Texas’ capital, Austin, is on a lot of bucket lists —and with reason! The city’s motto is “Keep Austin Weird,” which should give you and idea of what to expect. Nonetheless, here’s how to make the best of it.
Where To Eat
Austin is a foodies’ town. You will eat well and you will eat lots. And because you are in Texas, a BBQ stop cannot be avoided. Several restaurants claim to be the city’s best, but I chose Franklin, recommended by many different people. Be warned: Franklin is known for its legendary line-ups. There are chairs outside and you can purchase beers to pass the time. It’s an experience you gotta have! People often arrive at 7AM to ensure a spot (and a full plate) for lunch. Expect a good 2 hours wait if you arrive between 11AM and noon, and don’t get there too late, because there may not be any food left…!
Another must-try in Austin are the food trucks, often grouped together on parking lots fitted with picnic tables for the occasion. You’ll find a thousand lists of the ones you cannot miss, but to be honest, most trucks offer excellent choices so if you are hungry, just stop at the first one you see! Some of the trucks I tried during my trip: Hey! You gonna eat or what?, Gourdough’s (the most decadent donuts in the the universe) and Mighty Cone.
Austin is also where the famous Whole Foods supermarket chain was born, so if you want to put an emotional touch on your grocery shopping, you should stop by their flagship location.
Other restaurantes to try (time and stomach permitted): Lucy’s, for delicious fried chicken; South Congress Café, loved by locals; Frank’s, for gourmet hot dogs and desserts; and East Side King, for one of the best South-East-Asian meals in the United States.
If the weather is not abnormally cold during your visit (i.e: buying winter cloths in Austin when you come from Quebec is not normal!), Amy’s Ice Creams is a local institution that should also be on your to-do.
What To Do
If you visit sometime between March and November, you have to take a tour of Congress Bridge at sunset to see the famous bats. You must also do the obliged stop at the Cathedral of Junk, an installation situated in Vince’s (the artist) private home garden. It’s even more impressive in person than in photos! Be sure to call in advance to set up an appointment. He suggests a donation of $10/group for the visit.
If you like street art, stop at Graffiti Hill Park to watch artists at work. Also, murals like “Austin Postcard” and “I Love You So Much” will provide great content for your Instagram account.
Not far from Graffiti Hill Park you’ll find the Austin State Capitol, bigger that Washington’s and very interesting to visit.
If you want to go shopping, you should head to South Congress and South 1st. You won’t find the big department stores or brands, but small independent boutiques that offer products by local artists and second hand merchandise.
Nature is also a big attraction in Austin. Consider stops at Barton Springs, Barton Springs Pool, Zilker Park, the Greenbelt, Mayfield Park (where peacocks run free!), Mt. Bonnell and The Oasis on Lake Travis, if you have a car.
And the best part of it all? Almost all attractions are free!
Where to stay
The HI hostel is on the south shore of the Colorado River, close to Lady Bird Lake. The terrace has an amazing view of the city skyline and when the weather cooperates, you can rent kayaks a few steps away to make the most of the lake. The hostel is a 30 minute walk from downtown. Oh! And breakfast and wifi are free!
How to get around
In Austin cars are king. It’s the easiest way to get around, especially if you are a group and you can split rental costs.
Otherwise, public transportation is pretty cheap and will take you almost everywhere. It might take you a bit longer, but you’ll get there! The 7 and the 20 run often and take you to the corner of Downtown and South Congress, while other busses will allow you to discover neighbourhoods a bit further off.
It’ll only cost ya’ $1.25USD/day or $5.25USD/week, if you buy a transport pass at the hostel. Otherwise, you can rent a bike at the hostel also, or use your two legs! But keep in mind that Austin is actually a lot bigger than it looks on the map and doesn’t always have sidewalks!
To get from the airport to the hostel could not be easier: a bus runs this route every few minutes and costs only $1.25USD.
Bars & music
If Austin managed to carve an important place in the list of must-go-to-destinations, it’s partly due to its musical culture. After all, two of the biggest festivals in the United States take place there: SXSW and Austin City Limits!
Outside of these events, you can listen to live music every night in Austin. Tourists often love East 5th Street for its variety and quantity of bars, but locals will suggest you go to the Continental Club on South Congress, instead. And, if you want a totally Austin experience, get to Buzz Mill, an indoor/outdoor bar in a parking lot —two steps away from the hostel,— where many musicians started off their careers. Close the night at Jackalope South Shore, just across the street.
In other words, it’s impossible to be bored in Austin!