Ever fallen in love with a place upon arrival? If so, I can relate. Though I’m a native Texan, I usually only traveled to Austin for SXSW and Austin City Limits (ACL). I loved it from the first time I set eyes on it, but that love was offered from afar. Until December 2019, right before the pandemic, when I decided to officially call the “Music Capital of the World” my home.
As a travel and spirits writer weathering a pandemic and resident of the Austin area for a solid year and a half now, I’ve been given the opportunity to experience all of the amazingness the city and surrounding towns have to offer. I’ve sung the praises of Texas whiskey and staycationed in Hill Country. Now I’m eager to share the best of my adopted hometown with out-of-state tourists.
Some good news way up front: Approximately 48% percent of Travis County’s residents are fully vaccinated, with Austin proper boasting even higher rates. Although this doesn’t give us the permission to throw caution to the wind (I’ll be still donning a mask indoors), it does mean we can begin to safely enjoy the spaces and hangouts that prompted me to fall under the city’s spell in the first place.
Below, I’ve rounded up some of my recommendations of where you should eat, drink, stay, and play in and around Austin, Texas this summer. This list is merely scratching the surface but if you want to know my personal favorites of ATX, it’s where to start. Let’s dive in and keep things weird!
Where to Eat:
Austin is the “it” spot for BBQ. You can’t come here without eating some barbeque – I don’t make the rules. Downtown Austin’s Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que (the flagship one is in Llano, TX) offers delicious smoked meats such as brisket and ribs. Are you more of an herbivore? No problem. Whether you’re a vegetarian or vegan, Flower Child offers farm-fresh cuisine that’s as healthy as it is yummy. I’m a serious fan of their gluten-free mac and cheese!
About 20-30 minutes outside of Austin, in a town called Pflugerville is the brilliant Taste of Ethiopia restaurant. Their authentic Ethiopian fare includes lamb tibs and goat kikil – I recommend both. And right down the road in the nearby city of Georgetown is the French-inspired Nightingale Bistro. I brunch at this outdoors gem regularly. I specifically enjoy their short rib hash entrée while sipping a Slow Read (Rittenhouse rye, Cynar, and Amaro Nonino).
Where to Drink:
ATX has some the best watering holes, breweries, and coffee shops I’ve ever experienced in the country. Easy Tiger not only serves locally roasted coffee, but they also double as a beer garden with unique craft beers. You’ll need something to munch on while you enjoy your coffee or beer, so be sure to try some of the treats – particularly the bread – from their in-house bakery.
The Tigress Pub reminds me of the show Cheers “where everybody knows your naaaaaaaaame.” It’s a women-owned, neighborhood bar (with a loyal following) located near North Loop and their craft cocktails are excellent. Our city loves a good Tiki cocktail, and this is the place to get it.
Jester King Brewery is not only visually appealing, but it’s also just overall a wonderful experience. It’s a brewery, farm, and eatery! Where else can you enjoy farmhouse ales while frolicking alongside goats?
Mediterranean-inspired restaurant, Aba, is on my list of places I’ll continue to hit this summer because they just unveiled a new seasonal cocktail menu featuring what they call “groupies.” Groupies are big-batch beverages meant to be shared by 4-5 people and are presented in watering cans. Sign me up. Also, I love their Hill Country Old Fashioned that incorporates caramelized fig!
Where to Stay:
I find that the best places to stay are right outside of Austin. However, if you must stay downtown, I highly recommend the posh Proper Hotel. Out of the 244 rooms and suites, some have a view of Austin’s famous Lady Bird Lake. Plus, while you’re lounging at their rooftop pool soaking in the incredible lake views, you can imbibe on one of the venue’s tasty signature margaritas.
Among my favorite places to stay is Sage Hill Inn & Spa, located in the heart of the Texas Hill Country wine region. You can explore the scenery by hiking or biking. The best part is the B&B’s overlook, which is atop a cliffside, 80 feet above Onion Creek. Plus, your stay includes a three-course dinner. The menu is updated seasonally, but if you have the chance to choose their ahi tuna steak – you should!
A funkier gem is Yurtopia – which features a limited number of hilltop yurts – and the recycled shipping container hotel, Flophouze. Each “houze” has a hammock and comfy chairs so you can catch the stunning Round Top, Texas sunrise and sunset.
Where to Play:
After you brunch in Georgetown at the aforementioned Nightingale Bistro, hit Blue Hole Park for an afternoon of hiking and leisure. This Instagram-beloved lagoon is bordered by limestone bluffs along the south fork of the San Gabriel River. Another scenic place for R&R and a swim is Barton Springs Pool. The natural pool is fed from underground springs with an average temperature of 68-70 degrees.
For my friends who want less nature and more shopping, ATX has an array of unique and whimsical thrift shops. Among my faves are Flashback and Room Service Vintage. On the weekends, you can catch some really cool handmade and vintage finds at The Austin Flea. The added perk? The Austin Flea usually sets up camp at breweries or distilleries, so you can drink *and* shop – a potentially dangerous combination, but who’s judging?