Every spring, right before SXSW, I get an influx of emails from people asking me for suggestions about things to do in Austin. Well this year I thought I would repost an updated guide originally blogged on Indie Fixx. Whether you are looking for a good bar, thrift store or place to go swimming I have it all listed in this handy guide for you. Austinites am I leaving anything out? Let us know in the comments.
I am a born and raised Texas girl. There was a semester spent abroad in London and the occasional 6 week filming stint in Los Angeles, but beyond that my roots are firmly planted in the Lone Star State. I was raised in a pink Victorian house in a town called McKinney, 45 minutes north of Dallas. When it came time for college, it just so happened that South West Texas State University located in San Marcos, just outside of Austin, was the school in Texas where you needed the least amount of math to snag yourself a psychology degree. I was sold and packed my bags and headed south. I had been to visit Austin many of times before and knew that it was for me. I would take pilgrimages to Austin just to go record shopping, see bands and distribute my zine Scratch-n-Sniff. Moving to Austin was always something I knew would eventually happen. I’m a bit of a mamma’s girl so it was just far enough from home (4 hours) where I felt independent, but could still see my family regularly. After college, I moved up to Austin, married my college bus driver, started a record label, re-discovered my love of crafts, changed my zine’s name to Naughty Secretary Club and made it online rather than print and that pretty much brings us up to date.
Now for those that have never visited Austin, you might think to yourself: why Texas? Well until you have been to Austin you can never know. Most people think of cowboys and cactus, but Austin is lush with lots of rivers and swimming holes. You can’t throw a rock without hitting someone covered in tattoos and that plays in a band. The craft scene is incredible. The Tex Mex alone is worth the visit. In the last couple of years I have visited and hung out in Vancouver, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, London, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Berlin, Boston and more (I travel a lot) and I always look forward to coming back to Austin. Not just because home is where the heart is, but because Austin is badass. Sure I’m partial, but I have never met anyone who has traveled to Austin and not had a good time. If you are ever in my neck of the woods, let me get you started with a few suggestions.
If you love music as much as I do, then Austin in March is the place for you. Heard of a little festival called SXSW? Just last year I saw Santogold, The Kills, Two Live Crew, Spank Rock and more all for free. Did I mention the free drinks as well? Sure you can buy a ticket, but the locals know how to make the rounds at the free day shows and parties where people like Rachel Ray and Pitchfork sequester bars for their events, book huge bands and supply all the food and drink you can handle. If you are here in September stop by the Austin Craft Mafia booth at the Austin City Limits Festival. Not only is there shopping and food you can see bands like The Foo Fighters, N.E.R.D. , Tegan & Sara, Iron & Wine, Hot Chip, CSS and about 120 more bands.
Be sure to do some record shopping while you are in town. Remember I used to make the trek all the way from Dallas to supplement by 7” addiction. Stop by Sound on Sound, End of an Ear or Austin’s most famous Waterloo Records.
If you are here anytime of the year you can find live music in almost any bar, restaurant and often times street corners. I have seen countless bands play at Emo’s and spent most of my college years cozied up to their bar. I have seen the likes of David Lee Roth and Loretta Lynn just down Red River from Emo’s at Stubbs BBQ. Yummy food and good music. Also on Red River is Beerland and Mohawk, both fun bars that will almost always have something going on that will tickle your ear drums.
S. Congress is an area in Austin where you are going to want to park the car and do a little walking. Shops, food, bars and more. For goodies hand made in Texas stop by Parts and Labour. Step right next door to New Bohemia for an amazing selection of vintage clothing. You must stop at Uncommon Objects which is my favorite antique store in Austin. Looking for a pair of cowboy boots for a souvenir? Stop by Allens Boots, that’s where I got my pair.
Parts and Labour from Handmade Nation’s flickr photostream.
If you can snag yourself a hotel room at the Hotel San Jose, I highly recommend it’s ultra modern style. If not a room, then stop by its small patio bar for the spiciest Michelada in town. If you are looking to take a jewelry class from me or a knitting class from Vickie Howell stop by Craft-o-Rama. If you find yourself on S. Congress at night, The Continental Club is one of Austin’s most famous clubs where you might find yourself a cute Rock-a-billy guy or gal to do a little dancing with.
Pick up a phone book to locate the good thrift stores. I just so happen to live within 2 miles of the best in town, Thrift Town and Thrift Land. In the North Loop area. be sure to pop in Blue Velvet for vintage clothing and Room Service Vintage for kitschy retro home décor. The 2nd street district is up and coming and a little more high end than the rest of Austin, but worth the trip. Speaking of high end we also have a very pricey mall on the north side of town with stores like Betsy Johnson and Saks Fifth Avenue.
DRINKING 6th street in Austin is much like Bourbon street in New Orleans. Every weekend the street is closed down so that the hoards of college kids, hipsters and tourists can stagger from bar to bar. The street is coated with them. On 6th street I recommend The Jackalope and Casino El Camino. Both have a bit of a punky edge where the juke box might be playing hardcore, but the Lone Star Bar is cold and the food is delicious. Intersecting 6th street is Red River St., home to clubs mentioned earlier like Emo’s. You can also find bars like Club Deville, Side Bar, Creek Side and the Beauty Bar right within walking distance.
Just a short drive over to the East Side of town, finds you at one of my favorite hang outs The Long Branch where the Bloody Marys have not only olives, but pickled okra too. SXSW 2009 look for art on the wall at The Longbranch Inn by my sister Hope Perkins (AKA Hot Pink Pistol). The Red Scoot Inn (especially for the Sock Hop) and Red House are also highly recommended. New to the East Saide, but quickly one of the most popular spots is Shangri-la with their fab patio.
Austin is also full of fun dive bars where you might actually spot a cowboy or two. I had my engagement party at the Horse Shoe Lounge. Stop by Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon on a Sunday afternoon to play chicken poop bingo. Yes, with live chickens and $2 Lone Star. La La’s Little Nugget is decorated for Christmas all year long, Deep Eddy’s Cabaret is always entertaining and The Poodle Dog Lounge is on my list of places to go.
Austin hands down has the best Tex Mex in the world. It’s hard to choose a favorite. Chuy’s is a local legend with their quirky interiors and delicious shrimp rellenos. They also own the Hula Hut, which is Hawaiian meets Mexican and located on Lake Austin. Try to sit on the deck over the lake if you can. For breakfast the hubbs and I love the migas at Los Fuentes. For enchiladas, it’s a tie between Casa Garcia and El Mercado. The fajitas at El Gallo are delicious and 2 people can get fed for under $10 at Taqueria Arandas. I’m a lover of the tacos at Torchys. However, if I had to pick just one place to tell you to go it would have to be Polvos. The food is interior Mexican, the drinks are stiff and the salsa bar is never ending with 3 different choices. Always a favorite with locals and tourists alike. I’m not alone in my love for Polvos, so plan ahead or you may wait a couple of hours for a table. There is always a party spilling out into the parking lot anyway, so the wait is not unbearable. One word of caution with Austin and Mexican food, do not believe the hype and head to Guerros. I have rarely met a happy customer and the last time I was forced there the shrimp in my enchiladas was still frozen solid.
There is more to Austin than just Mexican food. Late night dinners and vegetarians often find themselves at Kerby Lane or Magnolia Café. If you want a real piece of Texas, I suggest making the drive to the Salt Lick to eat BBQ on a picnic bench in the country. Closer to town, head over to Hills Café to have fried corn nuggets, one of the best burgers in town and listen to live country music. Sarovar and The Clay Pit have delicious Indian Food and when I have a taste for Thai, I hit Madam Mam’s, 888 satisfies my Vietnamese cravings and Uchi is super expensive, but super swanky and has yummy sushi. So again, don’t let the Texas thing fool you, we have food, good food at that, from every corner of the Earth here.
Austin is a city for people that like to be active. All around the city,and surrounding areas there are hike and bike trails, kayaking, tubing, swimming holes, rock climbing and dog parks galore. We love our doggies here. Bring your shorts and your swim suit if you are here in the summer, because on any hot day you are going to have to choose between swimming at Deep Eddy, Twin Falls, Barton Springs or Hamilton Pool. All spring fed.
Austin just so happens to be a hot bed of crafty activity. I was fortune enough to meet up with a few like minded ladies and start a girl gang here called The Austin Craft Mafia. Many of us teach classes around town at places mentioned, such as Craft-o-Rama and First Samples. You can also find many of our wares for sale at Parts and Labour. As if this town was not crafty enough, Maker Faire has recently expanded its vast empire to include Austin. In the fall, you can find them crafting and making right here in town. Almost anytime of the month, you can find a Babes in Business Meeting to attend, Crafts and Draughts group to join or Stitch and Bitch to knit with. We love our crafts here in Austin and are quite proud of them.