Quick Guide to Austin, Texas for beginners
Austin is a cool city without trying to be. As the self-proclaimed 'live music capital of the world', and I doubt anyone would dispute it, there are beats coming from almost every bar, restaurant, street corner and even grocery store you see. The city also has great barbecue, Mexican and Cajun cuisine. What's not to love about a city that adores live music and food!
Southern hospitality is also very real in Texas and the Southern states. Everyone is extremely friendly, giving recommendations and keen to show you around their city.
From all of the local tips and research I've done, here's my quick guide to Austin, Texas for beginners.
Where to Stay
As it was South by Southwest (SXSW) festival while we were in town, accommodation choices were limited, however we stumbled upon Susan and Robert's Airbnb in Upper Boggy Creek and we're so glad we did. Both hosts made us feel immediately at home with frozen margaritas on arrival and recommendations for Austin, all of which I have included in this guide. The next night they took us out to two live music venues (listed below). We could not have asked for better Texan hospitality. I definitely recommend staying here if you want a personalised experience.
Hotel Van Zandt is another Kimpton Hotel and a newcomer to Austin. With decor inspired by the music of the city, this hotel is the place to stay for a stylish yet laid back time. There is free local music every night of the week at Geraldine's, so even if you're not staying here, go along to the bar for some tunes. (605 Davis St)
Driskill Hotel was built in the 1800s out of native stone. This hotel is pure Texas, with leather couches, cowhides and a longhorn head on the wall. (604 Brazos St)
Hotel San Jose is set in a revamped 1930s motor lodge. This hip hotel is in the heart of SoCo (South Congress) with its buzzy bars and music venues. Although we didn't stay, we had a drink in their relaxed courtyard bar and people watched. (1316 South Congress Ave)
What to Do
Texas State Capitol in Downtown Austin is the largest in the US. Entry is free. Be sure to go to the gift shop, it's excellent. (1100 Congress Ave)
There's great music and cheap drinks (Moscow Mules were $4) at C-Boys Heart and Soul. See their calendar for upcoming acts. (208 South Congress Ave)
Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon is small honky-tonk bar that serves fresh draft beer for a dollar or two and runs Chicken Shit Bingo on Sundays. Yep, 'keep Austin weird'. (5434 Burnet Rd).
From mid to late March, 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge nightly from under the Congress Avenue Bridge to feast. These bats eat from 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of insects, including agricultural pests daily. Worth seeing! (Congress Avenue Bridge is: 305 S Congress Ave)
Take a walk to Lady Bird Lake.
Where to Eat
Hoover's Cooking is 'honest-to-goodness good Texas cooking'. Try the Fried Catfish and fall-off-the-bone Pork Ribs with Candied Yams and Kale and Beet salad, Coleslaw and Jalapeno Creamed Spinach. Make sure you get a frozen Margarita as well. Delicious. (2002 Manor Road)
Franklin Barbecue is known for its food. People line up from 9am to make sure they get a table for the 11am opening. Camping out is part of the fun, as long as they don't run out of meat! Only open for lunch. (900 E. 11th)
La Barbecue is also an Austin favourite. Only open for lunch. (Aztec Food Park, 1906 E Cesar Chavez)
Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que has recently opened its Downtown location. Previously, locals would travel 1.5 hours to eat at their original restaurant in Llano, Texas. Yes, it's that good. (217 Congress Ave)
Perla's in SoCo is a trendy restaurant and bar to people watch. Go for oysters and a cocktail. (1400 S Congress Ave)
Want more suggestions? Check out this extensive list from Austin locals.
Where to Shop
SoCo or South Congress is a hip strip that features eclectic shops, restaurants, boutiques, antiques, music venues and galleries. Here are a few recommended stores along this strip.
Established in Austin in 1979, ByGeorge fashion and lifestyle store has been selling contemporary, emerging and established designer brands to stylish locals and visitors. The SoCo location has an eclectic mix of men's and women's clothing, home goods, gifts and books. Their clothing brands include A.P.C., Acne Studios, Rachel Comey, Lanvin, Chloe and Étoile Isabel Marant. (1400 South Congress Ave)
Stag is one of the best men's stores I've been in in the country. My significant other loved it. (1423 South Congress Ave)
Uncommon Objects is a quirky shop featuring an eclectic array of antiques, including jewellery, taxidermy, gadgets & toys. (1512 South Congress Ave)
Grab yourself a pair of authentic cowboy or cowgirl boots and Western wear at Allan's Boots. (1522 South Congress Ave)
Wild about Music. Everything is music themed in this store. (615 Congress Ave)
ATown is an expansive space offering stylish women's and men's apparel, unique gifts, quality beauty products, home decor and children's products. Come here for unique finds by local artists and designers. (5502 Burnet Rd)
Helm Boots is where you'll find beautifully made quality leather boots for men and women as well as accessories. Their store is worth a visit. (900 East 6th St)
If you're driving through, make sure you stop at L&J Cafe, Originally known as Tony's Place, this vibrant Mexican restaurant has been around since 1927. Through Prohibition they provided home cooking, home brew and slot machines. Now renamed L&J the fourth generation continues the family tradition. With delicious food and fantastic service, you can't go wrong at L&J.