Travel

City Guide: Austin

City Guide: Austin

This afternoon, let’s talk about one thing everyone loves: Austin, Texas. For our next city guide, we’re visiting the city known for live music, breakfast tacos and public swimming pools. Here, Currie Person, owner of one of our favorite home stores Spartan Shop, shares her insider tips…

City Guide: Austin

Currie Person: I grew up in Austin; and after spending some time on the east coast, I moved back nine years ago and opened Spartan Shop. Despite being landlocked in the middle of a sprawling state, Austin has an easy breezy, coastal sensibility. You’ll find locals hanging out in the sunshine enjoying micheladas (a beer cocktail) or taking a dip in a swimming hole. When friends visit, they always one question, with a hint of jealousy: “Does anyone here work?” Good times are what Austin does well.

Elizabeth Street Cafe

Elizabeth Street Cafe

WHERE TO EAT

Austin is the land of the breakfast taco. There are tons of delicious options, but Taco Deli in Rosedale is a personal favorite. (They even catered my wedding reception.) Grab a “Jess Special” — with migas (scrambled eggs with tortillas), jack cheese and avocado — and a coffee from Houndstooth next door.

For lunch or dinner, stop by the Vietnamese cafe and French bakery Elizabeth Street Cafe in Bouldin. The interior is cheerful and pretty, and there’s a great patio. Order the delicious pho and a housemade punch, like the “Shady Blonde” with sparkling wine, Lillet Blanc, grapefruit and thyme. If you’re looking to beat the crowds, stop by during breakfast instead and order the chicken and rice soup with jalapeño and a Vietnamese iced coffee (made with sweetened condensed milk).

For a blow-your-mind meal, make a reservation at Uchiko, a Japanese farmhouse in Rosedale. If you feel like splurging, order the chef’s tasting menu and let them impress you with inventive plates with unexpected combinations like raw tuna, goat cheese and apple. Plus, the staff is always uncommonly kind and accommodating to dietary restrictions.

If you skipped dinner to see music and are feeling hungry later in the night, slide into the bar at Justine’s (in Govalle) for a French 75 and a bowl of Bolognese big enough for two. You can also choose a vintage record from their collection to spin into the wee hours.

City Guide: Austin

City Guide: Austin

Laguna Gloria’s “Drift-In” theater

WHERE TO HANG:

Go for a swim at Barton Springs in Zilker Park — a 1,000-feet long spring-fed swimming pool with a year-round of temperature of 68‎°. It’s a national treasure. If you’re with little ones, try the shallow Deep Eddy in Eilers Park. If you are up for venturing outside Austin, visit the nearby Krause Springs in Spicewood, which has a manmade pool and natural pool fed by springs; and the stunning Hamilton Pool (with a waterfall!) in Travis County.

Two-step around the dance floor at the Broken Spoke in South Lamar (frequented by Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton) or Donn’s Depot downtown, which is made up of an old train depot and rail cars. These honky-tonks are the real deal — they haven’t changed in decades. For other musical adventures, check out who’s playing at The Sahara Lounge, The Mohawk, The White Horse or The Continental Club.

Stop for a drink in Hotel San José’s courtyard garden in South Congress. Hotelier Liz Lambert has managed to capture that distinct Austin energy in her lushly landscaped property. Try a “Champassion” (Champagne and passionfruit) along with their delicious olive and cheese plate.

Attend the new “Drift-In” theater, where you can anchor your canoe (!) at sunset to watch an outdoor movie in the secluded lagoon of Laguna Gloria. The screening takes place on the lakeside grounds of a 1913 Mediterranean-style villa downtown, as part of The Contemporary Austin. The screenings have ended for this year, but stay tuned for next summer.

City Guide: Austin

Spartan Shop

WHERE TO SHOP

Since we opened our doors at Spartan Shop in Zilker, we’ve worked with independent designers to curate our selection of home goods, jewelry, accessories and apothecary. We love to welcome friends into our bright space for art openings, trunk shows or a simply a glass of wine and a chat at the end of a long day.

Visit our neighbors, JM Dry Goods, in our combined space. They are old friends of mine, who regularly travel to Oaxaca, Mexico, returning with gorgeous handmade clothing, textiles and baskets.

One of the few walkable stretches in town is South Congress, and it has a solid lineup of shops including Stag (for men), Sunroom (for women), Feathers & Prototype (vintage clothing) and South Congress Books, where you can find an unusual collection of vintage books focusing on art, photography and music.

In Clarksville, Kick Pleat carries a beautiful collection of women’s designers in an airy space. Afterward, shop for cool workout attire at Outdoor Voices’ first retail store, tucked away on a nearby side street.

City Guide: Austin, TX

City Guide: Austin

Hotel San José

WHERE TO STAY

Three of my favorite boutique hotels in the entire United States happen to be in South Congress — Hotel San José, Hotel Saint Cecilia and the South Congress Hotel. They’re all carefully designed, without being overly flashy or trendy. Hotel San José is a revamped 1930s’ motor lodge, Saint Cecilia is a southern oasis (the suites have wraparound porches) and South Congress Hotel has a fun, modern vibe with a rooftop pool.

If you’d prefer to rent a house, I recommend staying in Travis Heights. You can walk or bike to the all great spots in South Congress. It’s also close to Lady Bird Lake, which has a jogging trail and water sports (kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, canoeing, etc.).

austin-texas

FINAL TIPS

June through September can be scorchingly hot, so plan activities and attire accordingly. The compensatory AC in Texas can be a bit intense, too, so bring a light layer for indoors. As for driving, unless you plan to stay super central and not venture too far, a rental car is pretty necessary, especially now that Uber and Lyft have pulled out of town.

Thank you so much for the tour, Currie! Have you been to Austin (or do you live there)? What else would you add?

P.S. Where to eat, hang, shop and stay in Seattle, Minneapolis, Nashville and Los Angeles.
P.P.S. Currie just opened her second Spartan Shop in Portland, Oregon, and it’s gorgeous.

(Graphic Design by Miss Moss. Top Austin photo by Daniel Seung. Photo of Currie by Chantal Anderson. Elizabeth Street Cafe photo by Molly Winters, styled by Mary Kathryn Paynter. Photos of the outdoor theater by Brian Fitzsimmons. Spartan Shop photo courtesy of Currie. Photo of the Hotel San José pool by Julia Amodt. Hotel San José cocktail via their Instagram. Austin wall photo by Mary Summers-Hafner.)

  1. JLE says...

    These are very great recommendations, especially for shopping. I LOVE SPARTAN. I also like By George, Olive, Friends and Neighbors, Take Heart, and the other cute shops on East 11th Street.

    I disagree, however, on Elizabeth Street. I am Vietnamese and live in Austin. Elizabeth Street is bad Vietnamese food in a very chic place. Go there for the pastries and the scene, but don’t go there for the bad pho and worse limp noodle plates. Many people may not know the difference, but Asian food aficionados know what I’m talking about. Larry McGuire, who owns Elizabeth Street, does however have a spate of other really great restaurants in Austin. Two of the best are Josephine House and Clark’s.

    Justine’s is also really bad. The last two times I went there, the food was either over or under salted, and the meat was dry. It’s also very overstyled, so I guess a lot of people like it for the atmosphere. C’est la vie.

    Here are my restaurant recs in Austin: Launderette, Uchi/Uchiko, Song La food truck (Taiwanese food), Bufalina, Barley Swine, Odd Duck.

  2. Annie says...

    Loved this post, can’t wait to visit!

    I would love to see a City Guide for Denver!

  3. Julia says...

    I moved to Austin about three years ago from Brooklyn and it is truly incredible here. Every member of my family and friends that visit always have wide eyes over the endless amount of good food and excellent weather. The only thing I would disagree with is the emphasis put on Uber and Lyft pulling out of town, we have had several replacement apps move in and they are great! One donates the local austin nonprofits! And in my experience have always been cheaper than Uber or Lyft ever were!

  4. Morgan says...

    I’d love if you could do one for Boston! I’m visiting for a weekend in the Spring and would love to know more

  5. Yessss I lived in Austin for 6 years (went to college there) before moving to LA a few years ago. Haven’t been to a lot of these places, so putting them on my list for my next trip home. :)
    http://www.wonderlandsam.com

  6. I would love visit Austin.

  7. Becky says...

    Austin is my home and oasis of tolerance and acceptance in the state of Texas. I am a dance major at UT, and there are currently peaceful protests in light of the recent election results.
    I am proud of my university standing in solidarity with women, Muslims, assault victims, blacks, Latinos, the disabled, and the LGBTQ community.
    Please be safe if you come visit this beautiful, quirky home. Also visit Rainy street and 6th street if you like nightlife.

    • Lisa says...

      No, it got voted out earlier this year…but there are other services. I use FARE. At this point, it’s just as good. :)

  8. Tyler says...

    The three hotels she mentioned are wonderful, but all extremely pricy :) A great affordable option is Austin Motel, right next to San Jose. However, the owners of San Jose recently purchased it, so it may not stay that way for long. There’s also an Embassy Suites right in the South Congress area thats perfectly nice and supremely well-located on Town Lake (Ladybird Lake). For first time visitors I definitely recommend staying in the South Congress (SoCo) area for walkability. And at dusk in the spring and summertime, each night hundreds of bats fly out from beneath the South Congress bridge to go hunting! Its amazing, and one of the coolest touristy things to do.

    And she’s spot-on in her restaurant recs – Elizabeth Street and Uchiko are phenomenal, definitely places I would tell visitors to go! Austin also has a legendary food trailer scene. Theres some great ones down on Barton Springs Blvd and South First (Mighty Cone is pretty great). One of Austin most beloved taco chains, Torchy’s, started as a trailer. And of course – the very famous Franklins BBQ also started as a trailer – surprised it didn’t get a mention in her guide! Its the best bbq joint in town, but you have to get there early and wait in line. Its a little crazy, but if you want authentic texas bbq, you absolutely cannot beat it. The environment while waiting in line is super fun too – almost like a party in itself. They provide chairs and you meet everyone around you and people are drinking beer the whole time.

    I just love Austin – can you tell?

  9. Monica L. says...

    Oh I love this!!! I actually spent 3 months this year in Austin for my internship. I wasn’t expecting this city to be so fabulous. So many great little places to visit! It was a great surprise and definitely a gem in the USA. The best parts are definitely the fantastic food and beautiful parks/trails around.

  10. Karen says...

    Great guide to Austin – one of my fav US cities to visit. You nailed it! If you’re ever wanting to do a New Orleans guide – I’m your girl and happy to help. I’m based here and would luv to share the Big Easy’s hot spots with you!

    • Lisa says...

      NOLA is my home town and Austin is my adopted home now :) Very similar in certain ways. You should definitely do a New Orleans guide. So much to do/see.

  11. Oh my gosh I feel like this was taken right out of my head! Elizabeth Street is my absolute fav. The servers have those dresses made especially for them — they retail for $200 (although I don’t think you can buy them?) and everyone gets to choose what pattern they want. The food is wonderful. Austin is wonderful — and we vote blue, best of all.

  12. Kaeli says...

    My husband and I visit Austin quite often. All this chatter (deservedly so) about South Congress and no mention of brunch at South Congress Cafe?! It is across the street from South Congress hotel…which also is known for good food. The South Congress Cafe’s Carrot Cake French Toast or Migas – Outstanding. Yes, there’s usually a little wait time but they text you so you can just shop around SC while you wait or get there before 10A and you likely won’t wait much. And yea – she’s right about Tacodeli. It’s delish and wonderful as well for low-key quick bites.

  13. We’ve lived in Austin for a few months and love Torchys (multiple locations), BBQ (Terry Blacks on Barton Springs Rd) and Amy’s Ice Creams (a few locations).

  14. Courtney says...

    Don’t forget about aaaaallll our music festivals! It seems like there’s one every weekend. Sunday morning “Hippie Church” at Maria’s Taco Xpress is an event to be experienced, especially if you like gospel, tacos, and margaritas for breakfast. The Saltlick BBQ in Driftwood is well worth the drive. And after all the food and drinks, rent bikes and ride around Ladybird Lake on the hike and bike trail or play volleyball at Zilker Park. Ride the Zilker Zephyr with kiddos.

  15. I love Austin more than any city in the world. My husband lived there for 10 years before he moved to Seattle (where we met). We eloped in Austin when I was 7 months pregnant with my son Townes. We married at Mayfield Park, a peacock sanctuary, and stayed at the Hotel San Jose on our wedding night. I would move there in a heart beat if I could.

    • Courtney says...

      That might be the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard!

  16. Chrissy Shea says...

    I challenge you to do a city guide for San Antonio! ;)

    • Tyler says...

      Yes! San Antonio is amazing, once you get off the touristy part of the riverwalk. Unfortunately many people never do!

    • bridget says...

      One of my favorite cities ever.

  17. Mikki says...

    I absolutely LOVE Austin and visit often. On my last visit, we tried Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ and it was glorious. BBQ is always a must try in Austin, and I highly recommend this place.

  18. nicole b. says...

    My friend Amanda and I took a girl’s trip to Austin in September. Currie is so right- it was HOT that weekend! Barton Springs was the perfect place to cool off (for the record: 68 degrees is ICE COLD). Among our favorite things: post-swim smoothies at Juiceland; brunch at Odd Duck (“odd” it is, in the most creative, inventive, wonderful way); oysters at Clark’s; vintage shopping at Feather’s Boutique; dinner (and dessert) at Launderette; mezcal at Whister’s (in the dark, upstairs room); two-stepping at White Horse; pancakes at Snooze. Can’t wait to go back!

  19. My bf is living in Austin on and off to open a couple bars out there. I would have to mention Rainey Street. Its a street of old houses that used to be full of drugs and have been turned into bars and restaurants. One family even bought one of the houses and lives on this street with their small child. Yes, it can get crazy and be a little much at times, but if you want to get a cocktail (like a good one, shaken or stirred), by bartenders that know their shit. Please visit Half Step. The guy who opened it is responsible for The Varnish in Los Angeles, and its my favorite place to get a drink in Austin. Not to mention the backyard is fully equipped with corn hole!

  20. Whitney says...

    I moved to Austin about a year ago and i’ve fallen in love with the city more than I expected! I’m proud to tell people I live here. The small-town vibe within an adventurous big city is exactly what I didn’t even know I wanted :)

    • grace b says...

      I’ve been here for five years now and I agree with you 100%! Perfect mix of small town and big city. Plus there is the whole state of Texas to explore (Houston, Dallas, West Texas, the beaches) when you get bored! And being in the middle of country makes it an easy flight to other vistas!

  21. This is such perfect timing: going to Austin for Thanksgiving with my twin and our friend! Making notes ;)

  22. Islay says...

    5 girlfriends and I are all flying down to Austin tomorrow for a much needed reunion trip. AMAZING timing!!!! Thanks girls xo

  23. Dear cupofjo and those associated my thoughts go out to you about the election in the USA . From myself and all of my friends in Australia we are so sorry . What more can we say

  24. To my friends in America,
    I’m so sorry for your loss today, I hope that you you can rally as a nation
    A long time viewer of this blog acupofjo from Australia

  25. Katy says...

    Our whole family is in Austin and it’s our home base when we travel back to the States. One thing we’ve seen in the last few years is specialty coffee taking off. There are some good austin coffeehouse staples, like Spiderhouse and Mozart’s, but I am loving some of the new places. Flat Track Coffee, The Brew & Brew (beer and coffee), and Figure 8 Coffee Purveyors are my favorites! I always bring a bag of Flat Track beans home with me from a trip!

  26. Kelly says...

    We may not have Uber or Lyft any more, but homegrown alternatives like Fasten or Ride Austin are still a thing, as well as zip cars and b-cycles.

  27. Julie says...

    I went to Austin with my sister in May, it was our first time in Texas. Our splurge meal was Uchiko and I can not recommend it highly enough. We have great sushi in Philly, but this was unlike anything I ever had. The Thai place was equally amazing.

    We stayed at the JW Marriott-the roof deck and pool were outstanding. And everyone was so nice, we made friends with every bartender/patron we were near :)

  28. Susan says...

    oh sweet memories from college! HOOK EM HORNS! Enjoy the whole place. All of the whole in the wall places I loved in school closed down (because it was 10 years ago!). But I do love a cinnamon roll from the Upper Crust Bakery. mmmm

  29. Loribeth says...

    South Congress Books is the bomb!!! The original Torchy’s Tacos is also in Austin and amazing. Some of my favorite tacos in Texas.

  30. Thanks for the great recommendations! I am headed there this weekend (from Dallas) and am always looking at new places to try when I go back to Austin. Such a great city!

  31. Rachel Hampshire says...

    I also grew up in Austin and my daughter and I get back about twice each year. Some places we always make a point to visit: Terra Toys on Anderson Lane – they recently added a coffee shop (brilliant!) and there is a kids shoe store (Kido Shoe) two doors down. My daughter gets a new pair of cowboy boots each visit. Across the parking lot is Hopdoddy – amazing burgers and shakes. Also on South Congress is Big Top Candy Shop – amazing range of old and new candies. 6th and Lamar is home to Book People, an amazing locally owned bookstore with the most friendly and knowledgeable staff and across the street is the amazing flagship HQ for Whole Foods. There is a playground on the roof and also a skating rink in the winter months! Finally, Amy’s Ice Creams, with locations around the city, is a wonderful homemade ice cream experience that will help you understand why Austin’s mantra is “Keep Austin Weird.” Crazy hats and ice cream tricks (behind the back tosses!) make for a truly make-your-day experience. And… now I’m missing my hometown! :)

    • Christy P. says...

      Not impressed with Amy’s. We LOVE Lick though! One on Burnet and another on Lamar.

  32. I’m a new Austinite (moved here in June 2015) but I’ve already fallen in love with this place. I enjoyed her tips and agree on many. Another favorite place of mine to eat that never fails to disappoint is Jack Allen’s Kitchen. Highly recommend.

  33. 400mlBakery says...

    I live here! HOPE Outdoor Gallery in Clarksville is a must-see : 20,000 square feet of constantly evolving murals by artists (plus “contributions” by random people with spray paint) on the concrete foundation walls of a bankrupt 8-‘s condo project. Walk across Lamar afterwards for an aqua fresca at Fresa’s to cool off :)

    • Courtney says...

      Agreed! A must.

  34. Becks says...

    I’m Austin born and raised. I’ve lived here my whole 28 years. :) I would add Mount Bonnell to the list. You climb up 100 steps to the top and get an INCREDIBLE view of the city and the lake. You can bring a picnic or just go for the views. They used to hold yoga classes up there too, which was amazing!

  35. meg says...

    Currie just described my ideal long weekend! Love her shop, so it’s no surprise our tastes align. As a longtime Austin resident, I wouldn’t change a thing! I’d maybe add Clark’s Oyster Bar (Clarksville) for happy hour oysters and Nau’s Pharmacy (also in Clarksville) for a trip back in town and the best grilled cheese of your life. Thanks for reminding me just how great my city is on a tense day. Much appreciated, Joanna!

    • meg says...

      by “a trip back in town” I mean “a trip back in time.”

      Also: seeing lots of breakfast taco talk. TacoDeli is the best, hands down. (Though they have several storefronts, I think they’re best at the downtown farmers’ market or at a local coffee shop. That way the flavors have time to meld. Yes, they put mashed potatoes on a breakfast taco but seriously, it’s amazing.)

    • grace b says...

      Yes, I have a mental list now of the coffee shops that have Tacodeli! Medicis, Thom’s Market, Flightpath…it’s so good.

  36. Molly says...

    I went to law school in Texas, and I wholeheartedly agree with everything on this list! Love Uchiko, Justine’s and Elizabeth Street Cafe and have spent many an evening (too many) at the White Horse. I’m partial to El Chilito’s breakfast tacos, though ;)

  37. Kim says...

    Thank you for this! Perfect timing since 15,000 people, including me, have just descended upon Austin for the Tableau conference. Looking forward to exploring.

  38. Amy says...

    Yay, I love this guide! As an Austinite myself, I wouldn’t change a thing, except to say that if Vietnamese food isn’t your thing, definitely check out the new restaurant June’s! It’s run by one of the only female Master Sommoliers in the world, June Rodil, who also works at the famous (and very fancy) Austin steakhouse Jeffrey’s.

  39. Elizabeth says...

    It makes me laugh that everyone else is finally realizing how cool Austin has always been, but now they’re coming in and changing everything so it’s not the sleepy hippie town it used to be. When I went away to college in 2003 and would tell people I was from Austin they didn’t seem to care – now, it’s the coolest thing ever. Ha!
    My husband and I stayed at Hotel St. Cecilia the two nights after our wedding and I can’t recommend it enough – perfect for a romantic getaway smack dab in the middle of downtown.
    Uber & Lyft are gone, but Fare has come in as the alternative and I’ve heard great things about it.
    Unfortunately, Hamilton Pool is not allowing swimming. Not sure how long this will last, but I’m totally bummed. https://parks.traviscountytx.gov/find-a-park/hamilton-pool
    I just love my hometown even if it’s not the same as it was when I was a kid.

  40. Marissa says...

    I live right by her shop and agree with all her recos :)

  41. This is such a great guide, thanks Jo. I can’t wait to get exploring the US, we’ve LOVED NYC and once it feels completely like home, we’ll be venturing out on adventures.

    http://www.englishgirlinnewyork.org

  42. Angela says...

    My in-laws just moved to Austin from Chicago. If folks are willing to to venture out of town a bit, we enjoy hiking at Pedernales State Park.

  43. Katrina says...

    Seeing a movie while visiting another city seems weird but if you are in Austin you have to go to the Alamo Drafthouse. They have awesome programming and have special screenings like Master Pancake.

    • Christy P. says...

      YES!