Not just for college kids, hippies or bachelor/ette parties.  Stereotyped by its world class live music, BBQ, and liberal leanings, Austin’s hip restaurants, beautiful outdoor recreational spaces and engaging museums in fact offer something for everyone.

This 2 day whistletrip is a “best of” compilation – designed for when the sun is shining.  See “Rainy Day Plans” and “Working Out, Indoors” for uniquely Austin activities when wet weather hits.

The Whistletrip:  Itinerary

  • Friday night:  BBQ, and dancing
  • Saturday:  Farmers’ market picnic, boating Lake Travis, South Congress
  • Sunday:  Zilker Park, Barton Springs, food trucks, Texas Capitol

Practical Planning

Mobilize:  Uber and Lyft are banned from town, and taxis are expensive.  The MetroAirport Bus reaches downtown from Austin Bergstrom airport within 30 minutes and costs only $1.25 each way.   Ride Austin is the city’s only ride-sharing app, while Car2Go is Austin’s ZipCar and is best for extended hops.  Large swathes of central Austin are walkable and exploring on foot is best for spontaneous encounters with the live music and art tucked in unexpected corners of the city.

Sleep:  New hotels are popping up around Austin at rapid clip.  I have stayed at – and loved – Hotel Van Zandt, the boutique Kimpton property abutting Rainey Street.  Sleek rooms, daily live music, stylish facilities, great vibe.  The W Hotel has a matchless downtown location and a more raucous vibe, with a DJ-ed pool party on summer Sundays.

Friday

Eat:  Feasting on huge portions of brisket and potato salad can start as soon as you land at Austin Bergstrom airport, with an outpost of The Salt Lick opposite Gate 12.  If you wait to hit town for your BBQ fix, decide whether to line up for hours at legendary Franklin, or pile up trays of the good stuff at Terry Black’s with sides of decadent mac and cheese and a wide selection of local craft beers.

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Pile high brisket and sides at Terry Black’s © The Whistletrip

Dance:  Go “college” on “Dirty” 6th Street, with dive bar after dance bar after tattoo parlor – or “grad school” at Rainey Street’s row of more upscale bars and dance spots.  If you do decide on Dirty 6th, start with a civilized drink at hidden speakeasy Midnight Cowboy.  The graffiti covered door to this converted massage parlor masks a cool, intimate cocktail bar with high patterned tin ceilings and wooden booths.

Saturday

Eat:  Start the day at the Taco Deli stall at Republic Square Park’s Downtown Farmers Market.  Don’t miss the “Otto” breakfast taco, with refried black beans, bacon, avocado and Monterrey Jack cheese.  Make up a picnic with bread and pastries from the Easy Tiger stall, plus top notch kombucha, fruit, cheese and snacks from an array of artisanal vendors.  Drop by the flagship and first ever Whole Foods at 6th Street and Lamar Blvd – a massive shrine to organic deliciousness with tons of sampling and every possible cuisine available at ready to go stands.

Boat:  Find your way to Oyster Landing Marina for a half day boat rental.  Float On’s ski boat and pontoon rates include coolers, iPod docking stations and tubing equipment – call well ahead to make reservations.  Zip north along the Colorado River toward Lake Travis to enjoy views of the valley and gawk at stunning waterside properties.  My favorite activity in Austin on a warm day.

Shop:   Stroll along South Congress to browse some of Austin’s quirkier stores.  While walking, keep your eyes peeled for colorful murals brightening up side walls and ears open for guitarists entertaining al fresco diners.

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Colorful murals are scattered around central Austin © The Whistletrip

Check out Roadhouse Relics for retro neon art pieces, and Uncommon Objects for antiques and bizarre Americana, all grouped by color.  Both spots stock such great conversation starters that exploring them makes for a fun day date.  For apparel, Triple Z Threadz offers kooky embroidered menswear and cushions – face of Nicholas Cage on your cushions, anyone? – and BeGeorge, a home-grown women’s boutique with several locations, specializes in bohemian-inspired chic.  South Congress Books has an eye-catching window display, with vintage hardcovers and original music posters tempting you inside.

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Collectible and unique “works on paper” at South Congress Books © The Whistletrip
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Embroidered items at Triple Z Threadz have found a fan in Quentin Tarantino © The Whistletrip

Dine:  Austin’s casual vibe means you can go straight from late afternoon shopping to evening activities.  South 1st Street, running parallel to South Congress Avenue, has a wonderful selection of upscale, though relaxed, options, including the fantastic Lenoir and Sway – see The Whistletrip post “Beyond BBQ:  5 Austin Gems, No Brisket“.

Foot tap:   At The Continental Club, the iconic venue for live bluegrass and a crowd spanning every age.  Better, head upstairs to my favorite music spot, the lower key and snug Continental Gallery, with recurring bands playing to friends and often a tip bucket instead of a cover charge.

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Cozy music gatherings happen in the legendary Continental’s Gallery space © The Whistletrip

Sunday

Work Out:   Start the day with yoga in the sculpture gardens of The Umlauf art museum.  Immerse yourself in Zilker Park’s outdoor culture with a jog along Lady Bird Lake or, if feeling particularly energetic, a skim along the water on Congress Avenue Kayak‘s canoes and paddleboards.

Cool Down:  With a swim in legendary Barton Springs.  The picturesque open air pool is surrounded by trees and sun seekers laying out on warm days.

Eat:  Refuel at The Picnic on Barton Springs Road.  This collection of food – and retail – trucks provides eclectic options for lunch or dinner.  Try The Mighty Cone for creative fried “festival food” such as chicken tenders in almonds and sesame seeds or shrimp and avocado in a crunchy crust.

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The Picnic on Barton Springs Road has an eclectic range of food and retail trucks © The Whistletrip

Stroll:  Along Congress Avenue.  The entire way, you have a view straight up to the Texas Capitol, a magnificent 19th century monument that deliberately dominates the skyline: zoning rules require that direct lines of sight to its dome are maintained on key city roads.  Keep going to the Capitol steps and pop inside for a glimpse up at the gorgeously painted cupola.

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Inside the spectacular cupola of the Texas State Capitol © The Whistletrip

© Ann Berry