One of our all-time favorite places to visit is Austin, Texas, because there is so much to do and see in this city. Each time Shea and I travel to central Texas, our to-do list includes tons of outdoors activities paired with eating and drinking – our favorite pastimes! Austin is a very laid back city, so we don’t typically frequent extremely fancy restaurants or events while we are there. We live in swimsuits, jeans, shorts, wet hair, no makeup…pretty much the perfect vacation attire.
I put together this Austin City Guide that includes where we like to stay, our favorite things to do, plus places to eat and grab cocktails.
SIDENOTE: Remember Tiger fans, LSU travels to Austin next September to play the University of Texas. Use this city guide to get your game plans ready!
— WHERE TO STAY —
AIRBNB – There are so many options and different neighborhoods when it comes to deciding where to stay in Austin. We have only stayed downtown with Whole Foods as our anchor point (see more about that below) when picking out a certain property. I like to stay in this area, because there are endless bars and restaurants within walking distance of where you stay or they are just a short/cheap Uber ride away. It’s also only a couple of miles from Zilker Park, which we frequent a lot during our trips.
THE DRISKILL HOTEL – The first time we stayed in Austin, we stayed at the historic Driskill Hotel located in the heart of Austin on 6th street. The decor is stunning and the history of the hotel is everywhere you look. Even though AIRBNB is cheaper, I’m glad we experienced one trip at the Driskill. Oh, and the migas for breakfast is ev-er-y-thing!!
— FOOD + DRINK —
IRENE’S – Fun, hip and laid back atmosphere less than a block off of 6th street. We enjoyed a couple of glasses of frozen rose’ on the porch and what I would describe as elevated bar food – fancy french onion dip served with ruffles and delicious chicken wings. The ivy wall is also begging for you to take an Instagram pic…or seven.
24 DINER – This diner comes HIGHLY recommended by Austinites. It’s not your typical diner vibe, but described as “mid-century modern design with a big helping of Austin eclectic.” They offer farm-to-table and organic produce whenever possible, and the menu covers everything from housemade buttermilk biscuits and gravy to salads and burgers, and my favorite – 24 Hash.
RANCH 616 – Go for the Ranch Water and stay for the South Texas inspired cuisine. Ranch Water is a signature here, but be careful with how many you drink. This delicious concoction goes down smoothly, but can easily sneak up on you after a few glasses!
HUT’S HAMBURGERS – Hut’s is an Austin landmark that’s been in its present location since 1969. From the decor to the food, it is the perfect place for a classic hamburger with a side of french fries and onion rings. You might as well finish your meal with an old fashioned milk shake for the most nostalgic meal.
“TNT” TACOS AND TEQUILA – TNT offers any combination of tacos you could ever think of. I had the steak relleno and the shrimp diablo tacos with a side of poblano mac ‘n cheese and a watermelon margarita…I’m drooling as I type this. It was that delicious.
LITTLE WOODROW’S – There are Little Woodrow’s all over Texas, but the one on 6th street shares the outdoor patio with the ONETACO food truck. I’m talking some of the BEST tacos I have ever eaten…and I eat A LOT of tacos. Sit on the porch and enjoy a couple of beers with your tacos while you enjoy the heart of 6th street.
CHUY’S – The original right by Barton Springs. I love Chuy’s. I named my dog after this place. The jalapeno ranch dip is one of the most delicious things on earth and the margaritas (or Texas-tinis) are top-notch. Try a daily special or classic fajitas, but you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.
THE PICNIC – This food truck park is located in the heart of Austin and you are sure to find a taste for anybody’s appetite. From BBQ to cupcakes to Thai Food and popsicles, there is something for everyone here. They also have a pavilion where you can sit and eat plus air conditioned restrooms.
THE GROVE – We stopped by The Grove for a pre-dinner snack and cocktail before going to a later dinner. See the theme here? There is a ton of outdoor seating and fresh small plates including ahi tuna poke and multiple types of bruschetta to choose from.
SHAKE SHACK– I know this isn’t local to Austin, but I just love a Shake Shack and we don’t have one near us. If you are going to only have on hamburger, clearly go to Hut’s, BUT if you’re going to have two, stop at Shake Shack.
TINIEST BAR IN TEXAS – Everything is bigger in Texas…everything but this tiny bar. The bar itself is super tiny, but the patio is big enough for a party. Stop by for a quick drink to see how this tiny bar fits in the middle of downtown Austin!
THE DOGWOOD – The Dogwood is located right on 6th street and offers a fun bar atmosphere paired with a full service menu. Depending on the weather or the crowds, you can sit inside or outside on their expansive, well-decorated patio.
WHOLE FOODS – I know it sounds crazy adding a grocery store to this list, BUT it is the most amazing grocery store that you have ever been to. This flagship Whole Foods store offers in-store events like beer tastings, multiple made-to-order breakfast, lunch and dinner options plus an amazing selection of delicious take-home meals. We visit the store at least once a day on each of our trips and like to book our Airbnb in this area.
THE SALT LICK – The Salt Lick is a little outside of Austin, located in Driftwood, Tx. It is a BBQ staple in Texas, and everyone knows about it. The menu is cut and dry, simple, basic BBQ, and Shea and I easily split a plate of food. Before you go, remember it is BYOB (you can buy on property from their store and their own vineyard) AND CASH ONLY!
— WHAT TO DO —
BARTON SPRINGS POOL – The pool is absolutely beautiful and is fed from underground springs with an average temperature of 68-70 degrees, which is VERY cold. It’s an interesting concept, because as you are swimming in the “pool”, you can feel rocks and underwater plants while fish swim by you! You can’t bring food or drinks into the pool area to help preserve the area, so be aware of that before you go.
We like to pack a picnic from Whole Foods and eat at the creek alongside the pool where all the dogs play. We also like to hike the Barton Springs greenbelt and swim as we hike. This year was super dry and there were no areas to swim, so that’s something to check before going too.
KAYAK – Kayaking is a must each time we go to Austin, because it is one of the best ways to see the city. We rent our kayaks from Zilker Park Boat Rentals, which is located on the banks of Barton Creek. They also offer canoes and stand up paddle boards. We head out to Lady Bird Lake and kayak straight through downtown. The water is a lot warmer on the lake compared to the fresh water springs, so hop out and cool off!
FLOAT THE RIVER – If you have never floated the river in Texas, you have to do this! You technically don’t float in Austin but in the surrounding area. The Comal, San Marcos and Guadalupe are the three most popular rivers to float. Alcohol is allowed on the river, but make sure your specific containers are allowed before going. Also, check the weather to see how high the water is because that will determine how long or how short your float time will last. Last time we went, we used the company ATXcursions who drive you from Austin to float and then back to the city. Sometimes floating can be a production, so they take all of the planning out of it. Pack an ice chest of cold beer and snacks and relax on the river!
WHAT TO PACK: If you are planning to do some of the outdoor activities I’ve mentioned, be sure to bring some “river shoes”. I picked up this pair of Teva sandals before our last trip, and they were a game changer!
WATERLOO RECORDS – This was one of my favorite things we did on our last trip. Waterloo Records has been awarded 36 consecutive Austin Music Awards and was named one of Buzzfeed’s best record stores in the world. It’s almost like a step back in time, with one side devoted to CDs and funny gifts and the other is purely records only. On Tuesday nights they host a Happy Hour where customers can shop while sipping on complimentary Shiner Bock beer and listen to live music. We picked up a few records when we were there – X by George Strait, Lungs by Florence and the Machine and Babel by Mumford and Sons. Definitely try to stop in here!
MOUNT BONNELL – There is that one picture that everyone who goes to Austin has, and this is it. Mount Bonnell is a 775-foot-high outcrop along the eastern shore of Lake Austin, and you see the most picturesque view once you get to the top. It’s only 102 stairs to climb and is a breathtaking view of this part of the city.
HOPE OUTDOOR GALLERY – Located in downtown, the HOPE Outdoor Gallery is a community paint park and the only paint park of its kind in the United States. It is recognized as one of the Top 10 Artistic destinations in Texas, and you can register to participate in your own artwork by registering for a time slot. It’s a very neat concept celebrating local artists and educating the community through art.
AUSTIN BATS – This is a must-see…but only a one-time must-see. From March – November of each year, spectators begin lining up on the South Congress bridge hours before dusk to catch a glimpse of the bats waking up to hunt for the night. Nearly one and a half million bats live under this bridge, so it is quite the sight to see them all fly out!
TEXAS STATE CAPITOL – I took a formal tour of the Capitol when I was a kid, but if that’s not your cup of tea, just head down Congress and check out the grounds around the building. There are tons of shops and restaurants, and it’s a beautiful walk down Congress Avenue.
Each time we leave Austin, we already have a list of what we want to do on our next trip. If you have any recommendations of your own or any questions on what we’ve done, please let me know! I’m hoping to squeeze in another trip sometime next year now that Baton Rouge offers direct flights starting this fall. Again, remember that Tiger fans! I can’t imagine how much cooler Austin could get…until LSU comes to town!