The Austin Guide
Austin has long been famous for its amazing music scene and seriously good food (you’ll experience both the moment you land at the airport, which is well programmed with live performances and surprisingly good barbecue spots), and it’s this unique personality that’s attracted and enlivened cultural events like SXSW and ACL. And while Stubb’s and Rainey St. are as classic and fun as ever, like many mid-sized cities, Austin has benefited from a boost of creativity downtown, filling it up with inventive restaurant concepts from young chefs, and more than a few cool hotels, all without losing its quirky, Texas-bred soul. Meanwhile, any stereotypes about the hot, humid weather are quickly dispelled by the presence of the cooling Colorado River, which makes its way from Lake Austin—a widened river perpetually crowded with party boats and water-skiers—down and around the edge of downtown, where the mild current makes for excellent SUP and kayaking. At the same time, some gorgeous boutiques offer a nice balance to old-school vintage and music shops, making this a second-to-none shopping destination. Suffice to say, the first-ever goop guide to Austin was long overdue.
Barton Creek GreenbeltBarton Hills | 512.974.6700
In addition to Lake Travis and Lake Austin, Barton Creek Greenbelt is a fun place to swim when the weather is warm in Austin (and there's been enough rain to fill its swimming holes). You can also come here to bike, hike (there are several miles' worth of trails), or just wander around. The Greenbelt is a several-mile, several-hundred-acre stretch that begins at Zilker Park, which is the best playground in the city for littles. There's a train ride that goes around the park—get a popsicle before jumping on. You can also paddle-board or rent kayaks to take out into the lake that crosses the middle of the city. (The baby turtles always keep the kids entertained.) In the center of the park itself is Barton Springs Pool, a three-acre pool that is fed from an underground spring; you pay a small fee to swim. The water in the natural watering hole is kept around 68-70 degrees, which feels just right on a scorching day. The pool is open daily, but closed most of Thursday for a weekly cleaning.
Chapel Dulcinea16221 Crystal Hills Dr., Driftwood | 512.394.0226
This gorgeous, open-air, Spanish-style chapel is a free (except for a $100 reservation deposit) and, naturally, very popular venue for small, intimate wedding ceremonies. But if you’re just in for a visit, it also makes a great hiking destination. Perched on the precipice of an ancient walking trail in Texas hill country—on the grounds of the nontraditional business school, Wizard Academy, about 20 minutes south of Downtown Austin—the sweeping panoramic views from the chapel are stunning. Check in at the visitor’s welcome center to access the trails.
Lady Bird Lake
Lady Bird Lake is a refreshing nature break smack in the middle of all the city action. Central to this park on the Colorado River, flanked by the towering high-rises of Downtown Austin, is the reservoir—a local favorite for everything from rowing to paddleboarding to a leisurely picnic. (Just don’t try to go for a swim.) The newly constructed boardwalk across the water, and the trails that circle the namesake lake, make this the place to go for walking and biking. Image Credit: Shane Pope on Flickr
Lake Austin1600 Scenic Dr., Lake Austin | 512.974.6700
This is a nice getaway from the city; the Pennybacker Bridge is an iconic landmark, which locals will tell you is best viewed by boat. A day out on the water (boats can be rented from multiple outfits) is a quintessential Austin experience, and you’ll find plenty of company ranging from families waterskiing and tubing to twenty-somethings overflowing anchored party barges. It’s worth seeking out the high, very fun rope swing on the south side of the river. Photo credit: 1nativeTexan, MisterDavidC.
Icosa Collective702 Shady Ln., Govalle | 512.920.2062
A collective of twenty Austin-based visual artists converted a recently vacated auto shop into a cooperative gallery in 2016. Visually, the space is impressive: The edifice opens garage-door-style onto the open-air, 1,500-square-foot interior. But what really impresses here is the work on display, created largely by local contemporary artists, the proceeds of whose sales also help support the space. From astounding sculpture to vibrant, abstract paintings, their holdings are right on the edge of the indie-to-emerging art world—there’s always something incredible by an up-and-comer to take in during the Saturday open-to-the-public hours (they’re open by appointment 12-5 on weekdays), plus community-focused events on the regular.
Mexic-Arte Museum419 Congress Ave., Downtown | 512.480.9373
This museum, an Austin establishment for over 30 years, celebrates Mexican and Mexican American fine art. Its offerings range from contemporary art—their shows are culturally on point, illuminating perspectives on the human toll of the conflict in the borderlands—to community engagement events, like its annual Día de los Muertos exhibitions, and its annual Young Latino Artists showcase. The contemporary works span from impressive, imposing sculpture to street-art-style murals to super-modern mixed-media works—truly an immersive experience, essential to understanding what Austin is all about.
Violet Crown434 W. 2nd St., Downtown | 512.495.9600
This trendy movie theater downtown right by the Colorado River is a great date spot (obviously), and so much more: The Violet Crown is set up to make it enjoyable if you show up early, not just to save the best seats, but to take full advantage of their next-level concessions: Their full bar and modest-but-excellent food menu is the perfect companion for the latest blockbusters, though they also show select classic films. Here you’ll find healthier alternatives to buttery popcorn—think hummus and veggies, cheese and fruit, and a cranberry-kale salad—made from locally sourced ingredients, as well as your traditional comfort food like pizza, hot dogs, and french fries. Their artisanal cocktails and local craft beers are satisfyingly extensive, as is their wine list, from which you can order either by the glass—there’s also a “large pour” option—or by the bottle. If you’re up for a matinée, they also have a café serving espresso, coffee, tea, and treats.