It only took one visit in 2014 for the Live Music Capital of the World to steal a piece of my heart, and a second in 2018 to solidify the love affair. An up-and-coming tech hub, a food lovers’ paradise, a musician’s dream (it’s where Jimmy held his Son of a Son of a Sailor Tour rehearsals earlier this year), and an adventurer’s pleasant surprise, Austin is one of those cities that grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go. With so much to offer, see why this Texas city should be high on your destination wish list.
Texas is Famous for it’s Tex-Mex cuisine, and Austin definitely exceeds expectations – not only in this category, but other cuisines as well.
If you’re craving good ol’ American comfort food, head to Moonshine Grill in the Waterloo District. From standard chicken and waffles to the more sophisticated pan-fried chicken almondine, Moonshine Grill offers appetizing meals to suit any palate. I enjoyed the almondine with a side of red beans and rice with jalapeno sausage, and left feeling fat and happy!
Food trucks are all the rage and can be found throughout the city. Options range from authentic Thai to gourmet donuts and basically anything else you desire. If you’re vegan or just participating in Meatless Mondays, check out Arlo’s. Their menu serves up plant-based comfort food that is as satisfying to meat eaters as it is herbivores. I had the Bac’n Cheeze Burger with chipotle mayo and a side of tots, and was pleasantly surprised at how good the burger was.
Now, what we all want to know…where to get juicy, smokey, authentic Texas BBQ? This is a toughy because there are so many fantastic places throughout the city – restaurants, food trucks, bars, and even gas stations serve up home-cooked BBQ.
Terry Black’s BBQ is one of the top places for genuine Texas BBQ. Its located just south of the river on Barton Springs Road and has some of the juiciest brisket I have had the honor to taste. There are a ton of hometown fixins to pair with your meat of choice, and I went with Mexican rice and pinto beans for the perfect combo of Tex and Mex!
For a more upscale, yet still casual BBQ dinner, head to Lamberts. Located in the historic Schneider Brothers Building on 2nd Street, Lambert’s offers slow-smoked BBQ, seasonal beers and handcrafted cocktails so well made – you’ll forget your drinking alcohol! A creature of habit, I again indulged in the brisket, accompanied by fire roasted brussel sprouts accented with chunks of bacon and ranch dressing; this dish was borderline perfection.
We’ve all heard that Austin, Texas is known for its music scene, and with major festivals such as Austin City Limits, South by Southwest and Urban Musical Festival it’s easy to see why.
But what I love about Austin’s music scene is a little more intimate. Walk the streets of Austin and you’re sure to pass a singer along the road, and more often than not, you’ll wonder why this amazing voice is only being heard by passersby and not on the radio! Stroll into just about any bar or restaurant and jam out with a local live band. The city is immersed in music and its such a huge part of what makes Austin unique.
The Continental Club, a locally revered live music venue that has featured singers such as Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Plant, has been a staple venue for musicians since 1955 and continues to attract both seasoned and up and coming artists. Located along hip South Congress Ave, and with live music every day of the week, this is definitely a spot to check out.
One of my favorite things to do in Austin is stroll the streets of downtown while indulging in a little bit of retail therapy. There are numerous malls and retail plazas throughout the city but I prefer a more unique shopping experience, and Austin is full of eclectic shops.
One spot I always check out is the 2nd Street District. This four block area has over 50 specialty shops, restaurants, cafes, and other services. The clothing stores are primarily boutique shops, where you’ll always find something unique and trendy. This section of downtown is also home to Austin City Limits, the Moody Theater, and Austin’s Children’s Museum.
Another great shopping area is Congress Avenue – which can be broken up into two entirely different shopping experiences. The first is the section of Congress located in the heart of downtown, which is commonly referred to as ‘The Main Street of Texas.’ The area lies between the Capitol and Lady Bird Lake and has numerous retail shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, museums and theaters. Here you will find mainly chain stores, with a few boutiques mixed in. Strolling down this section of Congress will give you a feel for Austin city life.
Cross over the Colorado River and head to South Congress, or SoCo, for a more quirky shopping experience. Along this stretch of the road are various local boutiques selling hip, funky and one of a kind merchandise.
There are also antique and novelty shops, unique restaurants and plenty of food trucks to fill you up. The legendary Continental Club can also be found here. When I hear the saying ‘Keep Austin Weird,’ this is the first area that comes to mind!
Bars and Nightlife
Like many of the other subtopics of this article, this category could really be an article all on its own, as the nightlife in Austin is seemingly endless. So, for the sake of brevity, I’ll highlight a few of my favorites.
The first bar I went to in Austin, Handlebar, was one of the reasons I fell in love with the city. This hipster bar – which is appropriately full of handlebar mustache donning bartenders – has a downstairs bar as well as a rooftop area complete with a bar, see-saw, and giant Jenga.
Another great spot is a speakeasy, which unless you know someone who knows someone – you’d never know it was there. This intimate, cozy, and somewhat creepy (think headless porcelain dolls) speakeasy, is well hidden. With the storefront, Floppy Disk Repair Co, one would typically laugh that that was actually a business and walk right on by. But, if you look at the door, there is a pin pad, which only a few have the combination for, and this will take you inside.
The quaint, yet increasingly popular, Rainey Street is another one of my favorite places to wander in Austin. Located in the outskirts of downtown, this street is lined with historic homes turned into bars and restaurants. At any point in the day, you will see families, dogs and bar-goers walking the tree-lined streets. You will also find many of Austin’s famous food trucks here.
My first visit to Austin was spent in the city, which obviously had an impact. The second trip, however, I was able to venture out into nature quite a bit more, and these experiences are what caused me to fall head over heels for Austin.
With the Colorado River cutting through the city, there are so many outdoor activities to choose from that are close by. Boat tours, kayak and paddleboard rentals, and plenty of riverside biking and jogging are all available along the riverfront.
And just a short drive outside of the city lies Austin’s Greenbelt – or The Barton Creek Greenbelt. This stretch of hill country contains miles of hiking and biking trails, rock climbing, beautiful swimming holes, and hidden waterfalls – all within a few minutes of downtown.
One of the places we visited was Lost Creek, which is a well-hidden oasis complete with crystal clear river water, a waterfall, and a bank to bask in the sun. Lost Creek is actually a residential neighborhood just outside the city, and to get to this hidden gem, you must hike for a good 20-30 minutes and cross a river. So unless someone tells you about this spot, you’d never know it was there.
Another great hiking and swimming destination along the Greenbelt is Sculpture and Twin Falls. We hiked about 15 minutes to Twin Falls, which – as name implies – has two waterfalls, surrounded by impressive rock formations. This place was beautiful, but also packed with swimmers and sunbathers, so we decided to keep going toward Sculpture Falls. The hike was relatively easy and had some fantastic views along the way, making the additional 30-minute trek well worth it. Once we made it to Sculpture Falls, I was even more impressed with the rocks and waterfalls that encompassed the picturesque swimming hole. This area also gets crowded, so get there early to enjoy the serenity – or come midday to party with fellow adventurers.
The last place I was able to explore was Jacob’s Well Natural Area. This park is actually in Wimberley, about an hour outside of Austin. Despite its distance, Jacob’s Well is worth the drive if you have the time. The nature area has many trails to explore, and one in particular leads to the world-famous well. After about a 15-minute walk, we arrived at the well, and I was in awe at the beauty and mystery of this massive black hole.
The deep, dark well is amplified by the contrasting crystal clear waters that surround it. Seemingly an endless pit, the well is actually 30 feet deep, then it curves and drops an additional 110 feet, and its underwater canals extend more than 4,000 feet in length. This expansive underground waterway releases thousands of gallons of water a day and remains a constant 68°. That’s a bit chilly, but you’ve got to jump into the hole at least once!
*It is free to enter the park, but there is a small fee, and reservations are required to swim in the well, so be sure to plan in advance.
Between outdoor adventure, good eats and entertainment for every lifestyle, Austin is by far one of the most well-rounded cities in this country. Go see for yourself why Austin is the best place to escape…now, if only there were a Margaritaville there!
Happy travels and Fins Up!
I’m Sarah, and I love exploring our planet and learning from its many wonders. You can follow my adventures and insights on instagram @sarahthewanderess and on my blog TheWanderessWriter.com.