“Keep Austin Weird.” That’s the slogan you’ll see written all over the city. And weird it is – weird in the coolest of ways, cool without even trying. Located in Travis County, Austin is the liberal state capital in a sea of conservative Texas cowboys.
Moved by music, it’s easy to see why SXSW and ACL are two of the best festivals in the country. If you’re looking to thrift, bring an extra suitcase or get ready to pay overweight baggage fees. Come hungry because the BBQ and Tex-Mex will not disappoint. Don’t expect a lot of pretension, but do anticipate some good ole southern hospitality everywhere you go. Austin is awesome, and everyone should take a trip to this funky American city in their lifetime (or once a year, which is my new game plan). I chilled there for nine glorious days and did everything from unsuccessfully floating a river in the rain to eating fried pigs ears during a five-course dinner with beer tasting. It was difficult to choose just 10, but here are my favorite places to see, do, shop and eat in Austin.
Best Dance Party: Barbarella From Soul Night to TuezGayz, head downtown to Barbarella when the time comes to drop it like it’s hot. Saturday night was the craziest during my stay, featuring three DJs – upstairs, downstairs and on the patio – and grooving in very close quarters. Don’t wear a maxi skirt unless you want a beer-soaked hem kids.
615 Red River St. | (512) 476-7766
Best Ribs: Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q As a pork rib enthusiast, I did my research before heading down south and conjured a list of BBQ places I wanted to try. But friends living in Austin suggested we ditch the hyped joints and hit this tried and true spot, and the locals are always right. Order at the counter, cafeteria style, by the rib, slice or pound. Tell the crew you’re a newcomer and they’ll let you try before you buy.
2451 S. Capital of Texas Hwy. | (512) 329-5554
Best Hotel Bar: The Driskill Pony hair upholstery, stained glass ceilings and a haunted grand staircase give Scarlett O’Hara’s plantation a run for its money. Sip cocktails in the plush lounge while listening to a live bluegrass band. Order an Old Fashioned or three and style your own photo shoot with the brass pistol lamps on the bar.
604 Brazos Street | (512) 391-7162 | Website
Best Place to Sunbathe: Barton Springs Pool With temperatures nearing 100 degrees every day, nothing feels as good as jumping into an icy natural spring. Lie on the grassy hill and work on your tan until the water calls your name. Go topless if you dare, ladies – it’s totally legal in Travis County.
2101 Barton Springs Rd. | (512) 867-3080 | Website
Best Sweet Treat: Amy’s Ice Creams Founded in Austin in 1984, Amy’s handcrafts artisan, super premium ice creams in more than 350 flavors. Try one or two and have them mix in your favorite toppings. I had blueberry cheesecake with graham crackers, and it was exquisite. You’ll regret not saving room at least once for this frozen goodness. Website
Best Boutique: By George If you’re looking for a place to shop your favorite contemporary labels, By George is by far the best place to be. Trusty chic staples like Elizabeth & James and Helmut Lang are complemented with cool up-and-comers like Of Two Minds and Line & Dot. Shop the South Congress location for maximum sensory experience.
1400 S Congress | (512) 441-8600 | Website
Best Thrifting: Room Service Vintage Stray from the string of vintage haunts on South Congress, and you’ll find much better deals. There is a ton of good thrifting in Austin, but I spent the most time in Room Service Vintage. With everything from cowboy boots to glassware to vintage Playboys, you could spend hours searching every nook and cranny. I was quite impressed with the jumpsuit collection myself. And don’t forget to use the loo while you’re there – it’s unusual.
107 E. North Loop Blvd. | (512) 451-1057 | Website
Best Outdoor Drinking: Rio Rita Head to the East Side of Austin for, in my opinion, pretty much the best bar patios in the country. But my favorite has to be Rio Rita for a colorful backyard and killer cocktail menu. You won’t regret ordering the Bloody Mary, or any of their concoctions for that matter. Try the sinus-clearing habanero shot if you dare – I found it quite refreshing.
1308 East 6th St. | (512) 524-0384 | Website
Best Tacos: Torchy’s You WILL want to eat five, but start with two and take it from there. Sink your teeth into a Democrat – shredded beef barbacoa topped with avocado, queso fresco, cilantro & onions – or go for a Dirty Sanchez – scrambled eggs with fried poblano chile, guacamole, escabeche carrots & shredded cheese – if you get down like that. This delectable outpost has become a small Texas chain, but check out the Trailer Park location and eat al fresco.
1311 South First St. | (512) 366-0537
Best View: The Oasis on Lake Travis This stunning lookout spot may be a 30 minute drive from Austin city proper, but it’s worth the time spent on the road. Stay to shop and eat or just come for a view of the sunset. The beauty of this high-quality iPhone photo speaks for itself.
6550 Comanche Trail | (512) 266-2442
Questions about what to do in Austin? I would be happy to answer them on Twitter @CrystlMeatballs.