This blog post was actually requested by a reader and I have to say I am really excited to write this one! Who better to write a travel blog about Austin, Texas than a local?! I have lived in Austin almost my entire life and have absolutely no plans of ever moving away. Below are my recommendations for visiting Austin. Please comment if you have any additional questions – I would be happy to help!
THINGS TO DO:
THE CAPITOL (Congress Ave, between 11th & 14th Sts) – The Capitol itself is a beautiful building with great gardens surrounding it. I will admit, I have not been inside since middle school – but I would highly recommend going in and looking around (or taking a guided tour). Tour Information
THE PENNYBACKER BRIDGE (5300 N Capital of Texas Hwy) – This bridge, known as the “360 bridge” to locals, is located on Loop 360 over Lake Austin. I am lucky enough to travel over this bridge every day to and from work. However, the best way to view this bridge (and Lake Austin) is to pull over on the side of 360 just north of the bridge and climb up to the top (I prefer to climb up the side to the left of 360, if you are facing North). It is a short but steep climb to the top and there are incredible views of the Pennybacker Bridge and Lake Austin. Tip: Try to go around sunset – it is beautiful!
MT BONNELL (3800 Mt Bonnell Rd) – I took my now husband here on one of our first dates in Austin. This is a very short but steep hike up to an area with great panoramic views of Lake Austin. Tip: Be aware that there are a lot of stairs to get up to the top (at least 100 steps).
LAKE AUSTIN – Lake Austin is one of the two major lakes in Austin (not counting TOWN LAKE). Compared to LAKE TRAVIS, this lake is more centrally located and is a constant level lake. Tip: If you are able to take a boat on Lake Austin, make sure you travel under the PENNYBACKER BRIDGE. While this lake is beautiful, I prefer the much-larger LAKE TRAVIS.
LAKE TRAVIS – This lake is less centrally located than LAKE AUSTIN (it is about 30 minutes outside of Austin). It is HUGE, much larger then LAKE AUSTIN, and it is not constant level. For the past few years, the water level has been very low – but after all of the recent rains and flooding it is filling back up. This lake is really really beautiful. If you are not able to take a boat on the lake, head to THE OASIS to check out the incredible views. Tip: The food at THE OASIS is not anything special, but it is a nice place to enjoy the incredible sunset over the lake and listen to live music.
HAMILTON POOL (24300 Hamilton Pool Rd, Dripping Springs, TX 78620) – I am ashamed to admit that I have somehow never made it to Hamilton Pool. I have heard it is absolutely incredible, and my husband and I have plans to make it out there in the next few weeks. It is located about 30 minutes outside of Austin. Here are some helpful tips that I found on TripAdvisor. Tips: Wear good shoes – it is a steep, rocky decent down to the river area. $15/vehicle entrance fee at the gate – cash only. Call in advance of your visit – swimming is restricted some days when bacteria levels reach a certain limit (however, you can still view the pool). Arrive early – they only let 50 cars in at a time. No pets allowed.
Photo Credit: Dave Wilson
BARTON SPRINGS POOL (2201 Barton Springs Rd) – this 3 acre long pool is located in ZILKER PARK. It is fed from underground springs and maintains a temperature of around 70 degrees year-round. For me, this is a MUST-SEE in Austin! Tip: They offer “night swimming”, while although very chilly, is a really cool experience. (Hours: Daily: 5am – 10pm, closes Thursdays from 9am – 7pm for cleaning). $4/adult entrance fee. Tips: No food or alcohol allowed. They allow topless sunbathing – so be prepared. There aren’t any chairs or anything, so bring a towel to lay on.
Photo Credit: Judy Paul
BATS AT THE CONGRESS AVENUE BRIDGE (305 S Congress Ave)- I am ashamed to admit that this is another great Austin attraction that I have not been to. There are over a million bats living under the Congress Avenue bridge, and every night during the summer you can stand on the bridge and watch them fly during sunset. Tip: From the reviews on TripAdvisor, it looks like the bats usually come out around 9PM, and sometimes it is too dark to see them 😦
Photo Credit: RT Side quest
SOUTH CONGRESS SHOPPING DISTRICT: Awesome street with a bunch of eclectic shops and restaurants. This street also has a great view of THE CAPITOL. Tip: It is sometimes hard to find parking. I tend to park in the parking garage behind KENDRA SCOTT and HOPDODDY.
STREET MURALS: I’m not sure why, but I am absolutely obsessed with street art. Here are a few of the more famous street murals in Austin:
JEREMIAH THE INNOCENT (AKA THE “HI, HOW ARE YOU” SIGN) – 21st & Guadalupe
I LOVE YOU SO MUCH (Located at Jo’s Coffee, 1300 S. Congress)
GREETINGS FROM AUSTIN (S 1st and Annie)
While researching the exact addresses of the street murals I have been to, I stumbled upon this incredible blog with a lot of street art that I didn’t even know existed. Be sure to check it out: Austin Street Art
Here is a new mural that I have been dying to check out, located at S 1st and Elizabeth):Photo Credit: Impermanent Art
BEST PLACES TO HIKE: One of the best things about living in Austin is all of the outdoor activities (if only it wasn’t so hot). Here are a few of our favorite spots to hike or walk our dogs.
GREENBELT (Multiple access points). The greenbelt runs throughout Austin and there are numerous different access points. We tend to enter through the access point closest to our house. These trails are great for hiking, and during the summer the greenbelt is a very popular place to swim. Here is a great blog with information about the different access points: Greenbelt Access
LADY BIRD LAKE HIKE AND BIKE TRAIL (Known as TOWN LAKE to locals) (Multiple access points, I like to park under the Loop 1 (Mopac) bridge or just across the street at Austin High School – 1715 W Cesar Chavez St). We usually start at the Loop 1 (Mopac) bridge and either do the shortest loop (around 3 miles – loop back at the first pedestrian bridge), or the second shortest loop (around 4 miles – loop back at the second pedestrian bridge). I believe the trail is around 15 miles long. This is probably the most popular walking/jogging/biking area in Austin. It has great views of TOWN LAKE as well as DOWNTOWN AUSTIN. Tip: We like stopping at LEAF (mentioned below in blog) during our walk of TOWN LAKE.
Right next to TOWN LAKE, is ZILKER PARK (2100 Barton Springs Road) and AUDITORIUM SHORES (800 W Riverside Dr) – these are both great spots to bring a blanket and enjoy a picnic lunch. Both areas are VERY dog-friendly. Tip: Town Lake, Auditorium Shores, Zilker Park, and Barton Springs, are all within walking distance of each other.
WHERE TO EAT: Honestly, there are so many good restaurants in Austin that you truly can’t go wrong. Just check out reviews on Yelp or Urbanspoon before you go. Below are a list of my personal favorites:
- BEST PIZZA: HOME SLICE PIZZA (1415 S Congress Ave), PIEOUS (12005 Hwy 290)
- BEST BURGERS: HOPDODDY (1400 S Congress Ave)
- BEST BBQ: FRANKLIN BARBECUE (900 E 11th St). Disclaimer: I have actually never made it to Franklin. There is just something about standing in line for hours for BBQ that doesn’t appeal to me. However, everyone says it is incredible and worth the wait. The restaurant also tries to make the waiting in line experience fun. Tip: Just because you are in line does not mean you are guaranteed food – they sell BBQ until they run out. I’ve heard that they try to estimate when they will run out and let people in line know that they may not have any left. You can also place orders online, months or so in advance. If you don’t feel like waiting in line there are plenty of other good BBQ choices in Austin. One of my favorites is MICKELTHWAIT (1309 Rosewood Ave)
- BEST TEX-MEX: MATT’S FAMOUS EL RANCHO (2613 S Lamar Blvd), ZOCALO CAFE (1110 W Lynn St)
- BEST JAPENESE/SUSHI: UCHI (801 South Lamar￼ ￼Boulevard), MUSHASHINO SUSHI DOKORA (3407 Greystone Dr). Tip: Get the Roadrunner with Crab, my all-time favorite sushi roll. Tip: You definitely need a reservation at Uchi. My husband and I make ours for 5:30PM, which is great because we are able to get happy hour prices.
- BEST TACOS: TACO DELI (Multiple locations), TORCHY’S TACOS (Multiple locations)
- BEST AMERICAN/FARM TO TABLE: JACK ALLEN’S KITCHEN (Multiple locations), CONTIGO (2027 Anchor Ln). Tip: Get the blondie for dessert at Jack Allen’s, my favorite dessert of all time!
- BEST WINE BAR: OPA! (2050 S Lamar Blvd)
- BEST BREAKFAST: KERBEY LANE (Multiple locations) – order the Eggs Francisco or pancakes, MAGNOLIA CAFE (Multiple locations)
- BEST DESSERT: AMY’S ICE CREAM (Multiple locations) – try the Mexican Vanilla ice cream, GORDOUGH’S PUBLIC HOUSE (2700 S Lamar Blvd)
- BEST SANDWICHES: NOBLE SANDIWCHES (Multiple locations)
- BEST COFFEE SHOP WITH A VIEW: MOZART’S COFFEE ROASTERS (3825 Lake Austin Blvd)
- HONORABLE MENTIONS: BARLEY SWINE, SWIFT’S ATTIC, SWAY, WINEBELLY
WHERE TO DRINK: Here is my high-level review if you are trying to decide which area of Austin to drink in. When I was 21 I loved East 6th Street (think rowdy, crowded, bar hopping with a bunch of wasted 21-year olds), then I transitioned over to West 6th Street (more upscale version of East 6th, still packed at nights) in my mid-20’s and now that I am in my late 20’s I prefer Rainey Street (just love this area, see more information below) and the East Side (more chill, a little hipster-ish). Note: I apologize in advance for the lack of original pictures – I guess I am not great at remembering to take pictures when I am drinking 🙂
EAST 6TH STREET (6th Street, from Congress Avenue to I-35). East 6th Street or “Dirty 6th” as the locals call it, is probably the most famous bar area in Austin. It is an area of 6th street that is shut down to auto traffic each night and is lined with bars. I will admit that this was really fun when I just turned 21 and is a great place for bachelorette parties but other than that, I prefer to go to other areas in Austin to drink. It is a zoo at around 2AM when all of the bars let out and I have found it pretty difficult to find a taxi at this time of night. However, this area is perfect for bar-hopping and is overall a really fun experience. FAVORITE BARS: EASY TIGER (beer garden with ping pong tables known for their bread), SHAKESPEARE’S PUB, MAGGIE MAE’S (check out the roof), PETE’S DUALING PIANO BAR (who doesn’t love a Piano Bar?).
Photo Credit: Ian Aberle via Flickr CC
Photo Credit: Destination 360
HANDLE BAR (121 East 5th Street) – if you are on 6th street, try to make a stop at nearby Handle Bar. This is one of my favorite bars in Austin (make sure to head up to the roof and check out the adult-sized seesaws, jenga games, etc.).
Photo Credit: The Austinot
WEST 6TH STREET (6th street, west of Lavaca) – usually referred to as “West 6th” to differentiate itself from Dirty 6th. This is another area of 6th street lined with bars, although it is still open to auto traffic. However, this area is a little more subdued and upscale than Dirty 6th. Bars tend to be filled with young professionals after work, and the crowds get younger as the night goes on. FAVORITE BAR: J BLACK’S FEEL GOOD LOUNGE (710 B W. 6th Street). If you are hungry, make sure to stop by HUT’S HAMBURGERS (807 W. 6th Street) for dinner. This dive-ish restaurant has been around forever and is in Austin institution.
RAINEY STREET– I seriously love this area. This used to be a neighborhood so almost all of the bars are in old homes with huge backyards. There is even a food court with food trucks (although I’ve heard they might be shutting this down – hopefully this is just a rumor). If you are only in Austin for one night – I would highly recommend Rainey Street. It is still crowded but it is way less rowdy than 6th street. This is the area that my friends and I go when we want a fun night out. If you really wanted to – you could probably go to every bar on Rainey Street. I tend to be a creature of habit and go to the same bars over-and-over but some point soon I want to check out every bar so I can choose a favorite. Below are a few of my recommendations:
- CONTAINER BAR – this bar is literally made out of shipping containers. I will admit, I have not actually been inside. The one time we tried to go here the line was out the door (which is crazy because most bars down here don’t have any lines to get in). I’ve been told that the inside can feel intimate due to the fact that the shipping containers allow a little bit of separation and privacy. CONTAINER BAR, CLIVE BAR and LUCILLE are at the top of my list to try. Tip: Head here early to avoid a wait!
- ICENHAUER’S – I’m not really sure why, but I just love this bar. It is in an old home built in 1895. Be warned that most of these bars get really warm so I prefer to sit outside in the summer-time. The backyard has fire pits and they are known for their mixed drinks (try the sangria!).
- THE BLACK HEART – this is my sister’s favorite bar on Rainey Street. Very laid back vibe with a bunch of picnic tables in the back yard. Great live music and they are known for their whiskey.
- BANGER’S SAUSAGE HOUSE & BEER GARDEN – For some reason, I tend to go to Banger’s during the day time. As you can probably guess, this beer garden is famous for their sausage. Make sure to order the cheese curds – omg delish.
Photo Credit: Rainey Street Bars
Photo Credit: ATMTX
Photo Credit: David C. Lewetag II – Elevation Loft
RAINEY STREET FOOD COURT – what a brilliant idea, create an outdoor “food court” with food trailers near bars. We ate at LITTLE LUCY’S (donuts) based on a recommendation from a friend. Super delicious after a long-night of drinking.
EAST AUSTIN – (6th street, east of I-35). Referred to as “the east side” by locals, this area used to be a little sketchy. However, as Austin has grown really quickly – this area has turned around and has become the new “it” area. To be honest, some areas still seem a little sketchy to me, but this is where a lot of the new bars and restaurants are opening. Although I’ve personally only been to this area a few times, my sister and her husband (who are young and hip) love going to the bars in East Austin. Here are their favorites:
- VIOLET CROWN SOCIAL CLUB – Order the iron whip drink (like an orange Julius with vodka). They also have a good pizza trailer (Via 313) outside.
- SHANGRI-LA – dive bar with a big outdoor area – this is a good casual hangout
- WHISLER’S – they have a good mezcal bar upstairs. If you are like me, and you have no idea what this means – check out this article: Whisler’s Mezcal Bar. After seeing the pictures online, my husband and I can’t wait to try this one out!
- LIBERTY – great, if you want a dark, grunge-y bar
Photo Credit: Thrillist
Photo Credit: Emma Janzen
WHERE TO STAY:
THE DRISKILL (604 Brazos Street) – my husband and I stayed here on our wedding night so it is a very special place for me. This upscale hotel is located right next to all of the bars on West 6th Street (which is both strange and awesome). This hotel was built in 1886 and is supposedly haunted. Tip: If you are a light sleeper – ask to be on one of the higher floors in a room away from the bars on 6th street. Be sure to spend time exploring the beautiful lobby and bar area.
Photo Credit: Andrew Harper
THE W AUSTIN (200 Lavaca Street) – So, I have not actually stayed here but I have attended many concerts here and eaten at the hotel restaurant/bar. This hotel is in a great location and would be a great place to stay, especially if you are attending a concert at ACL LIVE (MOODY THEATRE). Also, they have 4.5 star reviews on Trip Advisor. Tip: This hotel is located in the adorable SECOND STREET DISTRICT of downtown – there are a ton of cute shops (my favorite is LANGFORD MARKET) and a bunch of great restaurants (my favorites: LEAF (casual salad shop), LAMBERTS BBQ, CRU WINE BAR). There are a ton of restaurants down in that area that I have heard great things about – so you can’t go wrong!
DOUBLE TREE SUITES BY HILTON (303 W 15th Street) – Most of our wedding guests stayed at this hotel and had a great experience. It is a short uber drive away from UT, and the downtown bar area. Walking distance to THE CAPITOL, THE BLANTON MUSEUM, BOB BULLOCK MUSEUM.Tip: The hotel offers a complimentary shuttle service to explore Austin.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Unfortunately, I have not stayed in these hotels but I have heard good things from others: HOTEL SAN JOSE (1316 S Congress); HOTEL SAINT CECILIA (112 Academy Drive); HOTEL ELLA (1900 Rio Grande) ; TRAVAASA (13500 Farm to Market Road 2769)