See Austin Like a Tourist

Four memorable staycation options for exploring your own hometown.

By Deborah Hamilton-Lynne

Sometimes you just can’t get away for a summer vacation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t unplug and switch into vacation mode right here in ATX. In fact, WalletHub recently named Austin the No. 1 staycation city in Texas and No. 16 in the U.S. Thousands of tourists visit our fair city for festivals, conferences and concerts, and many of them end up staying. We decided to see Austin through the eyes of a tourist and discover what makes our city such a popular destination. We’ve chosen four hotels and locations for staycation adventures. You know you’ve been dying to find out what’s so hip about Second Street, SoCo and the Eastside, so book it now and enjoy your Austin staycation.

The Four Seasons

If you want to be in the middle of it all yet feel so far away and be treated like a celebrity seeking an escape, you have come to the right place. Personally, I would check in and never leave unless I wanted to venture down the path to see the nightly spectacle of the Mexican free-tailed bats taking flight, or take a walk around the lake. I must confess that while I was doing research for this article, I happened to meet a group of ladies from Houston enjoying mimosas and chocolate-covered blueberries by the pool. The Four Seasons is their spot for an annual pilgrimage to “escape husbands and children, catch up, treat ourselves to the spa, eat, drink and shop.” Long spa hours (8 a.m. to 9 p.m.), round-the-clock room service (They love the Trio truffle mac and cheese.) and superior service are what keep bringing them back.


Day One

10 a.m. - Arrive and stow luggage with concierge. Check in for scheduled spa treatments.

Noon - Lunch on the patio at Trio followed by sun at the pool.

2 p.m. - Check in. Shower and dress for power shopping on South Congress Avenue.

3 p.m. - Shop 'til you drop on South Congress Avenue.

5 p.m. - Happy-hour margaritas, guacamole, chips and salsa at Guero's Taco Bar, or duck into the secluded courtyard lounge at the Hotel San Jose for wine and cheese. 

6 p.m. - Resume shopping.

8 p.m. - Lesisurely dinner at Perla's Seafood & Oyster Bar, or grab a burger at Hopdpoddy Burger Bar before going out to watch the bats emerge from the Congress Avenue Bridge. 

9:30 p.m. - Return to hotel, shower, change, share shopping finds, dress for the evening.

10:30 p.m. - Music! Check out the music at one of the nearby quintessential Austin clubs. The Elephant Room is within walking distance for jazz lovers. The Continental Club and Threadgill's are also a short stroll across the Congress Avenue Bridge.

Continental Club photo by Edison Carter. All other photos courtesy of their respective locations.


Day Two

If possible, arrange for a late checkout time. If not, schedule another spa service so you can use the locker room and hang out by the pool.

9 a.m. - Room service!

10 a.m. - Walk or bike the hike-and-bike trail.

Noon - Grab some sun by the pool or get out on the lake for kayaking, rowing or paddling. 

2 p.m. - Late lunch at Second Bar + Kitchen followed by a shopping stroll down Congress Avenue, or grab a summer classic matinee at The Paramount Theatre or Alamo Drafthouse's Ritz Movie Theater. 

6 p.m. - Happy hour at the bat at the Roaring Fork for the best huckleberry margaritas, green chili stew, fresh guacamole, tortilla soup and big-ass cheeseburgers you have ever eaten, or happy hour by the lake at Alta's Cafe at the Waller Creek Boathouse, featuring local artisan chocolates to die for.

8 p.m. - Grab a farewell look a tthe lake and a glass of wine at the Lobby Lounge at the Four Seasons while you plan your next visit. Retrieve luggage from the concierge and teh car from the valet. Look back as you leave the drive and sigh as your staycation ends. 


Boots from Allen's Boots

One-of-a-kind jewelry from local artist Valerie Allen, available at the spa at the Four Seasons.

One-of-a-kind fashion found at New Bohemia, St. Vincent de Paul, Feathers and Archive Vintage.


Hotel San Jose photo by Allison V. Smith. All other photos courtesy of their respective locations.


The Heywood Hotel

The Heywood is a small boutique hotel perfectly located on East Cesar Chavez Street to serve as your location to explore what all the fuss is about regarding Austin’s most hip area, especially for the exploding food-and-drink scene. With only seven rooms, this hotel is luxurious yet affordable. Grab six other couples and rent out the whole place! Things we love about the Heywood include comfortable beds with luxe linens, longleaf pine floors, Internet jukebox, incredible showers and roomy tubs, wet bars with cocktail set-ups and private patios. They also have bikes for your use. Although many of the restaurants and bars we suggest checking out are within walking distance, our suggestion for the ultimate food-and-drink staycation on the Eastside is to hire a car and driver for the afternoon and evening so the most memorable souvenir you bring home isn’t a DWI. We suggest creating your itinerary based on your personal preferences, so we are providing a list of the many options to check out, including the best food, drink and entertainment spots on the Eastside.

Iconic Restuarants

Cisco's Restaurant: For more than 50 years, Cisco's is where the politicos have been making deals over migas, huevos rancheros and hot biscuits. 

Tamale House East: Carrying on a longtime family tradition, Carmen Valera, niece of the legendary Bobby Vasquez, serves up the best tamales in town using time-tested recipes with a price point for dinner of less than $10. It’s a must.

Juan in a Million: Founded in 1980, Juan in a Million has been the place to go for affordable Tex-Mex classics, great service and genuine atmosphere. Everyone from presidents to Jimmy Kimmel has stopped in for the famous breakfast tacos.


1. Trailer Favorites

East Side King: Asian fusion

Boteco: Brazilian street food, yucca fries

Mission Dogs: bacon-wrapped hot dogs

Baton Creole: Cajun and Creole delights

Via 313: Detroit-style pizza

Thai-Kun: modern Asian. Order everything on the menu for less than $60. 


2. Local Favorites

Bufalina Pizza: wood-fired pizza

Cenote: neighborhood patio cafe

Mr. Natural: vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free

Takoba: authentic, fresh Central Mexican

Hot Mama's Cafe: Mid-East fusion


3. Foodie Alert:

Noteworthy chefs, gourmet meals and luxe surroundings

laV: Ooh, la la. This spot is perfect for special occasions or popping the question. It’s pricey French cuisine in one of Austin’s loveliest locations. If you have a beer budget, check out their happy-hour offerings.

Qui: Named for one of Austin’s most celebrated chefs, the cuisine lives up to the name.

Jacoby’s Restaurant & Mercantile: This family-operated ranchto- table restaurant offers a dining experience with simple Southern and rustic roots.

Justine’s Brasserie: a classic and romantic French bistro

Sawyer & Co.: New Orleans specialties and fabulous brunch are the key reasons to visit.

Launderette: Critics love this place. It’s an upscale cafe with dinner nightly and a weekend brunch.

Franklin Barbecue: This famous spot is the rock star of brisket and all things barbecue. The line is worth the wait.

la Barbecue: rivals Franklin Barbecue for the title of Austin’s best barbecue

Weather Up: The renowned New York City bartender-owner came to Austin to see a bike race, fell in love and opened a restaurant on the Eastside. The 108 cocktails are the stars of the show here.  


4. Drinks

East Side Show Room: small plates and handcrafted cocktails

The Liberty: great service and happy hour. Find an East Side King trailer on the back patio.

Whisler’s: perfect ambiance and craft cocktails

The Brixton: neighborhood bar with foosball, a cool jukebox, an industrial vibe and a dogfriendly patio

The Volstead Lounge: classic cocktails, DJ-curated music and dancing

Craftsman: porches and rocking chairs, vintage furniture and original wood floors. Sip your Old Fashioned Southern plantation-style.  


5. Entertainment

Historic Scoot Inn: Established in 1871, it is the oldest bar in Central Texas, and hosts a wide variety of music genres.

Victory Grill: This historic landmark is home to some great R&B, soul and blues music.

Stay Gold Austin: They offer a sophisticated setting, cocktails and live music nightly.

The White Horse: This Eastside honky-tonk offers live music from local musicians, and two-step, swing dance and Cajun dance lessons.


6. Local goods and fun

Aluxa Studio: upscale jewelry

Sky Candy Aerial Studio: trapeze and aerial classes

Hops & Grain Brewing: award-winning sustainable craft-beer brewery

Practice Yoga Austin: yoga classes for a suggested donation

The Lion’s Nest: locally owned art gallery specializing in handpulled prints and engravings

Johnnie’s Antiques and Collectibles: fourth-generationowned store perfect for finding the unexpected treasure


Ultimate souvenir:

A collection of mathbooks from all of the restaurants and bars you visited.

Ceramics from The Lion's Nest.


Franklin Barbecue photo by JoJo Marion. All other photos courtesy of their respective locations.


Lake AUstin Spa Resort

I know that I write about this resort often, but I am still surprised at the number of people I meet who either don’t know about it or haven’t experienced it. With a world-class spa in your backyard, why would you be tempted to go anywhere else? An overnight visit can work wonders, while five days to a week will have you feeling like a new person. After all, you are worth it. If you are considering a staycation this summer, chances are you work like a dog, put in long hours and hold a lot of tension in your shoulders. If your boss were smart, he or she would book an overnight staycation for you just to increase your productivity and free your mind. Without question, this is my favorite and the most relaxing staycation location in Austin. The minute I drive through the gates, stress melts away and I become engaged in the now. I unplug, leave all cares behind and open my mind and body to a healing and educational adventure. I have also known couples who have completely reconnected after a getaway at this resort. The following recommendations for this staycation come from my personal experiences at Lake Austin Spa, but the resort truly has something for everyone, and you can be as active or as laid back as you like. If you want to spend your day reading in a hammock lakeside, they can accommodate you. Or if you want to participate in fitness activities, you can get down and dirty. The point is that at Lake Austin Spa, the emphasis is on you and your desires.  

How to get the most out of your Lake Austin Spa Resort staycation

1. Schedule spa treatments in advance of your visit during times that do not conflict with any activities you may plan to participate in.

My choice: LakeHouse Lavender Signature treatment. Exfoliate, restore and replenish, all with the calming essence of lavender.


2. Review the activities schedule and make a list of any activities, workshops or expert talks you may want to participate in. This is a good opportunity to try out the latest fitness craze that you have been wanting to explore.

My choices: Guided meditation classes and age-defying series of fitness classes, including yoga, Pilates, balance and core.

3. Review the amenities list to plan individual activities and lessons, such as kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and riding a hydrobike.

My choices: sunset cruise, hydrobike riding and Paddleboarding 101


4. Special guest programs. Plan your staycation to coincide with a particular chef, author or expert you would like to experience while at the resort.

My choices: July 17 and 18: cooking session, wine reception and book signing with Chef Hugh Acheson, author of newly released cookbook The Broad Fork. Aug. 15 and 16: cooking session, wine reception and book signing with Chef Gail Simmons. Aug. 17 through 23: New Rhythm and Moves program featuring classes combining live music by some of Austin’s favorite musicians with health and fitness classes. Aug. 19: Sweet and Savory Song cooking demo with former AW cover woman Sara Hickman.

5. Schedule an appointment with feng shui celebrity stylist Billy Yamaguchi. He visits Lake Austin Spa on a regular basis. Book an appointment and come home with a new ’do. July 5 through 7, and Aug. 2 through 4.


6. Enjoy the healthy, fresh cuisine prepared by Executive Chef Stéphane Beaucamp as you learn about healthy eating and living. In addition to daily sessions, for one week every month, Lake Austin Spa Resort shares secrets of preparing deliciously healthful cuisine during its celebrated Lake Austin Culinary Experience program. With the program’s overall focus on wellness, guests can partake in as many as 20 daily classes and activities.

My choices: For dining, make new friends at the resort Friendship Table, where guests who are visiting alone can dine with others. Dine on a fresh crab mini taco, locally sourced salad and vegetables fresh from the onsite gardens, and market-inspired meat, poultry and vegetarian entrees. For classes, check out the cocktail gardening, healthy meals and healthy snacks demonstrations.

7. Schedule personalized consultations. Customize your staycation with consultations and one-on-one instruction sessions, which can include fitness instruction, fitness assessment, wellness, nutrition and beauty.

My choices: nutrition consultation, stress management plan and take-home workout plan


Ultimate souvenir: Take-home plan from a personalized consultation or instruction session


Photos courtesy of Lake Austin Spa Resort.


The W Austin

If you are one to put on your strappy high-heeled sandals, your red dress and your shiny jewelry and go out into the center of the Austin universe, this is the hotel of your dreams. If you like minimalist luxury, over-the-top rooms with a view, fantasy suites, unique and relaxing spa treatments, trendsetting cocktails and a see-and-be-seen vibe poolside and in the record lounge, you are home free. If you want to feel young and rich, pull up to the valet, kiss your car goodbye and check out this staycation adventure. Living a life of luxury is the theme of this staycation. Rather than a prescribed itinerary, this staycation is centered on experiences and things to do within walking distance of the hotel.


At the W

Check out the bar scene and the cocktails at Tequila Bar and the beautiful red-velvet Secret Bar. Spin the vinyl with a local DJ Thursday through Saturday evenings in the Records Room.

Pamper yourself with a spa day or treatment. The Ashiatsu massage is one you will never forget, and a trip to the steam shower peels away the stress. Relax with a glass of bubbly as you enjoy a couple’s massage or sink into a VIP body-detox treatment.

Rent a cabana poolside and spend the day high atop the fourth floor. Order nosh and drinks, and lounge in the sun like a Hollywood mogul. You will soon forget you are in your hometown.

Ultimate Souvenir: Autograph and backstage photo of your favorite musician performing at ACL Live at The Moody Theater. Alternate: Austin City Limits: 35 Years in Photographs, available at Austin Rocks.


Shop until you drop

The Second Street District is well known in and outside Austin for its many shops and quality goods. Treat yourself to jewelry from Eliza Page and Etcetera, etc.; lingerie from Teddies for Bettys; trendy clothing from Estilo or Hemline; Austinbranded clothing and souvenirs from Austin Rocks; shirts and jeans that guys swoon over from Bonobos; a new swimsuit from St. Bernard Sports; luxe bedding from Area; new furniture from Design Within Reach, Flor and Blu Dot; a makeup demonstration and touch-up at Rae Cosmetics; a manicure and pedicure at Lacquer Nail Salon and things for the kids at Toy Joy. Want them to ask where you got it? Check out Hacienda and Sikara & Co.



ACL Live at The Moody Theater: This famed theater is adjacent to the W and hosts national tours of major musicians, as well as Austin City Limits tapings.

Lamberts Downtown Barbecue: C3 Presents books this intimate venue, where you can see Austin locals like Reed Turner and Jitterbug Vipers, as well as up-and-coming touring musicians. Comfy leather banquettes provide seating for groups in the back of the room.

Violet Crown Cinema: Catch that documentary or art film you have been waiting to see while enjoying luxurious seating, excellent food, wine and beer. It is better than watching at home in your recliner, with a better picture, better sound and someone else doing the cooking.


Food, glorious food

What's your fancy? You will find it in the Second Street District.

Steak: III Forks

Contemporary Mexican: La Condesa

Sweet treats: Delish Bakery

Coffee and breakfast treats: Jo's Coffee

Breakfast tacos: Austin Java

Tapas: Malaga

Italian: Taverna 

Wine and cheese: Cru Wine Bar

High tea: Cafe Rukus

Barbecue: Lamberts Downtown Barbecue

Brunch: Second Bar + Kitchen


Reed Turner photo by Melanie Applegate. Cafe Ruckus photo by Chad Adams. All other photos courtesy of thier respective locations.  


Insider Tips for Exploring Austin Like a Tourist

The most memorable viewing of the nightly bat emergence is from a kayak, canoe or hydrobike on the lake, although the balcony at the Lobby Lounge at The Four Seasons provides optimal viewing with the bonus of sipping a glass of wine while watching.

If you are lucky enough to schedule your staycation for the first Thursday of the month, you can check out the merchants of SoCo, who host a block party and keep the shops open until 10 p.m. Experience ACL Live at The Moody Theater without spending a bundle. Every Tuesday through Aug. 25, ACL Live, Mark West Wines and the Second Street District host happy-hour concerts benefiting the Austin Music Foundation.

What lies ahead? Every third Monday from 8 p.m. to midnight, Olivia Pepper provides tarot-card readings in the courtyard at the Hotel San Jose for a small donation.

Bike rentals downtown and near Zilker Park are available by the hour or the day. Check out Austin B-cycle, Austin Bike Tours & Rentals and Mellow Johnny’s.

Kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, canoes and water-bike rentals are available from Austin Water Bikes, Rowing Dock, Texas Rowing Center, Zilker Park Boat Rentals and Austin Rowing Club.

Daycation: If you don’t have the time for an overnight staycation, why not spend the day at a staycation spa? We have all of the info in a web-exclusive article at

Are you a history buff? Explore the Texas State Cemetery, the French Legation Museum and the Texas State Capitol. Have your photo made with one of the iconic Austin statues: Angelina Eberly, Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan or philosophers J. Frank Dobie, Roy Bedichek and Walter Prescott Webb or one of the many statues located on the University of Texas campus. For information on free guided and self-guided walking tours, visit or the Austin Visitor Center, located at 602 E. Fourth St.

RideScout is a mobile app that helps you get from point A to point B in Austin faster and smarter. Available for iOS and Android, RideScout provides real-time information about transportation options that are available right now. Download RideScout and get all transit, bus, bike, taxi, car share, rideshare, parking and walking directions in one view. Download the app at

For the complete directory guide to ATX staycations, visit


Hotel San Jose photo by Casey Dunn. Mellow Johnny’s photo courtesy of Mellow Johnny’s.


Travel & Leisure