When I tell people I am heading to Austin for a long weekend, they often ask: Do you have relatives in Austin? Are you going for work?
Nope. In fact, I venture on an annual fall pilgrimage to this gem in the Lone Star state because it is essentially a larger, warmer version of Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. In addition to the intriguing draw of good ol’ Texas BBQ, Austin has a creative and laid-back vibe where people gravitate to the flourishing music and arts scene, bring their totes to go grocery shopping, and run and bike in their spare time.
Once almost a secret getaway, this capital city of Texas has seen an influx of hipsters and food and arts enthusiasts from around the world in recent years with its mecca of festivals:
- The upcoming annual music, film and interactive conference and festival South by Southwest coveted by designers and others in the creative industry.
- The Fun Fun Fun Fest (yes, that is really what it is called) which boasts of a pioneering festival for underground and progressive musicians, comedians and fans around the world.
- 70,000 music lovers pack Zilker Park during Austin City Limits (ACL) to see some of the 3-day, eight stage music festival. ACL is right up there with Lollapalooza and Coachella as one of North America’s most coveted rock festivals.
When to visit: If you want to experience the lively festival scene, check out South by Southwest in March, or ACL in September. To avoid the heat and crowds and get a taste of the more authentic Austin, visit on a non-event weekend in the fall or spring.
Where to stay: If you seek a tranquil modern oasis just steps from the action on South Congress Street, stop reading this article now and book a room at the Kimber Modern. Opened 3.5 years ago by couple Vicki Faust, a tax accountant, and Kimber Cavendish, a physical therapist, this modernist inn will delight the high standards traveler looking for a unique experience. Take a nap on one of the reused seatbelt hammocks or grab a seat by the water feature on the patio and catch up on some reading.
With 24 hour access to the kitchen and happy hour and breakfast provided, this 7-room abode feels like staying at a friend’s house. A rich, eccentric friend’s house.
Hotel San Jose – The interior of this popular lodging spot is sparse and not overly spectacular (bares a similar resemblance to the Ace Hotel), but no matter. Stay here for the luxury of stepping out of your room and walking 5 steps to the outdoor bar/pool which is one of the hipster hot spots. During ACL, some headlining acts have been known to make an evening appearance.
Where to get your coffee: Situated smack dab in the middle of the happening scene in South Congress, Jo’s Coffee has the optimal people-watching vantage point. For those of you who like to multi-task, Ruta Maya offers free yoga in their shop with every coffee purchase.
Where to shop: The vintage shop scene is hot in Austin with about 30 vintage and antique shops. My two favorites are both within a 5 minute walk from one another. One could spend hours sifting through the stellar visual merchandising at uncommon OBJECTS on South Congress. Prototype Vintage Design is another must see.
Check out the venerable Boot Whisperer in Wimberley which is about a 45 minute drive from downtown Austin and you will be rewarded with over 500 pair of boots spanning across various time periods between 1940-1980, each with its own history. Even if cowboy boots are not part of your wardrobe, go for the experience. The Boot Whisperer, otherwise referred to as “Ulli,” is one of the most charming women around and has the gift of being able to look at your foot, look at you and then bring you the perfect pair of boots.
Although Allens Boots on South Congress cannot boast of rare vintage finds, they are dubbed the boot emporium with over 4,000 pair of new boots stemming from 12 different manufacturers. Lyle Lovett and a whole host of other celebrity sightings go down at Allens.
Where to eat: Austin BBQ is idolized by both local and national food writers such as Bon Apetit and The New York Times. You will generally incite a heated discussion if you ask as cab drivers, college students, and seniors alike all have an opinion on the best BBQ. Franklin BBQ is the latest up and comer, while The Salt Lick is the long recognized Austin icon.
To check out a legendary music spot and experience a gospel brunch, check out Stubb’s Sunday brunch. Reservations are highly recommended.
There are herds of food trucks everywhere, but the ones on East 6th are the most raved about within food enthusiast circles. East Side King, located behind The Liberty Bar, is the locals’ night time favorite.
2 month old Lucy’s Fried Chicken draws the likes of Dennis Quaid and others with its impeccable fried chicken and outdoor covered eating area.
Sushi in Texas? Yes, indeed. Check out world renowned Uchi and Uchiko. Lance Armstrong confidently asserts Uchi is the best restaurant in the world. With Foie Nigiri on the menu, Lance may be able to defend that bold claim.
Where to sweat out your vices from the night before: With the Town Lake trail encircling the six mile long Lady Bird lake in downtown, Austin is a runner and bikers’ paradise.
Mellow Johnny’s, Lance Armstrong’s store, is a great place to rent a road bike or see some of the bikes Armstrong has raced throughout the years. The Bicycle Sport Shop also has a large selection of rentals, including tandems.
Getting to Austin: Unless you feel like getting in your Westy camper and making the trek, Alaska Air offers daily non-stop flights from Seattle to Austin.