Only have a few days to explore the land of longhorns and BBQ? Let me help you navigate your way around Austin. Below is a list of my favorite spots during the three years I lived in the city.
Austin has a reputation for being weird. Now, you will see your fair share of colorful wall murals and food trucks. Eccentricity, style, and culture permeate every corner. Don't feel pressured to have cowboy boots or a ten-gallon hat. Just come as you are!
Juan in a Million
Start your day with a hearty breakfast at this Tex-Mex institution. Opening in 1980, Juan in a Million is a no-fuss restaurant with flavorful dishes that are filling and satisfying. The Don Juan El Taco Grande is a staple; a large hot tortilla stuffed with eggs, bacon, potatoes, and cheese. My favorite is the chicken enchiladas served with a vibrant green tomatillo sauce. Your tastebuds will thank you.
Walk off your meal and check out one of the best areas of central Austin. SoCo has an abundance of unique boutiques, restaurants, and coffee shops. It's a tourist hotspot! Grab an iced Turbo at Jo's Coffee and take a picture at the iconic "I love you so much" mural. Try on some authentic cowboy boots at Allens and find a souvenir in one of the stores. The live music and people watching are plentiful.
Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ
It should be a requirement to have BBQ when you visit Texas and this food truck does not disappoint. I'm convinced Miguel and Modesty Vidal use the smoke as a signal to draw in customers off Menchaca Road in south Austin. The succulent melt-in-your-mouth mesquite pulled pork sandwich comes piled high on a soft potato bun with tangy slaw. You also can't go wrong with the smoked brisket tacos. I took all of my visitors to Valentina's and every one of them left happy.
TIP: Skip the sides and just focus on the flavorful meat!
Lady Bird Lake
Do you have a case of the meat sweats? Nature is the cure! Stroll the gravel landscaped trail of Lady Bird Lake to enjoy stunning views of downtown. Look for turtles sunbathing on logs, lizards hiding in the brush, and bright green monk parakeets. If you're feeling adventurous, rent a kayak or paddle board from the Texas Rowing Center for a few hours.
Head over to historic Rainey Street for a chill night filled with creative cocktails, live music, and food trucks. Renovated bungalows with open-air backyards provide a unique space for eclectic bars and restaurants. Play a round of corn hole, ring toss, or Jenga under the soft golden glow of string lights. My favorite bars include The Parlor Room, The Container Bar, and Lucille Patio Lounge.
Mozart's Coffee Roasters
Need a jumpstart to your morning? A sugar buzz is inevitable at this picturesque café with delicious baked goods. My guilty pleasure is the tiramisu, but there are savory options as well including quiches and breakfast tacos. Sip your beverage on the main deck under the trees or grab a seat next to Lake Austin if you want to hang out with the ducks.
Barton Springs Pool
Texas is HOT, especially in the peak of summer! Within Zilker Park is a natural spring-fed pool with an average temperature of 68-70 degrees. The three-acre swimming hole is an Austin treasure and the ideal spot to cool off for a few hours. Relax on the grassy bank in between dips. The cash only entry fee is $9 for adults.
Bird Bird Biscuit
Can anything be more southern than fried chicken and biscuits? Nope. Opening in 2018, Bird Bird Biscuit perfected its craft with a straightforward menu focused on flavor. Try the Queen Beak; a breaded chicken breast covered in decadent cayenne black pepper honey and bacon-infused chipotle mayo. Wash it all down with a crisp Dr. Pepper or Topo Chico to cut through the heaviness.
TIP: Split a biscuit if you don't want to be incapacitated by the side effects of country cooking.
Texas State Capitol & Downtown
A visit to Austin isn't complete without a stop at the Texas State Capitol. Constructed during the 1880s, the red granite building is modeled after the United States Capitol and features an impressive rotunda lined with portraits of Texas officials. Tour the manicured grounds to see historical monuments and statues before exploring downtown.
The Bats of Congress Avenue Bridge
Remember I mentioned Austin was weird? Well, if you want to experience a smelly tradition at sunset I hesitantly recommend watching swarms of Mexican free-tailed bats taking off into the sky between spring and fall. The construction of the bridge provides the ideal habitat for the bats and a free platform for observers to watch the show. Over one million bats fly out every night!
I would be doing you a disservice if I didn't include my #1 restaurant. Chuy's is a Tex-Mex favorite and its original location is on Barton Springs Road. I often daydream about their jalapeño ranch, mouthwatering fajitas, and refreshing margaritas. Follow up the bottomless chips and salsa with the Chika-Chika Boom-Boom; two chicken enchiladas rolled with homemade corn tortillas bathed in a creamy sauce. YUM!