Texas’s dynamic capital has been a hot spot for years, drawing visitors thanks to its impressive slate of festivals, exciting food scene, hip boutique hotels, and appealing keep-it-weird edge. Just in time for the artsy and innovative set to descend upon Austin for South by Southwest, The Scout Guide Austin Editor Leigh Ann Kalman offers a cheat sheet to making the most of your time in the city in between film screenings, musical performances, tech talks, and networking events. Here, the Austin native provides a list of the best watering holes, eateries, sights and shops near the festival action.
WHERE TO STAY
South Congress Hotel (1603 South Congress Avenue). Located in Austin’s hip South Congress (SoCo) neighborhood, this new-ish boutique hotel has a cosmopolitan feel with its stylish lobby bar and contemporary digs. A rooftop pool and bar, disc jockey, and motorcycle and electric bicycle rentals make a stay at South Congress truly unique.
Hotel San José (1316 South Congress Avenue). Also in the SoCo area, this modern inn decorated in a minimalist aesthetic is home to an outdoor lounge situated in the property’s lush gardens. “The San José is in the middle of the action, and one of my favorite spots to grab drinks and nibbles,” Leigh Ann says. She recommends sipping the “frosé” (frozen rose wine) or local Texas brew paired with an activated charcoal popsicle.
Hotel Saint Cecilia (112 Academy Drive). The San José’s exclusive sister hotel, Saint Cecilia, is a true VIP experience. (Locals can only grab drinks at the posh hotel if they have an annual membership.) Poolside bungalows outfitted in eclectic decor and a bold color palette give this hotel a quirky-meets-posh aesthetic.
WHERE TO EAT
Hillside Farmacy (1209 East 11th Street). Located on the city’s East Side, Leigh Ann recommends visiting this farm-to-table eatery for breakfast. “It’s a great place to get a Bloody Mary and a fried egg sandwich that will cure whatever ails you,” she says.
La Barbecue (1906 East Cesar Chavez Street). On Austin’s East Side, this food trailer was opened by LeAnn Mueller, the daughter of the James Beard Award-winning Texas pit master Bobby Mueller. There, you’ll find Texas BBQ served up alongside Chicago-style hotdogs and, of course, all the fixings.
Matt’s El Rancho (2613 South Lamar Boulevard). “I grew up eating here and still love it,” Leigh Ann says of this Austin institution. The casual Tex-Mex joint is family-friendly and a great place to get your taco fix. “You must order the Bob Armstrong Dip,” Leigh Ann says.
Perla’s Seafood & Oyster Bar (1400 South Congress Avenue). Stop by this South Congress seafood restaurant for small bites from the cold bar, along with a refreshing glass of wine. “They have a great patio, and you people-watch under a gorgeous canopy of oak trees,” says Leigh Ann. “And, it’s next door to some great boutiques.”
Uchi (801 South Lamar Boulevard). Located along Austin’s bustling South Lamar Boulevard, this sushi den is a winner with its maki and sashimi, and has a great happy hour to boot. “It’s my go-to spot for celebrations,” Leigh Ann says.
Jacoby’s Restaurant & Mercantile (3235 East Cesar Chavez Street). Jacoby executes its farm-to-table philosophy by serving the grass-fed and hormone-free beef, lamb, goat, and pork that has been raised on its ranch. While dining at the Southern-inspired restaurant, enjoy views of the Colorado River, and then shop at its onsite general store.
Justine’s (4710 East 5th Street). This East Side brasserie offers a moody ambiance and classic French cuisine. Be sure to explore the art-filled grounds while there, Leigh Ann recommends.
WHERE TO WET YOUR WHISTLE
For your caffeine fix: Perk up with a cup of joe at the quaint coffeehouse Seventh Flag Coffee (1506 South 1st Street). “I like this spot because it feels very neighborhood-y, and it gets bonus points for being a block or two away from the Austin mural,” says Leigh Ann. She also recommends hitting up Houndstooth Coffee (401 Congress Avenue and 4200 North Lamar Boulevard). “They take coffee very seriously, and it’s delicious,” she says. If you are staying at the San José, your quickest caffeine fix is just around the corner at Jo’s Cofee (1300 South Congress Avenue), where you can take a gander at the famous “I love you so much” graffiti.
For a killer cocktail: Head to the “Pistol Patio” at Ranch 616 (616 Nueces Street) for a refreshing “Ranch Water” Margarita—or, if you are feeling adventurous, a “Fire in the Hole” (a jalapeño filled with an intoxicating concoction). For drinks with a side of music, C-Boys Heart & Soul (2008 South Congress Avenue) is a SoCo dive bar with retro vibes and great local bands. And Whislers (1816 East 6th Street) on the East side has an authentic upstairs Oaxacan-style mezcalería for the mezcal enthusiasts.
For a cold one: For a taste of the local microbrew scene, head to Blue Owl Brewing (2400 East Cesar Chavez Street) on the East Side for a sampling of sour beers. If you have time to take a field trip out of town, Jester King Brewery (13187 Fitzhugh Road), located in the picturesque Hill Country, is known for its spontaneously fermented brews.
WHERE TO SHOP
Cove (1318 South Congress Avenue). Thanks to its eclectic boutiques, a stroll through the South Congress District is a must while visiting Austin. The sartorial shop Cove has an authentic Austin vibe, carrying everything from tried-and-true Levi’s to boho chic Shahida Parides.
Sunroom (1603 South Congress Avenue). Tucked inside the posh South Congress Hotel, this stylish shop carries high-end, indie designers that have an it-girl vibe. Think brightly hued culottes and quirky caftans.
Outdoor Voices (606 Blanco Street). This athleisure brand, headquartered out of Austin and New York City, offers high-tech attire for those with an active lifestyle. The brand’s styles are fashion-forward and flattering, making them a favorite for locals and out-of-towners alike.
ByGeorge (1400 South Congress Avenue). A cherry-picked selection of men’s and women’s attire alongside a curated collection of chic homewares make this trendy lifestyle store a place of discovery for fashionistas. Open for three decades, it’s a shopping destination for Austin locals seeking exciting designer pieces.
Kettle & Brine (908 West 12th Street). This design-focused home goods and kitchen shop is a great place to find locally made goods along with tasty artisan-made goodies to stock your pantry with.
Esby (1601 South 1st Street). Esby is an Austin-made apparel company that takes its inspiration from menswear, perfect for the modern-day Annie Hall. High-quality fabrics and comfort-driven designs make this local brand (featured on Leigh Ann, above) a winner.
Estilo (2727 Exposition Boulevard, Suite 121). Clean, streamlined styles dominate at this chic contemporary women’s boutique that has been a hit with critics and locals since it opened in 2005.
RedBird Boutique (3663 Bee Cave Road). Contemporary minimalist brands intermingle with edgy leather goods and casual resort apparel at this locally owned boutique.
Valentines (3801 North Capital of Texas Highway and 1515 West 35th Street). Daytime boho frocks from Ulla Johnson to evening ware from Nicholas make this boutique a one-stop shop for chic apparel for any occasion.
WHERE TO RELAX AND RECHARGE
Define Body & Mind (809 South Lamar Boulevard). In between spending your time exploring Austin’s eateries and watering holes, boost your heart rate with a barre, yoga or rev class at this boutique workout studio.
Viva Day Spa (215 South Lama Boulevard). For a moment of pampering, indulge in a spa treatment at this local day spa, which offers everything from a quick mani and pedi to a four-hour head-to-toe session.
Zilker Park and Barton Springs Pool (2201 Barton Springs Road). Grab some goodies at the Whole Foods flagship (525 North Lamar Boulevard) and mosey over to Zilker Park (where Austin City Limits is held) for a picnic. Afterwards, take a dip in the three-acre pool, which is fed by underground springs.
For more recommendations for what to do and see in Austin, Texas, follow Leigh Ann on Instagram.