I fell in love with Austin more than two decades ago because it seemed so utopian to me, celebrating the best of what it is to be American: individualism, the arts, entrepreneurism, and a love of great food. There’s a true sense of community and a surprising lack of ageism; you’ll see a young person and an old one talking to each other on the sidewalk. And chances are both have tattoos and ear gauges and are carrying a guitar case. Because that’s another thing about Austin—it rocks, and it’s often called the Live Music Capital of the World. I love to come here and hang with my friends, catch a show, and support the killer food scene and amazing local boutiques. This is only a partial list of my favorite places there—to share them all would fill a whole magazine. But it’s a starting point. If you’re looking for a good time, look no further than the capital of Texas, the capital of cool.
There’s gonna be a wait, but pitmaster (and James Beard Award winner) Aaron Franklin draws lines from morning on for a reason. He claims to use only salt and pepper on his famous brisket, which is cooked on Dr. Seuss–looking smokers he designed himself. The result is without rival not only in Austin—it’s the best in the world as far as I’m concerned. Isn’t that worth a wait?
OK, I’m on Aaron Franklin again, this time in a collab with fellow Austinite chef Tyson Cole. Loro is always my first stop in town. I’m not kidding—my husband and I go there directly from the airport when we land. Just steal our order: wontons with dipping sauces, the smoked turkey breast, the bavette with shishito pepper salsa verde, and a frozen G&T. The space is beautiful and casual with communal tables. Go and talk to your neighbor!
I fell in love with this city more than 20 years ago. I’ve loved it longer than I’ve loved my husband!
The fantastic, modern Mexican food comes courtesy of chef Kevin Taylor, who is so unassuming you can’t believe what a culinary badass he is. He cooks incredible cuisine—house-made tortillas, insane tomahawk pork chops. Wash them down with one of the best, not-too-sweet margaritas in the known universe.
Elizabeth Street Café
Larry McGuire owns three of my favorite restaurants in Austin: Clark’s Oyster House (the shrimp toast is my main motivation for going there), Swedish Hill (a bakery, deli, and café), and this Vietnamese boulangerie. The dishes are innovative, beautiful, and fresh—whether it’s a bowl of spicy noodles or a banh mi sandwich—the kind of food you can eat and eat but also feel so healthy and refreshed that you want to go right back in and eat again.
At this modern izakaya, the sister restaurant of Ramen Tatsu-Ya, you’ll get Japanese food with a Texan twang from chef-DJ Tatsu Aikawa. He was born in Tokyo but raised in Texas, so he’s basically a purist in food from both places. The result isn’t so much fusion as a locally sourced homage. Aikawa just opened a new shabu-shabu joint called DipDipDip Tatsu-Ya that I can’t wait to try.
Go to the iconic coffee bar and get a delicious Belgian Bomber, which cuts the very sweet Iced Turbo with unsweetened cold brew for the perfect afternoon boost. And breakfast in Austin isn’t complete without a breakfast taco—my husband loves the migas tacos, which come loaded with peppers, onions, tortilla bits, and Jack cheese. Then take a picture in front of the famous “I love you so much” mural, which every visitor to Austin does. Seriously. If you don’t post a picture from there, people may not believe you actually went to Austin.
Austin’s Best Burgers
Texas knows beef, and these burgers are no exception. Hopdoddy is an Austin rite of passage. They serve burgers and fantastic cocktails, and there’s always a line but it moves quickly. Up the street is June’s All Day, a French bistro named for the sommelier (June Rodil), so you know the wine will be creative and delicious. But you can also get one of my favorite burgers there, which comes piled with caramelized onions, lots of jalapeño peppers, and sliced cheese on a brioche bun. Everybody else says the chicken sandwich is the thing they daydream about, but I love that burger.
Hotel Saint Cecilia, Hotel San José & Austin Motel
Each one in this trio of sister hotels is special in its own right. When I first came to Austin I stayed at the San José, right on the main drag of South Congress, with cozy, low-slung bungalows and a rock ’n’ roll vibe. Of the three, all run by Bunkhouse hospitality group, Austin Motel is the most economic, with an iconic sign and a marquee boasting very Austin messages (“All Ways Welcome Here” and “So Close Yet So Far Out” are good ones). St. Cecilia is the patron saint of music, and that’s why I love the Hotel Saint Cecilia. It’s a beautiful spot where you can borrow vinyl from the lobby for your in-room turntable. But the true draw is the 300-year-old oak in the courtyard, the heart and the soul of the property.
Austin is literally a second home for me.
This well-curated gift and sundry shop has a very modern Japanese-influenced vibe and something for everyone: insanely beautiful ceramics, children’s toys, textiles, jewelry, and apothecary.
Miranda Bennett Studio
A local designer, Miranda Bennett makes tops, dresses, pants, skirts, jumpsuits, and more. The coolest part is that she’s a zero-waste designer, so she fashions belts and accessories from leftover scraps. All kinds of Austinites wear her clothing as a uniform around town because it’s cool and beautiful. Lisa Reile, the chic manager over at the Hotel Saint Cecilia, is a fan.
I collect vinyl, and Waterloo is a seriously fun place to shop for it. They’re heavy on local artists like my pal Bob Schneider (see below), so come here and buy a bunch of his music before you leave town.
I am a book person. I bought my apartment in New York because of its proximity to an independent bookstore. BookPeople is for page-turners like me, but it’s so much more. It’s a wonderful locally owned place to hang with your family and let your kids play and read. There aren’t enough indie bookstores left in America, so it’s no surprise that one of the most thriving is in Austin, a city that celebrates independence and puts its money where its mouth is.
OK, so this one isn’t technically in Austin, but if you love Austin’s free-spirit, rocker-chick style, go to this site (full disclosure: I own it!) and pick up local designers like Kar-bn (amazing jewelry from my friend Kristin Ann Rudge), Hat Attack, and others.
Austin is often called the Live Music Capital of the World, with up to 250 music venues hosting live acts on any given night. Here are my favorite places to catch one.
The Saxon Pub
This is a great music venue where my friend Bob Schneider plays every Monday night when he’s not touring. It’s worth planning your visit to make sure he’ll be around.
The Continental Club
This was the first live music club I went to in Austin, and it was such a fun night! We heard all kinds of bands, but especially blues rock. This place is what a Texas music hall should be.
This French brasserie looks like a set piece from Moulin Rouge. They host impromptu musical acts and mystical, over-the-top parties, and it feels like anything can happen here. After a day in town, Justine’s is where to go to get into trouble.
Stroll Down South Congress
You can spend an entire day exploring the hip neighborhood’s apparel shops, colorful murals, and Austin-born eateries.
- Get a big, beefy burger at Hopdoddy.
- Stock up on luxe styles at By George.
- Snap a pic at the “I love you so much” mural at Jo’s.
- See a live show at the Continental Club.
- Snag a NY-style pie at Home Slice Pizza.
- Peruse the artsy gift shop at the Hotel San José.
- Kick back with a glass of vino at June’s All Day.
- Marvel at the country’s largest urban bat colony at the Congress Avenue Bridge.