I live in the Austin area so friends are always asking me where to eat, stay and what to do in the capital city. Here are a few of my favorites; all (except one) focused on the downtown area.
I like to suggest people stay right on Lady Bird Lake or in a hip B&B close to downtown. The Hyatt Regency Austin on Barton Springs Road is situated in the heart of downtown and right on Lady Bird Lake, offering lovely views of Austin’s skyline – as well as the Ann Richards Congress Avenue bridge bats—one of our city’s top tourist attractions! The 4-star, pet-friendly hotel has recently redesigned guest rooms, complimentary Wi-Fi, a Starbucks in the lobby, and two well-regarded restaurants, Marker 10 and Southwest Bistro. And, their YETI package includes swag from the #1 cooler company and special deals you can’t find anywhere else.
Marker 10 serves a delightful mix of artisan cocktails, local wines and regional beers, with a menu that highlights local foods and fresh sushi. The braised short ribs, served in a hatch chili demi-glace, were succulent, with a fluffy, flavorful cauliflower mash that could easily be mistaken for potatoes. Among the Asian-inspired dishes, the Avocado Bomb – a half avocado stuffed with a spicy, warm king crab salad – is light yet satisfying, and the Sebastian Roll – filled with fresh, spicy tuna and king crab – hits all the right notes. The rich peanut butter chocolate creme brulee – with raspberry jam and whipped cream – is the crème de la crème of desserts. If the weather is nice, eat on the outdoor patio overlooking the lake.
Sure, you can get a yummy Avocado Toast at the Hyatt’s breakfast restaurant, Southwest Bistro, but why not try their Mushroom Toast, featuring herb-roasted mushrooms atop salted ricotta on wheat-berry toast? The Texas-centric breakfast specials include a personal skillet portion of satisfying huevos rancheros, a smoked chicken hash – with chicken smoked on the premises – drizzled with a delectable ranchero hollandaise, and chicken and waffles with a twist: waffles coated in butter blended with Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, as well as a spicy bourbon butter syrup with which to drench the buttermilk-fried chicken tenders. If you want to go the healthy route, try a fresh-pressed juice – like their “green machine” blend of spinach, celery, cucumber and apple – to kick-start your morning.
Right out the door of the Hyatt is Capital Cruises, on the hike and bike trail. You can rent SUP, kayaks and even a swan paddleboat. I really can’t tell you how amazing it is to paddle board on the lake, taking in a completely different perspective of our city. I love breathing in the fresh air, watching the buzz of people around the trail and getting in a little workout. I recommend paddle boarding all the way over to see Barton Springs, by Zilker Park, and back again.
After paddle boarding, head over to SoCo and enjoy lunch at Guero’s. The building that sits on South Congress was once a seed and feed store and became the taqueria that it is today back in 1995. Enjoy a cold beer or frozen margarita out on their patio area, called Oak Garden, while listening to live music with no cover charge. Their tacos Al Pastor, homemade tortillas and salsa bar are tried-and-true favorites. Pollos de Gueros are three different types of marinated grilled chicken breast prepared with various sauces and cheeses such as chipotle, Tampiqueno and Guanajuato.
If you want a healthier option, have lunch at Flower Child on Second Street.
I love the Flower Child avocado hummus for starters followed by the Mother Earth bowl, which is both healthy and delicious. Using locally sourced ingredients, they create beautiful dishes that you don’t feel guilty about indulging in. There’s also a Flower Child in The Domain. (About a 20 minute drive north from downtown; or take the Red Line train from outside the Convention Center on Fourth Street.)
Rainey Street is the hippest new kid on the block when it comes to nightlife. If going out on Rainey, why not stay at Hotel van Zandt? It’s Valet Only and you’ll enjoy a beer or water at check-in. There’s also a complimentary happy hour from 5-6 pm with margarita on the rocks or Texas beer and wine. Enjoy dinner on the fourth floor at Geraldine’s, open for breakfast lunch and dinner, and brunch on the weekends. (Soul music at Saturday brunch, jazz on Sundays.) I love their small plate tapas menu. Start out with their signature 24 Carat Magic cocktail while you peruse the menu.
The tapas-style portions are perfect for trying a variety of different dishes the van Zandt’s creative chefs offer. Like the new short rib egg roll with Marsala mushroom, hibiscus cucumber and fried egg aioli—the perfect blend of big flavor and crunch. Or the Ramen Egg – a light pink egg on the outside, which looks like a hard-boiled egg with a neon center (farm-raised eggs tend to be a little neon), served with fried candied leeks, and pork belly covered in a coconut soy broth. We also devoured the ceviche taco, gnocchi with just the perfect crispiness, the grilled octopus (which featured a bacon sofrito lentil and romesco verde sauce) and ended with their Scotch & Cigar dessert– which isn’t scotch or a cigar at all, only shaped like them. It’s a butterscotch mousse and a hazelnut chocolate cigar, with scotch caramel and cocoa pear.
Another restaurant downtown that I enjoy is the backYARD at Waller Creek behind the Sheraton Austin Hotel at the Capitol. White wine and lemonade with fruit-infused tequila are ideal for a humid spring or summer evening, and the “Mason Jar” black bean hummus served with toasted pita triangles and fresh vegetables is a creamy dip that has just the right balance of garlic and lemon. The guacamole, prepared tableside, is fresh simplicity – vibrant green avocados mashed into chunky goodness, with just enough salsa fresca added to give it a spicy kick. A substantial portion of grilled salmon cooked to perfection will satisfy.
My fave B&B, located a mile from downtown and just blocks from Congress, is The Fairview. Tucked away (there’s not even a sign in the front) near the Travis Heights district, sits a big white two-story home that houses four suites, with two buildings out back that can be rented. The Live Oak suite is the largest, with a library room and a yoga room, each that can feature a rollaway. The Pecan suite is their most popular because of its access to the airy front porch. The home was built in 1910 and had a life as apartments in the ‘60s before becoming a B&B. Old doors were found under the house and turned into headboards for beds. The inn’s breakfast is gluten free and they don’t take same-day bookings so plan ahead.
I mentioned there’s one suggestion not in downtown. That’s Austin Salt Cave, located in Lakeway. A halotherapy (otherwise known as salt therapy) is an experience geared towards helping the body feel better, both inside and out. At the Austin Salt Cave, you will relax in an antigravity chair while 11 tons of Himalayan salt is infused in the room around you. Each session is 45 minutes, during which you can sit back, relax and let the salt do the work. Gaining attention in the 1960’s in Europe, salt caves have grown in popularity globally with research showing that it can aid with respiratory and skin ailments.
Cover photo courtesy Visit Austin