***WARNING, this post is the size of Texas so cowboy up.
The last time I was in Texas (other than a layover) was 20ish years ago when I was knee high to a grasshopper and shipping off for Bela Karolyi Gymnastic Camp in New Waverly with my bestie. I remember hoping we’d fly into Austin instead of Houston. Since then, I’ve been fixin’ to visit Austin for years and years but just hadn’t made it happen yet.
Finally, the hubs and I grabbed the bull by the longhorns and headed SE to the great state of Texas last week. Our little 4 day trip was a hoot and a half. We stayed in a stunning airbnb in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood of South Austin. Our gracious hosts welcomed us with charming Texas hospitality. We got around on bikes borrowed from our hosts and went a’ridin’ every chance we got. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend exploring Austin by bike. It was easy to get around the city and allowed us to see so much more than if we would have been driving an oversized and overpriced rental sedan. Here we go: a visitors guide to Austin, Texas.
Day 1: Getting to know Austin. We arrived late on Saturday night and went right to bed after enjoying some locally made chips and salsa provided by our thoughtful airbnb host. We slept in way too long on Sunday morning, but honestly, look at this place.
Once we finally crawled out of bed, we made our way to the roof deck of our airbnb with locally roasted coffee. We lazed around, taking in the view of downtown and the gorgeous backyard crawling with 4 of the sweetest little doggies west of the Mississippi. We made our way over to South 1st Street and South Congress Avenue to bum around for a bit before sitting down for a yummy vegetarian breakfast at Bouldin Creek Cafe. We shared the El Tapitico and the Oven Cake Breakfast. It was surprisingly inexpensive and satisfying.
After a leisurely breakfast, we walked back home and hopped on our borrowed rides to explore the city and pedal around Town Lake/Colorado River. It was the ideal way to shake off any lingering plane drag.
After riding for a few hours, we were craving a crisp coldie. Our gracious airbnb host had thoughtfully stocked the fridge with a variety of ice cold Shiners. So, we cracked open a couple and tossed them back before heading to dinner.
That night, we met up with some Portland transplant buddies who now call Austin home and some of their other out-of-towner friends. They took us out for an unforgettable evening of food, music and a few too many cocktails. We met for an interior Mexican meal at El Chile Cafe and Cantina not far from our house. The food was fantastic and the margis were flowing like water (for me at least).
Following dinner, they took us out to see some authentically Austin country music at The Continental Club. The Wagoneers, a honky tonk rock n roll band that formed in 1986, owned the stage and put on a show that kept my boots scootin’ all night. After the show, we crossed the street for a nightcap at Hotel San Jose. It is a stark but relaxed contrast to the roarin’ sounds across the street. The outdoor space is modern and sophisticated yet cozy and neighborly. We sat out back on the patio, sipping on beers and swapping stories about old flames and childhood memories.
I learned a very important lesson from a new friend that night that I will do my best to follow from this day forward. His advice to me was “There are 3 things in life you can never have too much of, bacon, butter and blue eye shadow.” Preach on, my friend.
Day 2: Meatfest. I slept in way too long again. Although, this time I had myself to blame. Well, myself and the 3 beers, 2-3? margs, 1 cider and a single bourbon I had the night before. Ouch. When I was finally able to stand, D and I headed to brunch at South Congress Cafe. Apparently, they have the best Bloody Mary in Austin, but I was in no shape to imbibe. Instead, I stuffed my face full of migas, a side of applewood smoked bacon and their carrot cake french toast. The waiter informed me the carrot cake french toast causes naps after consumption. The french toast was dense, filling, sweetly satisfying and incredibly absorbent. I think it saved my bacon that morning. I felt so much better after that meal.
After brunch we wandered around South Congress again, stopping in a bunch of fun and funky shops. Allen’s Boots was my mecca; full of beautiful cowboy boots in a rainbow of colors and leathers. The rich scent of leather combined with the dazzling array of boot styles made my head spin (actually, that was probably from the hangover). It was so overstimulating that I needed to take a breather, so we stopped by a bar with a big ol’ patio and enjoyed a couple of big gulp sized iced teas each before heading back to our abode for the french toast induced nap.
Our friend, Brian, picked us up (along with more of his visiting friends) for some good eatin’ in the Hill Country (as they call it) for a true Texas style dinner. The Salt Lick in Driftwood is a legendary open pit BBQ joint resting in the rolling hills on the outskirts of Austin. It is a true Texas institution with roots as deep as a heritage live oak tree.
With sprawling picnic tables, live country music and a much appreciated BYOB policy, this place is everything you imagine Texas to be and more. We all ordered Family Style; an endless stream of ribs, brisket, sausage, potato salad, baked beans, coleslaw and fluffy white bread adorned our picnic table all night. We were literally in hog heaven with a bucket of Shiners. For the full-on Texas experience, you must go to the Driftwood location in Hill Country. You’ll leave happier than a pig in mud and fuller than a hot blooded hound. I do declare.
Day 3: The bakery by bike tour. Poor Dayn was coming down with a man cold, but manned up and joined me on a day long excursion of biking and baked goods. We saddled up our steel horses and hit the trail in search of the best baked goods in Austin.
The journey began with a pitstop at Gourdough’s, Big. Fat. Doughnuts. This quintessential food truck is housed in an immaculate Airstream trailer and boasts a plethora of deep fried donut combinations. While the Flying Pig and Cherry Bombs were inciting, we went with the simple Naughty and Nice to get a feel for the baseline; a cinnamon and sugar encrusted, soft and fluffy donut served with melted dippin’ butta. We added an order of the ODB; cream filled donut holes with icing rolled in coconut. They were both phenomenal. We find VooDoo donuts from Portland to be highly overrated, not worth the wait, and mostly gimmick. If I am going to actually eat a doughnut, it really needs to be worth it. Otherwise, what’s the point? The donuts at Gourdough’s were real deal doughnuts worth every bit of caloric intake.
We hopped back on our Schwinns and headed NW towards Upper Crust Bakery. After getting lost along the way and realizing just how tough riding an uphill pebble path on a single-speed beach cruiser with a doughnut filled belly can be, we decided to punch out and head towards the UT campus instead. I do regret it now, I hear they have outstanding cinnamon rolls. But, I was seriously moving slower than molasses in January on that bike. Next time, I reckon.
We cruised through campus a bit and came across the Wienermobile, which made me grin like a 7 year old for hours. Dayn coined the driver a “pork pilot”, but after further research I learned they are called Hotdoggers. We cruised past the driver and heard him explaining that you must first graduate from Hot Dog High before taking the reins of this aerodynamic ween machine.
We pedaled past the Capital Building and took in the Renaissance Revival style of the building from all sides. The Capital Building sure is a beaut. You just don’t see much ornate architecture like this in the good ol’ US of A.
Our bellies began hootin’ and a’hollerin’ so we headed to the famed Walton’s Fancy and Staple, a coffee shop/flower shop/gift shop/deli/bakery owned by Sandra Bullock. It is an old building in the heart of downtown, built in 1895, and originally housed a grocery store. Bullock and Co. recently refurbished the space into a lovely and inviting multipurpose coffee shop. We ordered a couple of sammies and sat in the back room sipping on ice cold Topo Chicos to cool us down from the ride while we waited for our lunch. The sandwiches were great. I had a simple BFT; bacon, frisee and tomato on sourdough. Dayn had a garden sammie on multigrain bread. They were simple yet tasty sandwiches. I wish I had room for a cookie but I was stuffed by the time we left. I thoroughly enjoyed the charming and easy going atmosphere of Walton’s.
Next, we headed up to 6th street and walked around for a bit. I realize mid-afternoon is not the ideal time to wander 6th street as it is bar after bar after bar. While I imagine many folks find themselves down there come sundown, I was glad to walk it briefly in the light of day. Party bars are not really my scene. I’m more of a bonfire girl.
Near the end of the bar scene on 6th is Easy Tiger, a bakeshop and beer garden with a modern and relaxed vibe. Upstairs is a stunning display of their fresh baked breads and baked goods. Downstairs you’ll find both indoor and outdoor seating as well as ping pong tables and a friendly staff. After drooling over the pastry case for far too long, the barista kindly informed us that we could order any of the pastries (along with our beers) downstairs at a table.
We were ready to drink, so I ordered a hard cider and the SnackBoard consisting of 2 house baked small pretzels, beer cheese, house mustard, chex mix and beef jerky…what?! The pretzels and dips were tasty and the beef jerky was pure smoky deliciousness. After kicking up our boots for a bit, we headed back upstairs and picked out a couple of cookies for later. If I could go back in time, I would have taken home a loaf of bread as well. It looked fantastic but we’d just had lunch. Ugh, what was I thinking!? Next time. Overall, I really like what Easy Tiger had going on. Their approach is creative and their menu is dynamic and interesting. They manage to successfully marry a bakery and a bar…two of my favorite things. This place is definitely worth a visit.
We were pretty well exhausted after Easy Tiger, so we headed back home for a little r&r before dinner. We met up with a couple of friends at Elizabeth Street Cafe on South First Street, a Vietnamese restaurant and French boulangerie fusion. I know what you’re thinking. That makes about as much sense as tits on a bull, but trust me on this one. They make their own fresh french bread daily and serve an array of Bánh mì varieties on their house bread. It’s perfection on a baguette.
This was my favorite meal of our trip. Everything we ordered was très bon. We started the meal with a glass of crisp, white French wine and an order of spring rolls 10A, BBQ Pork, Shredded Carrot & Daikon, Basil and Mint. Dayn and I split our time between the keffir lime fried chicken Bánh mì and the keffir lime fried chicken bün, a noodle bowl with plenty of fresh veggies. Unfortunately, we dined outdoors by candlelight and it was too dark to snap any photos. But, everything was divine. Although I cannot personally attest for the sweet pastries, I would imagine they are mighty fine based on everything else we enjoyed. While a Vietnamese/French fusion restaurant doesn’t holler Texas, the menu and setting are utterly Austin.
Day 4: Short but sweet.
We had to leave for the airport come high noon, so we didn’t have much time to waste on our final day in Austin. We popped into La Patisserie on South 1st for a morning pastry. I really wanted to try the bri-cro (a copycat of the cronut) they are so well known for but there were none to be seen for a country mile. So, instead I opted for the morning bun. It was ok. It appeared to have possibly over-proofed and fallen in the oven. It also had a strong yeasty taste, which I suspect was related to the over-proofing. Honestly though, it had a lot to live up to. I am used to the morning bun from Tartine in SF, so this one didn’t really stand a chance. Dayn ordered the savory croissant. It too had a slightly yeasty taste too but that was pretty much diminished by the flavor of the melted cheese and smoky turkey baked inside. It was good.
I also ordered 2 French macarons to go; strawberry creme and espresso chocolate. I saved them to enjoy later on the flight, but ended up forgetting about them until the following day. Despite the journey home, they were still fabulous the next day. I am not a huge fan of macarons. Frankly, I often find them to be too sweet, but these were yummy. Neither were too sweet and the crunchy exterior and chewy interior were perfectly proportionate. The smooth and creamy fillings were sweet but not overwhelming. If you need a little sugary pick-me-up, this is the spot to get it in Austin.
Before heading to the airport, we grabbed a quick breakfast taco at Magnolia Cafe on S. Congress. This place is a greasy spoon style spot with a giant menu and pretty weak coffee. It seems to have a flair for whimsical decor and menu items. However, it is open 24 hours and I imagine it has saved many people from hangover hell the next day. It was fast and hit the spot.
We stopped back by a couple of shops for some take home treasures that I had been eyeing the previous days. My favorite find was The Austin Food Bloggers Alliance Cookbook, I read most of it on the plane and I am feeling pretty goldarn inspired now. This community cookbook tells of the history of the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance and has dozens of interesting recipes and beautiful pictures from Austin based food bloggers. I am already seeking out many of the bloggers to see what other tricks they have up their rolled up denim sleeves. I am so glad to have found this incredible gem. I highly recommend this book and can’t wait to tell y’all about the recipes I try! I found this book and I also scored the coziest tee ever that describes me to a T at Crofts Original on South Congress. I went next door and found a sweet little Texas tea towel but unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the shop.
We picked up some kickin’ vintage belt buckles at Uncommon Objects. I also got the sweetest little necklaces from Creatures Boutique, a tiny cupcake by Flea Market Girl and a colorful cowboy pendant made from a vintage plate by Austin based artist, Holli Brown Dish It Out. Adorable, right?
Airport food is generally disgusting. I generally just pack a granola bar and call it good when traveling, but this was a long flight followed by a long BART ride home, and I knew I’d get hungry, so I provisioned up. I was told Amy’s Ice Creams is an Austin staple and the Mexican Vanilla is a must. We didn’t get there during our rides through the city, but thankfully they have an airport location. I got the tiniest scoop they offer of the Mexican Vanilla and it was delightful. Somehow, it tasted to me like cake batter ice cream, but better. If you love ice cream, find Amy’s.
I also snagged a tomato and brie sandwich with basil and spinach from Annie’s Cafe and Bar at Gate 19 of the ABIA’ They fixed me up a freshie and kindly wrapped it up for the plane. Deep into the flight, I upwrapped that baby and was delightfully surprised. It actually tasted like a sandwich you’d order from a restaurant and not some weird preservative laced airport nonfood. It was great, and tasted even better at 10k feet. I’d highly recommend a grab and go sammie from Annie’s on your way out of town.
So there you have it. 4ish days spent eating our way through Austin, TX. We had an amazing time in Austin and feel like we saw some of the best this vibrant city has to offer. A special thanks to our buddies, Brian and Wade, for making time to show us around during such a busy weekend. Another thanks to our lovely airbnb hosts and the kind people of Austin. Honestly, every single Austinite we met was friendly and welcoming, from the cabbies to the waiters and bartenders to the airport employees. It was such a comforting joy to be welcomed with big smiles and Texas sized hearts. Austin, you have truly won me over. We’ll be back soon.
Here are a just a few more of my favorite things from Austin.
Now get along, little doggies.