In the eight years since I lived in Austin, a lot has changed. But when I go back to visit family and friends, I still get a chance to visit a few of my favorite haunts. Here’s a few of my must-do’s when in Austin. You’ll begin to notice a theme: A lot of my recommendations center around places where I can get tacos. =)
- West Sixth Street and North Lamar Boulevard is one of my favorite intersections in Austin. OK, that’s a weird way to start out. But living in the Clarksville neighborhood, I spent many an afternoon strolling around some of the classic Austin establishments that call this area home. The flagship Whole Foods Market can be found here, complete with several restaurants, frequent beer and wine tastings and of course—tacos.
- After a meal at Whole Foods Market, browse through books at the locally owned BookPeople, catch a show and look through records at the longstanding Waterloo Records, and grab some dessert at Amy’s Ice Creams with my favorite—a Mexican Ancho Chocolate sundae with homemade whipped cream.
- The Bouldin neighborhood in South Austin—off of South First Street—always gives me “Keep Austin Weird” vibes with quirky art galleries, great Tex-Mex food, unique coffee shops, and some of Austin’s original food trucks. Stroll down South First Street to one of Austin’s most Instagrammable signs. Head to Elizabeth Street Café, a charming French-Vietnamese restaurant and coffee shop. Tacos at El Primo and Gourdough’s Big. Fat. Donuts. are a must.
- Take a stroll down South Congress Avenue for some great shopping, restaurants and music venues. Stop into Guero’s Taco Bar for great Tex-Mex, Torchy’s Tacos for that iconic green chile queso and Lucy’s Fried Chicken for a hideaway with a great patio and delish fried chicken and fixins’. Some of my favorite shops for authentic Austin keepsakes are South Congress Books, Tesoros Trading Company Retail, Triple Z Threadz and the iconic Allens Boots.
- The South Lamar Boulevard corridor has some of Austin’s most iconic haunts as well as some of the most exciting new restaurants in Austin today. Check out old-school honky tonk Broken Spoke for two-steppin’, longtime bar Black Sheep Lodge, and Saxon Pub for live music. Ramen Tatsu-Ya, Loro and Odd Duck are some new local favorites getting lots of acclaim. Looking for breakfast tacos? Papalote Taco House is where you need to be.
- One of the more unique nightlight spots in Austin is Rainey Street. Some old houses southeast of downtown have been turned into bars and restaurants with patios that make you feel like you’re at a friend’s backyard party.
- Check out the transformation of East Austin along East Caesar Chavez Street. Jacoby’s Restaurant & Mercantile is one of my favorite places to get out of downtown. They have great food and drinks, and fan-cooled patio with an obstructed view of the Colorado River. Some other favorites are East Side King and La Barbecue.
- At this point, you may want to get outside and work off some of this delicious food. Head to Zilker Park across Lady Bird Lake, where you can take advantage of bike trails, green space and the iconic Barton Springs Pool, a spring-fed natural pool that always stays a cool 68 to 70 degrees (a very welcome treat on a hot August day). Take a photo with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s statue, and then head to one of Austin’s old-school establishments on Barton Springs Road, like JuiceLand, the original Chuy’s and The Shady Grove to cool off.
- This IS Austin, so you must see some live music while you’re in town. There are so many great places to go, but Antone’s Nightclub, where local bluesman Gary Clark Jr. got his start, The Continental Club and Emo’s Austin are some of my favorites.
- With roots in central Texas, one of the things I miss most when I’m away is the kolache, the sweet or savory Czech pastry that is very popular in Texas. A newer outpost east of UT’s campus in the Cherrywood neighborhood, Batch Craft Beer and Kolaches, would make any central Texan proud.
Have a great time in Austin!
Nora Thomas, manager, national council relations and ESTO, works with U.S. Travel's Destinations Council, whose purpose is to enhance the effectiveness of DMO professionals through engagement and educational programs. She works with her team on U.S. Travel's annual ESTO conference, and has been with U.S. Travel for three and a half years. Nora currently resides in Washington, D.C.