I just came back from Austin, Texas last week, and it was awesome. It was my first couchsurfing experience, and my first visit to Texas as an adult. Austin is known for its art and music scene (see: South by South West), especially live music, which infiltrates the venues lining 6th street on any given night.
The city’s slogan “Keep Austin Weird” is telling, with its bustling little cafes, vintage shops and crazy people with crazy businesses such as Hoek’s “Death Metal” pizza (where they serve pizza only accompanied by the drilling sound of death metal). Having said all that, people in Austin seem to dig bicycles, recycling and animals. Everyone is friendly, polite and nice, at least compared to Toronto. Southern hospitality, as Ludacris once stated promptly.
My days in Austin were marked by Guadalupe street at University of Texas, South Congress (SoCo) and other little nifty “communities” around downtown Austin. I mention communities because, having been to Houston and realizing how hell-bent Texans are on driving their cars, there ain’t much of a need to “walk around” unless you’re walking around in a mall. Downtown seems dead. This can be true for Austin as well, but Austin seems more established in this realm. I knew Austin was going to be cool, but it exceeded my expectations. Here’s how Austin worked its magic on me.
Where you gonna eat?!
Home Slice Pizza (1415 South Congress) is an established pizza joint in the South Congress neighbourhood. Expect to be waiting minimum 30 minutes for a table for this legendary pizza during peak dinner hours. It’s like Toronto’s Pizzeria Libretto, and equally as delicious. Try the mushroom pepperoni pizza without substitutions or design your own pizza. Weird fact: they’re closed on Tuesdays. Home Slice Pizza online.
Kat enjoying a slice or 10 at Home Slice
If you’re not totally stuffed at Home Slice Pizza then head across the street to Jo’s Coffee (1300 South Congress Avenue) for some drinks. It’s got a cute outdoor sitting area and is great for lunch and snacks, not just post-meal coffee and tea (both warm and cold). See it for yourself and visit them here.
El Mercado (1302 South First Street) is a place I never ate at, but according to the girl I was staying with who works at El Mercado, it has some serious Tex-Mex. Skip Guero’s in SoCo and head to El Mercado instead. El Mercado Austin online.
Tacodeli (1500 Spyglass, South Austin) is a legendary taco joint that attracts long line-ups during lunch. They’re only open from 8am-3pm only because they make such good money during these hours. See their website and notice the sheer amount of awards they've won from the city. My most memorable moment at Tacodeli was purchasing a bumper sticker stating, “Please be kind to cyclists” and some Dublin Dr. Pepper which uses sugar cane instead of refined sugar. The taco, I hate to say it, was subpar only because after eating it I realized that I do not like shredded chicken or corn tortillas. But their options are plentiful and won’t disappoint.
What's the deal with Dublin Dr. Pepper? Amazing. Dr. Pepper was invented in Texas.
Magnolia Café (1920 South Congress Avenue). If you are completely and utterly wasted in SoCo, Magnolia Cafe might be a good place to pick up some late-night breakfast food. I had a slice of pecan pie (a southern specialty) and I couldn’t complain. It’s got a diner feel and attracts all sorts of Austin’s weirdos. More info here.
Shopping, OMG, Shopping
Buffalo Exchange (2904 Guadalupe Street) is a big treat for Canadians heading south of the border. I understand that there are many locations across the states, my favourite so far being in Brooklyn. I did find some great designer items here but they were a little ratty, torn or stained. So much for the BCBG dress and Alex Wang top :( I can always dream though. Anyways, you’re destined to find something grand at Buffalo Exchange.
Cream Vintage (various locations). I couldn’t get over Cream Vintage simply because they are a vintage shop that provides alterations at a cost for all the sweet ill-fitting finds. I respect that in a store. They have three locations, one of which is wholesale open on the first weekend of every month. The website is under construction but you’ll definitely hear about this place.
So many antique stores all over Texas. This one is from Galveston.
Feathers Boutique (1700 B Congress Ave, enter Milton St.) was probably my favourite vintage store of all the thrift and antique stores plaguing Texas with finds such as Salvatore Ferragamo shoes galore and a really unique selection of clothing. They have a blog but don’t forget to check out all the other stores lining SoCo. You won’t be disappointed. They ship internationally, too!
Expect a hearty collection of cowboy hats and boots in all parts of Texas.
If you’re visiting Austin for thrift stores, see the Vintage Around Town Guide which you can find in selected stores or online. A map for printing is available.
TIPS for Going Out
Honestly, living in Austin must be exhausting if you’re going to go out on 6th street all the time. But from a tourist’s perspective, it really is a place you have to experience as a visitor.
Red River street is home to many venues like Emo's and Stubb's. Sadly, I missed Drake at Stubb's :( Sold out show!
Shangri’la (1016 East 6th Street) is a little hidden joint out of the way from the major 6th street establishments. I spent my time there chugging PBR’s like a poorboy and listening to hip-hop which was actually amazingly good. Shangri has a huge patio, grass, benches, and a roof that is really, really, really tempting to jump on. There’s probably a pool table downstairs. All in all, a good experience. Website: Shangri’la Austin.
TIP: Wanna go out in Austin? Pick up flyers! The highlight of my trip to Austin was definitely “Les Artistes: The Revolution”, a fashion and art show taking place at the Scoot Inn (1308 E. 4th street) on a hazy Saturday, May 22nd headed by Austin-woman-in-charge Grace Rogers. All proceeds from the show benefited the Heather Deering Cancer Foundation.
Grace Rogers and Les Artistes: Fashion and Art show
We arrived at what seemed to be a back yard equipped with a DIY runway and a frenzy of local designers prepping their models for the 9 o’clock appearance. It was funky, different, and so freshly Austin. It reminded me of Alternative Fashion Week (F.A.T.) here in Toronto with southern flare. The show included Lindsey Marie White’s recycled designs, Nunca Nunca (also recycled), Melissa Long, and outlandish Aaron Torres. All were impressive. I was happy and glad to see young independent designers living out their dreams.
Images above: Austin's Lindsey Marie White and Nunca Nunca respectively reconstruct vintages garments into one-of-a-kind pieces. Les Artistes Fashion and Art show is a great documentation of this type of craft in Austin.
TIP: Too much to do in Austin? Pre-googling is your best bet. Googling such terms like “Austin indie” or “Austin entertainment” will lead you to a plethora of websites and blogs. Your best bet is to wander around 6th street or Red River street in search of live music. But if you’re a little too organized or you’re looking for just the perfect band to fit your evening, search online in advance at the following event websites:
Do512: What to do in Austin
The Deli Austin
AustinMe: Music and Entertainment
Show List Austin (Great!)
I didn’t expect amazing trails and nature paths in Austin, and I never go to a city without visiting at least one park. Along the river (that goes through Zilker park), you can canoe, kayak and go bat-watching in the evening at South Congress bridge. Yes, bats. There are tons of them in Austin and they seem to be the city's furry little winged mascots.
Hamilton Pool is where its at
Hamilton Pool is a 45 minute drive out from Austin and is highly recommended with one of Texas’s best swimming holes. When was the last time you swam in unpolluted water remotely close to downtown Toronto? This place gets busy on weekends, and rightfully so. On the other side of Hamilton Pool conservation area, there is a river you can walk across with little to no people in the area. The secluded beauty of this place is astounding, and rare. It’s a must-do in Austin. No excuses.
Barton Creek is perfect if you want to sit in the sun with your feet immersed in water. Bring your binoculars for dog-watching.
Barton Creek is in south Austin, not quite downtown but still within Austin city limits (no pun intended). Here you can swim in the river and sit on rocks to sunbathe. Expect a lot of dogs to swim with you, and really nice trails. Unlike Houstonians, whose streets are lined with trees that serve no purpose other than to drive beside, Austinites really love their nature. If you come to Austin and don’t visit this place, I’ll be really. really disappointed in you.