City Cheat Sheet: A Travel Guide for Austin, Texas

Barton Springs Pool. Photography by Tomek Baginski.

WHY VISIT THE DYNAMIC CAPITAL CITY of Austin, Texas? The Scout Guide Austin editor Shannon Bland can name a few reasons. The once sleepy town exudes a warm Texas welcome with a chill, hip vibe, while being home to some of the best food and drink in the country. “Austin’s culinary scene is epic. There’s a place for every occasion, from award-winning restaurants to countless food trucks to local BBQ and Tex-Mex institutions,” Shannon says. Plus, as the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World,” travelers will be hard-pressed to visit without seeing a live band. And while the annual festivals like SXSW and Austin City Limits Festival are great ways to soak in a weekend of live music, Shannon advises that one can’t forget to visit tried and true venues like The Continental Club and The Broken Spoke that started it all. Yet another big draw in this growing city is the great outdoors. “Austin has so many wonderful escapes that are within close proximity to the city center,” Shannon notes. “Some favorites include renting a SUP on Town Lake for the best skyline view out there, grabbing a beverage of choice and relaxing on the Barton Creek Greenbelt, or taking a dip in Barton Springs, Deep Eddy, or Hamilton Pool.”

Ready to plan your visit (or staycation)? Here, Shannon shares her favorite local finds for taking in her city. 

*Please note that due to COVID-19 some of these businesses might be closed or have specific guidelines in place. We recommend calling ahead and/or visiting their websites for the latest information on their status, offerings, etc. 

WHEN TO GO // It’s best to avoid Austin during the hottest months, which are typically May to September. For a spring visit, March and April are the perfect time to explore when it’s warm enough to spend time on the water, but the Texas summer heat has yet to set in. Alternatively, in October and November the cooler weather has finally arrived, ACL Fest takes place, and odds are, you could visit DKR Memorial Stadium to see the Texas Longhorns play. 

WHERE TO STAY // Austin Proper Hotel (600 W 2nd Street). Located in the 2nd Street District, this hotel, designed by international sensation Kelly Wearstler, fully embraces Austin’s eclecticism. It’s home to many cool elements, including a sunken bar, rooftop pool with panoramic views, poolside restaurant serving up ceviche, fajitas, and small-batch tequila and Shannon’s favorite lobby bar in the city.

South Congress Hotel (1603 South Congress Avenue). This boutique hotel has a cosmopolitan feel with its stylish lobby bar and contemporary digs. A rooftop pool and bar, DJ, and motorcycle and electric bike rentals make a stay here truly unique.

Hotel Saint Cecilia (112 Academy Drive). This is the exclusive sister hotel of Hotel San Jose, and it’s truly a VIP experience. Poolside bungalows with eclectic decor and a bold color palette give it a quirky-meets-posh aesthetic.

Commodore Perry Estate (4100 Red River Street). The newest member in the Austin hotel scene, this 10-acre lavish estate was originally built in 1928 and is now part of the Auberge Resorts Collection hotel portfolio. The pool is surrounded by whimsical yellow umbrellas and the lush garden makes it easy to forget you’re minutes from the city’s epicenter. 

WHAT TO DO // LBJ Presidential Library (2313 Red River Street). For a walk through an impressive man’s tenure as the President of the United States, take a visit to LBJ’s library on the UT campus. The extensive exhibit on civil rights is an especially fascinating glimpse into our nation’s history.  

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (4801 La Crosse Avenue). Serving as the state’s botanical garden, the former first lady’s wildflower center features 900 species of native Texas plants in both garden and natural settings and is home to a breadth of educational programs.

Thinkery (1830 Simond Avenue). An interactive science and technology-focused children’s museum located in the Mueller community of Austin. On Saturdays, Mueller hosts a farmers market (voted Best in Austin seven years in a row), as well as brunch at one of the many local restaurants built into the community. 

Zilker Park and Barton Springs Pool (2201 Barton Springs Road). A picnic at Zilker Park, the site of the Austin City Limits festival, is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Afterwards, taking a dip in the always cool, three-acre, underground spring-fed pool is the cherry on top. 

See Austin from Town Lake. Rent a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) at one of the many spots along Lady Bird Lake and cruise out for an unforgettable view of the Austin skyline. Insider tip: bring a few beverages of choice and dock under the pedestrian bridge to relax and refresh.

Texas State Capitol (1100 Congress Avenue). Everything is bigger in Texas, including the capitol, which is intentionally bigger than the U.S. capitol. The construction of the building was actually paid for in exchange for nearly three million acres of land in West Texas, now known as the XIT Ranch. 

Black Swan Yoga (809 South Lamar Boulevard). In between spending your time exploring Austin’s eateries and watering holes, relax your body and mind at a hot yoga class at this donation-based studio. 

Viva Day Spa (215 South Lamar Boulevard). For a moment of pampering, indulge in a treatment at this local day spa, which offers everything from a quick mani and pedi to a four-hour head-to-toe session.

WHERE TO SHOP// Cove (1318 South Congress Avenue). A shop with an authentic Austin vibe, carrying everything from tried-and-true Levi’s to boho-chic Shahida Parides.

ByGeorge (1400 South Congress Avenue). A trendy lifestyle store with a curated selection of men’s and women’s attire and chic homewares.

Kick Pleat (624 North Lamar Boulevard). Airy women’s clothing retailer with an artsy vibe selling casual designer skirts, blouses, and more.

Esby (1601 South 1st Street). An Austin-made apparel company that sells simple, comfort-driven apparel for men and women. 

Estilo (2727 Exposition Boulevard, Suite 121). A chic contemporary women’s boutique with clean, streamlined styles.

Valentines (3801 North Capital of Texas Highway and 1515 West 35th Street). A one-stop shop for chic apparel for any occasion. Think daytime boho frocks from Ulla Johnson and evening wear from Nicholas. 

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.

WHERE TO EAT // Hillside Farmacy (1209 East 11th Street). This farm-to-table eatery is perfect for breakfast. It’s a great place to order a Bloody Mary, too.

Mattie’s Green Pasture (811 W Live Oak Street). An old Victorian home turned award-winning restaurant, Mattie’s sits beneath massive oak trees in an iconic Austin neighborhood. Enjoy brunch on the wraparound porch as peacocks roam the property.

La Barbecue (1906 East Cesar Chavez Street). Opened by LeAnn Mueller, the daughter of the James Beard Award-winning Texas pitmaster Bobby Mueller, this food truck serves up Texas BBQ alongside Chicago-style hotdogs.

Matt’s El Rancho (2613 South Lamar Boulevard). This casual Tex-Mex joint is family friendly and a great place to get your taco fix. Bad days are made good with an order of the Bob Armstrong Dip.

Perla’s Seafood & Oyster Bar (1400 South Congress Avenue). With its great patio, this South Congress seafood restaurant is ideal for small bites from the cold bar.

Uchi (801 South Lamar Boulevard). This sushi place is a winner with its maki and sashimi. Plus, it has a fabulous (and more affordable) happy hour.

Justine’s (4710 East 5th Street). This East Side brasserie offers a moody ambiance and classic French cuisine. Shannon recommends exploring the art-filled grounds while there. 

Comedor (501 Colorado Street). Designed by the famous architecture firm, Olson Kundig, the open-roof concept features Mexican-inspired fare, a lengthy mezcal list, and a vibey playlist that delivers an all around spiritual experience for guests. 

WHERE TO DRINK // Juan Pelota (400 Nueces Street). A casual coffee shop in Lance Armstrong’s downtown bike shop, Mellow Johnnys, that has a punny name (when you get it, you get it). It’s Shannon’s favorite place to grab a latte.

Jo’s Coffee (1300 South Congress Avenue). If you’re staying at Hotel San José, this is the closest place to get your caffeine fix. An iced turbo is the name of the game. 

Ranch 616 (616 Nueces Street). Head to their “Pistol Patio” for a refreshing “Ranch Water” Margarita or a “Fire in the Hole” (a jalapeño filled with an intoxicating concoction).

El Alma (1025 Barton Springs Road). Cozy rooftop, skyline views, and an avocado margarita. A Texas love story. 

Whisler’s (1816 East 6th Street). Located on the East Side, this place has an authentic upstairs Oaxacan-style mezcalería for the mezcal enthusiasts.

P6 (111 E Cesar Chavez Street). Elevated above Town Lake in the revamped Line Hotel, it’s the ideal spot to celebrate this Austinite’s favorite tradition—eating and drinking outside as much as humanly possible. 

Blue Owl Brewing (2400 East Cesar Chavez Street). For a taste of the local microbrew scene, head here for a sampling of some sour beers. 

Jester King Brewery (13187 Fitzhugh Road). If you have time to venture into the picturesque Hill Country, then you should definitely drive to this brewery, which is known for its spontaneously fermented brews. 

LOCAL PRO TIP // After a night out (or if you’re a night owl), head to Mrs. Johnson’s Donuts. They cook their doughnuts in the middle of the night and at 2:30 a.m., will serve you the best hot and fresh donut you’ve ever had—straight out of the oven. 

For additional recommendations for what to do, see, and experience in Austin, check out The Scout Guide Austin.