With a population of just over 800,000, and almost 2 million residing in the greater metropolitan area, Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. It gets even more crowded here during the many popular festivals and events that take place annually, such as the music, film and interactive conference South by Southwest; the three-day live music festival, Austin City Limits — which is about to expand from one to two weekends — and, a recent addition, the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix race.
But Austin is a fairly compact city, which means you can really get around quickly and see lots of great sites during a long weekend. My advice is to ditch the car, stay downtown or in one of the central Austin neighborhoods and explore the many interesting landmarks by foot.
– Hotels and Resorts
Kimber Modern: Boutique hotel
Location: 110 The Circle, off South Congress Avenue
Cost: From $265 per night
Noteworthy: Winner of the 2012 Texas Society of Architects Design Award, the Kimber Modern is a breathtakingly gorgeous place to call home while visiting Austin.
Location: 1220 S. Congress Ave.
Cost: From $85 per night
Noteworthy: You can’t beat the location of this iconic family-owned property that’s been in business since 1938. A good affordable option for those who want to be close to the action on South Congress Avenue.
More info: Austin Motel
Location: 604 Brazos St.
Cost: See website for details
Noteworthy: Built in 1886 by a wealthy cattle baron, the landmark Driskill Hotel is the oldest operating hotel in Austin. Even if you opt to stay elsewhere, it’s worth checking out for its old-time Austin charm. Have a drink on the outdoor patio and soak up the ambience.
More info: Driskill Hotel
Lora Reynolds Gallery
360 Nueces Street, Suite 50; Open Wednesday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
White walls, concrete floors and an awesome downtown location — Lora Reynolds Gallery fits the bill for a contemporary art spot in Austin. But an impressive and revolving lineup of emerging, mid-career and established artists in mediums like drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking, film and video sets this collection of well-decorated walls apart from other contemporary galleries.
1101 Navasota Street, Suite 2; Open Saturday 12 p.m. – 5 p.m. and by appointment
A nondescript brick exterior building houses Tiny Park, an art space founded in 2011, but this intimate and homey setting gets you all that much closer (and more comfortable) with contemporary art. Presenting contemporary art exhibitions, readings, performances and film screenings by local and national artists, Tiny Park mixes it up with guest curators and outside collaborations to bring awesome art to you.
– Design Stores
Domy Books & Busy-Being: If you’re in the mood for the hippest design and art books and zines, you’ll love the cool store known as Domy Books. In the back in a small room is Busy-Being, a tiny but potent shop full of home goods and personal accessories, plus a great collection of art.
MOSS– a designer consignment store opened by the owners of the popular Feathers boutique.
Take Heart: At this shop run by Nina Burke Gordon, who has a sweet personality and a good eye, you’ll find lots of fun, warm gifts for your home, yourself, or a friend, plus a lot of beautiful woodwork by local craftsman Brian David Johnson.
Aviary: You’ll find high-end design lines and lots of style at this South Austin location, plus an awesome wine bar.
Howl: You’ll find wildly weird antiques and custom pieces in this South Austin store.
Uptown Modern: If you want a curated selection of retro modern vintage finds, Uptown Modern in North Central Austin is full of fun, warm furniture pieces and accessories.
JM Drygoods: For those looking for some real West Texas style, whether in clothes or home goods, head to JM Drygoods for items inspired by travel and the cultural hub of Marfa.
– Design Centers
Their mission is to improve the quality of life for all by providing sustainable design, planning and development services to low- and moderate- income individuals, families and neighborhoods.
It’s a design school at least 15 years in the making, an idea that simmered in the back of Jon Kolko’s brain. The interactive designer (an associate creative director at Frog Design in Austin, Texas) and one-time Savannah College of Art and Design instructor had long wanted to create an environment that could help designers find more meaning in their careers. It was a concern of many of Kolko’s former students, who were working at what were considered dream jobs, places like Nike and Starbucks.
Location: 1807 S. First St.
Noteworthy: Popular for its delicious food, excellent service and the funky interior design, by McCray & Co., Lenoir is a tough reservation to get but well worth the effort. Husband-and-wife team Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher offer innovative locally sourced dishes at reasonable prices.
Location: 1417 S. First St.
Noteworthy: Taking Austin by storm since opening earlier this year, Sway specializes in modern Thai cuisine that is, in a word, sublime. Be prepared to wait for a table during peak dinner times, though, as Sway does not take reservations for parties of less than 10.
Japanese and sushi restaurants Uchi and Uchiko;
La Condesa, which specializes in modern Mexican food and serves arguably the best margaritas in town; Icenhauer’s, a popular house of cocktails on Rainey Street in downtown Austin;
The favorite brunch spots in town, Olivia. These places attest to the winning combination that is good food, good drinks and good design.
AMOA: Austin Museum of Art always has great shows.
Blanton Museum of Art: The Blanton is the largest College Art Museum in the Nation. Beautiful space and a great collection.
Women and Their Work: A space dedicate to showing women’s work. Group and solo shows.
Art House– it recently reopened ( much anticipated) and it is a really beautifully designed space by the LTL design team.
Lake Austin Spa Resort is set on a green, glassy, narrow lake created by a dam. The destination spa makes the most of its waterfront location with pontoon boat rides, and is known for its excellent food and exercise classes. With just 40 rooms it’s easy to meet people, but the spa is lavish and open to locals as a day spa.
Hyatt Regency Lost Pines is a major ranch-style resort spa near Bastrop State Park, east of Austin, with 491 guests rooms. Spa Django has 18 treatment rooms, men and women’s meditation rooms, Nia classes and yoga. It’s a family-friendly choice, with Camp Hyatt and the Wild Hare Youth Spa, a colorful spa for the younger set.
Interior Design Gallery
Interior Design Gallery has earned a reputation for providing an inspirational showroom full of the latest trends in furniture, accessories and design. They’re a full service interior design firm located in Austin, Texas with a beautiful showroom which is open both to the interior design trade as well as the public. At Interior Design Gallery, we carry a complete line up of home furniture for living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, and offices, as well as accessories and art.
Midnight Cowboy adds a touch of class and exclusivity to a street otherwise known as “Dirty Sixth”. According to the prohibition-era theme, you won’t find a sign illuminating the way to Midnight Cowboy. Instead, you must make a reservation, whereupon the staff will give you the correct buzzer number for the evening. This luxury cocktail speakeasy was formerly a brothel by the same name and accommodates no more than eight people in a party at once. Depending on your order, the mixologist might concoct your poison tableside with a rolling-cart full of fresh ingredients. As former patrons might have said, don’t be fooled by size – small drinks pack quite a potent punch.
• 313 E 6th St, +1 512 843 2715, midnightcowboymodeling.com. Tue-Sat 6pm-2am
Yellow Jacket Social Club
People are first drawn to Yellow Jacket Social Club by the smattering of wooden tables amid an explosion of crepe myrtle trees on a gravel patio. They’re then won over by an interior bar that’s a modern take on an old saloon with some winning details: reclaimed steel, timbers, railroad spikes and swinging doors, all of which are sourced from the surrounding East Side neighbourhood. Don’t expect any dressed-up cocktails or fancy service here, but do explore the hard-to-beat Cuban-influenced food menu. Most importantly, the prices run across the board. Bring your dog, your bike and your tattoos – the culture here is highly accepting of all.
• 1704 E 5th St, +1 512 480 9572, yellowjacketsocialclub.com. Open every day 11am-2am
Easy Tiger’s indoor/outdoor beer garden is so well designed and busy that it caught the attention of Food & Wine magazine. Nestled up against Waller Creek, which runs through downtown Austin, Easy Tiger boasts views of high-rises, greenery, rock and water. The Wes Anderson-inspired decor is evidenced by the 1970s vignettes of bold wallpaper and retro hand-painted signage. In addition to a full bar, this place offers a rotating menu of obscure beers and wines, though they tend to sell out fast. Go for the housemade sausage and bread once you’re sauced and ready to hit one of the ping-pong tables.
• 709 E 6th St, +1 512 614 4972, easytigeraustin.com. Open every day 7am–2am
Whip In is revered for its novel interpretation of a convenience store-turned-restaurant and bar, located on an unassuming (and unattractive) corner of Interstate 35 in South Austin. It is a place to shop for obscure grocery items, order Texas-influenced Indian food (dal puppies are a must), participate in a trivia game, or drink from a selection of 72 microbrews on tap. Family-owned and operated, beer lovers will always find someone behind the bar who can talk shop and knowledgeably guide a tasting. And should you like something you drink, chances are you can find it in store to take away.
• 1950 Interstate 35 Frontage Rd, +1 512 442 5337, whipin.com. Open every day 10am-midnight
Bar Congress serves as a sophisticated conduit between its popular eatery, Second Bar + Kitchen, and the five-star Congress restaurant. The dark, narrow bar is classy, sophisticated and well-appointed. The operation is stacked with top Austin talent, featuring an approachable sommelier and artistic bartender whose concoctions may well erase the memory of any other drink you’ve ever put to your lips. Service is paramount at any institution run by award-winning chef David Bull, and Bar Congress is no different. But it’s not all pomp and circumstance here: this is Austin, and Bar Congress does know how to kick back and relax, as evidenced by seasonal series like the summer’s Tiki Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
• 200 Congress Ave, +1 512 827 2760, congressaustin.com/bar-congress. Tue-Sat 5pm-midnight
Feel like dancing (dirty or otherwise)? Then make your way to Red River Street’s Barbarella. Smoky, red-lit rooms are tucked away at the turn of every corner and an always packed dancefloor is illuminated by several large screens and a disco ball. Weeknight themes cater to an array of cultures and sub-genres from “Tuesgayz” to Thursday “Gritz & Gravy”, Friday “Footloose”, and Saturday “New Noise”. If you need a brief break from the sweaty shimmying, the back patio connects to the calmer neighbouring bar, Swan Dive. But if you’re young and looking to make a home-run, chances are you’ll stick close to hipster-heavy Barbarella.
• 615 Red River St, +1 512 476 7766, barbarellaaustin.com. Open every day 10pm–2am
– Arts Shows
AIA Austin Homes Tour
Check out that amazing house that you have always envied on this annual, self-guided tour, which features one-of-a-kind private Austin residences.
Austin Film Festival
This national-level film festival brings in big names and new films while making the screenings accessible to all Austinites.
Austin Fashion Week
A weeklong series of fashion events that comes to a close with a fashion show, concert and awards show.
– Points of Interest
Texas Capitol: Austin is the capital of Texas, and this is the granite-clad home to the chambers of the state legislature as well as the office of the governor.
Location: Downtown Austin at 112 E. 11th St.
Noteworthy: The Renaissance revival building was completed in 1888 and is a registered National Historic Landmark. It is the largest state capitol in the United States and stands taller than the national Capitol. It is open daily to visitors for both guided and self-guided tours.
More info: Texas Capitol
John Bremond House: Second Empire–style mansion in the Bremond Block Historic District
Cost: Free, but the interior of the home is not open to the public. You can arrange a walking tour to view the exterior as well as other historic buildings in the neighborhood.
Location: 700 Guadalupe St.
Noteworthy: Built in 1870 for prominent businessman John Bremond, the late-Victorian mansion is purported to be the first home in Austin to have an indoor toilet. It is now home to the Texas Classroom Teachers Association.