In many ways, Austin seems to be growing up—And out, as it continues to lead the country in population growth. Thankfully, though, the vibrant Texas capital has managed to maintain much of its distinctive charm.
And as it evolves, we’ve found new things to appreciate about this land of dramatic skies and sweltering temperatures, all soothed by dips in swimming holes and margaritas served at watering holes.
This multifaceted destination is marked by delicious culinary finds, omnipresent music, plenty of family- and dog-friendly spaces and chances to enjoy nature within city limits. Wildflowers bloom alongside busy roads, and tranquil nature reserves buzz with bird activity mere miles from downtown.
Whether you’ve been lured here by the prospect of breakfast tacos every morning or two-steppin’ fun every night, we’ve found enticing ways to fill your Austin days.
Where to stay
Stay in the heart of the action at hotels such as downtown’s W Austin or Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt, a hip, music-fueled outpost in the buzzing Rainey Street District. Or, situate yourself in a more residential space in East Austin, where you can soak up local flavors at neighborhood cafes (Figure 8) and eateries (Hillside Farmacy, where brunch staples include green onion biscuits with sausage gravy).
Stroll to laid-back, spacious Lazarus Brewing Co., which neighbors Counter Cafe (think diner fare with an organic, global twist) and Whisler’s, where you can settle into the patio with craft cocktails and tasty snacks from the Thai Kun food truck.
Within walking distance, you’ll find other watering holes—Zilker Brewing, Hops & Grain and Blue Owl. Nearby, drink under the dreamy, shaded grove of Yellow Jacket Social Club, then groove the night away at The White Horse, a dimly-lit honky-tonk that serves as a refreshing reminder you’ve landed deep in the heart of Texas.
Where to explore
Experience Austin’s impressive sustainability efforts by taking a walking tour of The Seaholm EcoDistrict, which takes its name from the historic Seaholm Power Plant—designed in the 1950s and the city’s sole source of electricity for many years.
Take a self-guided tour of the green features of the stunning Austin Central Library, a LEED Platinum-rated building with an anchoring, six-story atrium that provides daylight to 80 percent of regularly occupied spaces (making it key in energy savings).
Be sure to check out the sixth-floor roof garden, which features expansive views of Lady Bird Lake (a prime spot to kayak or SUP), native landscaping that includes a Texas live oak tree and 67 solar panels – the largest rooftop solar installation in downtown Austin.
Find urban zen by splashing around popular Barton Springs or, for a more relaxed vibe, Deep Eddy pool. Located on the other side of the river, Deep Eddy is the oldest swimming pool in Texas and still uses cold spring water.
Mayfield Park (listed in the National Register of Historic Places) and Preserve (the 21-acre area surrounding the park) offers a tranquil retreat in the middle of Austin. Wander the property marked by a cottage, two acres of gardens with towering palms, colorful peacocks and hiking trails that lead to Laguna Gloria.
To explore a bit beyond city limits, head west to soak in Texas Hill Country at 50-plus wineries or along the trails of the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve.
Where to eat
At mealtime, it’s hard to narrow down the dining options. Some claim Sour Duck Market offers the best pastries around (try the twice-baked pecan croissants or kolach treats), Veracruz seems to be a go-to for brilliant breakfast tacos and Uchi continues to win over the sushi crowd.
Launderette is a hot spot for veggie-centric dishes, seafood and meat options, while Grizzelda’s dazzles with its eclectic decor and creative dishes (think fresh guacamole with pulled blue crab). In Grizzelda’s uplifting space marked by swirling patterns that somehow complement one another, happily dive into the mole enchiladas and sizzling fajita platters.
End the evening with a nightcap at Lustre Pearl East, where a patio strung with twinkly lights proves the prefect spot to enjoy a local brew and chitchat under the stars.
Whatever you do, don’t miss the opportunity to dine at Loro (translating to “two” in Javanese), a welcoming Asian smokehouse and bar that melds the talents of James Beard Award-winning chefs Tyson Cole of Uchi and Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue.
While Sundays and Mondays are best for experiencing the restaurant’s decadent ribs, you won’t want to miss the chicken karaage and sweet corn fritter starters on any day – or the ginger Old Fashioneds and Cucumber Mules, either. It’s true that the coconut rice bowls never disappoint, yet you’ll be thankful when your server kindly insists you order the game-changing smoked beef brisket as well.
Amid all the city excitement, don’t forget to lift your gaze once in awhile, too. Aside from putting on some of the most dazzling cloud spectacles we’ve seen yet, Austin is home to the only known surviving moontowers in the world. Far out, indeed.
10Best is a part of the USA TODAY Network, providing an authentically local point of view on destinations around the world, in addition to travel and lifestyle advice.
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