The Everygirl's Weekend City Guide to Austin, Texas
After three years, we finally present the start of our Girls Weekend City Guide series! Every other month, we'll tackle another great metropolis and where to stay, eat, shop, and indulge when you only have two days with the girls. To kick it off, we present Austin, Texas! Considering thousands of visitors will be pouring into central Texas next week for the #sxsw interactive/music/film festival, we figured it was the perfect place to start!
Considered the live music capital of the world, Austin is one of the most unique, creative and art-centric cities in the U.S. With over 250 music venues, art on practically every corner, and a healthy dose of Texas charm, the city is at the top of our list when it comes to weekend destinations to visit with the girls. Whether you're in it for the music, shopping or just some food and relaxation, Austin is the place for free-spirited travelers to roam free and explore. In The Everygirl's first city guide, we highlight our favorite spots in this vibrant city.
$ Budget: Under $150/night
Aloft Austin at the Domain
The Aloft is a beautiful, stylish hotel just minutes from downtown. Though it’s not part of the main downtown strip, the hotel is both well designed and luxurious (at a budget price point!). The hotel is home to a restaurant and lounge so food options are never too far away. Just a quick ride to the downtown area means you can save a bit while still feeling like part of the action. Rooms start at $150 per night.
If you’re traveling to Austin on the cheap, Firehouse Hostel is a good bet. In the center of all the action, the hostel offers private rooms as well as shared dorms—great if you’re traveling with a larger group or if you don’t mind sharing space in order to save on expenses. The hostel has a lively cocktail lounge attache and offers free breakfast. Private rooms start at $90 per night and dorms start at just $30 a night.
Star of Texas Inn
If a cozy bed and breakfast filled with Texas charm sounds up your alley, the Star of Texas is a great option for you. Some rooms have balcony access, some rooms have claw-foot tubs but all come with a homemade breakfast and Texas hospitality. The inn is a quick cab ride to the main downtown area. Rooms start at $120 per night and include daily breakfast.
$$ Mid-range: $150-300/night
Kimber Modern photos by Kelly Rucker
The thought and care that went in to the building and design of the Kimber Modern is what makes the property truly unique. Though it is easily accessible from the downtown area, the hotel feels like a haven in the city. The large, floor to ceiling glass windows allow for the outdoors to come in, and meld perfectly with the hotel’s design and architecture. Rates start at $265 per night.
The Heywood Hotel is a relatively new property on the scene in Austin. With stylish rooms and well designed interior, the hotel gives off a relaxed, artsy vibe. Throughout the property, the works of local artisans can be seen and enjoyed. Find a piece of art that you love? The hotel will arrange for you to purchase the piece on the spot! It’s centrally located, and is an easy walk from downtown, Lady Bird Lake, and a host of great restaurants. Rates start at $170 per night.
Hotel Ella is a historic mansion turned boutique hotel in the heart of Austin. The property oozes glamour and luxury with its custom body care products, curated mini-bars, and well-appointed guest rooms. Those who want to be pampered will love the hotel’s elegant, relaxing ambience. Hotel Ella is centrally located and an easy walk or cab ride downtown. Rates start at $200 per night.
$$$ Splurge - $300 - $500/night
Hotel Saint Cecilia
The Hotel Saint Cecilia encompasses what Austin is all about: music and art. Named after the patron saint of music and poetry, Hotel Saint Cecilia pays respect to music and artistry with its eclectic decor, creative energy, and one of the most beloved pools in Austin. Plus, what other hotel do you know of that rents out loaner guitars to guests? Rates start at $300 per night.
Located downtown, the Driskill Hotel is a historic and opulent property set among many of Austin’s most famous sites. For those of you seeking luxury, the Driskill Hotel is a clear winner. The property pays homage to its Texas roots, and does so in an elegant and classical way with its marble floors, historic artwork and custom beds. Rates start at $300 per night.
photo by Pableaux Johnson
W Hotels rarely disappoint, and the W Hotel Austin is no different. Located among some of Austin’s most beloved music venues, it’s the place to be if you’re traveling to the city for one of its many music festivals—in fact, it’s located just next door to the Austin City Limits music venue. The hotel also houses a spa, an expansive pool and a cocktail bar that serves up local wines, beers and spirits. Rates start at $310 per night.
With over 250 different music venues in a city that has built it’s entire reputation on live music, it really is hard to choose the single best venue to visit. However, seeing a live performance while in Austin is a must. Both local and national acts play in the city every night so finding a concert to see is easy (regardless of your music vibe—indie, soul, country, folk, etc). Continental Club, Emo’s, Stubbs and ACL Live are just some of our favorite venues; it's hard to go wrong with the music offerings in Austin.
The Alamo Drafthouse is a unique experience. Though we wouldn't normally recommend spending time at the movies while on vacation, Alamo Drafthouse is the exception. The theater feels like a throwback to an old school movie theater but with a modern twist—food and drinks are served during your movie! No more stale popcorn and XXL sodas, thank goodness. In addition, the theater regularly shows special screenings of cult classics in addition to newer releases. When you've had one too many late nights at the many bars and venues of Austin, it's a nice low-key option.
Austin is certainly art-centric and Paramount Theatre is a testament to that feel. Throughout the year, the theatre is host to a countless number of plays, performances, comedy acts, and concerts. The theatre has a long history and has become a cultural icon in Austin throughout the years. The inside is breathtaking and a visit (despite who you're going to see) is truly an experience. To view a calendar of upcoming shows and events at the theatre, visit their website.
Texas State Capitol
The State Capitol is located in downtown Austin, and is a fun and easy way to learn more about the history and politics of Texas. It is Texas’s oldest state office building, and the beautiful complex and expansive grounds are a must whether or not you’re a history buff. Free guided tours are available for visitors each day; however you’re always welcome to tour the grounds on your own as well. It’s free to visit, which makes it a nice option for budget-conscious travelers.
Austin Farmers Market
There are a few fantastic farmers market around Austin but the downtown Sustainable Food Center (SFC) is one of our favorites. A great way to get to know the flavors of a city is by spending a morning visiting a farmers market. The SFC market features dozens of local farmers and artisans, and is a great representation of the local scene in Austin. Grab a baguette, some cheese, and a few jams at the market and set up for a picnic lunch nearby. The market is open on Saturdays from 9 AM to 1 PM year round.
UMLAUF Sculpture Garden
For a relaxed afternoon in a shady garden, head to UMLAUF Sculpture Garden and Museum to enjoy some of the most beautiful art Austin has to offer. Though the sculpture garden is small, it covers a number of sculpture styles and eras. Though the sculptures are the main draw, the well-kept gardens invite you to take a moment and enjoy a serene reprieve from the city.
Congress Avenue Bridge Bats
We know what you’re thinking: bats? It sounds a little out there, but seeing the bats fly out from under Congress Bridge is a quintessential Austin experience! Each evening at dusk, spectators gather to see the world’s largest urban bat colony take flight. Gather along the bridge or if you’re feeling really adventurous, rent a kayak or take a boat tour to get the best view. Capital Cruises offer bat tours nightly from March through mid-November.
Barton Springs Pool
Barton Springs is a manmade pool located on Barton Creek. A series of dams create a unique swimming locale with depths of up to 18 feet. If swimming isn’t your thing, you can still spend your time sunbathing on the grassy areas around the pool area. The pool is an interesting blend of the outdoors and a luxurious swimming pool. Bring a good mix of music, a few snacks, and your best friends for a day of fun and relaxation.
Barton Creek Greenbelt Hike
The Barton Creek Greenbelt is one of Austin’s best and most scenic hiking trails. You can enjoy the area whether you’re a casual walker or a rock climber. Regardless of how you choose to hike the trail, the fact is that you won’t feel like you’re in Austin. The rock trails and streams will make you feel much farther from the city than you actually are.
Hamilton Pool was created thousands of years ago and feels like an otherworldly destination. 50-foot waterfalls, limestone walls, and stalactites make you feel like you are leaps away from modern day Austin. The waters there are a jade green hue, and during the summertime swimmers and sunbathers flock to the area. If you’re planning to head over on the weekend, be sure to get there early to beat the crowds.
Lady Bird Lake Trail
The Lady Bird Lake trail consist of a 10-mile trail along Town Lake downtown. You can go for a morning run or even just an easy afternoon walk for a bit of exercise during your trip to the city. If you’re visiting during one of Austin’s large festivals, you’ll especially appreciate taking a break and getting in touch with nature for a moment. Because it’s easily accessible from downtown, just about anyone can take advantage.
You’ll work up a bit of a sweat on the way up, but it’s all worth it to make it to the top of Mount Bonnell to see the best views of Austin. The site is 700 feet above sea level and though the climb up is strenuous, making the effort is worth it to see Austin in all of its grandeur. On your way back down, stop in at the peacock preserve in Mayfield Park to see some of Austin's peacock population.
What says indulgence more than visiting a vineyard in beautiful Texas hill country? The vineyard consists of over 60 vineyards and offers tours of their scenic grounds (Tip: call ahead to arrange a tour for a group). Pack a picnic lunch, enjoy a few wine tastings, and have lunch al fresco amongst some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Austin area. Just outside of Austin, the scenic views, tastings, and relaxed atmosphere make Becker Vineyards an obvious pick.
Lake Austin Spa
Relax, put your feet up and take in all the Lake Austin Spa has to offer. A retreat in Texas hill country, the spa focuses on the health and wellbeing of its patrons. For a full day of pampering, you can opt for a day spa package, but treating yourself to a one-off facial or manicure while you’re in the city aren’t bad picks either. Those who are really serious about their wellness can opt for an all-inclusive spa package, which includes accommodations, healthy meals, and fitness activities. Though its not cheap, it’s the perfect plan for those looking for a restart.
Skyline Spa Austin
If you’re nestled downtown, but still want the luxury of a far-away spa retreat, look no further than Skyline Spa Austin. Located on the 8th floor of the Hilton downtown, the spa features a variety of treatments as well as a steam room, sauna, and pool deck. Had a rough night out? Sneak over for a quick massage and a dip in the pool.
Charm School Vintage
Affordable, stylish, and wearable vintage goods? It sounds too good to be true, but it’s a reality at Charm School Vintage. Austin is a city known for its quirky, vintage goods and Charm School Vintage is one of our favorite places in town to search for forgotten gems. Though vintage shops can often have high price tags, Charm School Vintage prides itself on affordable prices and an eclectic yet wearable selection.
Sometime the name really does say it all. Uncommon Objects is an antiques and vintage shop in the Austin with ample character. If you don’t mind searching through piles of old photographs and the occasional vintage ukulele, you can find a real gem. Though you have to be dedicated to the search to really find treasures, its certainly worth it to come home with the perfect Austin souvenir.
Accessories, clothing, shoes… there is a lot to be found at Strut. Located in south Austin, the store is a beautiful collection of clothes and accessories for women. The staff is friendly, prices are reasonable and if you’re lucky enough to visit on the first Thursday of the month, you can take advantage of their famed 40% off sale. Regardless of what time of the month you’re here, you’ll love their trendy digs and fun atmosphere. Having withdraws after your trip? You can still shop the boutique online!
JM Dry Goods
Looking for a one of a kind piece while you’re in Austin? JM Drygoods is the place. The store contains clothing, accessories and home goods straight from talented Mexican artisans. The items in the shop are well curated and it is clear that a lot of work went into each piece. Though some items are on the pricier side because they are handmade, the quality and uniqueness makes the steep price tag well worth it.
Parts and Labor
Parts and Labor houses a unique mix of local and handmade goods that make perfect gifts for your friends back home. They have a little bit of everything with a selection of greeting cards, t-shirts, artwork, and various little tchotchkes thrown into the mix. The store has been around for over ten years now and is a favorite for locals and visitors alike. Their motto? “All Texas. All the time.”
Best Eats Under $10
photo by Kelly Rucker
Coffee aficionados, look no further. Jo’s is home to some of the best coffee that Austin has to offer! In true Austin fashion, they even house live musicians occasionally. Though it’s popularity means there is usually a line to order, things move quickly and the coffee is more than worth it. Be sure to take note of their seasonal drinks when you head in. Grab a coffee and a share a wrap with a friend before heading out into the city for the perfect start to your day.
Residents of Austin have strong feelings about tacos, as they should. For most, Torchy’s is unanimously one of the most beloved taco joints around the city. Whether you’re there for a breakfast taco or a quick dinner before hitting the down, it rarely disappoints. Choose your meat and your spice level to help you assemble your perfect meal. Tacos are around $4 each making it an affordable option for all. Just don’t forget to order a side of queso!
Home Slice Pizza
The best pizza slice in Austin and it’s under $4. Can it really get better? Though there are a lot of pizza options in Austin, Home Slice Pizza is consistently the top pick. It’s hard to believe you can get real NY style pizza in Texas, but Home Slice proves the naysayers wrong. The restaurant boasts a fun atmosphere, and is a great stop before heading out to a concert or music festival.
Best Dinners and Brunches
photo by Kelly Rucker
From the moment you walk up to Josephine House, it’s clear that you are in for an elegant and memorable dining experience. The restaurant is open all day, but if you can swing it, we highly recommend their brunch. Grab your best girlfriends, order a stack of pancakes and a mimosa, and enjoy all that Josephine House has to offer. Try to get reservations if you can, as the restaurant does tend to fill up.
Elizabeth Street Cafe
Elizabeth Street Cafe exudes charm from the moment you walk in. The French-Vietnamese cuisine and light-filled interior make the restaurant really stand out. The cafe is open for brunch, breakfast, lunch, and dinner so it’s a easy place to work into your Austin visit. While there, be sure to order the Bánh Mì and finish off your meal with a French pastry (or two).
Though it’s not the most affordable place in town, sushi lovers can’t possible turn down a dinner at Uchi. The restaurant stands out by combining local ingredients with some of the best seafood around the world to create a unique Japanese dining experience. They pride themselves on serving fresh and sustainable food. If you’re dying to visit but are still on a budget, head over during happy hour to get the same great service, food, and drinks at a fraction of the cost.
Seafood isn’t always easy to come by in Austin making Perla’s a unique and worthwhile experience. Though Austin isn’t directly on the coast, Perla’s manages fresh seafood caught from the Gulf of Mexico. Forgoing fancy recipes, the restaurant allows for the seafood to be the real star here. The food is cooked simply but well. On nice evenings, be sure to take advantage of the outdoor seating area.
Hillside Farmacy photos by Kelly Rucker
From pharmaceutically themed salt and pepper shakers to original antique wooden display cases, it’s hard not to feel like you are visiting decades past at Hillside Farmacy. The menu offers a healthy dose of deli classics like the grinder (an Italian classic of meat and cheese) as well as favorites like fresh raw oysters and homemade mac and cheese. Chef Sonya Cote makes sure the majority of her menu is sourced from local farms so you will be sure to have a true taste of the best of Austin.
Drinks With the Girls
Hotel San Jose
Hotel San Jose is a modern, stylish property on South Congress Avenue. The hotel has just 40 rooms but the good news is, you can still drop in for drinks whether you’re staying there or not. Wind down with a few friends in their lounge and enjoy a few cocktails after a long day in Austin. Take in a DJ set in the lounge every third Sunday night or a jazz brunch complete with $3 mimosas on Saturdays in the springtime.
If you’re looking for a fun watering hole with a side of live music, Whislers is the place for you. Happy hour? Dinner? After-dinner drinks? They have you covered. The rustic bar is a fun place to gather your ladies and enjoy a well-made cocktail. Located in East Austin, it’s close to all the action and a good stop to make on a night out.
Êpicerie photos by Kelly Rucker
Fancy a low-key evening with a bit of wine and cheese with the girls? Êpicerie is your spot! The café is open all day but we love heading over in the evening to enjoy their cheese plates and selection of wines. The best part? You can pick up a bottle of your favorite sips in their curated grocery section.
Rainey Street is not your regular run of the mill bar. Believe it or not, it is actually a row of houses converted into bars to create some of the most fun nightlife in Austin. Each house on Rainey is a little bit different from the last and offers something for just about anyone. Though it’s not considered to be the main bar scene in Austin, it’s quickly become the most loved due to its relaxed, low-key atmosphere. Just remember to bring cash!
Any other Austin spots we missed? Let us know! Next up on our city guide list is The Everygirl's home base: Chicago!