Guest writing by Gabriella Go
If you look on any list of the hottest cities in the US for young people/college grads/whatever, you’ll always (ALWAYS) find Austin, Texas near the top of the list.
It’s become quite trendy recently for being a sort of “anti-Texas” city. Where Texas is known for being traditional, conservative, and mostly clean cut, Austin boasts its eclecticism, liberalism, and overall weirdness.
As such, it’s generated quite a bit of buzz, attracting visitors and transplants who come to the city in droves.
I was one such person, who moved to Austin in the fall of 2016.
…and had moved back to California by spring of 2017.
After 6 months, I decided that the place wasn’t for me. That said, I will always acknowledge that Austin is objectively a really cool city, even if it wasn’t the right fit for me at that point of my life.
Next month will mark the 1-year anniversary since I moved out of Austin and returned to California, so it’s no better time to write a guide to Texas’ capital.
Like my guide on Tokyo, the creation of this was due to a friend’s request.
A girl who went to college with me (and is still one of my biggest crushes) asked me for some recommendations for an upcoming visit.
So I decided to make a guide in case anyone else was curious on what to do in the best city in Texas (even though I haven’t been to any others).
So without further delay, let’s get to it:
Where to Stay
Stay as close as possible to either Downtown or South Congress. The reason why is that most of Austin’s attractions are within a 2-mile radius of these places.
Lyft and Uber have both returned to Austin since my departure, too, so you can get to everything pretty quick if you’re near these two places.
They’re also both quite lively, which is important since places in Austin are either buzzing or completely desserted.
Like many other things in Austin, the public transportation is years behind other metro cities in the US.
But if you absolutely have to stay outside of the Downtown/South Congress area, there is a handy metro that runs up and down the city.
It’ll get you where you’re going, and at a decent price ($8 for a day pass if memory serves correctly) but at the heavy expense of your time.
I assume that you’re probably not planning on staying in Austin very long (at least I’d hope not), so I’d bite the bullet and stay closer to the center.
When I moved to Austin, I lived waaaaaaaay far north to save some money. It was a decision that I’m 100% sure led to my mostly negative experience. There’s some pretty cool stuff in this city, but I was just too far to take advantage of most of it.
But no use crying over spilled milk. Let’s move on.
How to Dress
If you’re from California (and NOT from Fresno, Bakersfield, Modesto, or Stockton), you can pretty much out-dress most people in Austin without trying too hard.
Now I know that there’s definitely a trendy/hipster/faux artsy community in Austin who dress quite well, and that there are a lot of other fashionista transplants who know when to rock a summer hat.
But here’s what I’d like everyone to know about Austin: no matter how hipster or “weird” or progressive people seem to love labeling it, it’s still in fucking Texas.
As such, the whole “Loose jeans/flip flops/Target shirt/faded trucker hat” look is still very much a thing here. Like…a thing that people wear on Saturday nights while going out.
Just think about that for a second.
That’s where the bar is set here. So have fun turning heads because you’re wearing a bomber jacket from Marshall’s.
One of Austin’s most unique attractions is the bat colony located under the Congress bridge.
And for good reason, too, since it’s the largest urban bat colony in the entire fucking world.
Every night around sunset, the Bats will all fly out from under the bridge in search of food.
However, keep in mind that your experience will differ depending on a variety of factors like weather, season, time, and so on.
So it can be really cool, or really disappointing.
When I finally saw it during my last week, I was treated to the sight of one or two bats flying out every 30 seconds or so. Clearly not the climactic event everyone made it out to be.
But it’s one of the most iconic aspects of the city, so it behooves you to check it out while you’re there.
There’s actually a number you can call to get the skinny on what time to show up:
Live music is everywhere in Austin. It’s “The Music Capital of the World”, after all.
I wouldn’t be surprised if I went into a dentist appointment with some dude playing a Xylophone in the corner.
It’s actually pretty cool to have this kind of ambient noise as you walk the streets or enjoy a meal.
However, I found that it can get pretty annoying sometimes, especially when you’re actually trying to have a conversation with someone only to get constantly drowned out by Dickhead McGee’s sloppy bass playing.
It’s still great in short doses, though, and it isn’t hard to find.
This is where you should go if you wanna experience the “weird” aspect of Austin that people never shut up about.
You’ll quickly find that it’s about half as weird as Portland and ⅓ as weird as SF’s Mission District, but that’s okay. It’s Texas, remember?
Anyway, there are some really fun shops in this area and some nice treats (more on this later) to eat all within relatively close-quarters.
You probably won’t need to spend much more than 2 or 3 hours here, but it’s time well spent.
I have mixed feelings about The Domain.
If you don’t know, The Domain is a new-ish area that’s located in Northern Austin. It’s generally viewed as a less-turbulent alternative to Downtown.
On one hand, it’s a pretty chill place with ample parking→ a huge plus compared to DT. It’s also home to Rock Rose Avenue, which a street with some cool places like Culinary Dropout and Kung Fu Saloon.
There’s also this great brunch place called Park, which serves $1 mimosas on Sunday. You’re welcome.
But on the other, the place overall is a bit…bland. At least, when compared to all the hype it gets, anyway.
All the shops are places you’ve been before, and most of the people wandering around are pretty generic and unremarkable.
This trend continues into the night, too.
On weekends, most of Rock Rose is full of older boring people who are having “a few drinks”, visitors wondering what all the hype is about, and Austinites who regret not going to 6th street.
Like, you’ll have a decent time here, but there it lacks the personality and flavor that other Austin options have.
If it’s really out of your way to go here during your stay, I’d skip it.
Lady Bird Lake
The subject of every Austin postcard ever.
Don’t worry→ this acclaim is actually warranted.
Town Lake (called “Lady Bird Lake” by exactly 3 people) is a beautiful place to take a relaxing stroll.
Dogs and families run amok, which gives the place a very disarming and warm vibe.
…Unless you’re a big buff shirtless black dude who comes running by in sweaty, glistening beauty that causes Whites to stare so bad that their head nearly turns 180 degrees as you run by because a Black person is such a rare sight in Austin.
I’m gonna go ahead and guess that you’re not a buff Black dude though (hi Altif), so I think you’d enjoy the ambiance there.
Town Lake is also right in the middle of, well, the town, so you can take a stroll to walk off some food, or to cap off the night, or even to start the day as you head to South Congress or something.
It’s a great aspect of Austin, and one of the few that I dearly miss.
When most people talk about 6th street, they’re usually referring to “Dirty” 6th, which is on the eastern side.
But there’s actually two parts to 6th street (three if you count East 6th, but nobody cares about that) that are distinctly different from one another, so I’m going to describe them both so you know what to expect.
West 6th Street
Running from South Lamar to Congress, West 6th is what you’d expect a typical Downtown area to be like.
There’s techno music, people in their 30s (ew), crowded bars, overpriced cocktails, and lots of Whites.
That said, there are some pretty cool places to go at night, like…uhm….well….uhhh…I guess Dogwood is decent?
Yeah, I don’t know. I think most people only go to West 6th if they’re older or need a break from Dirty.
But you didn’t come to Austin to take a break. You came for…
“Dirty” 6th Street
I’m just going to come out and say it.
You can have your Logan Squares, West Hollywoods, Polk Streets, Gaslamp Districts, and DTSJs.
I’ve never been to South Beach or Bourbon Street, though, so my perspective might be a bit lacking.
But when it comes to nightlife, Dirty 6th is the best place I’ve been to in the entire US→ and maybe even the world.
The entire street is blocked off every Friday and Saturday night, giving people easy access to dozens of bars, clubs, and restaurants.
And here’s the best part: 99% of them don’t have covers. So you can just pop in and out of places all the way down the street until you find something that fits your vibe.
Don’t let the negative connotation of its name deter you: There’s really something for everyone on Dirty 6th.
There’s dive bars, lounges, restaurants, live music, an Alamo Drafthouse movie theater, pizza stands, religious zealots telling you you’re going to Hell, clubs, Hip-Hop, Country, Latin music, $3 Long Islands, and fights.
Lots of fights.
The unfortunate “Dirty” nickname was probably just a Republican translation for “Wild AF”.
And it is wild. Like, “getting your shirt ripped off by an Asian American bridesmaid party from SoCal” wild.
Not that I would know.
Anyway, if you do nothing else during your stay, spend a night on Dirty 6th.
Zilker Park is a huge grass area located in South Austin, with a fantastic view of the town’s downtown area.
People come here to play sports, picnic, throw birthday parties, or just to enjoy the day.
It’s like Austin’s version of Dolores Park→ except it doesn’t have the hill that makes you feel like part of a large community.
Instead, it just feels like you’re sitting on the floor.
Because you are.
But hey, they’re trying their best, right?
Oh, and Zilker Park is where the Austin City Limits music festival is held. You can bury your alcohol here ahead of time and dig it up during the festival.
Barton Springs Pool
Unfortunately, I skipped town before the Spring and Summer seasons, so I never really go to experience a day at Barton Springs.
Barton Springs is an outdoor pool located in Zilker Park, and is where all kinds of people come out to enjoy a day in the water.
If weather permits, I’d highly recommend buying a floatie and heading down there.
Despite being in Texas and all, Austin is still a relatively fit city, so I’d imagine Barton Springs being a place for people to show off their gains.
That said, on the flipside, it’s still TEXAS, so don’t get your expectations too high. Don’t go out there thinking people are going to look like they do in Santa Monica or Miami.
Think more like….Sacramento. They’re decent, right?
Rainey Street is…okay.
It’s made up of old houses that have been converted into bars and restaurants. It’s actually a really cool and unique concept…until you realize that most of the bars are very similar to one another.
They all serve the same type of craft beer that is neither overwhelmingly unique or relatively affordable.
Banger’s is a really popular brunch spot, but everyone else in Austin also thinks that, so I’d expect a bit of a line if I were you.
There are other food trucks scattered around a central lot that are pretty fun, too. And some of them even accept card! Take that, Portland.
But even then, somebody visiting from the West Coast will find that the novelty of Rainey wears off pretty quickly.
We’ve seen food trucks before, and craft beer before, but we’d at least expect it to cost less in Austin, right?
Well, it doesn’t.
The fact that Rainey Street itself is quite short doesn’t exactly help, either.
Worth a visit just to say you were there, but I definitely wouldn’t plan a day around it.
It’s probably best to start here with boozy brunch before venturing elsewhere.
Located on Baylor and 12th, Graffiti Park is a street block that is covered end-to-end with great street art.
Or at least, it used to be.
According to my Texan wife, Dr. Gabriella Go, only approved artists were previously allowed to tag up Graffiti Park.
However, the restriction was eventually lifted and drawing rights were expanded to include the general public.
This led to the current saturation of terrible designs and even worse attempts at artsy Instagram photo…like the one I took when I went (hee-hee).
That said, it’s still a fun place to go, as the wide range of drawings and people will ensure that you’ll never run out of conversation topics.
Apparently, Graffiti Park is closing/getting relocated soon. So you’d better get going, kiddies.
Places To Eat
Okay, so i don’t actually like talking about food that much. I think that traveling is all-too-often reduced to culinary escapades by our current generation.
However, I have the sneaking suspicion that food recommendations are the only reason why some of you are here.
I’m not above giving the people what they want, so here’s a small lightning round of Austin staples that I’ve tried before.
Since I couldn’t cover THAT much ground in 6 months, I’m getting some help from my Texas expert, Gabriella Go.
She attended UT for 4 years, and now goes to medical school in Houston.
As such, I’ll refer to her as “Dr. Go” now since it has less syllables.
A taco chain loved by everyone besides actual Austinites.
Most of the disdain comes from it being a chain, though, as opposed to its actual quality.
Its menu features a wide variety of unique combinations, and the tacos can be quite filling.
It’s on the expensive side ($5 a taco in some cases), but well worth at least one visit.
If you miss out on your visit to Austin→ never fear. There are also Torchy’s in Colorado and Oklahoma…although I don’t why the fuck you’d ever go to either of those.
Dr. Go once described this place to me in an email, so I’ll cheat by putting what she said here:
“I think the OG is in New York, but we’ll take what we can get in Texas. This place is
one of my quick go to restaurants. I always get the gyro or the falafel.”
Sure enough, when we went to Halal Bros together, she got the gyro and falafel.
I’ve only been to it twice, but believe me→ Gourdough’s is fucking amazing.
They specialize in Donut-related dishes, including mountains of toppings piled on old favorites and donut hamburgers.
There are two sit down locations in Downtown (with occasional live music) and South Lamar, and a food truck somewhere also.
Give it a shot, but make sure you’ve eaten lightly before, because the food is fucking heavy.
Easily the most popular food place in Austin→ and it’s not even close.
It’s been featured on multiples TV shows, won several awards, and on numerous occasions has been ranked as the best BBQ place in all of Texas.
The. Best. BBQ. In. Texas.
That’s a big freakin’ deal.
The line forms as early as 6:30am on weekends, even though the restaurant itself doesn’t open until 11am.
Don’t try to come right before closing, either. The shop makes a huge batch of meat every morning, and once it’s all sold, they close.
Expect to drop around $40 for the full experience, but trust me→ it is WELL worth it.
Franklin’s is an absolute staple, and something everyone should try at least once.
“THE taco place that everyone will tell you about (unless they’re basic – then they’ll say Torchy’s).
The types of tacos they sell aren’t especially unique, but they’re damn good (oops, stole Torchy’s slogan). If you’re looking for greasy, filling tacos, this is the place. It’s always
packed with college students, but it’s worth it. I would advise one of their breakfast tacos and a
“street taco”, but the mole is also good.”
Feel like spending your entire budget on some pretty-decent sushi?
If so, then Uchi is the place for you.
It’s expensive. Like, “$$$” on Yelp expensive.
However, I figured this is because good sushi can be quite rare in the Southwest.
If you’re from the West Coast (or anywhere near Japan, I guess), then it’s okay to skip this place and opt for something more cost-effective when you return.
Your bank account will thank you.
Gus’s Famous Fried Chicken
“No frills, no health benefits. Just solid fried chicken with a little kick.
It didn’t start in Austin, but Austinites will swear by it.”
I’ve had a rather tumultuous relationship with Ramen Tatsu-ya.
I first tried it a mere 4 months after my trip to Japan→ where I had ramen damn near every night.
As such, my standards for good ramen were astronomically high, so I despised Tatsu-ya when I tried it.
Everything about it pissed me off, from the order-before-sitting style, to the skinny Top Ramen noodles, and even (unfortunately) the fact that some White dude in thick glasses was taking my order.
But after a few more months, I remembered how terrible most American ramen is, and how good Ramen Tatsu-ya is by comparison.
Even now, living in the Bay Area for almost a year, I still wouldn’t mind having Tatsu-ya right now.
So I’d check it out if I were you. Just be ready to wait in line.
For, like, a LONG time.
Hopdoddy Burger Bar
Hopdoddy started in Austin and continues to be one of the city’s most popular (and best) restaurants.
It has what you’d typically expect from a chic burger place: long lines, local craft beer, and a meal spending minimum that hovers around $15.
But unlike most chic burger places, Hopdoddy is actually good. Like, REALLY good.
Any frustration you might have from the long wait will be immediately erased by just how incredibly delicious their burgers are.
Pro Tip: The location on Anderson Lane is much less crowded than the other two.
And if you’re reading this guide, but don’t plan on visiting Austin soon→ never fear. There are a few locations in Southern California, also .
So yeah, big A+ for Hopdoddy.
“While Franklin’s is the classic Austin barbecue pit stop (and by pit stop, I mean the exact opposite because you have to commit a whole day to waiting in line), the Live Music Capital of the World has many other options.
La Barbecue is owned and run by LeAnn Mueller, the sister of John Mueller, who trained Aaron Franklin (who started Franklin’s).
That was convoluted, y’all.
It’s located on East 6th, which is a great historic area for restaurants and bars, and is the cleaner side of the infamous 6th street.”
Amy’s Ice Cream
When I first moved to Austin, I was a bit upset at how there wasn’t a Cold Stone, since it’s my favorite ice cream chain.
And then I went to Amy’s.
As much as I love Cold Stone, I’ll be the first to admit that Amy’s is far superior.
Their ice cream selection has more variety with rotating flavors, their topping assortment is almost hilariously wide, and to top it off, they’re even more expensive than Cold Stone.
What more could you want in a place?
Amy’s is another chain that Austinites have gotten sick of, but I’d put it at the top of any visitor’s list.
Texas Chili Parlor
“If you’re a Tarantino fan and like Texas Red Chili (true Texans don’t put beans in their chili), give this dive place a try.
It’s been here since the 70’s, was featured in Death Proof, and serves up some of the best chili in the 512.”
The greatest motherfucking chain restaurant on the face of the earth.
P. Terry’s is basically Austin’s version on In-N-Out, which is kind of funny considering how there’ are several In-N-Outs in Austin.
But not only is P. Terry’s just like In-N-Out: it’s better.
Its service is faster, its prices are lower, its menu is better (breakfast & cookies), AND its ingredients are better.
It even has more fashionable merchandise. I would know–> I own two shirts and a hat (thanks Gabby).
If you still disagree with me, I can only recommend that you go and see for yourself.
And then admit that I’m totally right.
Well, this turned out to be way longer than expected.
I guess I experienced a lot more things in 6 months than I thought.
Especially since it’s been a year since I
I hope this’ll help you have a good time if & when you decide to visit Austin.
Let me know what you think of the place in the comments.
*Special thanks to the following people for helping me put this list together, either by showing me things while in Austin, or just being a great friend:
Shea Writer (Wherever you are)
Cory Rice (I guess)