118 of the Best Things To Do in Downtown Austin
In 1839, when Edwin Waller laid out the city, he never envisioned anything like the New Downtown. Here’s a roundup of our favorite places to eat, drink, shop and play.
By Jane Kellogg; Iron Works photo by Lisa Hause Photography; Houndstooth photo by Sean Henry; Searsucker photo by Jayme Reece; Mellow Johnny’s photo by Dave Mead.
The story of downtown Austin begins in 1839, when President Mirabeau B. Lamar (president of the Republic of Texas, that is) tapped Judge Edwin Waller to create the city plan for what was to become the capital city of the new republic. The city’s perimeters, in the village of Waterloo on a bluff just north of the Colorado River, was to stretch 640 acres, meager in size compared to Texas’s previous choice for a capital city, Houston. Many opposed the change—Sam Houston himself argued the area’s remoteness would make it vulnerable to attack—but its beauty, abundant natural resources and central location promised a prime spot for not only a capital, but a downtown marketplace ripe with opportunity.
Waller immediately planned downtown Austin with a 14-block grid in mind, establishing a precedent for the main street, Congress Avenue, early on. One year later the population had grown to 839 people. Over time politicians, artists, entrepreneurs and families began to find their way to this thriving town. Several government buildings, businesses, hotels and saloons began to pop up on the grid. In 1929 the Norwood Tower, called the first skyscraper west of the Mississippi, appeared on the horizon. While that tower still stands, today it is dwarfed in comparison to the 2010 Austonian building, downtown Austin’s current record holder at 53 stories—and the tallest all-residential building west of the Mississippi to boot.
In the past few decades, the number of musicians who call this city home—and the corresponding number of downtown music venues—earned Austin it’s nickname, the Live Music Capital of the World. These creative minds are celebrated by this city’s rapidly growing population, which has swollen to more than 800,000 people according to the most recent census, and it comes as no surprise that ATX is currently ranked as the fastest growing city in America for the third year in a row. In fact, we’ve grown so much that the 512 area code is no longer enough for us: This month 737 joins it in the phone book.
While growth is inevitable, the capital city remains the beautiful heart of Texas. Waller would barely recognize the downtown Austin he planned 174 years ago, and while the landscape of this fine city might have evolved, our attitude toward downtown Austin remains the same: proud of its natural beauty, fiercely defensive of its national reputation, and always, always, always welcoming of change.
The Austin favorite has recently taken the country by storm, opening up movie theaters from coast (San Francisco) to coast (DC), but there’s nothing quite like the original. Plan a girls’ night July 16 to watch 1989 classic Troop Beverly Hills. The Ritz, 320 E. Sixth St., 512.476.1320.
Ballet Austin’s Butler Community School is a favorite for aspiring dancers. This month’s beginner four-week workshops include ballet, modern dance, hip-hop, musical theater and a Hawaiian hula workshop. Not ready to commit? The school regularly hosts free classes and also provides more than 60 drop-in dance and fitness classes (from Bollywood to West African dance) every month, with classes designed for adults, teens and young ones. 501 W. Third St., 512.476.2163.
With sketches, musical numbers and magical illusions, if laughter is the best medicine, Esther’s Follies can cure what ails you. 525 E. Sixth St., 512.320.0553.
This workout is for the truly adventurous at heart. Among a variety of traditional yoga classes, this airy loft space in a renovated historic building on Congress offers aerial yoga—which sounds harder than it actually is. Owner Lydia Michelson-Maverick patiently teaches students of all skill levels. After an hour in the air, you’ll leave feeling truly free. 314 Congress Ave., 512.900.9247.
In the Paramount’s 90-year history, the theater has hosted such legendary acts as The Marx Brothers, Orson Welles, George Carlin and Rodney Dangerfield. A highlight this month is the Summer Classic Film Series: Find your inner inspector Clouseau at this Austin-themed scavenger hunt and showing of The Pink Panther July 20. If chick flicks are more your style, opt for martinis and manicures at the July 15 showing of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. 713 Congress Ave., 512.472.5470.
Rent a rowboat at this dock or enroll in one of their summer camps, classes and lessons for rowing, canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. SUP ATX is next door when you’re ready to go pro and buy your own board—this locally founded company has become the No. 1 paddleboard maker in the world. 1541 W. Cesar Chavez St., 512.467.7799.
The four screens at this locally loved cinema are devoted to independent, documentary and international films you might not otherwise get a chance to see. New must-see releases showing this month include 20 Feet From Stardom and The Way, Way Back. Come early, or even without the intention of seeing a film, as their cocktails and mouthwatering tapas can sometimes leave more of a lasting impression than the films. 434 W. Second St., 512.495.9600.
The home of the Austin Rowing Club, this newly built boathouse at the mouth of Waller Creek, behind the Four Seasons, offers outdoor fitness classes from Power to Perform (512.423.3560), bike rentals from In Motion Bicycles (512.653.6852) and kayak or standup paddleboard rentals from Congress Avenue Kayaks (512.809.8916) by the hour or half-day. Reserve the boathouse for a big event, or come by yourself and enjoy the view from the dock at Alta’s Cafe. It’s a sweet place to enjoy the beauty of the lake while savoring a cup of coffee from people who are fanatic about crafting coffee, not just pouring it from a spigot. 74 Trinity St.
The 10-mile trail hugging the lake shoreline and meandering through the heart of the city is Austin’s crown jewel. The Shoal Creek spoke trail runs north through downtown, an easy lunchtime or after-work activity for commuters. Rent a bike, kayak, paddleboard or canoe and head to the Congress Avenue Bridge at sunset to see the world’s largest urban bat colony take flight. (Hint: You might want to bring an umbrella depending on your vantage point.)
The crowning jewel of the downtown skyline, all roads lead to the capitol building. The magnificent Italian Renaissance–Revival building was completed in 1888. In one of the largest barter transactions of recorded history, the builders of the capitol were paid with more than three-million acres of public land in the Texas panhandle—this tract of land went on to become the world’s largest cattle ranch, the XIT Ranch.
- The capitol rotunda features portraits of every person who has served as president of the Republic of Texas or governor of the State of Texas.
- The capitol has 360,000 square feet of floor space, more than any other state capitol building.
- The building has nearly 400 rooms and more than 900 windows.
- The capitol is 326.6 feet tall, making it almost 15 feet higher than the US Capitol building.
- Admission is free, and self-guided tour information is available. Free 45-minute tours are conducted daily. 112 E. 11th St., 512.305.8400.
This is no ordinary bicycle store—Mellow Johnny’s has become a hotspot for two-wheel-loving Austinites to hang before, during and after a ride. Rent a bike or join up for a group ride, like this month’s Middle of the Road Ride, led by the UT cycling team. 400 Nueces St., 512.473.0222.
The Best Places to Refresh & Relax
We’re in pamper paradise.
Janet St. Paul has worked her magic on the locks of Diane Sawyer, Martha Stewart, Sigourney Weaver and Vanessa Redgrave while building her career in Manhattan’s top hair studios— Kérastase and Frédéric Fekkai. In the past two years she has established roots in Austin with her posh, intimate new salon. Between St. Paul and her teammate, senior stylist Shannon Briggs-Hack, clients can feel confident they’ll leave looking red-carpet ready. 830 W. Third St., Ste. 1136, 512.474.5000.
- Away Spa W Austin, 200 Lavaca St., 512.542.3600.
- Aziz Salon and Day Spa 710 W. Seventh St., 512.476.4131.
- Bella Salon & Spa 1221 W. Sixth St., 512.474.5999.
- Deseo Salon 830 W. Third St., 512.551.2929.
- Luxe Apothetique Salon & Spa 201 W. Second St., 512.215.0282
- Roar 201 E. Fifth St., 512.474.7627.
- Ron King Salon 315 E. Cesar Chavez St., 512.615.1500.
- Solution for Hair 830 W. Third St., 512.374.0022.
- Milk + Honey 100A Guadalupe St., 512.236.1115.
The Live Music Capital of the World takes its moniker seriously with these favorite live-music spots in the center of the city.
- Vibe: A massive space recently overhauled to fit more than 4,400
- Editor’s pick: New Order (7/19)
- Contact: 208 Nueces St., 512.377.1120.
- Vibe: A state-of-the-art theater, home of the longest-running music series in TV history
- Editor’s pick: Gladys Knight (8/2)
- Contact: 310 W. Second St., 512.225.7999.
- Vibe: A 1,000-capacity bar featuring everything from hip-hop and electronic to rock ‘n’ roll
- Editor’s pick: Big Country (7/13)
- Contact: 305 W. Sixth St., 512.476.2100.
- Vibe: A classy jazz lounge with a New York style
- Editor’s pick: Pete Rodriguez Trio (every Saturday)
- Contact: 115 San Jacinto Blvd., 512.649.1253.
- Vibe: Classy bar with shows for a good cause, HAAM
- Editor’s pick: Tje Austin, Ashley Monical and Ben Brajkovich (7/11)
- Contact: 604 Brazos St., 512.391.7121.
- Vibe: Cool jazz in the basement
- Editor’s pick: Ephraim Owens Quintet (7/20)
- Contact: 315 Congress Ave., 512.473.2279.
- Vibe: Fun, loft-like indoor venue pulling in artists nationwide
- Editor’s pick: Blitzen Trapper (7/15)
- Contact: 214 E. Sixth St., 512.473.8381.
- Vibe: Honky-tonk mixed with bluegrass for the modern cowboy
- Editor’s pick: Dickie Lee Erwin (7/24)
- Contact: 610 Nueces St., 512.373.8306.
- Vibe: famous BBQ joint with a knack for tasty tunes
- Editor’s pick: Gospel Brunch: Bells of Joy (7/7)
- Contact: 801 Red River St., 512.480.8341.
Eat + Drink
This hip lounge puts a spin on American fusion cuisine with its tapas-style menu and entrees such as chicken-fried ahi tuna and blackened ribeye Pontchartrain. Enjoy the rooftop patio with a drink fit for a southern belle. 612 W. Sixth St., 512.474.2194.
The understated elegance of this Texas-born steakhouse is distinct in its appreciation for Austin, and the feeling is mutual. Let your night begin out on the patio facing the Colorado River. More than 4,000 bottles greet you in the walk-in wine room—pinpointing sommelier Marc Sauri as perhaps the busiest man in Austin. 111 Lavaca St., 512.474.1776.
Facing busy Congress Avenue, it’s imperative you set your watch to a slower pace behind Annie’s red double doors if you really want to enjoy yourself and your company. Pick up something sweet to-go, or grab a seat and take a moment to relax at one of the eatery’s casual tables. If you’re here for brunch—and you should be—the Full English Breakfast is the best bang for your buck. 319 Congress Ave., 512.472.1884.
Counter-service is the name of the game at this hot breakfast joint set inside a reconverted, hip and cheery house. The line often runs outside the door on Sunday mornings, but the wait is worth it if you’re a bacon connoisseur. 900 W. 10th St., 512.322.9777.
There aren’t many places in Austin where you can enjoy a popover, but the trendy Bonneville offers a Sunday brunch menu with a divine variation, the Popover Eggs Benny—made inhouse and stuffed with sautéed spinach, shaved ham, poached eggs and their mouthwatering hollandaise sauce. For dinner this summer, the clever seasonal menu features a Bubbles and Bugs special, pairing Champagne and seafood every Tuesday. 202 W. Cesar Chavez, 512.428.4643.
Near the convention center just off the Hampton Inn & Suites lobby is this delightful Parisian crêperie. French brother and sister team George Dreyfus and Dominique Dreyfus-Leon make you feel right at home with their savory lunch crêpes and their sweet desserts. Julia Child would approve. 200 San Jacinto Blvd., Ste. A, 512.480.0084.
As the home of the original Mexican martini—Austin’s signature cocktail—Cedar Door’s strong and tasty drinks will sneak up on you…consider yourself warned. With misted fans and a bit of shade, the expansive patio is comfortable even during the peak of summer. Stop in for happy hour for great deals on apps. 201 Brazos St., 512.473.3712.
Perfectly pairing live music seven nights a week with superior cocktails is this large outdoor courtyard, featuring acts from Austin locals, nationally-recognized bands and groovy cover artists. The interior is sleek but the patio is where it’s at—channel your inner Robin Scherbatsky and pick up a cigar at the indoor Ascot Lounge. Don’t miss the hilariously good New Wave– style band The Spazmatics July 3. 208 W. Fourth St., Ste. A1, 512.495.9669.
This Austin institution has been serving carefully prepared French cuisine in a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere for 30 years. Try the prix fixe—it’s worth it. This small and rather intimate restaurant is your best bet in town for a very special occasion, and reservations are a must. 510 Neches St., 512.473.2413.
Indulge in the adventurous seven-course tasting menu of fine American fare at Executive Chef David Bull’s popular downtown venue, Congress. While the menu changes daily, options include the salt and pepper foie gras or the anything-but-traditional beer tartare. Alternatively, the more casual Second Bar + Kitchen offers up a menu for the more traditional gourmand—and an exceptional brunch. Not to be overlooked is the upscale bar food at Bar Congress. Enjoy braised beef shortribs and black truffle grits with anything mixologist Jason Stevens recommends. 200 Congress Ave., 512.827.2760.
Crú offers an intimate little patio for people-watching grape connoisseurs to enjoy their vino. The thoughtfully paired wine flights are a great alternative for the indecisive drinker. Stop in on Thursdays for half-price Champagne, or on Mondays when a pizza comes with any bottle purchase. This isn’t just your run-of-the-mill free pizza: the stone-fired pizzas offer deluxe toppings such as Gorgonzola and white truffle oil. 238 W. Second St., 512.472.9463.
Blending fresh produce for a decade is Austin’s own Daily Juice, offering a delicious, healthy and all-natural alternative to fast food. The folks behind the counter are friendly and can help you navigate the menu if you’re unfamiliar with the power of superfoods. Try the Subliminator. 205 W. Third St., 512.243.6532.
This upscale bar in the Warehouse District is designed in the style of a 1950s airport lounge. Snag a seat on the rooftop deck to really enjoy the stars at night, deep in the heart of Texas. 318 Colorado St., 512.474.4264.
This new local favorite is gaining notoriety for its fresh baked breads sold around town, but its German-style beer garden overlooking Waller Creek is a fun spot for a pretzel or a mixed charcuterie plate to share among friends. 709 E. Sixth St., 512.614.4972.
Fresh seafood (like Parmesan-Crusted Lemon Sole) and premium steaks dominate the menu. But as irresistible as the food might be, the primary reason to choose Eddie V’s is its soulful jazz and blues in the V Lounge. Sundays and Mondays are always jumping with the Kris Kimura Quartet, and coming July 18 is the Kevin Lovejoy Trio. 301 E. Fifth St., 512.472.1860.
Work on your sushi chops this summer and register for Finn & Porter’s Sushi 101 (July 19, $70) inside the Hilton. Sushi chef Triet Huynh will provide hands-on sushi demos, teaching guests how to make their own California and Vegimaki rolls. Afterward sit down to a four-course dinner including a sampling of fresh sushi and sashimi as well as tuna foie gras. 500 E. Fourth St., 512.493.4900.
Across from the Driskill is a hidden bar inside the Firehouse Hostel, with delicious craft cocktails in a relaxed and cozy atmosphere—much classier than the other nearby bars on Sixth Street. For an added mystique there is no sign on the front, so you have to know to look for the red awning. 605 Brazos St., 512.201.2522.
Of course the steaks at Fleming’s go without saying—try the petit filet if all you desire is a small taste. The cheeseburger during happy hour is a steal. Added bonus: the extensive wine list is presented on an iPad, so you can actually learn a bit about your vino choice without drawing attention to your lack of grape knowhow. 320 E. Second St., 512.457.1500.
There’s a dog for every gourmand in this centrally located hotspot—from vegan dogs on gluten-free buns to loaded dogs like The Notorious P.I.G., a pork, bacon, jalapeño and sage sausage topped with mac ‘n’ cheese and Dr. Doppelgänger BBQ sauce. All Frank sausages are made in-house or made locally just for Frank from Hudson Sausage Co. 407 Colorado St., 512.494.6916.
This iconic Austin pizza joint should be on speed-dial for their consistently good Sicilian family recipes, pleasing our palette since 1994. You can’t go wrong with the popular Chairman of the Board pie, with mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, red onion, green bell pepper, mushroom and Pecorino Romano cheese. 508 West Ave., 512.472.3534.
The restaurant masterminds behind Lamberts, Perla’s and Elizabeth St. Café debuted Fresa’s last year. This restaurant might have a drive-thru, but this isn’t your typical fast-food fare—locally raised chicken from Vital Farms is grilled slow over hardwood charcoal, and marinated in either achiote and freshly squeezed citrus or fresh oregano and cracked pepper. The fresh tortas are worthy of your tastebuds. 915 N. Lamar Blvd., 512.428.5077.
David Garrido knows Mexican food. With a background in high-end restaurants, the self-taught chef uses traditional Mexican cooking techniques combined with some French techniques he learned along the way. Don’t skip the Brisket Morita Chile Queso Fundido. 360 Nueces St., Ste. 10F, 512.320.8226.
It doesn’t get more Austin than Iron Works’ brisket and sausages. This cafeteria-style hangout near the Austin Convention Center is worth the wait. 100 Red River St., 512.478.4855.
This unassuming burger joint has been around for several decades, and it’s still going strong. Whether you want your burger with bacon and cheese or jalapenos, you’ve come to the right place. 807 W. Sixth St., 512.472.0693.
James Beard Award–nominated La Condesa has set the new precedent for modern Mexican cuisine. Overseen by award-winner Nate Wales, the craft cocktail list includes favorites like the passionfruit and mango spiced margarita. It also totes Austin’s largest selection of premium tequila, including more than 100 varieties of 100 percent blue agave. Head upstairs to Malverde, an indoor/outdoor lounge with live music, open to the public only on weekend nights. 400 W. Second St., 512.499.0300.
This narrow Italian bistro is reminiscent of the finer ones in New York City. The way patrons rave about the Spaghetti alla Carbonara and the Spaghetti alla Bolognese, they might have the best homemade noodles outside of Italy. And the beef carpaccio is unlike anything anywhere else—the appetizer’s combination of truffle oil and pine nuts will have you unwilling to share. 314 Congress Ave., 512.479.8131.
Inventive barbecue dominates the menu here, including house-made charcuterie using local ingredients. The natural black Angus filet will leave you spellbound. What really makes this restaurant stand out is its live music calendar. Don’t miss local bands Wiretree, the Lennings and Grand Marais July 19. 401 W. Second St., 512.494.1500.
This Spanish small-plate restaurant close to ACL is big on variety. Share a few tapas among the table, like the popular Queso de Cabra Frito con Miel (delicately fried goat cheese cakes) and the Lomo a la Plancha (seared petit beef served with roasted garlic aioli and fresh-baked pita). 440 W. Second St., 512.236.8020.
Distinct from Austin’s usual Tex-Mex fare, Manuel’s is well-known for what it calls “regional Mexican cooking”—a more purist approach to the cuisine of our neighbor to the south. Wash down the Chile Relleno en Nogada, which is baked and much less greasy than its usual fried competition, with their signature margarita. Sunday brunch is a festive affair with Mexican mimosas and live jazz. 310 Congress Ave., 512.472.7555.
Max’s stands out among other wine programs for its unpretentious attitude and comfort-food pairings. The fried chicken sliders are a must, as is one of the best burgers in Texas, the signature Angus beef burger, blending short rib, brisket, chuck and beef belly. Don’t forget to congratulate chef Erica Beneke on her recent Food Network Chopped win. End your night here—Max’s reverse happy hour means the best drink deals are saved for late-night patrons. 207 San Jacinto St., 512.904.0111.
In an unassuming building under the guise of an Asian modeling and massage studio lies one of Sixth Street’s best-kept secrets. The more expensive cost to these tableside-mixed cocktails is made up for in the bar’s by-appointment-only rule, weeding out crowds and making a night on dirty Sixth tolerable. 313 E. Sixth St., 512.843.2715.
Simple but savory food is the name of the game at Moonshine, known around these parts for their Sunday brunch buffet. Strong margaritas and inventive dishes like the beer-battered asparagus will set you up for a good day. No meal is complete here without either the peanut butter mousse pie or the white chocolate bread pudding, served with raisins and bourbon sauce. 303 Red River St., 512.236.9599.
A carefully selected wine list of more than 100 bottles sourced from the world’s top grape regions focuses Mulberry patrons on the finer things in life. Delicious, simple and locally grown flavors dominate Executive Chef Kristine Kittrell’s seasonal menu, and the shrimp and polenta with red chili butter wine sauce gets our vote for your brunch fix. 360 Nueces St., Ste. 20E, 512.320.0297.
Sometimes the best things come in small packages. This quaint, two-story restaurant delivers fine fare and fantastic drinks, especially the Empress of India with white peach puree. Overall, Shawn Kerkiel’s menu is limited but it changes quite regularly. You can always count on his gastronomic creativity—and a great selection of oysters. 301 E. Sixth St., 512.474.9898.
Cocktail connoisseurs have a home at Péché, Austin’s first and only absinthe bar that is revolutionizing the local spirits scene with 15 varieties of the potent liquor on the menu. And the European-style dishes coming out of the kitchen do not disappoint, with new specials announced daily. 208 W. Fourth St., Ste. A2, 512.495.9669.
Restaurateur Kevin Williamson’s South Texas restaurant features an unusual menu (frog legs anyone?) and a great place to take out-of-town guests for a true Austin experience. As far as libations go, their specialty is tequila—be prepared to expand your spirits palate with their wide selection including Ilegal Mezcal Reposado and Corzo Añejo. 616 Nueces St., 512.479.7616.
This is an easygoing place that mixes classic cuisine and Old West aesthetics. Open-flame grilling and wood-oven roasting contribute to the taste. If you’re a burger lover, try the two-handed juicy “big ass” burger. No meal is complete without the kettle of green chili pork. 701 Congress Ave., 512.583.0000.
Austin finally has a proper Russian restaurant with the less-than-a-year-old Russian House. A standout on the stiff list of more than 75 house-infused vodkas is the elderflower and orange vodka, which is smooth and infused with just the right touch of flavor. The dishes taste like they’re coming straight from Babushka’s house, though in reality your tastebuds can thank Executive Chef Vladimir Gribkov. 307 E. Fifth St., 512.428.5442.
Live music rings through this steakhouse nightly. This month, we recommend listening to Mario Castellanos, performing every Thursday night. Pair good jazz with happy hour prices—from 5 p.m. all the way until closing time—and you’ve got a winning combination for an affordable evening downtown. 300 Colorado St., Ste. 200, 512.495.6504.
Award-winning sommelier Mark Sayre considers Trio’s contemporary surf and turf with his extensive 250-bottle selection. Dine outside on the lush patio overlooking Town Lake. Until the end of August, the Trio for Paws prix fixe support the Austin Humane Society, Austin Pets Alive! and Emancipet. Reservations are recommended if you’re seeking their legendary Sunday brunch buffet or the special all- American brunch July 4. 98 San Jacinto Blvd., 512.685.8300.
Specializing in fresh-catch seafood and stone crabs, Truluck’s is truly the best place to get seafood downtown. The crab claws are perfect for a hot July evening, and even though it’s known for its crustaceans, the steak ain’t bad either. The date-night menu makes every night special, as does their happy hour, and the impeccable service is hard to beat. 400 Colorado St., 512. 482. 9000.
Whether you’re a fan of the football player or not, Vince Young Steakhouse treats its patrons just like they would the patron saint of Longhorn football. Order Young’s favorite, The Perfect Ten, which is grassfed kaushi beef from Yoakum, Texas—though the real star of the meal is the bacon mac and cheese. Let the in-house sommelier pick out a bottle for you, or head to the bar and lounge to enjoy a fine cigar or a rare Scotch. 301 San Jacinto Blvd., 512.457.8325.
New Kid on the Block: Searsucker
Now open—again—is cheflebrity Brian Malarkey’s playful downtown eatery. The new joint had a hiccup last month after a kitchen fire shut it down just a week after the soft launch, but at least they had a good attitude about the situation…the former Top Chef contestant joked, “I told you we’d be hot in Austin.”
The third location of his hotspot restaurant took over the airy 7,000-square-foot room formerly occupied by Maria Maria and converted it into a contemporary green space that can only fairly be described as “ranch chic.” Check out their Butt—the dinner menu’s aptly named braised pork butt dish—tender, juicy and served on a divine bed of bacon emulsion and grilled white peaches. Genius.
The party goes on after dinner, when a DJ and late-night bites go with their fresh cocktails— we recommend the savory Peter Rabbit or the sweet Skinny Jenny. And when you wake up the next morning, battle the haze of Saturday night’s revelry with Sunday brunch: With promises of a hearty two-hand burger and green eggs and ham, we predict Searsucker will be the next hot-ticket brunch table in town. 415 Colorado St., 512.394.8000.
For a chill afternoon at the park or by the lake, walk over to these spots and set yourself up for a fine picnic.
This might be the most important stop on your quest for the perfect picnic. For 23 years, the Austin Wine Merchant has been making oenophiles out of customers with their innate ability for food pairings. Owner John Roenigk also believes that if he gets a good deal on a wine, the savings should be passed along to his customers—what a concept. Wednesday and Saturday afternoons are the ideal time to drop in (two words: wine tastings). 512 W. Sixth St., 512.499.0512.
The downtown hub of the Sustainable Food Center’s growers-only farmers market is the easiest way for locavores to eat fresh at a fraction of the cost. And while plenty of vendors turn out with their produce every Saturday, the spacious Republic Square still has oodles of green space and a spacious deck with shady live oaks, so feel free to stay put and dig into your purchase right on the spot. Republic Square Park, 400 W. Guadalupe St., 512.236.0074.
This grocer might be small in size but it makes up for it in what it offers. Austin’s highbrow version of a New York City bodega, it’s convenient for a pit stop but also offers hard-to-find and only-in-this-city delicacies. Due to popular demand, another Royal Blue is popping up downtown this October, at Third and Brazos Streets. 609 Congress Ave., 512.469.5888; 360 Nueces St., Suite 90 A-1, 512.476.5700.
Snap Kitchen’s satellite take-out joint lives up to its slogan (“great ingredients, sensible portions”) by providing downtowners with a quick and healthy lunch to-go. Housed in a recycled green shipping container, Snap POD offers nutrition for every diet, including paleo, gluten-free and vegetarian. Take a grab-and-go salad or a hearty meal like the bison quinoa hash for a green goddess picnic. 501 Congress Ave., 512.459.9000.
After selecting a nice bottle of wine at Austin Wine Merchant, cross the street and order sandwiches to go at Sandra Bullock’s quaint general store (Sandy’s popular French-inspired restaurant, Bess Bistro, is also a neighbor). Pick up some sweet snacks for yourself, some treats for your pup or flowers for your lady friends—the floral arrangements available here really are quite nice. 609 W. Sixth St., 512.542.3380.
Austin’s pride and joy, the flagship location of this worldwide sensation is a one-stop shop for picnics and much, much more. Unlike most grocery stores, its 80,000 square feet not only includes organic and local produce, but also a restaurant and a bar worthy of visiting on its own. The bakery, wine aisle and charcuterie selections are all you need for your picnic needs, and the picnic tables up on the roof offer a pleasant stopping point. 525 Lamar Blvd., 512.476.1206.
Spill the Beans
The finest coffee grinds to help you through the daily grind.
A java gem is hidden in the Bank of America building. It’s a window-service shop in a corporate office building, so don’t bring your laptop expecting to hang around like Brian’s competitor coffee shops. But the attention to detail given to these brews (Homemade whip! Woodfired roasted coffee!) makes it worth the effort. Try the Summermoon latte and you won’t be disappointed. 515 Congress Ave., Ste. 135, 512.738.7713.
- Austin Java 301 W. Second St., 512.481.9400.
- Caffe Medici 200 Congress Ave., Suite 2B, 512.827.2770.
- Halcyon 218 W. Fourth St., 512.472.9637.
- Houndstooth Coffee 401 Congress Ave., Ste. 100C, 512.394.6051
- Java Jive on Fifth Hilton, 500 E. Fourth St., 512.493.4902.
- Jo’s Hot Coffee 242 W. Second St., 512.469.9003.
- Juan Pelota Cafe Mellow Johnny’s, 400 Nueces St., 512.473.0222.
There are more than 6,000 rooms to choose from among a variety of amenity-ridden hotels downtown, yet it is only a stay at the historic Driskill hotel that provides hospitality worthy of your conversation. Sure, chain hotels offer membership rewards, a familiar name in an unfamiliar place and a manufactured sort of posh. But the Driskill has always been noteworthy for the tales told between its intricately painted walls and underneath its grand stained-glass dome. In 1886, when cattle baron Colonel Jesse Driskill announced his plans to open the finest hotel south of St. Louis, his $400,000 investment didn’t immediately pay off. Within two years he was forced to sell, and he died shortly afterward, never seeing his dream prosper. Over the years, several owners and managers would play a part in the Driskill’s history, but the hotel’s reputation for luxury never dissipated.
As one romantic story goes, one September 1934 morning then future president Lyndon B. Johnson met a recent UT journalism grad, Claudia Taylor, for breakfast at what is now the Driskill Grill—the first date went so well that he proposed to her later that day. Claudia has been written into history as Lady Bird, and together they hosted several campaign parties at 604 Brazos Street, including LBJ’s presidential election watch party 30 years later. The Driskill honors the couple with the LBJ Suite, palatial digs with a balcony overlooking Sixth Street.
Each of The Driskill’s 189 rooms have been restored to reflect their original beauty, updated with amenities such as custom beds and plush linens. In March, Hyatt acquired the historic hotel for $85 million, and while it remains the same revered historic entity, it now features perhaps the only thing it was missing for guests of the 21st century: a modern reservation system and hotel rewards under the umbrella of a leading international brand. 604 Brazos St., 512.474.5911, driskillhotel.com
Inside the Driskill
1886 Café & Bakery This charming café is known for its Texas comfort food and its legendary brunch fare. If you have a sweet tooth it’s hard to ignore the breakfast pastries, moist chocolate cake or the fresh-baked cookies. 116 Sixth St., 512.391.7066.
Driskill Grill While the menu changes daily, the Driskill Grill remains Austin’s best since 1929. The menu goes back to the Driskill’s cattle baron roots, focusing on prime Texas beef. Try the farm-totable five-course tasting menu. 604 Brazos St., 512.391.7121.
Opened in 1970, Texas’s leading independent bookstore has been voted the best bookstore in Austin for more than 15 years. With 300 events or more every year, BookPeople has hosted former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. This month come meet Justin Bieber’s mom, Pattie Millette, with a signing July 16, as well as the Tipsy Texan David Alan July 31. 603 Lamar Blvd., 512.472.5050.
There’s nothing cookie-cutter about the accessories at Eliza Page. With a variety of high-end baubles from local designers as well as a hefty selection of jewelry priced less than $100, it appeals to every customer and occasion. Sign up for the email list to get insider deets on upcoming trunk shows, sales and in-store celebrations. 229 W. Second St., 512.474.6500.
Fragrance connoisseurs can take delight in this niche shop. While they specialize in wet shaving, owners Jean and Charles Roberts carry hard-to-find French perfumes and blends, helping Austinites to smell their best for more than 20 years. 600 Congress Ave., Ste. G210, 512.441.3833.
Spanish for style, this boutique carries everything from casual to cocktail featuring designers from all over the world including Parker, Ted Baker, Jay Godfrey and Austin’s own accessory queen Kendra Scott. Book a private appointment for a personalized shopping experience, or reserve the boutique for a night for a Champagne-catered shopping spree. 234 W. Second St., 512.236.0488.
This feminine fashion house in the Second Street District carries luxe clothes, shoes and accessories from labels such as Joie, Charles Henry and Elizabeth & James. The store’s chandeliers and overly helpful staff make for a glamorous shopping spree. 250 W. Second St., 512.322.0501.
Hat’s off to this modern take on a classic fashion statement. Pick up a colorful floppy sun hat, a cloche for a decidedly ’20s look, or a fascinator for a royal accessory. Whatever your choice of headgear, owner Lauri Turner’s haberdashery has it. 115 E. Sixth St., Ste. N, 512.476.1203.
Pick up a perfectly boho summer dress at this posh boutique. Featuring designers Tracy Reese, Free People and French Connection, this New Orleans original aims to get customers noticed in trendy patterns and accessories. Follow them on Facebook for more info on upcoming trunk shows and end-of-season sales. 233 W. Second St., 512.474.2212.
Inside Langford Market shoppers can find local and affordable clothing and accessories including jewelry designer Feliz Garcia’s handmade gemstone earrings. The sales gals have a knack for picking out items that suit you, but mainly this boutique is ideal for the Second Street District woman who isn’t willing to sacrifice having a unique look just because she’s on a budget. 249 W. Second St., 512.482.8500.
Think of it as Overstock.com for designer fashion. And there’s nothing plain about this boutique—owner Sarah Reeves, a Manhattan transplant, brings top labels like Diane von Furstenburg, Helmut Lang, Burberry, Rebecca Taylor and Tory Burch (just to name a few) to the woman in search of a hot bargain without the energy to dig for it. Reeves handpicks overstocked but brand-new clothes and accessories and sells them at prices up to 75 percent off. 408 W. Second St., 512.377.6196.
It’s rare to find a sportswear or sporting goods store that is focused on being fashionable too. Sweat it out this summer with the casual stylings of St. Bernard Sports, which has been outfitting Dallas and Austin since 1978. It offers more than just athletic apparel—Lily Pulitzer wedges, patent Ted Baker pumps, Shoshanna dresses and Vineyard Vines swim cover-ups are just as common in this massive store as the wakeboards. 401 W. Third St., 512.320.1999.
Shop for luxe lingerie and intimate apparel here, and you’ll want to show it off. Get up close and personal with high-quality brands like Stella McCartney, Fleur of England, Lascivious and Andres Sarda, and find something that suits you—be it playful, sexy or serious. Seek out owner Ashley Kelsch to help you find the perfect fit for your lady bits. 221 W. Second St., 512.614.2103.
Fashionistas can be grateful for the colorful selections in store thanks to owner and buyer Emma Kate, whose bright dimply smile and bubbly personality radiate throughout this tiny boutique. The style is upscale, but the aura is anything but uptight. 411 W. Second St., 512.476.8300.
State of the Art
Art collectors worldwide have taken a keen interest in the artists who call Texas home—see their work up close downtown.
Every February the city of Austin kicks off a free exhibition showcasing regional artists at City Hall. Vote for The People’s Choice throughout the year, which will be purchased from the artist and added to the City Hall permanent collection. 301 W. Second St., 512.974.7700.
Share our city’s prominent music scene with this gift shop marked by Austin’s weirdness. Across from the Driskill, this locally owned and operated boutique provides unique presents for any music-lover on your list. In store you’ll find a wide variety of instruments and novelty items, such as a boom box fanny pack and a T-shirt with Willie’s mug shot on it. 115 E. Sixth St., 512.708.1700.
- AMOA Arthouse at the Jones Center, 700 Congress Ave., 512.453.5312.
- Bydee Art Gallery, 412 E. Sixth St., 512.507.7877.
- Wildman Gallery, 411 Brazos St., Ste. 99, 512.588.2787.
- Gallery Lombardi, 910 W. Third St., 512.481.1088.
- La Peña, 227 Congress Ave., 512.477.6007.
- Mexic-Arte Museum, 419 Congress Ave., 512.480.9373.
- Lora Reynolds Gallery, 360 Nueces St., Ste. 50, 512.215.4965.
Make your house a home with a trip to these eclectic décor retailers downtown, with furniture and accessories ranging from ultramodern to classic.
You’ll find: Feminine interiors and serveware to match with the bohemian theme of their clothing. 601 Lamar Blvd., 512.236.9301.
You’ll find: State-of-the-art home sound and video system showpieces. 217 W. Second St., 512.481.1818.
You’ll find: Luxurious modern and contemporary furniture. 430 W. Second St., 512.258.0835.
You’ll find: A museum-quality showroom selling high-end midcentury modern furnishings. 200 W. Second St., 512.472.7200.
You’ll find: An eclectic mix of vintage furniture, collected from around the world. 209 W. Second St., 512.236.0100.
You’ll find: Tools for the ultimate home chef. 241 W. Third St., 512.480.0171.
You’ll find: Seventy-plus lines of contemporary furniture and European kitchen appliances. 115 W. Eighth St., 512.480.0436.
You’ll find: Artistically modern furniture, from Arik Levy to Maarten Baas. 801 W. Fifth St., Ste. 100, 512.476.0014.