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It’s hard to believe that Austin was just a sleepy college town a generation ago. These days, the capital of Texas is one of the top destinations in the Southwest. It’s not just the live music capital of the world — the city has become a boomtown home to incredible barbecue, Tex-Mex food and so much more. Here are 11 things to know before you go.
1. Paradise Is Just Southwest of Downtown
A 30-minute walk — or five-minute cab ride — from Sixth and Congress is where you’ll find Barton Springs, which is absolute nirvana, especially when the mercury is about to hit triple digits. Zilker Park’s outdoor swimming pool is filled with 68° water year-round from nearby natural springs and is particularly refreshing after a night of partying on Sixth Street.
2. It’s All About the Barbecue
Don’t go to the most celebrated joint in town, Franklin Barbecue — sure, it’s good, but the very long wait isn’t worth it. Stubbs, Freedmen’s and Kerlin barbecue score plenty of press, but Iron Works BBQ, due to its combination of delicious food and reasonable lines, is the spot for those in the know. The tangy beef ribs and tasty brisket are simply sublime.
3. Where to Find the Best Breakfast
Almost 10 years ago, Las Manitas Avenue Café was the place in town to go for breakfast. Nowadays, a new champ has emerged after the legendary hotspot closed its doors in 2008. The aptly named Juan in a Million has emerged among locals who love massive breakfast tacos and lots of chorizo.
4. The One Music Venue You Can’t Miss
Austin is the live music capital of the world. There are a ton of clubs along Sixth Street, which is often about as gridlocked as nearby I-35, particularly during South by Southwest. Bypass Sixth Street for South Congress and visit the venerable Continental Club, which sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. However, hipsters are aware of it, and the same can be said for local musicians of note. When Robert Plant moved to Austin with then-girlfriend Patty Griffin, the biggest rock star to ever live in the capital of Texas played the cozy Continental.
5. Where to Find a Slice of Old Austin
Austin has arguably changed more than any other American city over the last 20 years. The skyline has morphed dramatically and the one-time one-horse town has major traffic jams. If you want to go back in time, visit the Broken Spoke, an old-school dance hall relic of Austin’s past. There was a great deal of elbow room during a visit last year during SXSW — much of the music industry was partying downtown, while locals swilled Lone Stars, chowed down on chicken fried steak and were captivated by the two-steppers tearing it up on the dance floor.
6. You Can Order Sushi in Texas
The conventional way of thinking was to always order steak in the Lone Star State, not fish. But that was before Uchi opened, and while this sushi spot is incredible, everyone knows about it — during a recent visit on a Sunday night, the wait was 90 minutes and the rolls were pricey. Just a few blocks over, you’ll find Otoko, an under-the-radar spot offering reasonably priced sushi. Visit soon before everyone is entranced by chef Yoshi Okai, who serves it up Tokyo-style.
7. Go for the Tex-Mex
It’s easy to miss this little hidden gem on South 1st Street, but the folks at the El Primo Taco Trailer serve up the best breakfast tacos in Austin. Just be careful when you pour the red sauce over your migas — it’s potent. The food is excellent across the board and the location is perfect since it’s next door to the Once Over Coffee Bar, where you can score a quality cup of José.
8. The Best Way to Kill Some Calories
It’s so obvious that Lady Bird Lake — aka. Town Lake, for longtime locals — is often overlooked. It’s in the center of downtown and a perfect place to bike or jog, which isn’t a bad idea since you can count on bulking up a bit during a visit to Austin. There are even hammocks near The Four Seasons if you want to relax and catch some rays.
9. Head to the Secret Bar on 6th Street
Midnight Cowboy is almost like a speakeasy since it’s a local, in-the-know type of watering hole. A red light leads the way to this reservations-only cocktail bar, which gets its name from the once-secret brothel in the same location. Be warned — the cocktails here are potent.
10. Rooftop Bars Are All the Rage
Backbeat, which recently opened, is one of the latest rooftop bars to hit the Austin scene. Down tequila sours as you gaze out from a super-chill environment onto gridlocked South Lamar. This rooftop hotspot boasts an eclectic drink menu and a good vibe.
11. Know Where to Unwind
When you’ve had enough of the bustle and those trying to keep Austin weird, take a break at UMLAUF Sculpture Garden, a museum/garden filled with Charles Umlauf’s dramatic sculptures. His work ranges from haunting expressionism to lyrical abstraction. The late Umlauf, who donated his home for exhibition, used a variety of materials, from terra-cotta to cast stone to bronze, so there’s something for everyone.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Austin, Texas? Tell us about them, below.
Featured image by Joe Daniel Price / Getty Images.
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