Welcome to Austin, TX: land of barbecue, keepin’ it weird, and, say what you will about Portland and Brooklyn, beards. Much like our friends to the northwest and northeast, Austin has become a destination city for everyone from young professionals looking to have a fun long weekend to hipsters a’plenty looking to escape the temperatures of the north to set up their long gestating businesses, ranging from importing South American art to rebuilding vintage motorcycles. If you’re looking for a niche, either as a traveler or transplant, you can find it in Texas’ capital city.
With so much to do, see, eat, and drink though, it can be overwhelming planning a visit to Austin, regardless of it being your first time in Texas or your seventh SXSW in a row. With that in mind, we decided to break it down for you by some of the essentials that you’ll be looking for during your trip. Although everyone is a critic in Austin when it comes to where to go out for anything ranging from tapas to tangoing, this list will give you some sure fire building blocks to ensure you have an amazing trip and get to see as much of this beautiful city we call home as you can during your visit in Austin, TX.
How to Get Around Town
Our suggestion: Do as the locals do and rent or borrow a bike.
Once you in arrive in Austin, whether that’s via plane at Austin-Bergstrom airport or by car, you’ll soon realize a few things about getting around the city: the taxis are bad, traffic is considered second worst to only LA in terms of congestion levels, and our public transit system is, to put mildly, limited. Even with all of these factors slowing you down, the most efficient way for any beardsman to get around, weather permitting of course, is by bike.
Austin is a compact city and if you’re only here for a few days there’s a good chance you’ll be staying within a mile or two in any direction of downtown. Traveling by bike is the best way to get a feel for the city and accidentally happen upon any of the best local spots that you’d pass by in a flash in a car. With Austin’s new B-Cycle Program, it’s now easier than ever to stay mobile around town, all while enjoying everything the city has to offer. Of course, for those moments where your destination seems too far away or you’re in no state to be on the road in any capacity, both Uber and Lift have significant presences in Austin to ensure you get around safely and efficiently.
Where to Stay
Our suggestion: There’re hotels and then there’s The Hotel San Jose.
Austin has a wide array of great places to stay, ranging from hidden away Airbnbs to every major chain hotel you can think of, but with new boutique hotels popping up all over town, it’s best to look where it all began: the Hotel San Jose. Run by the same group responsible for Marfa’s El Cosmico, the Hotel San Jose is a staple of cool, idyllic seclusion nestled smack dab in the middle of South Congress, one of Austin’s most bustling strips and tourist attractions.
Equipped with private gardens, a pool fit for a bungalow, and a bar that locals are just as likely to be seen at as the hotel’s guests, this is the perfect spot to recharge and soak up the energy that radiates around the hotel. One part Chateau Marmont and one part Amazonian artist colony, the Hotel San Jose is simply the best place you can lay your head while visiting town.
Where to Shop
It seem like every great city has it’s own local denim shop these days and Austin’s lucky enough to have a few, but in terms of quality of material and service, Traveller Denim can’t be beat. Without reading about it or being told where to look, you’d never stumble upon this gem of a store located a ways east of downtown on Chestnut Avenue, but their hand sewn selvedge jeans truly do speak for themselves. Founded and run by a couple of local denim enthusiasts, Traveller gives each and every customer, including local musician Black Joe Lewis, the attention that one deserves when investing in a real pair of jeans and that alone makes it a can’t miss for us.
Once you’ve procured some new denim, wander down to Helm Boots’ showroom and storefront on East Sixth. Designed locally and produced in Maine, these are, simply put, the finest boots you can buy in Austin. Although the town’s known more for the cowboy variety, Helm Boots are starting to be seen all over town and are even getting championed by local celebs like Paul Qui. Go on and invest in a pair, we know you’ll want to.
Where to Get a Haircut
Our suggestion: For convenience and efficiency, keep things simple and head to the nearest Birds Barbershop. Did we mention the free beer?
Birds is everywhere, it’s an awesome reality that we Austinites get to live with daily. A fairly simple operation, Birds aims to make sure you get your hair cut quickly and correctly, regardless of the barber you’re assigned to (they don’t allow you to request specific employees). However, with six Austin locations, you’ll never be far from getting the trim, fade, or complete change of pace that your hair needs.
Founded by two long time friends, Birds was created as a salon for men and women looking to get an affordable, high quality cut. The geniusness of the company itself was their determination to remove all the fuss from the salon experience and the free Shiner of course didn’t hurt either. The employees are always welcoming and since you’ll be sitting in their chair for as long as it takes to get the look you want, what better time is there to get a local’s recommendations on where to two-step or get late night tacos?
Where to See a Show
Our suggestion: Even with all of the new venues popping up around the city, nothing beats a show at Stubb’s.
Austin, the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World,” has a vast number of concert venues to choose from, ranging from the cavernous drawl of The Parish to the pristine palace that is The Moody Theater, but for our money, nothing beats a night at Stubb’s. Attracting major national acts to their outdoor stage and lesser-known visitors and local bands alike to their indoor space, Stubb’s represents so much of what makes Austin such an amazing place to call home. Regardless of the time of year, when the sun dies down and the shark’s mouth-shaped stage lights up, it’s that exact moment, between Lone Star tallboy number two and three, that you’ll understand why so many who visit Austin end up calling it home at some point.
Where to See a Game
Our suggestion: There’s football and then there’s Texas football. Come worship at the temple that is Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
We know, the University of Texas Longhorns aren’t playing up to the teams of yesteryear at the moment. Believe us, with Baylor and TCU to the north and A&M to the east, every UT fan is well aware of how Charlie Strong’s squad played this year. Yet even with their lackluster record and sustained mediocrity, the stadium that the Longhorns call home is arguably the most Texan place you can visit while in Austin and we mean that in the best way possible.
The stadium, which is named after UT’s famed former coach, sits in the middle of UT’s oddly condensed campus, shining as a beacon of past glories and future triumph. During home games, it also sits at the epicenter of one of the nation’s largest tailgates, a visit of which is all but mandatory for any Austin transplant or visitor during the football season. There are better teams and bigger stadiums, but nowhere in the country does football truly make sense quite like it does at Darrell K. Royal.
Where to Eat
Our suggestion: There are an infinite number of places to have breakfast or brunch in Austin, but for a true look at the mishmash of people that are keepin’ it weird on a daily basis, take a trip to Bouldin Creek Café.
Bouldin Creek Café is a true staple of South Austin, but locals and visitors from all corners of the city flock to it for their funky take on vegetarian fare. You’re just as likely to see an extended family having breakfast at Bouldin Creek as you are a metal band swinging through town for the weekend. With one of the most tattooed and free wheelin’ staffs in town, Bouldin Creek has become home to folks from all walks of life, the only requirement: a hardy appetite.
Additionally, their food is truly top notch. With an incredibly diverse menu, along with a wide selection of beer and wine to chase away last night’s questionable decisions, even the most diehard carnivores can enjoy a meal from the fine folks at Bouldin Creek. It’s hard to order incorrectly, but make sure you at least try some of their tofu scramble, it can change your life.
Our suggestion: No trip to Austin is complete without barbecue, but rather than spend hours waiting in line, swing by Micklethwait Craft Meats to experience the same quality without losing half a day.
Over the past few years, Austin has become a mecca for barbecue enthusiasts with the rise of Franklin Barbecue, La Barbecue, and the return of local legend, John Mueller, but while they receive most of the spotlight, upstart Micklethwait’s Craft Meats has forged its own name for itself by focusing on a constantly rotating menu of homemade sausage and both sides and desserts made from scratch. Oh and their barbecue is f*cking amazing too.
Since Micklethwait is located on a quiet stretch of Rosewood Avenue in East Austin, it hasn’t attracted the same intimidating lines as some of Austin’s other barbecue institutions, but don’t for a second think that it has anything to do with their quality or service, both of which can’t be beat. Make sure you bring a friend, you’re going to want to try everything and, although we’ve all eaten our body weight in barbecue before on more than one occasion, it’s best to share and sample, especially when there are beef ribs involved.
Our suggestion: If there’s one restaurant in Austin that truly represents what it means to be an urban beardsman, it’s definitely Dai Due.
Once a simple supper club and farmers market vendor, Dai Due has evolved into one of the darlings of the Austin dining scene, acting as one part full-scale butcher shop and one part casual fine dining. Owner and head chef Jesse Griffiths believes in sustainable hunting, whole animal butchery, sourcing from local farms whenever possible, and taking the fuss out of both eating out and eating well, making him the poster boy for what’s happening in today’s Austin restaurant world. Did we mention his beard? Yes, he is also the epitome of a beardsman.
Farm to table, utilizing the whole animal, creating a setting reminiscent of a great intimate dinner party, lots of restaurants are using these concepts these days, especially in Austin, but no where executes them in unison as well as Dai Due does. Hopefully you’ll have time to dine at many other incredible dinner spots in town (like Odd Duck, Bufalina, or Contigo for example), but if you only get one shot at an amazing dinner in Austin, visit the kind folks at Dai Due.
Our suggestion: When hunger strikes after a few beers or cocktails, nothing beats Via 313’s delicious take on Detroit-style pizza.
We’ve all been there: it’s late, you’re a little drunk, and you want something cheesy, hot, and tasty. Well, assuming you’re somewhere in the vicinity of Rainey Street or East Sixth, it would be best to follow the seductive scent of Via 313’s signature pizza radiating through the Austin night sky. Similar to Sicilian-style pizza or Chicago deep dish, Via 313 specializes in a style commonly found in and around Detroit: a rectangular pie with cheese cooked to the edged and topped with sauce. We promise you, you want this, you want it bad.
With two locations (and more on the way), you’re never too far from one of Via 313’s locations, especially since they have outposts on two of the most popular weekend night stretches in town, but don’t let drunk eats of lesser quality suck you in. This is what you want after you’ve had you third last drink of the night, we promise and we, along with their beardsman owners, would never steer you wrong.
Where to Drink
Our suggestion: There are a ton of great beer bars in Austin, but in terms of celebrating all things local, no one beats the selection at Craft Pride.
Nestled at the quiet end of Rainey Street, the once chill home to a number of bars built into former houses, is Craft Pride, a beer lover’s outpost with more Texas brews on draft than anywhere else in town. Besides an incredibly knowledgeable staff and the beer-to-go window, Craft Pride offers an oasis from the craziness that has taken over the rest of the street over the past year or two.
Although we encourage you to check out lots of local drinking establishments, to get a good look at all of the beers Austin has to offer, you can spend the afternoon in the backyard of Craft Pride and admire the local guinea fowl that calls the neighboring trees home and indulge in delicious eats from the aforementioned Via 313. Feel free to wander the street, but after you’ve taken the customary walk to the other end and back, head back into Craft Pride and try a Black Thunder from Austin Beerworks or a The One They Call Zoe from Hops & Grain, you’ll be glad you did.
Our suggestion: Cocktails have gotten really overblown in recent years, but for quality drinks, friendly bartenders, and charming intimacy, stop in at Whisler’s.
Whisler’s is located further down East Sixth than any other bar in the mix at the moment and that slight remoteness, coupled with the bar being housed in Rabbit’s, a former neighborhood staple and political meeting ground, creates a feeling, a vibe different than any other place in town. Part elegant garage and part abandoned, haunted mansion, Whisler’s is a truly unique bar in a truly unique city known for truly unique local establishments.
Also, they have one of the few bars in town dedicated solely to mezcal, located above the larger downstairs bar and isolated enough to feel like you’ve left the city behind. Be careful though, once the mezcal starts getting poured, there’s no telling where you’ll end up heading to next, which is truly half the fun of Austin anyway.
Our suggestion: Ride over to Wright Bros. Brew & Brew, get yourself a coffee of your choosing, and spend the morning talking to strangers on the patio. It is (or at least should be) a right of passage.
Austin is a coffee city, maybe not quite on par with the big boys in the northwest, but truly not that far off. Although you can find great coffee shops all over town, the fellas over at Wright Bros. Brew & Brew are serving up coffee of unparalleled quality, along with serving as the meeting place of choice for artists, designers, musicians, and foodies from allover town to converse, drink, ideate, and repeat. Located between a multi-purpose record/clothing/book store/performance space and a yoga studio, there’s quite possibly no place in town where you’ll feel more “Austin-y” and we mean that in the best way possible.
Top Photo by Eric Bandholz