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The Ultimate Austin City Guide

The Ultimate Austin City Guide

So many of you have been asking for an Austin City Guide, so I'm about to deliver all the goods. I (Jessica) grew up in Austin and have watched it grow and change and become such an incredible, fun city. My family now lives in north Austin, but pre-COVID, my husband and I loved to go on date nights to our favorite spots in and around downtown Austin. We love our city and love exploring it, and I've put together an ultimate guide that will hopefully help as you are planning a trip to our lovely city!

I'll provide a list with links a little explanation of each place, but definitely do research on each of these yourself as well to find what best fits your wants and needs! 

PLACES TO STAY

All of these hotels are places I have visited myself and they all have great reputations and are located in very ideal locations!

  • Line Hotel - Right on congress and by Lady Bird Lake. This hotel has a super fun bar!
  • Proper Hotel - Right near the 2nd Street District and Lady Bird Lake. This hotel is absolutely stunning. It's right down the street from great shops and restaurants, the Austin Central Library, and more.
  • South Congress Hotel - On South Congress near some shops and great places to eat. This hotel has an amazing mid-mod vibe, has an amazing bar and pool and is attached to a really fun coffee shop.
  • Hotel Van Zandt - A little more on the East side and close to Rainey Street if you are wanting more of a lively scene.
  • Hotel San Jose - This is a boutique hotel on South Congress that is nestled next to some great shops and restaurants.

RESTAURANTS

BRUNCH

  • Hillside Farmacy - One of my all-time favorites. It's in a historic Austin building and has an antique-chic vibe. 
  • Josephine House - Has a wonderfully eclectic menu and an intimate and fresh vibe. 
  • Elizabeth Street Cafe - This gem is a Vietnamese cafe and French bakery and oh my. So delicious! You cannot go wrong with this one!
  • South Congress Cafe - Upscale American cuisine in the heart of South Congress!
  • Mattie’s - In a gorgeous historical home on a stunning property. Features Southern food and French cooking and is SO good.  

LUNCH

  • Tyson’s Tacos - The. most. delicious. tacos. The end. 
  • Franklin BBQ - Texas Monthly called this the "best BBQ in the known universe." You may wait in line for a bit, but it's completely worth it! 
  • Elizabeth Street Cafe
  • South Congress Cafe
  • Hank’s - This spot is a littler further on the East Side, but it serves some amazing American-style food and has a light and bright atmosphere with an amazing patio!
  • Tiny Boxwoods - You cannot go wrong here. Step inside their quaint restaurant for some delicious southern brunch dishes, or you can walk over to their take out window and grab one of the best cinnamon rolls of your life.

DINNER

  • Fresas - best margs and amazing fresh mexican food
  • Emmer & Rye - farm-to-table cuisine that’s amazing - also on Rainey Street which is a popular place to explore!
  • Olamaie - modern southern food and one of our favorites for special occasions
  • Sway - Love the atmosphere of this restaurant and we always try to get a seat by the kitchen to watch them cook. Hands down some of the best Thai food I've ever had
  • Contigo - one of our go-to date night spots. Elevated home-cooking and has the best atmosphere!
  • La Condesa - upscale mexican cuisine that's in the 2nd Street District
  • Loro - an asian & barbeque fusion restaurant by two of the best chefs in Austin. I’ve also spotted 2 famous people here (one was Matt Czuchry AKA: Logan from Gilmore Girls!). 
  • Uchiko - known for their absolutely amazing sushi
  • Hopdoddy - This could possibly be our favorite burger in Austin! Their shakes are also to. die. for. You have to get the Nutella & Chocolate Pretzel Shake if you go! 
  • Moonshine - Still a go-to date night for us even in the pandemic (their take out is still so good!). It's some of the best comfort food around. I especially love their fried green tomatoes!
  • Red Ash - Wood-fired italian food that will make your mouth water. The vibe of this place is so cozy and holy cow is the food delicious.

DESSERT

  • Gordough's - Think gormet donuts on crack. Gordoughs even serves things you can have for lunch, but for us, dessert is where it's at. 
  • Tiny Boxwoods - say hello to the best chocolate chip cookies you've ever had
  • Lick Ice Creams - this is hands down our favorite ice cream spot. The flavors are unique and all their ingredients are locally grown. You cannot go wrong here!
  • Amy’s Ice Cream - a true Austin original that has been around for a so. long. Their ice cream is some of the creamiest around and you can get all kinds of mix-ins. It's one of our guilty pleasures for sure!

COFFEE SHOPS & BARS

COFFEE SHOPS

COOL BARS

I definitely would not consider us "bar" people, so these two below have super cool, laid back, classy vibes and it's two bars that we have gone multiple times and love every single time. They are both known for their amazing cocktails and intimate settings.

  • Garage bar - This is a bar in a parking garage and while that may sound sketchy, it's actually fabulous and so. cool. This is our go-to place to go for drinks because we love the cozy, classy atmosphere and the cocktails are some of our favorites.
  • Midnight Cowboy - This is actually a speak easy right off of crazy 6th street. It has a super intimate, quiet, classy, mid century vibe. Not kidding when I say I've had some of the best drinks ever at this bar. They make the drinks at your table  and it's truly one of the best spots to enjoy some fun conversation with friends and sip on great cocktails. 

THINGS TO DO

MUSEUMS

PLACES TO SEE SHOWS

  • Long Center - We've seen a variety of shows here from Ina Garten to a ballet. There are a lot of live music performances here as well! 
  • Bass Concert Hall - We've seen a couple of broadway shows here and have loved it!
  • Zach Topfer Theatre - offers a variety of shows and some great kid shows as well!
  • Paramount Theater - So many fun shows happen here from stand up comedy to live podcast shows. They also do some fun movie showings!

OTHER ACTIVITIES

  • Walk or bike around Lady Bird Lake
  • Walk to the top of Mount Bonnell
  • Stand up paddling and kayaking on Lady Bird Lake
  • Take a hike at the Barton Springs Greenbelt

THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS

  • The Thinkery - We had a membership here pre-covid and it is one of the best children's museums I've ever visited. It has some great spots for kids aged from babies all the way through elementary and beyond.
  • Zach Topfer Theatre
  • Austin Central Library - genuinely such a cool and unique library and has a great section for kiddos.
  • Zilker Park
  • Zilker Theater Production - Theater productions at the park! Grab a picnic dinner and sit on the hillside of Zilker park while watching a fun production!

SHOPPING

Austin has so much great shopping! A couple of the big districts are the Domain (North Austin), 2nd Street District (downtown) and East 11th District (East Austin). I've picked some of my all-time favorite Austin-specific shops below! 

  • BookPeople - an Austin original and an amazing bookstore!
  • Alexa James Baby - The cutest children's boutique you ever did see
  • Take Heart - stylish boutique offering housewares, home accessories and gifts
  • Miranda Bennett Studio - Non-toxic, plant dyed clothing all made in an Austin studio
  • Sunroom - Indie-focused boutique that has some of the coolest pieces
  • Helm Boots - Upscale leather boots that my husband is obsessed with!
  • Stag Provisions - trendy men's boutique that has designer labels. Super cool location on South Congress!
  • Outdoor Voices - in case you didn't know, OV originated in Austin! Stop by their insanely cute shop while you're in town and pick up your new favorite pair of leggings
  • Kendra Scott - Another amazing Austin original. She just opened a super cute shop in the most adorable house on South Congress!