I had been dying to get to Austin, and when my best friend invited me to spend a few days there, I jumped at the chance. We stayed with her childhood friend who had just graduated from University of Texas in Austin and wanted to show us around. I loved the idea of staying with someone who went to school in Austin for four years -- not only did she show us the touristy parts of Austin, but we were able to hit all of the cool bars and restaurants that students frequented. Like everyone else in the world, I think it would be super fun to attend South by Southwest or Austin City Limits, two huge music festivals in the city. But I think there's something to be said for getting the feel for a new city when it's not completely overrun by tourists and swarms of people, and we were able to do just that.
We had three full days in Austin which was plenty of time to see the sights. Here's how we made the most of our time there:
Day (1): Our flight landed at around 10 am and we immediately went for a late breakfast at The Magnolia Cafe. Something I saw quite a bit of on menus in Austin were migas, a traditional Tex-Mex dish of scrambled eggs, cheese, strips of corn tortilla, onions and chile peppers. I got the "Love Migas", which are migas slathered in The Magnolia Cafe's Love Butter -- melted butter, serrano peppers, and garlic sauce. Amaaazing first meal in Austin and we had just stepped off the plane.
We later set off for Barton Springs, a clean, spring-fed pool in the heart of Austin that is 68° year round. If you're visiting Austin in the summer, this is the perfect place to cool off and relax for a bit. The cold water is a bit of a shock to the system at first, but after sweating in the Texas heat it was much needed.
That night we caught a show by the Spazzmatics, a hilarious 80s cover band who plays all over Texas. If you're in Austin on a Wednesday night, I highly recommend heading over to Cedar Street Courtyard to see them play. There's nothing like being in a courtyard full of drunk people singing "Jessie's Girl" and "Take Me On" at the top of their lungs.
Day (2): In the morning, we wandered through HOPE Outdoor Gallery, an outdoor graffiti park intended to give artists and muralists a place to display their artwork. It was launched by Shepard Fairey in 2011 as part of the HOPE campaign. I imagined it was going to be a lot like the Wynwood Walls in Miami, but it has a totally unique Austin feel to it. It's three stories and visitors are welcome to walk around, snap pictures, and check out the (inspiring) pieces.
We checked out Book People, a huge independent bookstore (with an incredible lineup of future book signings-- Jimmy Carter in August!) and grabbed a quick lunch at Whole Foods. We were dying to get outside and go for a swim so we headed out to McKinney State Falls Park, to take a dip in the gorgeous waterfalls and natural spring. The falls were about a 25 minute drive from downtown Austin and well worth it. These falls are just one of the numerous swimming sites around Austin.
We ate dinner at a burger joint called Hopdoddy's, and I literally couldn't stop texting people about the burger I ate. I started 10 new conversations with the words "I need to talk to you about this burger I just ate." Amazing cocktails, milkshakes, and phenomenal burgers -- no wonder there is always a line out the door. I'm not exaggerating. They pass out glasses of water to people standing in the line wrapped around the outside of the building. I ordered the la Bandita, a black-bean corn patty, avocado, goat cheese, arugula, cilantro pesto, and chipotle mayo on a whole wheat bun. Jesus take the wheel.
After returning home to digest what was probably the greatest meal of our lives, we bar hopped along 6th street for the night.
Day (3): Hangover = lemon poppyseed pancakes, migas, and coffee at the fantastic Kerbey Lane Cafe.
Post-breakfast, we took a stroll through the University of Texas campus.
After reading Peter Jon Lindberg's fantastic piece on Austin's buzzy food scene in the July issue of Travel + Leisure, I was dead set on trying one of Paul Qui's famous East Side King food trucks. We decided on Whisler's, a breezy, relaxed indoor/outdoor bar in East Austin for drinks and grabbed dinner at the East Side King Thai-Kun truck adjacent to the bar. I had the Black Noodles -- rice stick noodles, tossed in sweet dark soy and garlic oil, served with romaine lettuce, bean sprouts, celery, pickled mustard greens, peanuts, croutons, green onion, cilantro, lime. I paired this with the greatest Old-Fashioned EVER from Whisler's.
The last day we were in Austin was the day the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage federally. I was really interested to see how Austin -- a notoriously progressive city in notoriously conservative Texas -- would react to the news, and I was surprised at how many people poured out into the streets, waving rainbow flags and celebrating the SCOTUS ruling. We bar hopped to gay bars and college bars all night and soaked up the superb Austin nightlife.
The weather was mild (in mid-June!), the people were warm, and the food was unbelievable -- this is coming from a longtime vegetarian in a meat-centric city (BBQ everywhere, a carnivore's dream). I saw bits of Nashville (country vibes), Atlanta (big city), and New Orleans (party/bar scene) sprinkled throughout the city but Austin is wholly it's own. Eat, drink, explore, and most importantly, don't forget your stretchy pants.