I’ve been wanting to contribute to this series for a long time, and I finally got it together! I know other bees have written about Austin, but hopefully I can provide a unique perspective on the city I’ve called home for the past 10 years.
For me, Austin is the perfect mix of small town and big city. It has a famously wonderful and eclectic music scene; delicious, cheap, and varied restaurants; amazing bars, from the trendy to the just plain dives; and even a budding film/TV scene (think Friday Night Lights!). Austin is the perfect place for a casual honeymoon filled with lazy days at Barton Springs, shopping at boutiques on South Congress, and eating your weight in breakfast tacos.
We all know the most important part of any vacation, especially a honeymoon, is food. Austin has SO MUCH good food. It’s pretty much insane. I don’t know what I’d do if I ever moved—I’m sure I’d go through Tex-Mex withdrawal.
Trudy’s might be my favorite Tex-Mex spot. Not only is their menu delicious and extensive (everything from a chicken-stuffed and breaded avocado to portabella fajitas to mango-tilapia quesadillas to cheesecake flan), they also have some of the best drinks in town, and a lively bar scene. Must try: the Mexican martini. It’s basically a kicked up margarita on the rocks, served in a shaker with a martini glass and olives.
Trudy’s Mexican Martini via Taylor Takes a Taste
Runners up include Mi Madre’s (for delish and cheap breakfast tacos and iced coffee), Las Cazuelas (for a more authentic and less trendy take on Tex-Mex), and the perennial favorite, Chuy’s (try the Barton Springs location). Oh, and Tamale House for breakfast tacos simply cannot be beat. Closes at 3 PM and not open on Sundays; bring cash.
The Dude and I have been on what we originally referred to as “Burger Quest ’09″ since, well, 2009. We try a new burger joint each month, and so far we have not run out of mouthwatering options. Our favorite is P. Terry’s, as it reminds us of In-N-Out burger, uses grass-fed beef and natural ingredients, is cheap, and has a stunning interior decorated in mid-century-mod fashion.
Runners up include Counter Cafe (open only until 4 PM, so go for lunch!), Your Mom’s (how about a half-pound burger stuffed with pulled pork?), Top Notch (for an old-fashioned flame-grilled burger experience—just bring cash!), Mighty Fine (a cute family joint), and Hopdoddy (for a gourmet burger experience). I could go on and on and on, but I will restrain myself.
Burger with grilled onions, and fries, from Counter Cafe
My fave hands down is Polvos. Their menu is eclectic, including a breakfast dish with plantains, black beans, and eggs, and they have some of the best fajitas I’ve ever had that include raisins and pecans. Their margaritas come in flavors like cucumber and mango, and are refreshing and not overly sweet. It’s super popular, but if it’s too crowded when you arrive, never fear—it’s smack dab in the middle of a great Mexican food scene on South First Street, so there are plenty of other nearby options. Taqueria Arandas is great for cheap and authentic interior Mexican food, and it boasts several locations across town. I don’t claim to know a lot about this type of food, but I know that it is affordable and delicious. Additionally, El Chilito serves up an interesting combination of trendy and authentic interior Mexican food: yummy tacos, fresh salads that you can have topped with tilapia, coffee that meets my snob taste test, and sangria filled with chunky fruit, just like it should be.
(Admittedly, this is an incredibly broad category, including everything from Chinese to Thai to sushi to Indian. But what are you gonna do?)
We love Thai food, and Austin has quite the selection. Our fave Thai place is probably Thai Noodle House, because they have the cutest porch, decent parking, great service, and an eight-page menu that I have yet to try something from that I didn’t like. However, I recommend the Pad Thai from Madam Mam’s, which is only a block or two over.
Additionally, I would recommend Uchi for fracking high-end sushi and Japanese cuisine. The freshest, hippest, and most delicious sushi in town, by far. And if you want to make it more affordable, be sure to go during happy hour for some half-price selections of food and some killer drink deals. For Vietnamese, there is the simply yet aptly named Pho. And Sarovar gets the vote for best Indian in town.
I don’t have a favorite; I just love brunch in general. For a $16 Sunday brunch buffet with every possible brunch dish you could imagine, try Moonshine. For outstanding pancakes and tons of vegan options, Kerbey Lane is the ish. Greasy spoon Star Seeds gets my seal of approval. And for a fancy French bistro experience, Blue Dahlia is quite nice.
Mrs. Mouse at Odd Duck
There are so many food trailers and trucks here that this deserves a category of its own. Some of my faves are Odd Duck on South Lamar, which serves “farm to trailer” food, including an amazing porkbelly slider. Right next door is a sinfully good donut trailer, Gordoughs, whose menu includes the Mother Clucker, a donut with a chicken strip in the middle. Ridic! Torchy’s gets my vote for best taco trailer—I love the fried avocado taco as well as the super-spicy Brushfire. Other favorites include Kebabalicious, Mighty Cone, Old School BBQ (it’s in a school bus!), and Chi’lantro (Mexican + Korean fusion).
The Mother Clucker from Gordoughs
Old School BBQ
My favorite is Polkadots, a teeny bakery that pretty much just makes cupcakes. But they are delicious and they have different flavors every day! And the couple that runs the shop are just the cutest and sweetest! I love supporting local businesses.
Vanilla chocolate chip cupcake from Polkadots
Runners up: for cupcakes, Hey Cupcake! is an adorable trailer on South Congress. You can even get a “whippersnapper,” which is an injection of whipped cream into your cupcake. Amy’s Ice Cream has several locations over Austin; quite the authentic Austin experience—they have custom flavors, such as Shiner Bock, Mexican chocolate, blueberry, and many more, and you can add all kinds of toppings that they will crush in right in front of your eyes! Sometimes they even do tricks, like tossing your ice cream up in the air before giving it to you. Quack’s is one of my favorite bakeries, with a huge selection of trans-fat-free and vegan goodies. Yum!
Bennu, on the East Side where we live, has my favorite coffee, service, and setup. My favorite place to bring my laptop and park for the afternoon. Frank, an excellent pork-themed hipster restaurant, serves my favorite brand of coffee, Intelligentsia. Mozart’s has a huge deck and a gorgeous view of Lake Austin, as well as a cozy romantic atmosphere at nighttime—I’d go for coffee AND dessert. Speaking of nighttime, if you’re downtown, hit up Halcyon—coffee shop during the day, cocktail bar at night, and you can even order s’mores tableside!
I know it’s kind of weird to go on vacation and go to a movie theater, but the Alamo Drafthouse is more than just a movie theater: it’s an entertainment experience, from the custom pre-movie footage to the table service, from the local beer to the full dinner menu. Oh, and the Oreo milkshake is pretty bomb. There are multiple locations around town, but I’m partial to the one on South Lamar.
Waiting in line at the Alamo Drafthouse
For my money, the bowling experience does not get better than Dart Bowl. It’s dive-y but not secondhand-smoke dive-y, it’s cheap, and it has a little bar and cafe that serves super-greasy snacks. Oh, and once I saw Billy Bob Thornton there. So yeah, I likes it. If you’re feeling fancy, The Highball takes bowling up a couple notches on the classiness (and price) scale, with authentic mid-century bowling accouterments and an upscale drinks and dinner menu. Just be prepared to wait a long time to get a lane, and to keep score by hand.
For a good time with a large (or small) group of people, New Seoul Karaoke is pretty fun. It’s BYOB, and you can drink well into the night while you sing your heart out in your own private room. Although it’s primarily a Korean place, there are plenty of pop songs in English to choose from, too.
I’m all about the dive bars most of the time. I love Lala’s in North Austin. It’s decorated for Christmas year round, smells like smoke (now that Austin has a smoking ban, thank goodness, it’s kind of a novelty to find a smoky bar!), and is completely unpretentious.
Outside of Lala’s
Inside of Lala’s
Also in the North Austin area is The Draughthouse, a pub with tons of beers on tap, including some they brew themselves. You can park your car in the parking lot and hang out there—it’s always a scene. And they serve Goldfish for something like a dollar a bowl. Love it! I also like the Cloak Room, which rumor has it is where you can find Texas congressmen of the Democratic persuasion whenever our legislature is in session. I’ve been a few times; it’s close to the Capital but sort of hidden underground, and it’s always pitch dark inside and the bartender is always the same slightly brusque older woman. The drinks are nothing to write home about, but it’s a fun experience.
East 6th Street is the trendy new locale for bars, though they tend to be a little more low key than those bars west of the interstate. I like The Liberty, as it’s casual and very cheap, and it has a food trailer in the back serving up delicious Asian fusion cuisine. I’m also partial to Rio Rita, which is somewhere in between a coffee lounge and a bar. It’s a little grungy and full of vintage furniture, and they have incredible infused vodkas, including one with jalapenos! Best bloody Mary in town. We even took some of our engagement pictures outside of this funky locale. Finally, East Side Show Room has a speakeasy vibe, cool decor, and a fun drink menu. (Try the diablo!)
Outside Rio Rita / Photos by The Nichols
If you’re into the touristy thing, head to the other side of 6th Street (known to some as “Dirty 6th”) for a more *ahem* intense bar experience. I rarely head to this part of town anymore, but I do like the area just off of 6th on Red River—Beerland, Mohawk, and Emo’s are all really cool music venues.
Mohawk during South by Southwest 2011
Speaking of music, if you are REALLY into music, the time to come to Austin is during South by Southwest, a week jam-packed with live shows by bands from all over the world that takes place in March every year. You can purchase a badge to get into a lot of the shows, but there are also tons of free shows during the daytime.
Or if you’re more the festival type, there is Austin City Limits Festival, which is usually in September, but sometimes October. A three-day pass will set you back a couple hundred dollars, but it’s a really fun festival and totally worth it.
Austin City Limits Festival 2011 at Zilker Park
What’s a vacation without shopping, right? Austin may not be London or Paris or New York, but I quite enjoy the shopping here. There’s something for everyone. You like boutiques? Check out the South Congress area. One of my favorites is Parts & Labour—it sells a ton of jewelry, accessories, and clothing at affordable prices, and it’s all handmade by local artists! Blackmail is also cool; among other things they have quite the selection of vintage cowboy boots.
Is thrifty more your speed? Head a little south of Austin toward San Marcos and you’ll hit up a flea market about halfway in between the two cites; once you get to San Marcos, it’s outlets galore. My personal favorites are the J.Crew and Pottery Barn outlet stores, and there’s also a Neiman Marcus Last Call, Banana Republic, Coach, Crate&Barrel, Nine West, Betsey Johnson, the list goes on. For trendy and gently used secondhand clothing, check out Buffalo Exchange. If you’re all about vintage, my personal favorite of the moment is Blue Velvet on North Loop. I also highly HIGHLY recommend checking out the local Goodwill and Salvation Army locations around town. There’s usually some pretty good finds, and those stores don’t get the same markup as some of the trendier “vintage” shops.
If you’re into antiques, I’d recommend the North Burnet Road area. My favorite store for furniture is Uptown Modern—the highly curated store makes you feel like you stepped into a storage facility for the Mad Men set. But there are a ton of other antique shops in the area.
If you’re into high-end shopping, then lucky for you, Austin now has The Domain. It’s an outdoor shopping mall, pretty much brand-spanking new, full of retailers such as Tiffany & Co., Barneys, Neiman Marcus, Louis Vuitton, Anthropologie, J.Crew, Zara (!), and more. I’d also recommend Barton Creek Mall, where you can shop at Nordstrom, among all your typical mall retailers. (As you can probably tell, I’m not as well versed in high-end shopping. When it comes to retail I usually stick to Urban Outfitters [which you can find near campus on Guadalupe Street], Target, and Forever 21. I heart H&M, too, but we don’t have one yet. Sad face.)
Austin is famous for its parks and nature trails. Be sure and check out Zilker Park; there are often fun events and/or concerts going on there, as well as botanical gardens. The hike and bike trail on Ladybird Lake is great for exercise and people watching, and you can also rent kayaks to ride on the lake. At sunset, head over to Congress Bridge to watch the bats fly away for the night.
Bats under the Congress Bridge / Image via Moonbattery
As far as sports go, Austin is home to the Texas Longhorns (of course), so if you’re here in the fall, experiencing a Saturday game day is pretty cool. If you’re here during baseball season, we also have the Round Rock Express just north of Austin—it’s a AAA minor-league team, and the farm team for the Texas Rangers. And for all you hockey fans out there (I’m looking at you, Canadians!), check out the Austin Ice Bats (I know, right?). Oh, and how could I forget the Texas Rollergirls? Roller derby is big here.
If you’re interested in honeymooning in Austin and want to know where to stay, check out this post I wrote a loooong time ago on hotels I was considering for our wedding night.
Sheesh, I am exhausted now. But if you have any questions, ask away! Or if you know a lot about Austin and have something to add, please chime in in the comments section.
Would you consider honeymooning in Austin?
See all the posts in the Honeymoon in My Hometown series here!