Where to Eat, Stay and Play in "Hippie Haven"
What makes the slogan Keep Austin Weird so perfect for the capital of Texas is that it’s not some marketing tagline, but an organic, grassroots rallying cry that celebrates the area's independent spirit and dedication to creativity. Long before things like eco, artisan and farm-to-table were mainstream, Austin was nurturing all those principles and attracting plenty of tech startups, small businesses, filmmakers, musicians and nature-lovers along the way. The city may have grown exponentially in the past decade, but it’s still a lively part-government, part-university town with a strong sense of community, and residents who are passionate about upholding its indie feel.
Where to Stay
Conveniently located downtown, next door to the Austin City Limits music venue, the W Austin reflects its location with a playful design, lively poolside scene, and fun on-site hangouts like the Records Room (stocked with over 8,000 vinyl albums) and a tequila bar. Central Texas flavors take center stage at the Trace Restaurant, while the Away Spa offers Led Zeppelin-inspired detox body treatments. Just four blocks from the State Capitol, the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin’s 190 rooms have been renovated to feature a decor of rich colors and amenities like work desks and marble bathrooms. Join locals on cowhide barstools at the revamped Bar & Terrace overlooking the Capitol, the only al fresco spot on Congress Avenue. And don’t forget the iconic Driskill Hotel. Built in 1886 and the site of countless historic events, this classic retains its independent feel, much to the relief of generations of fans who love the plush rooms, brunch at the 1886 Cafe & Bakery, fine dining at The Driskill Grill and live music at the bar.
Where to Eat
From Top Chef winners and James Beard awardees to cult-favorite food trucks, Austin's booming culinary scene has got it all. Located at the edge of Texas's lush Hill Country (a major wine and produce center), you'll find plenty of emphasis on farm-to-table menus, as well as nods to the city’s spicy Tex-Mex heritage. Over 2,000 mobile food trucks peddle everything from Vietnamese subs (Lulu B's) and addictive tacos (Torchy's) to decadent sweets (The Holy Cacao). Open for dinner only, newcomer Foreign & Domestic is earning rave reviews for flavorful dishes like fried chicken biscuits (with fried egg and lemon jam), ramp risotto, and steak with fermented bok choy. Go gourmet at Iron Chef-competitor Chef David Bull's award-winning Congress eatery, or country-with-a-twist at Bess Bistro, owned by actress (and Austin resident) Sandra Bullock.
What to Do
Austin is synonymous with music, and there are over 200 venues in town showcasing everything from country and rock to blues, jazz, Latino and hip hop. Take in a show at The Continental Club, a temple to blues, rock and folk since 1957; the Broken Spoke, known for the authentic Texas two-step; or the famous Austin City Limits, which hosts both big names and up-and-comers. With its setting around Lady Bird Lake, nature activities are also big in Austin. Lakeside fun includes hiking or biking along the 10-mile trail, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding (rentals are available.) You can also get a feel for the city’s beauty with a SegCity Segway Tour, which will take you from bustling Sixth Street to the historic State Capitol (which offers free 15-minute tours daily.) Finally, no visit is complete without a trip to the Congress Avenue Bridge at dusk to watch as 1.5 million bats, part of the largest bat colony in North America, fly out over the skyline.
Where to Shop
Austin was the birthplace of Whole Foods, and it’s worth a visit to the 80,000 square-foot flagship store to see where the phenomenon began. If you’re in the market for vintage or antique items, pop into the shops along South Congress Street, or browse the indie boutiques along the pedestrian-friendly Second Street District for all style of fashions, accessories and home goods. Other locally owned, nationally recognized spots include BookPeople, considered one of the country's top independent book stores, and Waterloo Records. If the Texas sun has got you sweating, enjoy the air conditioning at The Domain, a new retail complex housing both local brands and well-known names such as Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York.