An Insider's Guide to Austin, TX

From the best shops to the greatest places to stay, The Scout Guide (TSG) Austin editor Kelsay Bentley plans the perfect trip to her city.

Where to stay for a getaway as a couple: If you’re really looking to escape and splurge, Hotel Saint Cecilia is a must. A hidden retreat right off bustling South Congress Ave., only guests of the hotel can set foot onto this super private and exclusive property. Hotel Ella is another fabulous boutique hotel in the heart of Austin. Steeped in history, this mansion-turned-hotel has been deemed one of the “small luxury hotels of the world” and is part of Southern Living’s elite hotel collection.

Where to stay for a getaway with kids: Believe it or not, the Four Seasons Austin is very kid friendly. It’s in the heart of downtown right off the Lady Bird Lake walking trail. You’re just a short walk away from the Children’s Museum, the State Capitol and the Congress Avenue bridge (where the bats fly out). It’s also one of the few hotels downtown with a pool.

Where to go for brunch: If you’re looking for a totally decadent brunch experience, Olivia on South Lamar is the best! If you want something a little different than the norm try Elizabeth Street Cafe or La Condesa. On a budget but still want the awesome food and atmosphere? Takoba is where it’s at! (Note: it’s mostly outdoor seating.) Want to try Austin’s famous breakfast tacos? My personal favorite are the ones from Fresa’s, but you really can’t go wrong wherever you try them.

Where to go for lunch: For me, nothing beats Henri’s Cheese and Wine‘s chicken and arugula salad! Unless it’s one of those rare cold/rainy days, in which case I’m obsessed with their grilled cheese and tomato soup. If you’re downtown and looking for something heartier, you have to go to Lamberts on 2nd street. “Fancy” BBQ with good southern family style sides.

Where to go for dinner & drinks: Ranch 616 is our go-to and one of our favorite places to take visitors. It’s in the middle of all the nightlife, not to mention it’s an Austin staple. Everything from the unique decor to the South Texas cuisine is totally Austin. I personally love the quail, but word on the street is that the fried oysters are amazing. Either way, you have to order a “Ranch Water” (their version of a margarita). Afterwards, we like to wander over to Rattle Inn for some live music or a drink up on the rooftop.

Ideal place to celebrate a special occasion: Jeffery’s is one of the oldest restaurants in Austin. It recently underwent a mini-facelift and is under new management, making it one of Bon Apetit’s best new restaurants in the country this year. Although they are known for their steaks, I love their seasonal vegetables, which come straight from their own garden out back. {Insider’s Tip: If you don’t want to splurge or can’t get a reservation, half of the restaurant is lounge seating open for first-come, first-serve. They offer the full menu on that side, but also feature a bar menu with lower price points.}

Where to shop: There’s no shortage of amazing shops here! If you’re staying downtown, venture down West 2nd Street. It’s dotted with tons of local shops including Prize, Estilo and Etcetera, Etc. If you want to explore the funky South Congress area, my favorite stores are STAG Provisions for Men, By George, and Co-Star, and Uncommon Objects is worth a walk through as well…you never know what unusual item you will find there! If you’re looking for something truly unique to Austin, venture over to HELM Boots for men or Sunroom. Last but not least, if you’re out near the Westlake area, check out Redbird Boutique or Bay Hill Design’s selection of items for the home.

What to do: If you’re staying near downtown, the  trail around Town Lake is a must. This 10-mile trail circles around the Town Lake (which is actually the Colorado River!) in the middle of downtown. You can do the whole thing or just parts of it. They don’t allow motorized boats on Town Lake so you’ll see lots of paddle boards and kayaks out on the water. The Children’s Museum and The Contemporary Austin are both fantastic museums downtown that are worth checking out too. Of course, you have to try and catch some live music while you’re here. Our favorite places include The Continental Club, Antones, Lamberts, or The Moody Theater at ACL Live. If it happens to be warm while you’re here, be sure to check out Barton Springs, too. It’s a large natural spring near downtown that’s always nice and chilly and totally clear.

Best fests and other reasons to visit:  Most people may say ACL festival is the best, but I prefer the laid back vibes of South by Southwest in the spring. Unlike other popular festivals, it features more up-and-coming artists, and in different venues around town. It’s a three-week-long affair that’s divided up by film, interactive, and music so you can come for it all or pick and choose what you like. F1 Circuit of the Americas is also held once a year in Austin. If you’re into sports and fast cars it’s the event of the year! People fly in from all over the world to watch the only major F1 race held in the United States.

If you really want to experience Austin at its finest, though, I would recommend coming in April or early May when there are no major events going on. There’s always plenty to do and see, and you can experience the city without all the crowds! You can catch some live music, see the 1.5 million bats fly out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge, or just enjoy some darn good Tex-Mex food at Matt’s El Rancho.

One piece of insider’s information: If you like to travel with your furry friend, then Austin is the place for you! Most hotels are dog friendly (I actually can’t think of one that’s not), as are most shops and bars. A majority of the restaurants have outdoor seating for you and your pup, and some even have a special “doggie” menu. We also have tons of off-leash dog parks and trails for them to run and play. We personally love to take our dog to Banger’s on the weekend. Not only do they have the biggest selection of draft beers and house-made brats, but they also have a big pen where you can let your dog run with the other pups while you enjoy your meal.

{Images via Pinterest, Austin City Limits Music Festival, and featured businesses}