Traveling to Austin for SxSW? Get the locals’ perspective! 5 locals share their top 5 Austin sights… welcome to 5×5
I’m trying not to think too much about Austin this week. Because when I do, my desire to hop a plane bound for SxSW (and that sunny Texas weather) is almost too much to bear. Yes, after visiting on a near bi-yearly basis for the past ten years, Austin has wormed its way into my heart, taking its place as one of my all-time favorite cities. And what’s not to love? Incredible food, incredible music, incredible people, that incredibly blue, endless Texas sky… Austin is a destination I’ll never turn down an invitation to, especially during festival season. One of the most welcoming cities I’ve ever stepped foot in, there’s always something new to discover, whether it’s a venue, cafe, outdoor space or juice bar, and I’ve found that when it comes to discovering the new and now, it’s best to turn to a local. Proof positive: when asked to send through their top 5 Austin travel destinations, the group below had almost zero overlap (save for the always essential Barton Springs Pool and South Congress Street). There’s something for everyone.
Welcome to 5×5: 5 Austin locals offering up 5 of their must-see, must-visit, and must-do Austin sights. If you’re lucky enough to be making your way to the “Live Music Capitol of the World” for SxSW, check out the recs below and start planning your itinerary now!
[lead image by Chelsea Laine Francis]
[above image by Adam Ziskie]
2201 Barton Springs Rd, Austin, TX 78746
“The Springs” as the locals call it is, in my opinion, the heart of dear Austin. It is especially so in the warmer months and a total rock-solid necessity in the dead heat of the Texas summer. This cool spring-fed pool is located in Zilker Park and open year round for swimming. I’ve been going since I was a child and it is most certainly my happy place. After all these years I still return with a book, a journal or a friend. The water there is magical. Post up on the hill and you are sure to make a new friend, or ten. Try the diving board or some yoga on the lawn. The chill vibes run wild here so hang for an hour or take the day to wash your worries away! Don’t blame me if you end up next to a didgeridoo or chorus of dudes jammin’ to Dave Matthews. Or, if you do, just roll with it. It’s the Austin way.
Note: They clean on Thursdays, but offer free night swims after 9PM — and trust me, it is awesome.
Tamale House East
1707 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702
I tried to keep this east side gem a secret but it just wouldn’t hold. I stumbled upon Tamale House when it first opened and fell in loooveee. Find something not to love about it and I will challenge you to a healthy duel while I down my migas taco and a mimosa — at the same time. This restaurant and casual hangout is family-owned and -operated and feels like home. Seriously, it reminds me of my Grandma’s cooking and, if you are lucky enough to get a peek into the kitchen, you will see Mom making her famous “Mom’s migas” with love. She has got great style, too! Authentic Mexican food with awesome vegan options. On the weekends there is typically live music tucked in the corner, or at least someone at the old piano. Often they host pop up dinners or late night dance parties, if you are at the right place at the right time. Enjoy the glorious patio and think of me.
Bunkhouse is actually the unique and magical umbrella that manages some of my favorite things in all of the US. They pay very close attention to all that they do and offer it up with style, integrity and care. In Austin you will find Bunkhouse’s Hotel San Jose, which is my favorite place to kick it and enjoy conversation. The outdoor courtyard and patio is open to everyone and is often a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of South Congress. If you need a pick-me-up, head next door to Jo’s Coffee, where everything is good and you will see folks lined up to take a picture in front of their infamous side wall. What is there? Well, you will just have to go to find out. PS: I love you so much.
Practice Yoga Austin
1103 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702
This is my favorite yoga studio in Austin and perfect for those looking to drop in for a class that rocks. Located on E. 6th in the heart of it all lies this little studio where the vibes are chill and the quality of yoga is on point. Practice runs more like a cooperative, offering absurdly high quality yoga classes for donation and the schedule runs from early morning to late at night — so you are bound to find a time that fits. Practice is modern and fresh but, for me, really holds some of that old Austin charm that focuses on the right things, mainly community and making sure everyone feels not only welcome, but freaking awesome. When I am in town, I teach Monday nights at 6pm. Join me for a class or, I swear — every teacher at this studio knows their stuff, is anchored in love and is amazing.
The Blanton Museum Of Art
200 E Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Austin, TX 78701
Need a little respite from the sunshine? Check out Austin’s beautiful art museum to cool down and get inspired. The collections at The Blanton are so wonderful and the touring gallery is always something diverse and interesting. Located on the UT campus, the museum also offers a ton of special programs that bring events, concerts and unique tours of the galleries. If you are there on a third Thursday you’re in luck — admission is free all day and you can pop into a yoga class with me! Warrior II to a Warhol. Warrior I to an Alice Neel. Um, yes please. Pro tip — make a day of it and walk over to the The Harry Ransom Center, The LBJ Library/Museum or Texas State History Museum right across the street!
The amazing thing about Austin is how many gems are hidden away in what appear to be strictly residential neighborhoods. The Rosedale/Northloop neighborhood has no shortage of these treasures. An afternoon in this neighborhood can take you in many directions, whether it’s day-drinking from the long list of beers at The Draught House , getting a traditional-inspired tattoo from the dudes at Mainstay Tattoo, or shooting the shit while having your newest piece of art framed by the awesome ladies that run Blue Skies Frame Co. This neighborhood is bursting with awesome Austin charm.
2213 E Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX 78702
This is another one of those places that you almost miss even when you are looking for it. However, if you find yourself within the refurbished walls of this 100-year-old house, you will not be disappointed. GrayDUCK Gallery has been upping the Austin art game since it came to be in 2010. The owner clearly has an eye for detail and execution and the artists that show here are always of a high caliber. The gallery hosts new openings every month from a wide variety of artists. If you are in Austin during one of their openings, do not miss it.
South First Neighborhood
Ever been cornered by a gang of wild peacocks? Clearly you’ve never been wandering around the South First neighborhood. This street has that kind of unique and forgotten charm. It seems like it used to be a bustling street that now only the locals wander. There are a ton of things to do on South First. You can nab some choice margaritas at Polvos, browse through some very reasonably priced gems at End of an Ear, or go get caffeinated at Seventh Flag Coffee Co. before heading out on the town. This is also the street where the famous Austin postcard wall mural lives.
510 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704
Nothing says karaoke bar quite like walking into somewhere that looks like a “Fight Club” would exist (if that was a thing that existed). This bar is a tiny brick square in the middle of an underground parking garage. As you walk into the shade of the underground garage you pass a sign that reads “When raining, concrete sediment may drip on your vehicle and cause damage. Park at your own risk.” Welcome to Ego’s. This bar, while it may not look like much, has the absolute best karaoke in town. The weekend nights are practically shoulder to shoulder while everyone waits for their chance to sing.
Yellow Jacket Social Club
1704 E 5th St, Austin, TX 78702
Tucked away beside a railroad track on the East side of Austin is a building that looks like it’s made of mud, where the radio plays a nice mix of Hank Williams and Black Sabbath. On the side of the building there are a bunch of picnic tables under a grove of trees. At night, lights strung up in the trees turn the place into a magical little oasis. You’re bound to find a spot for yourself in the circus that is Yellow Jacket Social Club, you just might not be able to hear yourself over Lemmy growling from the speakers.
4607 Bolm Rd, Austin, TX 78702
I don’t drink coffee — I know, I know, blasphemous. Instead, I prefer a delicious cup of tea, and there’s no better selection than Zhi Tea. Just a few minutes from my office, this place knows me as a regular. My personal favorite is the cacao chai with almond milk and honey. Imagine a spicy hot chocolate in tea form! They can serve you a pot of tea or a latte, whichever you prefer. All of their 100+ teas are organic and handcrafted in small batches in Austin. If you’re feeling hungry, take a seat in outside in their dog-friendly yard and they’ll whip up an amazing grilled cheese with the most delicious made-in-house pesto.
24300 Hamilton Pool Rd, Dripping Springs, TX
Just west of Austin proper, this watering hole makes you feel like you’re anywhere other than Texas. Feast your eyes on a gorgeous pool and grotto that were formed thousands of years ago when an underground river collapsed. There’s a 45-foot waterfall that creates a gorgeous landscape for swimming, as well as beautiful hiking trails along the creek.
[image of Hamilton Pool from this post]
Cherrywood, also referred to as French Place, is a beautiful enclave within East Austin that houses many students, artists and young families alike. It boasts single-story bungalow homes built between the 30s to 50s that are some of the most charming in the city. Within walking distance, you can have a picnic at Patterson Park, eat at one of the many delicious eateries such as Eastside Cafe or Unit D Pizzeria, and grab coffee at the infamous Thunderbird or Cherrywood Coffeehouse. Don’t forget to stop into Raven + Lily, a wonderfully curated store featuring fair trade, artisan crafted goods from around the world.
UMLAUF Sculpture Garden
605 Robert E Lee Rd, Austin, TX 78704
Just a few minutes from downtown, the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden & Museum displays the work of Charles Umlauf and other contemporary sculptors in one of the most serene and gorgeous settings you’ll find. Not only will you learn to appreciate the exquisite works on display, but there’s lush vegetation in the spring that provides itself extremely photo-worthy. Be sure to head on over to Juliet Ristorante for a delicious brunch afterward!
Elizabeth Street Cafe
1501 S 1st St, Austin, TX 78704
Elizabeth Street Cafe is the most charming little restaurant in town — it’s the perfect choice for lunch or dinner. The menu features a unique blend of Vietnamese food mixed with a French bakery. You can expect delicious banh mi served on house-baked baguettes, fresh spring rolls (highly recommend the shrimp ones), and mouth-watering vermicelli bowls. The ambiance is relaxed, complete with a sun-filled dining room and a shaded garden patio that’s perfect for cooler days. The waitresses’ uniforms are absolutely adorable, too.
South by San Jose
Parking lot of Hotel San Jose, South Congress St.
This is a recommendation for the SxSW season specifically, but this party is where we like to post up during the festival. Always and forever free, the Hotel San Jose and Jo’s Coffee hosts South by San Jose, a killer party in the parking lot with tons of amazing bands, flowing drinks and awesome shopping (Feathers always has a booth).
[Feathers image from this post]
South Congress Neighborhood and Shopping District
There is a lot to see and do on South Congress. Stop by for a glass of wine at the Hotel San Jose, pop into South Congress Books, Stag, Uncommon Objects, Sunroom and marvel at the ridiculously badass motorcycles from Revival Cycles across the street from Feathers. This is an easy shopping district to drop off and while away a few hours.
Brittany, above, adds, “you can’t come to Austin without exploring all that South Congress has to offer. With an array of electric shops, restaurants, hotels and bars, there’s plenty to see. The newly-opened South Congress Hotel has some of the most amazing interiors you’ll find in town. Be sure to grab a drink and a bite to eat at Central Standard (there are plenty of veggie-friendly options). Another favorite, Uncommon Goods, has unique vignettes of different vintage oddities that make for the perfect souvenir or gift. To appease your sweet-tooth, Big Top Candy Shop is a retro space with nearly any candy you could ever desire. You can’t finish your trip without taking a photo in front of the infamous graffiti wall on Jo’s Coffee. If you’re visiting during the months of March-October, don’t forget to check out the million+ bats that fly out from under the Congress bridge every night!”
4710 E 5th St, Austin, TX 78702
This is, hands down, one of our favorite patios to spend time with a group of friends and a bottle of rose. Tucked in a secluded pocket on the eastside, Justine’s has wonderful French food, a staff of radical babes, music from the record player, and serves as the perfect place to eat, drink, party and enjoy some of Austin’s beautiful weather.
700 Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78701
The Contemporary always has something cool going on. Go check out the rad exhibit by Mark Mothersbaugh, for sure, but, currently, we’re WAY into the amazing textural sculpture by the water downtown. Orly Genger sculptures woven from knotted repurposed lobster rope are large and vivid and are something cool to see and explore outdoors as part of the Waller Creek Parks — brought to us in conjunction with the Waller Creek Conservancy.
[image of Waller creek by Adam Ziskie]
8940 Research Blvd, Austin, TX 78758
Do you love vintage pinball? We freaking do, and this place is heaven for those of us who want to nerd out with some Bride of Pinbot. So many pinball games in one place it is mind-boggling. Your $20 can give you hours of entertainment and no hangover.
Two locations, north & south, see website for details
Whether you’re a seasoned ramen pro or you’re figuring out chopsticks, Ramen Tatsu-ya is the place for you. The staff is friendly, explanatory and incredibly willing to make something that could be a bit intimidating much easier. The yodas (sweet & sour brussel sprouts) and the sake cocktails are the perfect companion to whichever ramen you choose to go with. My personal favorite is the Tsukemen, a pork bone broth served with dipping noodles.
2427 Webberville Rd, Austin, TX 78702
You’re in luck because Fleet Coffee had its soft opening yesterday. Fleet Coffee is the newest coffee shop in Austin, but it’s owned by two of Austin’s most seasoned baristas: Patrick Pierce + Lorenzo Perkins. Lorenzo is the current chair of the Barista Guild of America. This shop is exactly what you’d expect out of two individuals who have devoted a large portion of their lives to coffee. The shop is small and every detail is intentional, from the basic drip coffee to the entire experimental ‘coffee and’ menu to the arrangement of flowers in the Chemex. It’s no doubt my new favorite coffee shop.
2511 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702
Samantha Jensen of Bricolage CF is a genius when it comes to arranging florals. Recently her Instagram boasts arrangements made for SxSW incorporating hops and succulents and the execution is flawless. Her studio is the perfect reflection of her work: clean, a perfect mix of light and dark and equal parts industry and class. Bricolage supplies florals for so many restaurants and businesses in Austin that I can’t keep count. Though her studio isn’t open to the public, if you’re ever in Austin, you should swing by and knock on the door.
The Paper + Craft Pantry
2511 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702
I love office supplies and I have since a very young age. The Paper + Craft Pantry is my dream come true. The shop is full of a ridiculous display of pens, confetti, greeting cards, notebooks and goods from makers across the US. The curation is enviable. You walk in the shop and there are immediately 10 things you want to take home with you. The Paper + Craft Pantry also hosts workshops. In my opinion it is the go-to place to learn something new in Austin.
1519 E Cesar Chavez St #200, Austin, TX 78702
Pizza and date nights are two things that are very important to me. Bufalina is the perfect spot for both of those things. They have a wood-burning oven in the dining area and the Neapolitan style pizza cooks in minutes within feet of your table. The atmosphere is perfect for a romantic dinner or for a celebration. In my opinion the best seat in the house is at the bar. The bartenders are friendly and storied, and you can watch as the pizzas are prepped & fired.
+ What would you add to this list? Please let us know!
All images by contributors unless otherwise noted.
Portrait of Christina Simon by Alexandra Valenti