801 Red River, Downtown
Stubb’s is famous for its barbecue, but maybe even more famous for the live music performances that happen (almost) nightly. Legends like Joan Jett, Willie Nelson, and The Killers are among the many that have entertained here. Be sure to buy tickets in advance for the concerts, as they are likely to sell out early. On Sunday mornings, there’s a live gospel music brunch with a make-your-own Bloody Mary bar.
208 W. 4th St., Downtown
This pre-Prohibition-style, New Orleans-inspired craft cocktail bar is a great option for drinks and light dinner. Though it began as Austin’s first absinthe bar (the infamous green liqueur was legalized in the U.S. in 2007), their dinner menu, curated by executive chef John Lichtenberger, is worth a trip, too. The riffs on French standards like duck confit, bouillabaisse, and escargots are beloved, as are their only-in-Texas specialties, like Texas wild boar with polenta, braised short ribs with duck-fat mashed potatoes, and lamb bourguignon sourced from a nearby ranch. As for the cocktails, the go-tos (besides absinthe, of course) are gin, whiskey, vodka, and rum concoctions—some original, like the Fig Manhattan (rye, sweet vermouth, house cherry vanilla bitters, fig foam), some reinterpretations of tried-and-true favorites, like Sazerac (a New Orleans classic).
200 Lavaca St., Downtown
This four-room bar is located inside the W Austin Hotel. It's a music-focused spot, that mixes trendy and cozy: Plush, red velvet couches face a brightly lit bar, while a fireplace, flanked by bookshelves and desk lamps, roars in another room. Check their calendar to see what's currently on (they bring in DJ's and local bands regularly), and definitely come here if you're in town for Austin City Limits.
Garage Cocktail Bar
503 Colorado St., Downtown
Tucked inside a parking garage at the corner of Sixth and Colorado, this bar usually takes a few extra minutes to find. The interior is surprisingly sleek, and the craft cocktails are artfully designed with small plates to match. Order a signature cocktail, starting with the Indian Paintbrush.
305 E. 5th St., Downtown
Antone’s reopened downtown last year three blocks from its original 1970s location. Inside, the show posters lining the walls from the likes of B.B. King and Ray Charles read like a Blues Hall of Fame. Now the two-story venue aims to not only bring in big-name acts coming through town, but to introduce showgoers to great music, including artists they may not have heard of. It also helps that hometown hero, musician Gary Clark Jr., who played some of his early gigs here, is also a partner.
434 W. 2nd St., Downtown
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.
419 Congress Ave., Downtown
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.
Lamberts Downtown Barbecue
401 W. 2nd St., Downtown
Everyone has different (and equally passionate) views on where to find the best barbecue in Austin, but no matter who you ask, Lambert's inevitably comes up. For starters, the convenient downtown location is really easy to find, and the enormous, two-story building frequently hosts live bands. For the barbecue, you'll line up cafeteria-style and select your meats from a wide, sizzling skillet. The brisket is the must-get item, but you can't go wrong with any of the meats: The chicken is ridiculously juicy, and the sausages, which are stuffed with cheese, are great. Do your best to save space for the cobbler, which is served with a peel-top ice cream in a styrofoam cup.
242 W. 2nd St., Downtown
Jo’s is a South Austin go-to for morning coffee and breakfast tacos (this is Texas, after all). They’ve become social media famous for their signature #IcedTurbo, which is a delicious milky coffee with crushed ice. The original location is in South Congress.
Whole Foods Market
525 N. Lamar Blvd., Downtown
Whole Foods is a lunchtime staple no matter where you live, but the flagship Austin location sort of takes everything to the next level. Inside, you’ll find 80,000 square feet of fresh, local, and organic goodness, and a prepared food section that matches. HQ is right upstairs (they look down on the ice skating rink that’s on top of the store).