CITY GUIDE: Austin

Today’s City Guide is brought to you by Jeanine Donofrio of Austin, Texas!

Welcome to Austin. A city full of creative kinds, techie types, students and entrepreneurs to name a few. When I first moved here 9 years ago it was a hippie college town, and a LOT has changed and continues to change at rapid pace. (ie. we have a W Hotel now – crazy). But I won’t be taking you to any chain places. The heart of Austin is in it’s homegrown businesses.

There’s exactly one “tourist” attraction you probably won’t want to miss. It’s ok if you do miss it, but ever since this painted “Greetings from Austin” wall was featured in an Anthropologie catalog, there’s been a constant amount of people blocking traffic to take photos of their friends or family members in front of this sign. The locals that live on this block (ie, me), will make fun of you while you do or just be angry that you’re standing in the middle of the road with a camera.

But now for the real tour… If you fly in at night, you must stop at Justine’s (photo above from their website) for a late-night bite and a cocktail. Five minutes from the airport down a dark road, you’ll come across this neon sign. You’ll feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, but walk in (or on a nice night, sit outside), and you’ll be transported to turn-of-the-century Paris. The food is great, drinks are too, but the draw is the ambience and the lively crowd. They’re open until 1:30am, the perfect stop after a late flight. Tip: don’t try to go on a Friday or Saturday night at dinnertime, you will wait 2 hours).

The place to stay is Hotel San Jose which is in the heart of the South Congress neighborhood. They have fun things like polaroid cameras and typewriters you can borrow if you feel like getting creative. If you don’t stay here, be sure to have a drink one night in their pool-side courtyard. This is not your regular hotel bar – it’s a chill patio that will be full of locals from the neighborhood.

Or if budget is no object, stay at Hotel St. Cecelia (photo on the right, above from their website), the uber chic design hotel a few blocks away. Everyone famous who comes through town stays here. Or if you don’t have a trust fund, at least go visit and ask the polite girl at the front desk for a tour of the suites. Each suite has completely different (and stunning) vintage decor. Tip: go on a Sunday afternoon when most of the weekend guests have checked out and you can see the most rooms.

Right next to Hotel San Jose is Jo’s coffee. The vote’s still out for who has the best coffee in town, but park yourself at Jo’s anytime during the weekend (on a nice day) for the best people watching. Stop here before or after your stroll up and down South Congress (not-to-miss shopping on this street: Uncommon Objects, By George, and Stag). If you’re at Jo’s in the morning, skip the muffins and get a breakfast taco. The one quintessentially Austin food is the breakfast taco. You’ll have to get in the car, but the best ones (and best lunch tacos too) are at Taco Deli. Other notable breakfast tacos are served at Torchy’s and Taco Xpress.

On Sundays (weather permitting), head to East Austin to the HOPE Farmers Market. With hours from 11-3, it’s the non-traditional farmers market that was created especially for non-early-riser-artist-types. There aren’t a whole lot of vegetable stands here, but visit the gallery to see The HOPE Farmers Market Poster Series, sample a tasting of Kombucha teas, listen to some live music, and have a vegan doughnut at the Red Rabbit vegan doughnut stand. Get the one with mexican chocolate frosting.

For a night out, skip 6th street (the side west of the highway), and head to Rainey Street. It’s a tucked away little street with a handful of old Victorian houses that have been renovated into really eclectic bars. Bar hop from the Clive Bar (photo above from their website) to Icenhauer’s, and to Lustre Pearl.

Now that Paul is about to win Top Chef, you will have a hard time getting a table at Uchiko, but head to his food truck(s), East Side King(s) for his famous asian street food, at a tenth of the price. There are 3 of these and they’re all parked outside of bars along East 6th street. People really love the one at the Liberty bar, but my favorite is the Japanese one that’s outside the Grackle. Get the Nasu Ssam, which is grilled sweet-miso eggplant wrapped in romaine leaves. Or the Yakitori if you’re a meat eater. But, really, everything is good here. Everything.

Other food trucks you may want to hit during your visit are: The Peached Tortilla for a pad thai taco, Lulu B’s for a lemongrass tofu bahn-mi, Mighty Cone for good stuff that’s fried and served in paper cones, and Hey Cupcake for a really big, well… cupcake.

A big thanks to Jeanine for sharing her favorite Austin spots. Be sure to check out her AMAZING blog Love & Lemons. And follow her on Twitter!

Featured image by StuSeeger.

March 1, 2012