Austin’s unadulterated growth over the past decade has pushed the city from sleepy, slacker icon to one of the nation’s most desirable relocation spots. With growth comes change, and Austin has seen it in the form of both a larger population (now 2 million) and a robust music, food and festival scene.
This creative scene is actually very much seeded in the city’s history — and downtown Austin’s beer-garden craze of the 1800s. These Biergartens, as Austin’s distinctly German population called them, opened their patios to social clubs, sing-alongs and traveling musicians under the glow of Austins famous indigo “violet crown” sunsets. And that festival atmosphere lives strong today in the form of SXSW and Austin City Limits.
You can also get a taste of the community atmosphere in downtown Austin’s live music scene. When you stay at Hotel Indigo Austin Downtown – University — which itself is surrounded by neon lights and soulful sounds — a walk down to the bustling Red River Street is a must. Check out The Mohawk‘s schedule to find some of the country’s best touring indie rock bands along with select local shows. While here, grab a quality whiskey at the well-stocked bar or opt for local beer standards like Hops & Grain‘s Zoe or Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap. If a single bar and music venue won’t suffice, nearby Cheer Up Charlies has food trucks in the courtyard and a constant mix of DJs and live local music.
The cocktail scene also makes for fascinating rambles through the city: a happy hour drink at Half Step on Rainey Street is a solid bet, as is making an advance booth reservation at Dirty Sixth speakeasy Midnight Cowboy — ring the Harry Craddock buzzer on the unmarked door upon arrival. And if secret bars are your thing, head to Garage. Near the corner of 5th and Colorado downtown, you’ll find this craft cocktail gem hidden inside the former valet ticket office in the American National Bank parking garage.
When recovering the following day, be thankful for Austin’s many entrants into the third wave coffee scene. On Congress Avenue downtown, Houndstooth and Caffe Medici both offer coffee from the country’s best roasters, while East Austin’s Brew & Brew and Flat Track are also smart choices.
Many of the city’s iconic associations relate to eating, drinking and the arts, but if you’re a sightseer, there are options beyond the Capitol Building and the UT Tower. In Clarksville’s Baylor Street, visit the HOPE Outdoor Gallery (a graffiti park) for wonderful photo ops and boundless, ever-changing creativity. For more formal modern art, The Contemporary on Congress Avenue offers seasonal exhibitions in the heart of downtown. For outdoor enthusiasts, local favorite Deep Eddy Pool offers 600,000 gallons of brisk freshwater swimming, a sloped lawn for sunbathing and outdoor movies on summer evenings. The fitness-minded can circle the beautiful downtown Lady Bird Lake trail for skyline views and people-watching, and the city’s Violet Crown Trail and Barton Creek Greenbelt also offer hiking and natural Texas beauty for the adventurous.
Before departing, one can’t forget to make a last meal pilgrimage for Texas barbecue — Austin’s pitmasters are heralded as perhaps the best in the country. While you’ll have heard plenty about Franklin Barbecue, lines form at 9 a.m., and waits can exceed four hours. Most locals opt instead for thoroughly delicious (but less press-hyped) choices like East Austin’s Micklethwait Craft Meats or LA Barbecue (note: check operating hours before you go). Both are just a 20-minute walk or quick Uber from downtown, and will offer some of the best barbecue of your life without the lengthy queues.