[austin soundtrack. ho hey]
Now this is a city that knows how to have fun.
Texas’ capital is laid-back and progressive, with a strong emphasis on music, outdoor brews and good food…and where BBQ is a religion!!
The stereotype is true. Southern hospitality is alive and well in Texas. From pedicab cyclists to food cart vendors to skateboarders to shop owners and boot-scooters; locals here are warm, sweet and welcoming.
A full-of-fun, honky-tonking town on any occasion, our favorite time to visit is in March for South by South West (SXSW): the annual music, film, and interactive conference and festival, where 70,000 of the world’s movers and shakers take over the town. October is another perfect time (for the Austin City Limits (ACL) festival), where Zilker Park explodes with a sweet line-up of bands.
At any time of year though, Austin will impress.
On our first ever visit here, our taxi driver took great pleasure in educating us on “Stevie” Ray Vaughan, as we drove past his memorial statue in Austin’s Auditorium Shores Park. Vaughan was an American guitarist/singer-songwriter/record producer who was tragically killed in a helicopter crash in 1990 and was then posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2000. We sat there listening to the legend’s tunes belt out of our cab driver’s stereo. A fitting introduction to what would be the beginning of an Austin love affair for all things music, and more.
Aside from the recos below, grab a copy of ‘Rather Austin’. A cute little city guide that became our go-to – focusing exclusively on locally owned restaurants and stores. The perfect companion for navigating your way through Austin’s streets.
1. To caffeinate…
The espresso-based coffee scene is starting to take off in Austin. Perhaps not to the same extent as our favorite coffee town, Portland, but if you love good coffee as much as we do, there are definitely a few options...
Houndstooth: a handsome space with friendly service. You can even order a flat white.
Flat Track Coffee: a few locations, but their flagship store is a cute, tiny space with just six bar stools and an inviting bench out the front.
Wright Bros. Brew & Brew: we love this concept – equal parts coffee shop and classic bar, you will find specialty coffee and craft beer in a comfy setting.
Cafe Medici: good brews and snacks. You will find theBearded Brothers’ bars here. We are obsessed. Raw, vegan, gluten and soy free, organic goodness (made in Austin)! We have also found them at Jo’s Coffee at Hotel San Jose.
Vintage Heart Coffee: located on the East side. Fair trade coffee brews from local roasting company, Third Coast.
Frank: the purveyor of artisan sausage! Despite their moniker being all around hot dogs and cold beer, these guys serve up delicious Handsome Coffee. As passionate about their sausage as they are about their coffee!
Patika: great coffee from a little food truck in the Warehouse District. A good place to stop on the way to Franklins BBQ.
Finally, if you are lucky enough to be in Austin for SXSW this year – make sure you pop by SouthBites – the gourmet foodtruck area curated by celebrity chef, Paul Qui. Perfectly located on Driskill Street, at the top of bar-crazy Rainey Street, you will find our very ownHOUSE OF CARD pop-up coffee house. Our little cardboard house will be pumping out good quality Aussie-style coffee, including flat whites, lamingtons and Tim Tam slams!
2. To eat…
Elizabeth Street Café: if you only eat in one spot (which you wont...but this is how much we love it!!) make sure it is here. A hybrid of Vietnamese and French deliciousness, this bright and aesthetically stunning café is by the same folk behind our seafood favorite, Perla’s. We love everything about this place – the minty color scheme, amazing food, friendly service, the waitresses in their cute 50s style smocks, the Stumptown coffee, and the stunning outdoor terrace shaded by oak trees. We find it hard to pass up the luscious banh mi sandwiches served on house-baked baguettes, and the big bowls of bun (order the shrimp!) that come with vermicelli noodles and fresh seasonal vegetables. No bookings, so get there early. Any wait, however long, is well and truly worth it. We promise.
Perla’s: for any meal – but we love the brunch here. Grab a seat out on the oak-shaded patio, with its little white lights and great views of the action on South Congress. If you’re brunching, order the lobster frittata.
Brunch at Hillside Farmacy: with vintage pharmacy charm, we love this cute east-side spot. With antique wooden display cases, tin ceiling and hex-tiled floor all intact, the pharmaceutical theme is played well here. Great farm-to-table food options. Finish off brunch with one of their seriously good ice cream sandwiches.
Walton’s Fancy and Staple: a cute spot for coffee and breakfast. This lovingly restored historic West 6th Street building now houses Walton’s bakery, café and sandwich bar, as well as a florist and interiors store.
Dinner at Uchiko: a sleek and contemporary Japanese, offering pretty extraordinary sushi. Uchi is also theirs (in another location)…but Uchiko is definitely the “Prince Harry of the pair”…the younger, hipper version.
Check out Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon: for drive through organic, charcoal chicken (by the same people behind Perla’s and Elizabeth Street)!
Justine’s Brasserie: cute upscale French bistro on the east-side, with a lovely outdoor terrace. Always busy. Consistently good food.
Pizza from Home Slice: when you want something quick and easy. Home Slice pizza is a great option. Thin base, great toppings. We love it here, especially late night (after the Continental Club).
Guero’s Taco Bar: for margaritas and tacos. Fun during festival times. Not the best Mexican you will ever eat, but definitely fun.
Franklin BBQ: for your first Texan BBQ experience, come here – but get in quick (by 2pm we hear), and join the queue outside this turquoise cinderblock building on a nondescript street corner. This place has such a good reputation that the whole restaurant will often sell out, and fast. During SXSW we have even heard of people paying $15 per hour for people to stand in line for them! Gotta love anyone so passionate about their brisket!
East Side King: located in East Austin – this was Paul Qui’s (Top Chef winner) first restaurant – come here for Asian fusion, with a second location having recently opened on South Lamar Blvd. Famous for their Thai Chicken Karaage and Beet Home Fries. Also try the Poor Qui Buns (steamed roasted pork belly buns) and Brussel Sprouts salad.
La Condesa: the perfect stop if you are craving some modern Mexican.
Josephine House: this bungalow-turned-lazy-lunching-destination has only 30 seats. A cute spot to kick back with a few afternoon cocktails.
Food Carts: Austin loves a Food Cart…trailer, cart, truck, Airstream, wagon…any way they come, they love them all…and they seem to be growing by the day. Set up in parking lots, on sidewalks, parked in groups, or set up solo, they really are everywhere.
3. To drink…
Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden: at the quiet end of Sixth Street, this “very Austin” hipster hangout has a bakery on street level, and a downstairs, tree-shaded patio and beer garden scattered with ping-pong and picnic tables. We love this spot.
East Side Showroom: industrial-ish, prohibition-style drinking den serving flawless cocktails.
Rainey Street: cruise down Rainey Street for a real nightlife block party. A whole row of bars and restaurants operated out of cute, historic weatherboard homes. We like Lustre Pearl.
Stubbs: come here for live music and BBQ. On Red River Street, this huge bbq joint with a dusty stage out back is an Austin institution. Regularly snagging massive headliners – Lady Gaga will be on a pop-up stage here at SXSW this year.
Boot scoot at the Continental Club on South Congress: an Austin staple, especially on a Sunday night. This is the Granddaddy of all local music venues. Awesome live rockabilly tunes. Be sure to check out Dale Watson: a local and legendary honky tonk and country singer.
The White Horse: another Eastside favorite. This hipster / honky tonk hybrid bar draws a crows of tattoo-covered rockabillies, two-steppin’ retirees, as well as hipsters. Showcasing some of Austin’s finest new country talent, the energy here is fun and debaucherous, and is best mid-week.
Contigo: created as an extension of Contigo Ranch, the beautiful elm-tree covered deck here is so popular that you better be willing to wait (sometimes two hours on weekends). A beautiful spot for a drink.
Midnight Cowboy: this secretish speakeasy spot is located downtown. With no sign, just find the door, ring the buzzer (titled “Harry Craddock”) and you will be let into this former brothel-turned-bar.
Péché in the Warehouse District: another hidden treasure serving up pre-prohibition style cocktails, specializing in absinthe.
Whisler’s in East Austin: a relative newcomer to 6th Street, lots of outdoor seating if you are looking for somewhere on a sunny day.
Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon in North Central: this institution is worth a visit…especially on a Sunday, to catch a live show by Austin legend, Dale Watson. Stay for Chicken Sh*t Bingo (and free chilli dogs)!
5. To shop…
By George: for great vintage…check out our favorite store on South Congress. Think Isabel Marant, Helmut Lang and others, plus local artisans as well.
Another favorite is the Spartan Shop on South Lamar…”a carefully edited collection of beautiful, practical objects, influenced by the changing seasons without staying far from our core inventory of reliable, classic items”. We could literally buy every single thing in this stunning store!
Uncommon Objects: our favorite antique store. A huge space, choc-a-block full of fascinating things hanging from walls and the ceiling.
Waterloo Records: on North Lamar, this is the ultimate record store. An Austin institution.
6. To sleep…
Hotel San Jose: this is undeniable one of our favorite hotels in the USA. The epitome of understated cool. Polished concrete floors, music posters adorning the walls, an urban oasis. Ideally located on South Congress, this legendary Austin boutique hotel has a cute bar, pool, and lounge, and their very own coffee shop – Jo’s Coffee – next door.
Saint Cecilia: for something a little more fancy, check out the San Jose’s sister property - the Saint Cecilia. A stunning, secluded estate just around the corner– tucked off the main drag, on manicured lawns, with a large swimming pool and gorgeous bar. Perfect for a big group or wedding party. You might find a piano in your suite, or a turntable, perhaps a real backyard.
7. To do…
Visit Barton Springs: a set of four natural hot water springs close to the city. Come here to seek respite from the often-scorching Texas heat. Cool off in the pool, or chill out under the trees. A great spot to cruise around on bikes.
Head to old-school bowling alley/karaoke bar/dance hall Highball for a nightcap and late-night round at the lanes (especially during their extended hours for SXSW).
Visit the original Wholefoods!! It might not be at the top of everyone’s list, but it certainly was for us! This is the Wholefoods mecca. The original. The best. Wine bar, vegan food bar, you name it – they have it. Our kind of heaven.
Out of town...
Roadtrip to Driftwood, Texas: home to the original and well-renowned Salt Lick BBQ – a BBQ fanatic’s paradise. This sprawling campus of BBQ has been smoking, searing and slow cooking meat over coals for years. Since 1967, in fact. A short, scenic drive from Austin, come here to experience a big, honking plate of some of the best of Texan bbq amongst rolling hills, beautiful oak trees and native flowers. It might take an hour to nab one of the picnic tables, but kick back and enjoy the live music and atmosphere with other BBQ enthusiasts. There is even an onsite vineyard producing some decent wines under the Salt Lick Cellars label. Given they attract 600,000 customers each year, we figure they must be doing something right.
Marfa: if you have time, hire a car and drive six hours west into the high desert of the Trans-Pecos in far West Texas, to Marfa. An unlikely art oasis in a dusty desert town. If you can, wait until July so to catch some of the Marfa Film Festival action.
Stay here at El Cosmico: an awesome part vintage trailer, safari tent and teepee hotel and campground – come hang out under the stars with hippies, hipsters and artists – surrounded by high desert, art installations, an amphitheater and greenhouse. This place is something special.