(Still working on that longform story! It'll be out soon, I promise, and I'm sorry to have dropped the ball here on the blog. Next time I'll know to have content stocked up — and hopefully when this story drops it'll be worth it!)
Seems as though a lot of friends have been heading to Austin lately, and as an expat, I've been doling out my recommendations right and left.
I may have fallen out of love with Austin, but as the place I was born and raised, it will always hold a dear place in my heart. Sure, it's changed; but newcomers don't know any different, and even for those of us who do, the city still holds plenty of pockets of its original, funky charm. There's nothing like a good weekend in the ATX, and if you're headed that way, here's what an OG Austinite would be up to:
I'm assuming you, like me, will be rolling into town after work. Do yourself a favor and roll straight to Curra's. Get whatever your heart desires — I've had a dozen different things on the menu, and never been disappointed. (My go-to, if you're really unsure, is the carne guisada with refried black beans and red corn tortillas. Wrap it all up taco-style and enjoy.)
Once you're done stuffing your face, drive about fifteen minutes northwest and walk it off at Mount Bonnell. The view is an Austin classic, and especially gorgeous at sunset. (Pro tip: when you reach the top, walk to the front of the overlook and then look for a trail on the left. It'll lead you down a little ways more to the same view, but often with a smaller crowd.) End the night at Lick on Burnet Road.
Wake up, sucka, Austin is a #fitcity! We're going to Zilker Park!
Seriously though, head to Zilker for the hike and bike trail. I know there are a lot of different places to start and end the trail, but I'd recommend parking under the MoPac bridge by Austin High. (Here's a map to help.)
Start by walking a quarter mile up Veterans Blvd. to Juiceland and getting a Wundershowzen or Vegetable Kingdom or Soul Boulder to accompany your little hike. Then go get on the trail, which takes you on a meandering walk through Zilker and some of the best downtown views you can get. To me, growing up, this was always the real heart of Austin, and it's the spot in the city I miss most. I'd suggest making the five mile loop — just don't skip the pedestrian bridge around mile 1.5/2, it's wonderful for photos. Soak in the vibes. Feed some ducks. People watch. It's all pretty great.
When you get back to the start, hop in the car and drive back up Veterans to Magnolia Cafe, right across the street from Juiceland. Get lunch or brunch — something involving eggs and salsa and you can't go wrong. (If you want coffee and it doesn't seem super crowded, go down the street to Mozart's. If it's as overrun as it normally is nowadays, especially if you're not planning to linger, I don't think it's worth it. But it's worth checking! And now you know that it's there!)
Okay, now we're going to clean up and go be tourists, because some things are tourist traps for a reason.
First up: Go wander South Congress. It's a beaut. The shopping is great and super unique, you're in close proximity to iconic murals (the Austin postcard, Willie for President, ILYSM, etc.), Jo's and Mañana have your coffee covered, and there's some seriously good food (though I never battle the crowds for it now — R.I.P. my Home Slice Pizza patronage).
Go check out the Texas State Capitol, because it's gorgeous. Same for the Austin Public Library (!!! this place is a wonderland). And if you have time, I'd highly, highly recommend the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. I feel like I always get weird looks when I recommend it, but seriously, the place is great — well-curated and totally unique. You'll be filled to the brim with state pride by the time you leave.
I've been out of the city for long enough, frankly, that I'm not the one to be slinging food recommendations. Austin's become a foodie destination, and there are so many restaurants there that weren't before, you should consult the interwebs for the best of what's new. I know for a fact that Lucy's Fried Chicken is delicious and offers an incredible view, so there's always that. Otherwise, like I said, do your research and enjoy!
(Other, similar side note: If you're wondering where my drink recommendations are, I don't really have any. When I moved back after high school, I was spending all my free time with a bunch of teenagers — and even when I wasn't, the bar scene has never really been my scene. Wander 6th Street to say you did, if you want; but it's pretty touristy, so according to friends, Rainey Street is the local preference.)
Grab breakfast tacos from Tacodeli, then chill out by hitting Barton Springs or stand-up paddle board/kayak the river. Depending on how much time you have before you need to head back home, either go wander Book People (I can't go to Austin without a visit) and grab lunch on your way out of the city, or! Grab something delicious at Bouldin Creek Cafe and play yourself a round of Peter Pan Minigolf. (I know, it's minigolf, but It's another one of those Austin classics. Plus, the statues are super weird and fun.)
If by some magical superpower you still have time to spare, celebrate your minigolf prowess by grabbing a sno-cone at Sno-Beach, walking across the street to Butler Park, and enjoying the skyline view as a final goodbye.
I can't speak to accommodations, simply because I've never needed them — I lived there, and now when I go back I crash with friends. (Thanks, guys!) I know there are a lot of fabulous hotels in the area, now, so consult the Googles for help.
And, similar to my note about restaurants, keep in mind I haven't lived in Austin in several years! There are always new things cropping up to do, so check out other resources before your visit to make sure you don't miss something extra-special-to-you. Austin Monthly keeps great tabs on events in the city, as does Texas Highways!
Austinites, if you have further suggestions, leave them in the comments so people have more ideas than just mine! And if you're visiting for the first time (or hundredth), tell the city hey and eat an extra taco for me.