Weekend Adventure in Austin
While temperatures are still mild, experience the Lone Star state’s barbecue, cocktails, live music, and shopping.
Known for its Western charm, live music, and flavorful food, Austin, Texas is a gem of its own on the map of Lone Star cities. Sports nuts, history buffs, foodies, and concert-goers soak up the southern hospitality in Texas' capital city, also known as the live music capital of the world. Go now to take advantage of the mild winter climate, which makes the early months of the year a perfect time for a weekend visit.
To get there, catch an evening flight from Oakland to Austin-Bergstrom Airport (about three and a half hours) and rent a car or hail a cab for the roughly 20 minute drive into the heart of the city. On your way downtown, quench post-travel hunger with a late-night bite at Magnolia Café. Try the whole-wheat banana pancakes for a healthy pick-me-up before settling into your hotel (see suggestions below).
For a little caffeine to kickstart your day, head to Jo’s Coffee Shop on Second Street. The relaxed vibe is perfect for a weekend morning breakfast, whether you opt for the quick and popular Iced Turbo or a more leisurely plate of migas—spicy scrambled eggs with tortilla strips and cheddar, served with griddled potatoes, black beans, and flour tortillas.
Following breakfast, meander down historic Congress Avenue for a free, self-guided tour of the Texas State Capitol, a majestic building complete with sunset red granite and limestone, second in size only to the National Capitol in Washington, D.C. Walk a few more blocks to reach the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, where sports fans can explore Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium and admire its case of Heisman and National Championship trophies.
Grab lunch to go from the deli case at Annie’s Café and Bar, where you can find an array of fresh salads and pastries, and take a walk to nearby Lady Bird Lake, formerly known as Town Lake. An entrance at North Congress and West Cesar Chavez offers a serene view of trees and the calm waters. A post-lunch stroll on the jogging, biking, and walking trail is the perfect complement to a full belly.
If you’re in the mood for a sweet treat, head to Amy’s Ice Creams on West Sixth Street for an authentic Austin experience. Flavors range from buttered beer to the alcoholic waterloo lavender gin, and enthusiastic servers are eager to impress with ice cream scoop tricks. In mid-February, the Amy’s facility transforms into a production site for chocolate strawberries, which you can pick up from February 12–14.
After freshening up at your hotel, catch a cab to experience Tex Mex at its finest. Chuy's boasts “Big as Yo Face” burritos, spicy Chicka-Chicka Boom-Boom enchiladas, and famous chicken tortilla soup. Chips and queso, a delightfully rich combination of melted cheese and chili pepper, are a must.
Post dinner, head to Sixth Street for a weekend bar crawl. Start at the historic Driskill Hotel, a classy old-time Texas lodge with a cozy lounge for grabbing drinks. Check the live music schedule to see if you’ll have a chance to hear a singer croon while you relax on an overstuffed leather sofa. Continue to nearby Haddingtons, which exudes an upscale tavern feel with its dark wood and brick interior. The classically trained mixologists utilize house-made tonics, fresh fruit, and premium ingredients to craft cocktails on the seasonally changing menu, which has previously included a duck fat–infused Sazerac and Elwood Sour—bourbon, Combier, grapefruit, egg white, and decanter bitters. If you’re eager to test out your Texas two-stepping skills, end the night at the Stage on Sixth, where live bands play country and rock tunes in front of a wide-open dance floor.
Start your last full day right with brunch downtown at Moonshine Patio Bar and Grill. During its buffet-style Sunday brunch, load up on signature Texas comfort food such as migas, cornflake-fried chicken tenders, sweet potato casserole, and buttermilk biscuits. Healthy eaters will appreciate fresh salad and delectably light poppy seed yogurt with seasonal fruit.
Post-brunch, catch a cab to South Congress Street for a stretch of nonstop shopping. Start by exploring a variety of bedazzled costumes at Lucy in Disguise. For antiques, check out Uncommon Objects, where the rooms are filled with everything from old posters to vintage jewelry to taxidermy. If you’re eager for a signature Texas souvenir, continue on to Allens Boots and find your fit amongst rows and rows of authentic cowboy boots. Head a few blocks down the street to New Bohemia for an array of vintage clothing.
If shopping makes your stomach growl, walk to Hopdoddy for all-natural burgers and handcrafted beer. Fresh baked-in-house buns and hand-cut fries complement the classic Angus-beef burgers, which you can also sub out for a turkey, ahi tuna, or veggie patty. Don’t skip the baby kale salad, a light mix that includes watermelon, feta, pickled red onions, and avocado. Just make sure to arrive before the lunch rush to avoid the long lines. For a post-meal sweet treat, grab a pastry at Hey Cupcake, a metal trailer of a dessert station in the midst of the street’s other signature food trucks. Stay classic with the Standard, a chocolate-topped vanilla cake, or get adventurous with the Andes mint chocolate cake and peppermint buttercream frosting combination of the Mint Rushmore.
Mid-afternoon, relax at one of the many Alamo Drafthouse Cinema theaters, where you can catch the latest films and treasured classics. Beer and snacks are served during the movies for thirsty customers, and servers will bring your selections to your chair, allowing for an authentic old school movie-going experience.
If you’re up for a drive for dinner, head 30 minutes down I-35 for a visit to the Salt Lick for its signature brisket and sausages. The treasured venue has won numerous awards for its barbeque, sauce, and family-friendly hospitality. With a group? Try Salt Lick’s family style deal, which offers all-you-can-eat brisket, pork ribs, and sausages alongside tangy cole slaw, potato salad, and beans. Soft, fluffy sesame bread is offered on the side, so be sure to ask for it.
Head back to the airport in time to grab some food to take on your flight. Austin-Bergstrom features a live music venue and local restaurants, including coffee house Austin Java for scones and muffins, and Tex Mex staple Maudie’s for a quick breakfast taco. Bidding farewell to Austin may come easier with one last cup of queso in your hands.
Visiting Austin in the spring, summer or fall? Early winter isn’t the only good time to visit. Austin is hospitable and happening every month of the year. Here are a few seasonal favorites to check out.
SXSW Music and Film Interactive: This famous festival generally takes place in March and offers live music, independent films, and more.
Congress Bridge Bat Watching: Marvel from your spot on Congress Bridge as more than a million bats, part of the largest urban bat colony in North America, emerge from beneath the bridge. Best times to watch are summer and early fall, just before dusk.
Austin City Limits Music Festival: This three-day, two-weekend festival has featured headliners such as The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stevie Wonder, and Florence + The Machine, and takes place in Austin’s Zilker Park in the fall. Tickets go fast, so plan ahead for this one.
Texas Football: Experience the thrills of a packed stadium with 100,000 fans screaming “Texas Fight” at the University of Texas at Austin’s Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium. Burnt orange just may be your color.
Where to Stay
Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin: For classic luxury and an unbeatable location on Congress Avenue downtown, stay at the Stephen F. Austin. Just four blocks from the Capitol, it serves Western bistro fare at its Roaring Fork restaurant, and also houses a bar and deluxe fitness club. 701 Congress Ave., austin.intercontinental.com.
W Austin: This hip new luxury hotel in downtown Austin includes a tequila bar, room full of authentic records in the lobby, and pool deck with private cabanas and views of the skyline. 200 Lavaca St., whotels.com/Austin.
Hotel San Jose: Looking for a spot away from the downtown hustle and bustle? This minimalist chic place, tucked into the South Congress District, provides an intimate bar and outdoor pool area. 1316 S. Congress Ave, sanjosehotel.com.