austin city guide bridge bats

It might come as a surprise that one of the most liberal cities in the United States is located in Texas. Somewhere between the Republican coast of the Gulf of Mexico and the vast western part of the state sits Austin – a creative powerhouse that’s proving to be one of the coolest places to live in the country. In large part Austin’s vibrancy comes from three sources – the 50,000 strong student population from the University of Texas, the city’s tech industry, nicknamed Silicon Hills, and the dynamic music culture.

A host of yuppies (young urban professionals) and yuccies (young urban creatives), both the brunts of many a hipster joke, have already settled here – a city that’s reminiscent of both Portland’s weirdness and San Francisco’s liberalism.

Austin, the most unlikely of state capitals, has the youngest median age of any major US city and is home to some of the country’s biggest events, including Austin City Limits, South by Southwest (SXSW) and Formula 1. It also has some of the best food and nightlife in the country, all at a relatively low cost of living.

The unofficial slogan here is “Keep Austin Weird”. We’re intrigued.

A Guide to Austin, Texas

South Congress & South Lamar

South Congress, the quintessential Austin neighbourhood located just south of Lady Bird Lake, is a fine start to exploring the city. Apart from the fancy condominium facelift where the iconic food trucks of SoCo once stood, this part of town hasn’t changed much over the past decade. Come here for vintage and antique shops and trendy bars and restaurants.

Named after beer (hops) and burgers (doddy is nickname for Aberdeenshire cows) you’d be hard-pressed to find a better burger joint than Hopdoddy. Think truffle fries topped with herbs and parmesan, lush green chilli queso and a plethora of burger options to satiate the hunger of any enthusiast. Hopdoddy also has some of the best milkshakes in town – the Nutella and chocolate pretzel is a local heavyweight champion. For a taste of Texas with a kick, try the chilled Michelada, a concoction of Mexican beer, lime juice and assorted sauces, spices and peppers.

Running parallel to South Congress is the lower-key neighbourhood of South Lamar. This is where local culinary grandmaster Tyson Cole has set up a contemporary Japanese gem called Uchi. In both flavour and presentation, the culinary creations at Uchi are artful and meticulously crafted. Get the crispy lemon chilli brussel sprouts.

Grab a drink at the San Jose Hotel lounge back in SoCo, a revamped 1930s motor lodge where a mellow DJ sets the tone in an urban garden oasis.

Downtown

Travel north across the lake to Rainey Street and bar-hop along a charming row of historic bungalows converted into bars. Visit the famous Austin food trucks and stop late-night munchies in their tracks.

Move further north to the iconic East 6th Street, or ‘Dirty 6th’ as it is called after college students, bachelorette parties and general debauchery. Head further west on 6th Street and you’ll find yourself at – you guessed it – West 6th Street. Here you will find a crowd of young professionals, who are not necessarily tamer, but definitely less dirty.

It seems the saying is true: everything in Texas is actually bigger, including the queue for barbecue. Get to Franklin Barbecue, a famous lunch-only eatery, early because the line outside starts forming from 7AM daily, and the entire restaurant usually sells out by noon.

East Side

The bolder, grittier side of Austin is full of hole-in-the-walls and like almost anywhere in the city – killer restaurants and food trucks.

Qui, owned by innovative and award-winning chef Paul Qui, offers three diverse dining experiences. Drop in for a couple of kanpachi lumpia tacos on the patio before hitting the charismatic East Side bar scene. The patio is a casual experience offering a spin on traditional Filipino street food, but move inside to step up in scale. The dining room has a set seven-course dinner, available in vegetarian and omnivorous options, like many Austin establishments. And for a very special evening, Qui’s tasting room offers a menu of at least 20 courses ranging from amaranth Texas wagyu shortrib to wasabi coconut fig caramel and pregnant Colombian hormigas culonas (leafcutter ants).

You’ll then be transported to a romantic pre-prohibition era at the East Side Showroom. From the award-winning cocktails to the furniture, bar and even chandeliers, everything here is hand-crafted. While you’re in the area, drop into White Horse for the archetypal Texas saloon experience – country, folk, bluegrass, conjunto and honky-tonk are the usual live playlists on stage accompanied by couples dancing two-step and swing on the open dance floor. Cowboys and cowgirls very welcome.

Outdoor Adventure

Austin is an active city tucked between cliffs, canyons and rolling hills. Located in the heart of the city is Lady Bird Lake where you can go for a jog, rent a kayak or paddleboard. Free-spirited, topless sunbathers flock to Barton Springs Pool for drum circles, outdoor yoga and a dip in a perfectly chilled pool, which is fed from underground springs. The pool is located south of downtown across the lake in Zilker Park, Austin’s most beloved green space where the annual Austin City Limits festival takes place. Make sure you grab a snow cone from Sno-Beach while you’re nearby.

Music & Festivals

It’s understood that in Texas, life revolves around food. But in Austin, live music is king. Dubbed “the live music capital of the world”, music is the common denominator of the people. With over 250 venues, Austin is home to more live music venues per capita than any other city in the nation.

Austin City Limits (ACL) music festival is on for its second weekend this year and the city is prepared for festival season. The Weeknd, The Strokes, Drake, Foo Fighters and much more talent will make this year a tantalising experience.

Beyond the coveted ACL, Austin has quickly become home to other major festivals, including SXSW, or ‘South By’ as the hip kids call it. As the largest revenue producing event in Austin, South By is officially a festival of interactive media, music and film. But in reality it is an infusion of every creative industry and it sprawls the entire city with no central location. If you’re coming for SXSW, come with a game plan or else risk being swallowed whole by this beast. You’ll be rubbing shoulders with people from all walks of life – a key Austin feature.

Other notable festivals include Fun Fun Fun Fest, Austin Urban Music Festival, Austin Reggae Festival, Eeyore’s Birthday and many, many more. Not all festivals in the city are music-related but you can be sure that live music will follow you anywhere you go here.

Directory

To Listen:

Stubb’s – Located in a historic limestone building from the 1830’s, an Austin classic for barbeque, sauce and local and national musicians. Mohawk – Best emerging talent in the indie music scene. Elephant Room – The nucleus of jazz in Austin. Dark and sexy vibes at this underground jazz bar.

To Play:

Bangers Sausage House and Beer Garden on Rainey Street – Texas beer garden serving up great sausage with an outdoor stage. Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar on Dirty 6th – Dueling pianos performances and a singing wait staff. Requests frequently welcomed. Shangri-La in the East Side – Hipster, casual, and cheap. Bill Murray spottings not rare. Barbarella on Dirty 6th – A motley crowd, altering theme nights and various dance floors helped this watering hole secure its place as Best Place to Dance in 2015. Whislers on East Side – Spanking new bar with epic cocktails.

To Eat:

La Condesa – Trendy and contemporary Mexican dishes. Don’t come to Texas without exploring the Tex-Mex culture. 24 Diner – Traditional American diner suitable for topping off any late night escapade. Elizabeth Street Café – Colorful café offering French breakfast bites and Vietnamese cuisine in the afternoon and evening. Mozart’s Coffee Roasters – On-site coffee bean roasting at this spot right on Lake Austin, worth the view. Torchy’s – Iconic Austin taco shop. Queso is a must. P Terry’s – This beloved googie-style, Austin burger chain is not an ordinary fast-food restaurant offering other options like a veg burger and whole-wheat buns.

 

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