For years, Austin has been the college town that no one ever wanted to leave when they graduated. Today, the city is one of the fastest growing in America (according to Forbes) and is experiencing a veritable tourism boom thanks to its undeniably Texan spirit, cosmopolitan style and, as of recently, serious sophistication.
Austin purists can rest assured that there are still world-class barbecue joints, rockabilly venues aplenty and excellent vintage stores. But recent openings have spoiled visitors with choice, including a much-anticipated spa resort. Read on for an ideal Austin itinerary that will allow you to spend a weekend enjoying the still-eccentric, bohemian Austin while indulging in some of the city’s newfound elegance.
Contact Indagare for assistance planning a customized trip to Austin.
When to Go
Austin is particularly hot in the summer, which is a shame because most restaurants have lovely patios and so much of life here is geared to the outdoors. The fall is a lovely time to visit, but when the University of Texas has home football games the city can be crowded (and potentially overwhelming for non-football enthusiasts). The same can be said about planning a visit during South by Southwest or Austin City Limits. During the festivals, the city turns into a madhouse.
Where to Stay in the City
The 14-room Hotel Saint Cecilia (112 Academy Drive; 512-852-2400) is cool-central and ideally located for those who want to experience Austin’s eclectic spirit. For traditionalists, the Four Seasons (98 San Jacinto Blvd; 512-478-4500) is a great alternative and serves some of the best guacamole in town. The best rooms are on high floors and overlook Lady Bird Lake, affording great views, especially at dusk, when a flock of Mexican free-tailed bats ascend en masse from the Congress Avenue Bridge. (This is an occurrence that’s taken very seriously in Austin.) Note: Most Austin hotels are fully booked on fall weekends during football season, and the city’s best restaurants require advanced reservations.
…Or For A Wellness Escape
Pamper yourself in style at one of Hill Country’s exceptional spa estates. Opened in February, Miraval Austin—the sister property to one of Indagare’s favorite destination spas in Tuscon, Arizona—was one of Texas’ most anticipated hotel debuts. Sprawled across 220 acres just 30 minutes outside the city, the resort’s Life in Balance Spa features 30 treatment rooms, an outdoor pool, a lakefront lounge, steam rooms and saunas. Lake Austin Spa has been a favorite of locals and visitors for several years, located on the shores of Lake Austin 40 minutes outside the city. While there are many lovely attributes of the property—the pretty flower gardens, the two outdoor pools, the gorgeous spa—the real coup de grace is the lakeside location, and guests can take advantage of water activities like boat cruising or waterskiing.
The Ideal Weekend-in-Austin Itinerary
Head to South Congress (SoCo), a hip, three-block neighborhood where you can find shops stuffed with eclectic treasures. Visitors staying at Hotel Saint Cecilia can walk; guests at the Four Seasons should take a taxi or Uber.
- Feather’s Boutique: Vintage finds like Mongolian fur vests from the ‘80s (1700 S Congress Ave.)
- Limbo Jewelry: Embroidered western shirts, prayer candles emblazoned with the likes of Amy Schumer or Kim Kardashian and more (1604 S Congress Ave.)
- South Congress Books: First edition books, vintage posters and various “quirkiana,” as they call it (1608 S Congress Ave.)
- Allens Boots: Cowboy boots (custom styles available) (1522 S Congress Ave.)
- ByGeorge: Can’t-miss store with carefully curated designs from Chloe, Balenciaga and Saint Laurent. (There is another, larger location on North Lamar.) (1400 S Congress Ave.)
For a mid-shopping bite, pop into Big Top Candy Shop (1706 S Congress Ave.), a local candy store complete with an old-fashioned soda fountain (the ice cream floats are legendary) and a wide selection of nostalgia-inducing bulk sweets from around the world. For something savory, head to Perla’s (1400 S Congress Ave.) for a SoCo Fizz and tuna tartare.
Related: Road-Tripping Through Texas
Pre-dinner, head to one of James Beard Award–winner Tyson Cole’s restaurant’s, Uchi (801 S Lamar Blvd.) or Uchiko (4200 N Lamar Blvd.), the two most highly regarded restaurants in town. Patrons can enjoy a vast assortment of sakes and mini portions of sushi, sashimi and wildly creative Asian fusion delights.
For dinner, have a truly Texan experience at Lambert’s Downtown Barbecue (401 W 2nd St.). Located in the historic Schneider Brother’s Building, the sophisticated eatery serves authentic Texas barbecue, chicken fried oysters and a must-order, off-the-menu frito pie. There is always a live show at the restaurant, but serious music lovers should go to the Continental Club (1315 S Congress Ave) or C-Boys Heart and Soul (2008 S Congress Ave.). Indagare Tip: Both venues have “secret” upstairs lounges to enjoy the music.
Those with enough energy for a nightcap should continue the evening in East Austin at Justine’s Brasserie (4710 E 5th St.), a quintessential Austin watering hole—frequented by everyone from elderly folk to drag queens and frat boys—that plays vinyl LPs (think the Isley Brothers’ rendition of Fire and Rain.)
The best breakfast in Austin can be found at Torchy’s Tacos (1822 S Congress Ave.). A favorite is the #4 Breakfast Taco, which comes with jalapeño sausage, scrambled eggs and monterey jack cheese. (Indagare Tip: Ask for flour tortillas and extra green chiles.)
Weather providing, head to Lady Bird Lake and rent a kayak or swan pedal boat. The paths surrounding the lake are also great for hiking, biking or jogging. Another less strenuous outdoor activity is to visit Laguna Gloria (3809 W 35th St.). The museum, located on the grounds of the Driscoll Villa on Lake Austin, was inspired by the villas that line the shores of Lake Como. The Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park (3809 W 35th St.) features permanent installations such as Tom Friedman’s 33-foot, stainless steel sculpture Looking Up, the whimsical Miffy Fountain by Tom Sachs and Lost Money, which is comprised of $2,000 dollars worth of coins scattered on the terrace and done by a collaboration of Danish artists known as SUPERFLEX.
Visit the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center (300 W 21st St.), which is home to a Gutenberg Bible, the world’s first photograph (a heliograph taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 or 1827), Frida Kahlo’s Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird and an extensive humanities research library with archival manuscripts and films.
Nearby is LBJ Library (2313 Red River St.), where visitors can learn more about the 36th President of the United States and the “Great Society.” The courtship letters between Lyndon Johnson, then a congressional aide in Washington, D.C., and Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Taylor are particularly touching.
Related: Next Stop American South
Head to Clark’s Oyster Bar (1200 W 6th St.) for caviar and a hamburger or the restaurant’s sumptuous lobster roll. (Reservations at the tiny eatery should be booked in advance when possible.)
Gallery-hop along West 6th Street and then wander a few blocks east to North Lamar for some shopping. Don’t miss Waterloo Records (600A N Lamar Blvd.) for vinyl records, and then head to Wildflower Organics (524 N Lamar Blvd., #101), a longstanding shop selling organic bedding, loungewear and furniture. The larger branch of ByGeorge (524 N Lamar Blvd. #103), stuffed with wildly stylish clothes, jewelry and accessories for men and women, is also located in this neighborhood.
Get semi-dressed up (Austin is all about being casual) and go to Jeffrey’s (1204 W Lynn St.) for cocktails in their cozy, fun bar. Enjoy dinner at pint-sized stunner Lenoir (1807 S 1st St.), known nationally for its exotic dishes that incorporate local ingredients. For some post-dinner music, take a taxi to the Saxon Pub (1320 S Lamar Blvd.), which has a listening room vibe and is so intimate that Kris Kristofferson famously said that playing there felt as though he were in his own living room.
Contact Indagare for assistance planning a customized trip to Austin.