy IPA, but I will say there are some cool places to grab a cold one and I do have a few favorite Texas beers.
Brew + Brew (Wright Bros. Brew & Brew)
These guys present the simplest concept with two of the world's favorite things: coffee and beer. Grab some great coffee in the morning and enjoy a beer selection from across the US in the afternoon. Good beans and good beer as they say, they have a full service espresso bar and 39 rotating craft beers and ciders. Beer is focused around local breweries but you'll find beers from all over the country and even overseas, coffee is sourced from a local roaster, FlatTrack and other programs around the country.
Favorite beer to look for: Yellow Rose IPA. This is technically a Dallas beer but it is one of the most amazing IPAs I have ever had and this was the only location in Austin we were able to track it down at.
Tip: Get Pueblo Viejo's breakfast tacos here for a few bucks, well worth it and will complete your experience!
500 San Marcos St
Live Oak Brewing Co.
Live Oak Brewing should be your first stop as you leave the airport, it's just minutes away and we know you'll want a beer after your flight - it's a great way to start the trip. Live Oak has been around for 35 years but just opened their taproom this past February; most of their beer is modeled after classic wheat beers or Hefes and I'm not much of a wheat beer drinker but I do enjoy their "Live Oak Hefe", it's one of the best I've had. Stop in and grab a flight, try as many or as few as you'd like.
512 Brewing does not have a tap room but do facilitate tours. The 512 IPA is one of the best Austin beers I found so if you see it on tap, give it a try. If you're up for it, take a tour!
These guys have some great beers, including seasonal and rotating selections (I am partial to the Fire Eagle American IPA). They have a brewery and tap room to visit and they partner up with some Austin food trucks; they also have some killer design so it's not sore on the eyes either.
Brew + Brew
I already mentioned these guys but I may as well tell you that their coffee is as good as their beer selection. As mentioned, their coffee is sourced from a local roaster, FlatTrack and other programs around the country.
Wining and dining
Food trucks are my favorite way to dine in Austin but there are some really great dine-in options too. There's a very wide selection of different types of food and dining styles, I recommend trying a few! We didn't get a chance to make it to all of them of course but we found a few favorites...
Stella San Jac (Westin)
As I mentioned earlier in the blurb about the Westin, Stella San Jac is their restaurant – and it is no less than phenomenal. We don't typically double up on restaurant visits but this one was well worth it and was a guaranteed good meal. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and serve up some unique entrees as well as some very well done staples but what I appreciate most is the spin they take on their offerings, delightfully surprising, see for yourself, I wouldn't steer you wrong.
I'm no rookie to this place, it's a favorite. Easy Tiger is located within walking distance of the Westin, downtown; they are a unique bake shop and beer garden on East 6th. Since the first time I walked into this place I was struck by the simple but elegant design of this place - the typography and detail explodes out of this place... but I'm sure it's just a designer thing. Upon walking in you'll see homemade bread goods, stacked to the ceiling! They make a small selection of sandwiches, pretzels and baked goods throughout the day so be sure to try a sandwich or two. In the basement you'll find a small sit up bar, tables and an amazing beer and whiskey selection. And then there's the beer garden... pretty stellar sitting along the river, boasting it's green vines crawling up the wall, and a ping pong table! Sip some whiskey, drink some beer and eat some bread, it's a must-stop.
Modern Mexican joint within walking distance of downtown, La Condesa serves lunch, dinner, desert and brunch! Small portions but stellar flavor, get the tacos and ask for recommendations!
A classic spot in South Congress, Snackbar presents Austin history and local food options. Read about it! Shocker to me, Snack Bar is closing after seven years of serving South Congress. The last day will be on its anniversary, Sunday, October 30, 2016. Tear! Glad I got to visit the iconic spot.
Guero's Taco Bar
Best dine-in Mexican we found, this place is known for their salsa bar and handmade tortillas. Margaritas are fun here too! I love the 'family' vibe this spot gives off, staff was very friendly and genuine. It's just a walk from Snackbar on South Congress.
Home Slice is a neighborhood pizza joint (Get it?! I love that.) in Austin serving up NY style slices on South Congress. Home Slice is sit down dining (casual) and directly next door sits Home Slice 2, for standing or to-go slices! I would not doubt if their crust is deep fried... the soft and crispy crust is amazing with that red sauce and toppings - excuse me while my mouth waters....
The Oasis is a monstrosity of a restaurant, the largest outdoor restaurant in Texas in fact! It sits within a complex of shops and restaurants and sits on a cliff 450 feet above Lake Travis. They also recently opened a brewery - beer was too light and flavorless for me, but with with an outdoor bar and some of the best views I've ever seen while sipping a beer... I wasn't upset. And although their food is nothing to write home about, the views make the trip - and the queso isn't bad ;)
Uncle Billy's [Brew & Que]
This was one of our first stops on our way in. Uncle Billy's is a craft brewery and BBQ joint in South Austin. Dogs are welcome in their large tree-shaded patio which also hosts music. Order smoked meat by the pound, served with some favorite sides and Texas toast. I loved their mac and cheese paired with some smoked brisket and a side of jalapenos! I really liked the vibe of this place, fun little relaxed hangout with a great patio - I would love to make it to their "Blues and Brews" sometime.
North By Northwest (NXNW)
Another restaurant and brewery, NXNW is very close to the Domain and fairly new. They now have two locations, Stonelake and Slaughter. I have to rave about their beer real quick... I came here one night by myself when I was traveling for work and by chance picked out one of their seasonal IPAS and wow was I blown away - the Planet Caravan IPA is one of the best I've ever had. This time when we visited it wasn't on the seasonal list but luckily enjoyed a few beers ALMOST as good as that one. The Green Menace IPA is a double IPA – earthy, citrusy and fresh! Their homemade pizzas are great here too, you might even catch them on happy hour!
Amy's Ice Cream
This. Ice. Cream. I definitely am a sucker for ice cream but when I ordered myself some of "Amy's Ice Cream" my expectations were apparently not high enough. I heard of some great reviews but the moment that butter pecan hit my tongue I was so happy. Creamy, decadent indulgence, definitely stop if you pass by, locations are everywhere - including South Congress and the airport!
Another popular spot on South Congress (and one downtown and on campus), Jo's serves more than just coffee. If you visit the South Congress location, you can't miss this cute little green building with a small patio and walk up window, serving hot coffee, tacos and sandwiches. If they have Taco Deli tacos, definitely don't pass them up. Around the corner of their building on south congress you'll find the famous "I love you" mural (graffiti).
Tom's Roasting Co.
One of Tom's shoe company's coffee shops is right off South Congress. Browse some shoes, do some good and drink some of their coffee while exploring the neighborhood.
Best brews (found in Austin)
I have to do a callout for the beers... not all of these are Austin based, the Yellow Rose being the exception but you better bet that if you see it, you are getting it.
Yellow Rose IPA (Dallas, The Lone Pint Brewery)
Planet Caravan IPA (Austin, NXNW)
Green Menace IPA (Austin, NXNW)
Austin Beerworks Fire Eagle IPA (Austin, Austin Beerworks)
Live Oak Hefeweizen (Austin, Live Oak Brewing)
You can't visit Austin without exploring a little of the local music scene. There are over 50 clubs in town that feature live music every night, including blues, country, rock and roll, you name it!
A classic music venue on South Congress that is an iconic landmark to Austin, definitely try to catch a show.
Maxwells (Across from Westin)
Fun little jazz/blues club with a cheap cover and great martinis - conveniently right across from Westin.
San Jac Saloon (Dirty 6th St)
Ok, you have to gear yourself up for a night on Dirty 6th street but the music here is so good! Live country/bluegrass bands made me feel right at home. Everyone will be dancing in no time!
I love this funky bar - lots of kitchy mustache decor and moustache-wearing employees. They have live DJs spinning records a few days a week on their rooftop - very chill atmosphere for a fun night out, wear your boots and flannel. Just steps from Westin or W downtown.
For the outdoorsman
This is a quick stop but is an iconic and stellar spot for views off HWY 360 up a short climb there is a lookout that boasts some great views of the 360 bride, the river and parts of the city. Go snap yo-self a selfie.
Emma Long Metropolitan Park
Quick hikes near the 360 overlook, camping available and the park is open 7 days a week and 365 days a year!
We didn't get a chance to see this nightly occurring site but probably because I don't particularly care for bats so it wasn't a high priority but probably still a cool sight to see.Every summer night, hundreds of people gather to see the world's largest urban bat colony emerge from under the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin. When engineers reconstructed the Congress Avenue Bridge in 1980 they had no idea that new crevices beneath the bridge would make an ideal bat roost. Check it out at dusk if you can, quite a site!
If you know me, you know "I'd rather be shopping"... well Austin has some really awesome boutique shops to check out - clothes, apothecary, home goods, antiques, you name it. Here are some fun favorites I found (and might have purchased from). ;)
A modern general store for men, this South Congress shop sells some awesome men's clothes, from suits to casual wear. They also have a great collection of accessories, shoes and gifts.
High end men's and women's boutique on South Congress. I love the minimal style of the pieces in this shop; the shop itself is bright and airy and hard to resist walking in. They carry great brands and a nice selection of shoes and swimwear too!
We stumbled into this shop last minute while walking around South Congress. It's tucked behind a few other stores but if you can find it, it's definitely worth a stop. This small shop packs in a ton of nice casual men's brands. Pick out a funky pair of socks and a new scent while you're at it.
Everyone should stop at this iconic antique/thrift shop off South Congress; it shows off 'weird' Austin culture and you can find just about anything in here - definitely worth a walk through.
Great "street style" trendy men's shop at the Domain. I love the casual city/outdoorsy look of the styles in here. Great accessories, apothecary and gifts too! Oh and they have a whiskey bar...
Raven & Lily
Fair trade jewelry, clothing, accessories and gifts handmade with naturally dyed fabrics and locally-sourced, eco-friendly materials.
Sadly we found this place as it was having it's "going out of business" sale... it had some seriously great, quality made domestic goods, including well crafted and hand made furniture, mirrors, jewelry and art. I was drooling over all the pieces that had sold signs sitting on top of them and was kicking myself for not finding this place sooner. They have a showroom and online store so if they ever open up in a different fashion, check it out.
High end minimalist designer boutique in East Austin. Some of the style here were a bit "far out" for me but I would say it's a great place to check out and keep up with the trends.
Mana Culture serves up an eclectic collection of clothing, intimates and jewelry. The space is almost antique, feels very free-spirited; A great spot for finding some unique jewelry or gifts.
Thoughtfully curated clothing, and unique jewelry and accessories. I found some very cute clothing here - good place to go for some "fresh" styles, and the space is fun to walk around in if you're in the South Lamar area.
Lifestyle boutique for Women's and Kids clothing - Recently opened, it's a great addition to the Austin fashion scene. They have a nicely selected collection of familiar women's brands that are still high quality but won't break your bank. They also have some hand crafted home goods and some adorable kids clothing! They're located on South Lamar in a brand new shopping complex - oh and stop and get yourself a beverage at Juice Society if you're over here - so delicious!
Spartan/JM Dry Goods
These two shops share a space on South Lamar; they sell "practical objects", think ceramic bowls, candles, weaved baskets, blankets, room infusers - many of which are handmade. JM Dry Goods has some great imports from Mexico and interesting selection of things you won't find at your local Target home section.
Whew! It was a busy week and I didn't even realize how much we actually did in so little time! Of course if you plan a trip to Austin, you need to do the traditional "Texas" stuff like eat some good BBQ, tacos and listen to some good music - but make sure you don't miss out on doing something unexpected in Austin, there's way too much to do and see and it might require more than one trip! Happy exploring.