Austin, Austin, Austin: hands down, this is my absolute favorite city in the entire world.
It is definitely a place where you need a car, though, and every time I go, I get really cheesy and rent a Mustang convertible. Preferably red. I mean, if you can’t drive around a red convertible Mustang in Texas… where can you do it?
So grab a car and get out into nature – that is one of the coolest things about Austin, how close you are to green space. Head down the highway and take a road called 2222. It is a windy, beautiful road that makes it on lists of most beautiful drives, and it is very popular with motorcyclists, so drive a little bit slower than you think you should, just to be sure. When you hit highway 360 (which is a stop light) take a right. You will see apartment complexes, but also a lot of forests, so if you want to go for a hike, just park your car on the side of the road and go for a nice wander in the wilderness. Also, on 2222 is a restaurant called Fonda San Miguel, which has great modern Mexican food, and they have a wicked happy hour on appetizers, too.
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On the way back into town, drive to Mount Bonnell. This is one of Austin’s most famous hikes. You park at the bottom and walk up either a very long set of steps, or a dusty slope. Either way, legend has it that if you climb up with someone once, you fall in love. Twice, you get married. Three times, you stay in love forever.
For authentic Mexican food, take Cesar Chavez road (which west of I-35 is called 1st or 2nd street) about 10 minutes east of I-35 to Juan in a Million. It is a pink building on your left. It should have metal bars on the windows. If a Mexican restaurant doesn't have bars on the windows, it is crap. That is mostly a joke. Get the Don Juan. If you eat two, you get a picture on the wall. What makes it difficult is the potatoes in it, but go for it!
That side of town has an interesting story, because back in 2000, when I lived there, there were not many white people on the East side, and now it is totally full of students and hipsters, and white faces galore. There are some really cool artsy spaces over there, including the East Austin Art Gallery. It is modern, not surprisingly, and full of interesting exhibits.
Last time I went, we went ziplining on Lake Travis, and it was amazing. One of the longest ziplines I have ever been on, and the scenery is stunning. Looking at a forest and a huge lake while speeding down a tiny wire… oh, hell yes! The tour guides were super cool, and I think the entire trip took maybe 5 hours, including getting out there. Definitely worth a trip!
For killer Mexican martinis, go to Trudy's or Iron Cactus. Mexican Martinis are margaritas served in martini glasses. Trudy's are so strong, you're only allowed two. The best Trudy's is the one by campus (on 30th Street). Heading North on Guadalupe, go to 30th street, make a right on it, and park. Trudy's is on your right. Their Quesadillas rock.
Iron Cactus has live music, and it is on 6th street right in the mix, just ask someone where it is. 6th street has about a hundred bars you'll cruise up and down. Just go in the busy places, really, because everyone will try to grab you to go in their place, but everywhere is cheap. 4th street is a couple blocks away and it's a cool scene, a bit more chill, a bit older, a bit nicer. Less vomiting, slightly more expensive. Tit for tat.
Ask for directions to Fado and check out this very cool Irish pub. There is neat music on most of the time, and it just has an interesting vibe.
If you want to catch the most amazing live show, almost any night of the week, go to Antone's in downtown and check out the line up. Aside from the big blockbuster shows at the Erwin Center, this is the place to go. You can hear blues, jazz, big band, and rockabilly masters, and you are close enough to get sweat on.
Barton Springs is one of my favorite spots. In the heat of the summer, pay a few bucks and go take a dip in the natural spring water, which is FREEZING cold, but you will love it. Hang out on the bank with every person in town, then go wander around Barton Springs Road for a drink and a snack. The street is filled with magical deliciousness and big, amazing slurpy drinks. One restaurant is Shady Grove, which has a blended drink called the Shady Thang, which is trouble. Chuy's is great, too. Honestly, you just cannot go wrong on Barton Springs.
Late at night, head to Magnolia Cafe or Kerby Lane (you will probably be drunk, so just hop in a cab and ask for them). Tell them the Magnolia near Mopac or the Kerby Lane on campus on Guadalupe.) Or the Magnolia on South Congress. They're all spectacular. Ask for the queso and just chill. At Magnolia get the migas. They're 24/ hour places everyone goes when the bars shut. This is a great place for meeting people while you are standing around waiting to be seated... and a good place to close if you're talking to someone and don't want them to go home.
One of the best afternoons is to go to Hula Hut and chill out on the lake. Great for meeting people, too. Get directions from your hotel. People pull up on their boats and hang out, drinking, all day.
Threadgills is real southern cooking, as is Hoovers. Threadgills is easier to find. It's on Riverside Drive very near Congress Road. Get the chicken fried steak, for sure. And seconds are free on the sides, though they don't tell you. Sometimes live music, too. For another version of everything, go to Manor Road east of I-35 for a minute and Hoovers is on your left just around the bend. It's wicked food, probably my favorite in town. Jerk Chicken smoked on site w/ jalapeno creamed spinach and a jug of lemonade, mnnnnnn.
For random shopping check out the South Congress boutiques and little funky shops... head south on Congress and you'll see Austin Motel on your right. Park anywhere and keep heading south for the next 10 minutes to see it all.
If you are in town for the first Thursday of the month, you are in for a real treat. Just head down to where the Austin Motel is, park on a side street, and have a wander around for a few hours. There will be live bands out, and it is basically the happiest place on earth. Do not forget to grab something from Amy's Ice Cream. It is the best homemade ice cream with stuff smashed into it. Fresh, rich, and even the people who work there are cool.
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