Austin may be known as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” but it is also a burgeoning foodie capital and home to some of the coolest, friendliest folks anyone could ever want to meet. And breakfast tacos.
Austinites are an outdoorsy bunch, so a good start to any visit includes joining the locals on Lady Bird Lake, which runs right through the heart of downtown. The hike and bike trail that circles the lake is a fantastic way to start the day. It offers a great perspective on the city and its denizens.
When passing the Texas Rowing Center, visitors would do well to indulge the temptation to take a paddle board or a kayak out for a spin. After working up an appetite, it is the perfect time to try an Austin staple: the breakfast taco. Arturo’s Café and Jo’s are two favorites. Far less daunting than the breakfast burritos here in San Jose, these tacos can change a person’s life. Breakfast tacos are basically their own food group in Austin, along with barbecue and Tex-Mex.
The hot barbecue joint in town right now is Franklin. People line up for hours to try their famous brisket, since only a limited amount is made each day. Once they’ve run out, Franklin closes its doors, usually leaving hungry, hot, and disappointed folks out of luck.
There are loads of good Mexican food spots in town, from offbeat Chuy’s—where the ceiling is covered in hubcaps and Elvis is still king—to upscale spots like Manuel’s and Fonda San Miguel. A great way to start a conversation with a stranger in Austin is to ask, “Where’s your favorite place for Mexican food?” Literally everyone will have an opinion. An equally lively conversation starter is asking where to get the best margarita in town. All three of the aforementioned spots have excellent ones, but visitors should make time to stop by the Cedar Door for a Mexican martini or two.
For anyone hungry for something more chef-driven, Wink is a tour de force of intimate, farm-to-table cooking. Also worth checking out is Top Chef winner Paul Qui’s newly opened spot, Qui, on Austin’s up-and-coming East Side. The Rainey Street neighborhood on the edge of downtown is blowing up with new eateries, too.
But to find the soul of Austin, head to South Congress. South Congress Avenue is the essence of what makes Austin special. An extremely walkable area of town, it includes great shops that sell everything from folk art to high fashion. It’s also home to The Continental Club, a classic Austin honky tonk where live music drifts out onto the sidewalk every night of the week.
Visitors can stay at one of hotelier Liz Lambert’s amazing boutique properties to really soak in the experience. The Hotel San Jose and its pared-down Texas aesthetic is effortlessly cool. For visitors who really want to feel like celebrities (and maybe even run into one), Hotel Saint Cecilia is just down the block. Named for the patron saint of music and poetry, this sequestered property feels like the middle of nowhere, but it’s only steps from the action. For visitors who prefer a larger hotel, the W Austin is always a see-and-be scene spot, located right in the middle of the hopping warehouse district.
When the inevitable Texas heat starts to set in, visitors can head over to Barton Springs, one of the largest spring-fed swimming pools in the world. Nestled into a corner of verdant Zilker Park and maintaining a constant temperature of 68 degrees, there is nothing more refreshing in the Texas summer than a plunge into the crystal clear water.
At the end of the day, travelers will probably want to find one more good margarita before saying adios to Austin.
Places to Visit in Austin
Written by Paul Bradshaw
Article originally appeared in Issue 5.3 “Act”