Originally featured in the August issue of AT HOME Memphis-MidSouth
Texas’ capital city is home of eclectic and iconic sights, vibrant music (culminated in the annual South by Southwest experience), and what Memphians refer to as the “other” barbecue. Austin’s aspects are booming in all directions, whether from a geographical or culinary perspective. Despite its density in new restaurants and recreational offerings, the opportunities to eat, drink, and indulge in the “Keep Austin Weird” culture are approachable and accessible.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Austin’s dry and usually-sunny heat makes the Mount Bonnell climb or lake loop not only bearable, but also enjoyable. Downtown’s waterfront, known as Lady Bird Lake, boasts countless bikers and joggers on the dirt trail—you might even catch athleisure-clad “yogis” on stand-up paddleboards in practice. Between April and November, the South Congress bridge over Lady Bird Lake puts on a spectacular nightly ritual of 1.5 million bats, who emerge at sundown every night between April and November in dynamic aerial flight. For a daytime drip, try out the natural Barton Springs Pool, a public swimming hole whose perennially 68-degree water is fed by underground springs.
BOUTIQUE HOTEL SCENE
South Congress Hotel, which hosts expansive Spanish-style living room spaces for locals and visitors alike, lines the quirky Avenue of restaurants, antique shops, Allen’s cowboy boots, and even an old-timey candy store. The boutique hotel itself houses coffee and all-day café spots, including Café No Se (with out-of-this-world avocado toast) and Mañana. A few blocks down, the 14-room Hotel Saint Cecilia reverberates an eclectic and elevated ambiance through the halls of its white Victorian house. Or if looking for a classic feel in the heart of Downtown, the Driskill Hotel’s 1886-built bones inspire an old yet renewed charm.
A mid-day outdoor dining experience is a must in Austin, Texas. The nautical upscale seafood mecca, Perla’s, offers the most decadent lobster roll and lump crab cake, served by a Vineyard Vines-clad waiter. Restaurateur McGuire Moorman Hospitality, which oversees Perla’s and others, recently opened June’s All Day, a quaint but perfectly polished café on South Congress with plates and pastries appropriate for 9 a.m. or 4 p.m. For a more casual bite, grab Torchy’s Tacos to-go and savor them in an animated three-hour winding line on the East side for a plate of Franklin’s BBQ. The Easy Tiger bake shop and beer garden on East Sixth showcases a small display of artisan breads, pretzels and sweets before leading downstairs into the expansive community table backyard and ping pong set-up.
The Whole Foods Market world headquarters on West Sixth seem to inspire a healthful, wholesome style of living and experiencing the city. Grab a juice bar special or a snack from the extraordinary cluster of micro restaurants and food booths, and then walk up to the building’s rooftop oasis to enjoy an unmatched view of Downtown Austin. Other healthy staples surrounding Austin’s city limits include Juiceland smoothies with extra fresh, next-level ingredient combinations to bring to Zilker Park, where Austin City Limits’ annual music festival welcomes thousands on its perfectly green grass of litter-free leisure. On any given weekend at Zilker, dogs, Frisbees, picnics and playdates will be dispersed in a peaceful array.
For a creative beverage pre- or post-dinner, step onto Rainey Street, a converted residential strip now solely studded with restaurants and bars and anchored by the Hotel Van Zandt. While on Rainey, grab a casual drink at the Container Bar, take a seat at the bar of award-winning Emmer & Rye, or by enjoy cocktails by the pool of the hotel’s Geraldine’s swanky establishment. A few blocks down on the darling Second Street, Second Bar + Kitchen’s wine taps go exceptionally well with a flatbread pizza or cheese board.
A laundromat-turned-trendy restaurant on the East side of Austin, Launderette’s birthday cake ice cream sandwich is craved (and Instagrammed) by countless fans. The Bananarchy food truck, on the other hand, is fun for the entire family, serveing frozen bananas in milk and dark chocolates or peanut butter with dipped toppings ranging from cookie crumbles to sprinkles and toffee. For a decadent late-night splurge, Gourdough’s air stream fries up extra-hot doughnuts loaded with creative topping combinations—the “funky monkey” menu item serves bananas foster atop cream cheese frosting and a gooey, just-fried doughnut.