Weekend City Picks: Austin
What makes Austin the perfect getaway? Let's start with its diverse roster of restaurants, nightlife, museums and colorful array of Austin personalities you'll encounter on your visit. Here are our recommendations for a fun trip to Austin.
Arts & Entertainment
Since 2011, the venerable live-music program has been taped inside this 2,750-seat state-of-the-art production facility in the heart of downtown’s Second Street District. Keep an eye on the schedule: Hundreds of great acts passing through “The Live Music Capital of the World’’ play the Moody Theater without the KLRU cameras. Weekday tours are available from 11-noon, starting at the box office. (MONIQUE: The address is 310 Willie Nelson Blvd.)
A recent renovation of its downtown site has expand the gallery space to nearly 7,000 square feet and turned the rooftop into a special events asset. The added gallery space has given the Jones Center greater flexibility to host larger, world-class travelling exhibits. Don’t miss the Contemporary’s “sister’’ site – the historic 14-acre Laguna Gloria sculpture park on Lake Austin.
Nestled just north of downtown in Four Points, this is one of the best places in Austin to catch a meal and a movie with all of the modern amenities. Even if you’re not eating from the complete restaurant menu, check out the dine-in theatres for the luxurious, reclining leather seats. Or grab some grub and a cocktail from the fully stocked bar, and take them into the general-admission theatres.
Zilker Theatre Productions puts on highly entertaining family-friendly “free’’ musicals each summer at this intimate venue across from Barton Springs Pool. Bring a picnic basket and a blanket, or rent a lawn chair and soak in the pay-what-you-wish fun of live under-the-stars entertainment.
This acclaimed humanities research library, archive and museum located on the U of T campus is home to millions of manuscripts, books, films and other rarities in its highly regarded, extensive collection. The permanent exhibitions, including the original Gutenberg Bible, the First Photograph (circa 1826 or 1827), are supplemented by displays celebrating literature, photography, film and the performing arts culled from the Collection.
One of Austin’s revered, continuously running clubs, located smack in the middle of the South Congress Street music scene. Tiny. Intimate. And with a fascinating only-in-Austin history: a 1950s supper club morphs into a raunchy burlesque house, then a blue-collar working man’s bar, and then becomes a premiere live music joint featuring Texas legends like Stevie Ray Vaughan and travelling New Wave and punk acts.
Food & Drink
Carnivore Nirvana, but BBQ enlightenment will require patience and grit. Lines form early in the morning at this East Austin institution, hours before the 11 AM opening. Wait times of three to four hours aren’t uncommon. (Pro-tip: Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the slowest, so lines are the shortest; Saturdays the worst). But BBQ purists swear that the slow-cooked meats – particularly the brisket – are totally worth the wait, and the succulent reward.
James Beard-award winner and “Top Chef” Season 9 champion Paul Qui closed his popular, eponymous restaurant last year amid some personal turmoil. His new flagship in the same location, Kuneho, represents a rebirth of sorts for the newly sober Qui, featuring a Japanese-themed small bites and sushi menu with his funky international flavor twists.
The first Austin outpost of the hip Portland bakery, known for its Off-the-Wall flavor choices and occasionally risqué product names. Check out the mainstays, such as the Bacon Maple Bar, or if you’re feeling a bit devilish, the star-pentagram-adorned Diablos Rex. All doughnuts, all the time: Voodoo is open 24/7, except for a couple of holidays. Cash only.
A quick 25-mile drive southwest of Austin leads to this picturesque slice of Tuscany nestled into the Texas Hill Country. Leave time for a tour and tasting session with the winery’s knowledgeable staff of the latest Trebbianos, Viogniers, Sangioveses, produced with grapes grown entirely in the Lone Star State.
Looking for no-nonsense Mexican fare? Head to this South Congress local favorite for top-notch tamales and Cochinita Pibil or head out to the back patio with its signature cocktail, the Avocado Margarita.
It’s a little less “urban’’ than it’s original locale, where they projected childhood favorites, drive-in classics and the occasional Art House film on brick walls in a tiny inner-city alleyway. But the retro spirit of the intimate drive-in experience continues, albeit a little less “urban’’ at the Blue Starlite’s new spot 20 minutes south of Austin. It’s still fairly intimate, with just 75 hookups for cars, but there’s a larger screen and a 35 mm projector, and for the truly hardcore, gypsy cabins, tent campsites and a luxury RV for rent. Buy a Starlite “smores kit’’ and they’ll let you roast your own marshmallows on an open flame at the concession stand.
The state history museum is right up the hill from the Capitol, filled with three floors of artifacts, exhibits and breath-taking films that tell the larger-than-life story of Texas. From the 17th Century shipwreck of the La Belle, through the Civil War, the Alamo and the rise of the cattle and oil businesses, all the way into the 20th Century aviation, arts and the Space program, the Bullock is packed with three floors of educational and entertaining experiences for the entire family.
One of the newest museums in Central Texas, TXMOST is the interim home to the area’s largest planetarium, an extensive fossil exhibition called “TimeWalk’’ showcasing life on Earth from the earliest fossils to the Age of Mammals and a rotating set of science-, technology- and space exploration- themed exhibits.
A uniquely Austin success story, building from one small shop to a city-wide chain, Juiceland offers vegan food, fresh juices, smoothies, protein shakes, superfoods and cleanses. The creative, “Juiceland vibe’’ even includes a record store at another Austin location.
One of the nationwide chain’s newest locales, a 3,600-square foot, 57-bike studio, offerings complete men’s and women’s locker rooms and boutique if you didn’t bring all your gear from home. This is more than spinning, but a full-body cardio workout, with well-trained instructors and a pulsating sound and light system to rival any state-of-the-art nightclub.
This North Austin studio provides yoga, meditation, mat Pilates and barre instruction. But in keeping with its mission to create a “hub for mindfulness and passionate living’’ there are also Life Mastery classes in group and personal settings, and the Austin version of TED Talks.
Located inside Zilker Park, Barton Springs is one of the can’t-miss Austin experiences. This three-acre pool, fed by underground springs, temperatures average 68-to-70 degrees, making it ideal for year-round swimming.
These handcrafted tours created by “led by enthusiastic local musicians, artists and comedians, explore the best of Austin’s food, wine, history and music scenes. The self-proclaimed “tour company for people who don’t like tours,’’ Austin Detours focuses on the offbeat, quirky and fun, and can customize packages for everything from children’s scavenger hunts and bachelorette parties to corporate team-building events.
One of the best ways to observe Austin’s famous Congress Street Bridge bat colony: take a tour with this outfitter. Or if you simply want to get a little exercise, rent a kayak, canoe or paddleboard by the house at this popular spot on Lady Bird Lake.
The Austin outpost for this up-and-coming Dutch purveyor of Italian-made fabrics. In-house tailors can alter most of the custom-made suits while customers continue to browse among the hip choices of eveningwear, jackets, trousers, coats and shirts.
Check out the flagship location for this rustic-chic, retailer specializing in high design, high durability boots. Designed in Austin since 2009, and now completely manufactured in America, Helm is on the verge of becoming a national brand.
A South Congress landmark – look for the lasso-twirling cowboy riding an oversized jackrabbit atop the marquee – this treasure trove of smartly curated quirk features the wares of 24 antique dealers. Get lost for hours amid the antique jewelry, vintage Mexican religious objects and toys, taxidermy and farm implements.
The name says it all: A lifestyle art and gift gallery celebrating everything musical in the middle of the 6th Street entertainment district. Four floors filled with everything from jewelry and tiny souvenirs to paintings, posters and actual guitars, drums and keyboards.
Located in the northwest high-tech corridor Austin’s premier shopping destination has become home to more than 100 stores and restaurants, with lush landscaping, children’s play areas and an event lawn with regularly scheduled live music. Anchored by the city’s only Neiman Marcus, The Domain also features an array of upscale and mainstream boutiques and plenty of nightlife opportunities.