Tackling all Austin has to offer in a week can seem like a daunting task, but with a little preparation and a bit of perspiration – this is Texas after all – it can be done! Whether it’s trendy nightlife you crave, first-class restaurants or just somewhere to relax and let the worries of the world slip away, this incredible city has you covered.
Spend your Monday learning about the history of the city
Take a free tour of the Texas Capitol and admire its Neo-Renaissance architecture. It’s one of the finest state capitol buildings in the United States – and one of only seven that are taller than the nation’s capitol.
From there, continue to the Bullock Texas State History Museum to check out a variety of artefacts and exhibitions that tell the story of the area’s past, present and future. By the time you leave, you still might not be able to tell a straw hat from a Stetson, but you will have a deeper appreciation for where you are and the people who live here.
See out the day by watching the sun set over Lake Austin while getting stuck into “Tex-Mex with a Hawaiian twist” at Hula Hut. Make sure to try one of the restaurant’s signature Hu-La-La cocktails (a fishbowl of rum and fruit juice).
Head to Zilker Park and relax amid 350 acres of wilderness. Visit Zilker Botanical Garden and go zen among its magnificently manicured gardens, elaborate water features, natural grottoes and trees in an area designed to completely cancel out the noise of the city.
Take a short walk to Barton Springs Pool, where you can show off your diving skills or just luxuriate in the water – its year-round average temperature is 68-70F (20-21C). To get your blood going again, rent a kayak, boat or stand-up paddleboard. If it’s the right time of year, you can paddle near the Congress Avenue Bridge and get a close-up view of the largest urban bat colony in the world as it goes out to feed for the night.
Finally, since it’s Taco Tuesday and you’re in Texas, you might as well indulge. Head to La Condesa in the Second Street District and enjoy some mezcal while sampling a selection of tacos that, depending on where you’re from, could make you wonder if you ever actually had the real thing before.
Take a day trip to barbecue’s holy land, Lockhart. Instead of spending most of your day in line at an Austin eatery, try heading out to the country. Designated by the Texas Legislature as the Barbecue Capital of Texas, Lockhart is about a 70-mile round trip from Austin and is home to first-class dining establishments such as Kreuz Market, Smitty’s Market and Black’s Barbecue. Be sure to try all three, but Smitty’s – which sparked a feud with Kreuz (founded in 1900) by opening up with nearly the same menu in that restaurant’s own historic building shortly after it moved out in 1999 – is consistently great. Black’s brisket may also just give Austin standout Franklin’s a run for its money.
Thursday calls for shopping on South Congress Avenue
Catch a Triple-A baseball game in Round Rock, just north of Austin. Friday-night games are followed by fireworks, and Dell Diamond, where the Round Rock Express play, is consistently named one of the best parks in Minor League Baseball.
If it isn’t baseball season or you’re not into sports, head to East Austin, just across the freeway from Downtown, and pull up a table at Jacoby’s Restaurant & Mercantile. This restaurant’s Southern fare will delight your senses and fill your stomach with just the right amount of padding to prepare you for a night on the town. Try the chicken-fried steak or, if that’s not your thing, Jacoby’s does an excellent vegetarian meatloaf.
Work off the previous evening’s excesses with a trip to Mount Bonnell, Austin’s highest point. Reach the top by climbing the stairs and enjoy postcard-perfect views over the eastern shore of Lake Austin. If you’re not completely sapped of energy, hike the Barton Creek Greenbelt to Twin Falls and bask in the river before returning to Downtown. Those with a love for art may want to check out some of Austin’s many galleries. ART on 5th, the Wally Workman Gallery and The Contemporary Austin lead a strong selection of galleries that run the gamut of styles.
At night hit up the historic Sixth Street. Although the area has garnered the nickname The Dirty over the years in some circles for perceived lawlessness, it still offers a range of live music venues, cheap drinks and various other potential thrills for anyone willing to brave the crowds. It’s also home to one of the nation’s best vaudeville troupes, Esther’s Follies.
After you make the loop, take a ride to Rainey Street and its crowded but much less chaotic bar scene. Have a chilled-out night at Lucille Patio Lounge, or look for love in the Container Bar. Whatever your vibe is, Rainey has it all. Finish off with some Detroit-style pizza from the Via 313 trailer.
Try Austin-style Sunday brunch
Bar, Restaurant, American, Pub Grub, Contemporary, $$$
Enjoy the Sunday brunch buffet at Moonshine Grill. Get there early as it tends to get crowded. The green-chili cheese grits and fluffy biscuits are more than worth the hassle, while the pomegranate mimosa will set you up for the rest of the day.
Before you can truly experience all the city has to offer, you first have to establish your home base. Austin has plenty of great hotels, Airbnbs, hostels and other accommodation for the weary traveler. But rooms fill up quickly, and the constant flow of festivals and events in the city could leave you stranded without a place to stay or paying a premium for somewhere if you don’t plan ahead. Here are three choices Culture Trip recommends.
For the student, budget traveler and the adventurer, the Native is a synergistic environment that showcases art, nurtures music and merrymaking, and features communal living areas plus private rooms. The Native is perfect for wandering groups struck or the solo traveler looking to make like-minded friends and indulge in everything Austin has to offer. The Native Bar & Kitchen provides residents with coffee, more mercurial liquid libations and food, while the 3,400-square-foot grand ballroom is the center of the party.
Got a bit more cash, a little less tolerance for noise and a need to understand what is meant by “Keep Austin Weird?” Then Austin Motel is your starting point. This historic venue is located in the heart of the city’s trendy South Congress neighborhood, and its iconic phallic sign floats high over the shops and eateries below – a neon welcome mat for visitors. The motel’s 1960s ambience belies the simple luxury within, but the accommodation’s most important features include its knowledgeable staff, location at the center of the places to see and be seen, top-notch pool and deck, and easy access to Austin’s beloved hike-and-bike trail.
For those with more to splurge and a desire to be pampered, the Four Seasons, which is located on the bank of Lady Bird Lake, is your paradise away from home. With lake-view rooms, a guitar concierge and a cart that brings margaritas to your room at the touch of a button, the only downside to being a guest at this hotel is you may find yourself more inclined to stay in your room than to explore the city.