72 Hours in Austin
Barbecue, tacos, more music venues per capita than anywhere in the country. It's the magical recipe that has long made Austin one of our favorite getaways. Charlotte Steinway shares a weekend's worth of activities that will make you want to mess with Texas.
Although the city is split up into several distinct nabes, bisected by the tranquil Colorado River, it’s not essential to rent a car for the weekend. Much of the downtown area is walkable, and Lyft, Uber or cabs are all cheap and readily available when it’s time to venture further out.
Barbecue and Tex Mex will dominate your weekend, so it wouldn’t hurt to kick Day One off on a healthy start with a visit to the flagship Whole Foods, an 80,000-square foot food mecca located on Sixth St. and Lamar Blvd., just blocks from the chain’s first-ever location. Stock up on fruit, coffee and fresh juice for a morning picnic on the banks of the Colorado River, whose shores are lined with bike paths and park benches. If you’re feeing up to it, nearby Texas Rowing Center offers kayak, canoe, and standup paddleboard rentals by the hour. Or, continue your aquatic adventure across the river at Barton Springs Pool an immense natural spring-fed pool located within Zilker Park’s 358 acres of protected greenery.
Next, it’s off to the nearby Bouldin Creek area for some well-deserved lunch. Elizabeth Street Café, part boulangerie, part Vietnamese restaurant, is positively charming with toile wallpaper, checkerboard floors and turquoise Bentwood chairs. Part of the same restaurant family of equally trendy siblings Perla’s, Josephine House, and Jeffrey’s, Elizabeth Street Café’s menu of bahn mi, pho and spring rolls complements its sweet treats of éclairs, cream puffs, financiers and more.
Afterwards, stroll over to South Congress Avenue, or SoCo as locals lovingly call it, for an afternoon of boutique-hopping. Check out the classic Western wear at Allens Boots and the handmade goods at Heritage Boot, leather makers who craft vintage-inspired cowboy boots based on historic patterns. Uncommon Objects curates a fascinating selection of quirky oddities, vintage furniture and art, arranged in museum-like vignettes around their massive boutique.
For dinner, it’s La Condesa, a modern Mexican operation from Executive Chef Rick Lopez. The James Beard-nominated restaurant features inventive menu items like jumbo lump crabmeat and coconut vinegar-infused guacamole and smoked brisket pastrami taquitos.
After dinner, stroll along the rowdy bars of Sixth Street for a heavy dose of people watching. The collegiate, beer-drenched scene is not unlike what you’d find on New Orleans’ Bourbon Street, though, so you’ll want to move on quickly to the bars further east. German craft beer bar Easy Tiger has the lockdown on atmosphere with twinkle light-strung outdoor seating, live music and ping pong tables. Continue the live music festivities over on Red River Street at Mohawk, a multilevel space with indoor and outdoor stages, or next door at Cheer Up Charlies, a rowdy gay bar with a late night food truck in the parking lot.
Early risers can brave the line at Franklin Barbecue, where queues start to form as early as 7 am in preparation for their 11 am opening. The pros treat the line at Franklin like a tailgate: feel free to bring your own beers and koozies, and Franklin will supply the lawn chairs. For shorter lines (but still seriously solid smoked meat), check out local favorites la barbecue and Micklethwait Craft Meats, both of which sling brisket by the pound from smokers housed (naturally) in food trucks.
Next, it’s time to work off your breakfast of barbecue with a bit of sightseeing. Follow the masses to the State Capitol building, whose iconic interior dome is prime for a quick photo opp. Afterward, keep your cameras handy for a trip to Hope Outdoor Gallery, one of the country’s largest alfresco galleries, featuring an array of dynamic graffiti art and murals. It’s not unlike New York’s now-defunct 5Pointz, meaning you may witness works of art in the making.
Catch an early dinner at Uchi, a complex, sushi-focused restaurant from chef Tyson Cole that’s been at its South Lamar location since 2003 — long before any of the city’s now celebrity-status chefs opened up shop. The simple, rotating menu serves as a refreshing break from the city’s iconic Tex Mex, barbecue and food truck fare, and yet still offers inventive standouts like foie gras nigiri and tempura-fried brie for those looking to push the foodie envelope.
Finish the night with a bar crawl over on Rainey Street, a three-block stretch of historic homes that have been converted into bars, restaurants, and live music venues. Start with a strong selection of Texas craft brews at Craft Pride, then meander up the block to Black Heart for live music and Lone Star beers (served in complimentary koozies), or Container Bar, an indoor-outdoor operation housed amid seven stacked shipping containers. All three have some seriously solid back patio space, so plan to go when the weather’s warm.
Start your day with some of the city’s most iconic breakfast tacos, from Veracruz All Natural or Pueblo Viejo, both East Austin food trucks with migas tacos (a citywide staple made with eggs, tortilla chips, tomatoes, onions, jalapeños and cheese).
Take the tacos to go and enjoy them at Wright Bros. Brew & Brew, an espresso bar that, as the name suggests, also offers a selection of 38 craft beers.
Reserve the rest of the afternoon for exploring East Austin, the hyper hip enclave of boutiques, bars, and food truck parks centered largely around East Sixth Street. Take a stroll along the main drag, but then venture off course to Take Heart for a selection of vintage and handmade housewares and gifts or Charm School Vintage for a heavy dose of 1970s Western-inspired threads.
If you hit one (non-barbecue) food truck in the city, make sure it’s Thai Kun, an uber-authentic Thai operation from local celebrities Thai Changthong (of the East Side King empire) and Paul Qui (of nearby Qui), located in the back of decadently-decorated Whistler’s bar. After, head upstairs to the intimate Oaxacan-inspired mezcaleria to cut the spice.