It’s a city that’s fun, weird (proudly), a haven for creatives, and quickly becoming a tourist and transplant destination both nationally and internationally.
Ok, so you know I’m talking about Austin because it’s in the headline – but I could just as easily be talking about Seattle, right?
Our cities are so similar, despite the geography, it was a no brainer for our tourism boards (Visit Austin and Visit Seattle) to partner up for a Blogger Swap. Essentially, they sent a couple bloggers from each city on Delta’s inaugural nonstop flight between the two to get a local’s experience, firsthand. We flew first class on Delta (we fancy) on a quick three-and-a-half-hour trip from stem to stern.
The next two days were filled with live music, great food, and SUPER HOT TEMPERATURES. My poor Seattle temperament didn’t know how to handle it – if you were following our Instagram story, I apologize for all the sweating. I can’t help it, I was born this way.
What I did learn, besides the fact that antiperspirant deodorant is a lie? Well, the people of Austin are just about the friendliest folks around, and they love their city. Granted, I was being shown around by people who work in tourism – but even the Uber drivers, baristas and folks in the line at taco stands had nothing but love for their city, The Live Music Capitol of the World.
So now that I’ve hyped it up – am I going to give recommendations? Yes, yes fine. Here’s a 48 Hour Guide to Austin, curated by people who actually know what they're talking about. I followed it, and felt like I really got in a TON, so if you have a limited time in the city, I would bookmark this post!
Delta’s new nonstop flight leaves Seattle every weekday at 5:10 p.m., and gets you into Austin around 11:15 p.m. local time. I love traveling later in the day, so that no matter what when I get off the plane I can go to sleep. It’s a personal preference, but I’m always tired after a flight – no matter what. Having to slog through a full day if I get in in the morning often feels like a waste of a day. We went directly to the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel in downtown, and hit the King size bed like it was my JOB.
- 8 a.m. Waking up refreshed, we walked to on of Austin’s MANY food trucks – called My Name is Joe Coffee Co. Many believe Austin pioneered the food truck movement in the U.S., and there are whole lots throughout the city where multiple trucks reside and encourage tourists and natives alike to eat local. My Name is Joe not only serves great food for breakfast and lunch, but a portion of their proceeds go towards helping those on the path to recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. Their Texas Rancher-Oats seriously made me reconsider ever having regular oatmeal again.
- 9:30 a.m. I visited Austin in June, and by this time (around 9:30 a.m.) it was already 87 degrees, and humid. Even our Austinite hosts said it was uncommonly humid! So I was more than a little nervous when I checked the itinerary and saw a bike ride as the next stop. I shouldn’t have been…because it was an E-BIKE RIDE! I will be honest, I had no idea what an e-bike was. I was assuming some kind of motorcycle-esque contraption that I would likely end up crashing into Lady Bird Lake. But, as co-founder of Rocket Electrics John Dawson explained when we got there, it’s essentially a regular bike with a little motor attached. Using a throttle on the right handlebar, you can use the motor as much or as little as you want. Maximum speed on these bad boys is 20 mph. Now, I consider myself pretty active – and maybe in the middle of the winter I would have pedaled my butt off around our tour of Lady Bird Lake. But in the scorching sun, where I was sweating just sitting in one place, you bet your bottom dollar I used that motor ALL THE TIME. Let me tell you – it’s going to be hard to go back to riding a regular bike again. If you’re traveling to Austin, especially in the spring/summer heat, I highly suggest an e-bike tour as opposed to a regular bike tour. Seriously guys, think about hills. Then think about not having to pedal to get up them. Genius, right? But as cool as the bikes were, the tour guides were even better. Yeah, they’re knowledgeable about their bikes, but John and Faith are essentially mobile historians of the city. Everything from this history of Lady Bird Lake, to the every-growing downtown population, Rainey St. and 6th St districts, the bat bridge, South Congress neighborhood, and food recommendations – these two had it in spades. I cannot speak highly enough of the tour, as a newbie to Austin it was absolutely the best way to learn as much as possible, quickly – and in a fun way!
- 12 p.m. By now the heat is well into the 90s, and even though I’ve barely exerted myself on the bike ride, I’m still HOT. So a fresh smoothie sounds pretty amazing right now. If only there was a wholesome, organic, fresh grocery store mecca nearby? OH WAIT. Whole Foods Flagship is in fact, in downtown Austin. For whatever reason I did not know that Whole Foods was headquartered and started in Austin, but locals are sure proud of it (Note: I went down before the Amazon buyout announcement was made…). I can’t imagine actually shopping in the store – it is so incredibly huge and overwhelming I just walked around with my smoothie ooh-ing and aah-ing at the counters. They have six cheese mongers on staff at any given point, multiple in-store bars, BBQ smoked onsite, and a dessert bar. It felt like a tourist destination – like a museum! I highly encourage just walking around if you want your free-range mind blown.
- 1:30 p.m. But let’s be honest, a smoothie isn’t enough for lunch! I had heard from several readers that Torchy’s Tacos would blow my mind – so there I went. There are multiple locations throughout Austin, but I went to the South Congress spot because I wanted an excuse to walk around that part of the city. And after stuffing my face with chicken tacos drenched in queso that I would literally murder over, I did just that! South Congress (also called SoCo) is right over the bridge across Lady Bird Lake in an area of town that has completely resisted commercialization. Eclectic small businesses selling everything from coffee, to belt buckles and cowboy boots - it’s like going back years into Austin’s history. Spend a couple hours shopping, perusing, eating, drinking – or as I like to call it: AC hopping.
- 6:30 p.m. After taking a quick refresher at the hotel, I was ready to get back out there and eat! We grabbed a drink at what I personally think is the coolest idea known to man – and one I think Seattle should steal! The Garage Bar is located in downtown Austin, and is literally located in a parking garage. No, not a retrofitted garage that is now a bar – an actual, working parking garage. Like, you watch cars coming and going through the window, and finding the entrance of the bar is a little terrifying. It’s the new-age speakeasy! So quirky and retro, so weird, so perfect – so Austin.
- 8 p.m. On to dinner! I cannot recommend Ranch 616 highly enough. If you want authentic Austin, great food and drink, a friendly atmosphere with regular live music – this place on Nueces St.is a must. Their outdoor patio was the perfect spot to listen to a talented cowboy croon to me (ok, he was singing to the whole place), and sip on a Mudwater – their signature drink – and take a Fire in the Hole shot or two (involves taking a shot out of a jalapeno – ‘nuff said). Owner Kevin Williamson even came and sat with us for a bit; he was warm, inviting, and hilarious – much like his restaurant aesthetic. He grew up in South Texas and wanted to open a place that combined Gulf Coast and Texas border town flavors. The quirks like a large neon snake and giant metal pistol are also signature Kevin…weird, wonderful, and probably wouldn’t work anywhere else.
- 10:30/11 p.m. I could lie here and said I went out to Rainey or 6th Street to party – and you totally can and should when you’re doing your town! Locals call it ‘Dirty 6th’ – kind of perfect for college kids and Bachelor/Bachelorettes, but if you’re looking for a slightly less Girls/Guys Gone Wild I’d suggest Rainey St. But I did not my friends, because I am an 80-year-old trapped in a 30-year-old’s body and PROUD OF IT.
- 8 a.m. Breakfast tacos at Tacodeli! Where they take tacos VERY seriously. It was still early enough to not be toooooo hot, so I walked about an hour to my next destination (Uber exists in this city so if you don’t want to walk – I don’t blame you! I was just trying to get those #stepsin).
- 10:30 a.m. Every week day, ACL Live offers tours of their Moody Theater digs to the public fro 11-12p. For $12 a person, you can tour the home of the infamous KLRY-TV produced PBS program called Austin City Limits - which you may have heard of - aka the longest running music series in American TV history! See music photography from Scott Newton, Willie Nelson’s special smoking deck, and see the theater that promises every single seat is within 75 feat of the stage.
- 12:30 p.m. Lunch time already? Fine, fine – pull my leg. If you haven’t figured out by my meal choices thus far, I am a HUGE fan of Mexican and Tex-Mex foods – so I took full advantage on this trip. My Uber driver from Day 1 actually suggested Guero’s and I’m so incredibly glad he did. I ordered an appetizer for my full meal, but before you judge me let me just tell ya what it was: Queso Flameado ($7.99): Bubbly, broiled jack cheese served with four steamy tortillas, with your choice of Chorizo, Ham, Bacon, Steak or Chickan al Carbon for $2 extra (I went chorizo), and onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, jalapeños, spinach or tomatoes for $0.70 extra (I went all in). GUYS. This meal was everything. Even though I had just had tacos earlier in the morning, there is never enough. Seriously. This place rocked my sweaty socks off. Just kidding I obviously wasn't wearing socks.
- 2 p.m. I try, when I’m traveling, to mix eating and activities – otherwise I just feel like a flying couch potato. So after the cheesy meal of a lifetime, I went down to Lady Bird Lake to rent a kayak for a couple hours. There are multiple rental options, and for roughly $7 an hour it’s a screamin’ deal. You can get double or single kayaks, or stand-up paddle-boards. I got a single, put on country music on my phone – and with queso in my belly and a song in my heart – truly felt that I was doing Texas right.
- 6:30 p.m. Once again, freshening up at the hotel is a must after a day out in the heat. I’m sure I’d get used to this, but I wonder how anyone ever looks professional in this city. My makeup drips off in T-30 seconds, and the hair gets frizzly or loses it’s curl after about 45. But everyone around me looks gorgeous so…I’m not sure. Now for my most anticipated activity of the trip: a Live Music Tour! If you’re like me, you think Austin and you think live music. It’s simultaneously the most exciting and intimidating thing about this city! As a newcomer or visitor, how are you supposed to know who is playing where, and when, and who is good? And what’s worth it and what’s not? Believe me, typing “live music Austin” into Google doesn’t do it. So I love the fact that Austin Detours offers a Live Music Tour for those of us who want to experience it, but have no idea where to start. The tour takes you to 2/3 venues, depending on the night, and these guides have intricate knowledge of not only who is hot right now and where the best performers are playing on any given night, but are lexicons of knowledge about Austin music, past and present. On my tour we went to the AGBG to see Warren Hood, then to C-Boy’s to see the David Young Band, and ended at The White Horse to grab (you guessed it, more tacos) and see Thrift Set Orchestra. Folks – the talent in this city is seriously out of this world. Even our tour guide Jason is a singer-songwriter-musician, who played some of his new stuff for us in-between stops. He literally has his ear to the ground about all music in Austin, so I asked him who he is most excited about. Listen up, you heard it here first! Err, from Jason first, that is. Look out for: Danny Malone, Shawnee Kilgore and The Deer Music. Jason says one of his favorite things about Austin is the music community – whereas places like Nashville live music is a competition, in Austin it’s a community. “Making it” here means regularly performing, staying on that stage – not necessarily signing to a major label and moving to LA.
- 11 p.m. Had a relatively early night as I was flying out on Delta the next morning at 7 a.m.
So Austin. Thank you for making me a little heavier, a little browner, and a lot more musically cultured. I feel a weird kinship to the city – because I love Seattle so much and see so much of those special characteristic in you: passion for your community, creative genius all around, great food and drink, and friendly people. Ok, I actually have to give Austin a head start on that one – there is nowhere NEAR a Freeze, in any sense of the word, in that city.
Until next time!