TFTR Top 10: Our Favorite Things to Experience in Austin

Austin. Ahhhhhhhhh. Austin. Every day, more and more people fall in love with our fair Texas city. And who can blame them? The music. The food. The festivals. The one-of-a-kind “keepin’ it weird” Austin vibe. It really is a great city, and a fascinating melting pot of cultures and classes. Where you’re free to let your freak flag fly, or just be your regular ol’ conservative stuffy self. Nobody cares. And it’s awesome.

All of that – combined with the fact it’s one of the most beautiful cities in Texas – makes Austin one of the fastest growing places anywhere in the U.S. And whether you’re coming to live, or just coming for a weekend, Austin’s got a never-ending list of awesome places to see, taste and exeprience. So with all you fine folks coming to our fair city – and in deference to the gazillions of other “what-to-do-and-what-to-see” blogs written about Austin – here’s our very own “locals” list of our 10 most favorite, very cool, very Texas things to experience here in the ATX. Enjoy!

brokenspokeGet your Texas honky-tonk on: If you feel like soakin’ up an authentic boot-scootin’ Texas dance-hall experience (which you absolutely should at least once) and you have the time and the means, you’ve gotta make your way down to Gruene Hall in New Braunfels. Its the granddaddy of Texas dance halls and a bonafide Lone Star State treasure. It’s a 45-minute drive south of Austin and worth every mile. Inside the Austin city limits however, that distinction firmly and deservedly belongs to the Broken Spoke, which is as much a country music museum as it is a dance hall. In either case, be prepared for old wooden picnic tables, old wooden dance floors, great Texas music, ice cold beer, and a Texas-sized good time.

marias

Annihilate that hangover with some greasy breakfast tacos. Austin may be the “Live Music Capital of the World”, but it’s now become the very center of the breakfast taco universe. So naturally there’s no shortage of really good places to get ’em. But after living here several years now and trying a countless number of breakfast tacos (we have the extra pounds and the heartburn to prove it), our favorite in the downtown area remains Maria’s on South Lamar. Like everything else in Austin, Maria’s has grown from a tiny shack on the side of the road to an all-out taco experience. Sit outside and enjoy your tacos (we recommend the chorizo/egg/cheese) while you sip on a Zing Zang  Bloody Mary and listen to some great live, local music. Few better ways to start the day around here.

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Hit the waters of Lady Bird Lake. A cruise on Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake) is one of the very best ways to experience the well-preserved natural beauty in and around downtown Austin, as well as get stunning views and pictures of the ever-rising downtown skyline. You definitely don’t have to be an avid kayaker to enjoy an easy but invigorating paddle around the lake, which is one of the most popular activities downtown (and for good reason). We’ve rented a few times from the Texas Rowing Center and always had a big time. If you’d rather cruise the lake under motor-power while sipping on a refreshing adult beverage privately with a group of friends (yes, please!), rent what’s called an electric-powered “duffy” boat from Capitol Cruises. It’s not only a helluva good time, but in our opinion is 100% hands-down without a doubt the best way to see the bats emerge from beneath the Congress Street bridge. (The bats start arriving in March and stay through September generally.)

capitolVisit the Texas State Capitol building. And prepare to be awed.  Okay. We know what all you young hipster whipper-snappers are thinking: “How effin’ boring!” But one glimpse of the most beautiful state capitol building in the U.S. (and *gasp!* arguably more stunning than the U.S. Capitol building) and you’ll realize you’re looking at something special. But don’t just admire it from the outside. Go ahead and take a few minutes to walk in. You don’t at all have to take an organized tour – you can just walk in, walk around, check the place out and spend as much or as little time as you’d like. And guaranteed you will feel a sense of awe. Just stand on the ground floor below the rotunda, look up and try to call us liars. Go ahead. Try. And the building itself isn’t just jaw-droppingly beautiful, it’s full of incredible, inspiring and informative art and artifacts from Texas’s grand and storied history. Afterward, have a beer and a bite to eat at the legendary Texas Chili Parlor – Austin’s equivalent of Washington DC’s Old Ebbitt Grill – where Texas’s most powerful movers and shakers have gathered through the years to make deals, settle differences, and craft policy.

el-arroyoSavor the food of the gods (aka Tex-Mex). There’s so much Mexican and Tex-Mex food in Austin (yes, there’s a difference) that it’s damned near impossible to spend any time here and not eat some of it, even by accident. It’s funny though – we look at many of the “Top 10” lists of Tex-Mex in Austin and have to shake our heads. Because we think a lot of the so-called “best” places in town suck, quite frankly. Goes to show that when it comes to Tex-Mex especially, tastes and preferences vary wildly. But we’ve gotta throw this out there: if you’re in the downtown area and don’t try the fried avocado at El Arroyo, you deserve to be smacked in the face. It’s that good. Then all you’ve gotta do is walk across the street – literally -to what is without question one of the best little bars on the planet, the Mean-Eyed Cat, for a pitcher of Lone Star and some of the best live music in town. And you can thank us later.

opiesGit yo’ self some real Texas barbecue. Yep. Gotta do it. And everyone – everyone – anymore will tell you to stand in line for hours and hope for a taste of the brisket at Franklin barbecue downtown.  Must be good. MUST be. But we wouldn’t know, ’cause we’ve never been. Call us old-fashioned, or impatient, or whatever. But the only way we’re standing in line that long for food – any kind of food – is if every meal comes with free, unlimited helpings of 18-year old Scotch and they’re handing out hundred-dollar bills at the door as you leave. What no one will tell you anymore is that yes, Virginia, there’s plenty of incredible barbecue outside of Franklin’s, and better still you don’t have to endure the accompanying circus. We have three favorites: the County Line on Bee Cave Road offers phenomenal barbecue atop a hill with 20-mile views and stunning sunsets; if you can make the drive, the Salt Lick out in Driftwood is a Texas legend and certainly worth the trip; similarly it’s a bit of a drive but there’s a spot called Opie’s out here where we live in Spicewood (west of Austin) that is downright delectable. Not just because of the great BBQ but their sides (spicy corn and tater tot casserole) are seriously better than any joint we’ve tried.

IM000464.JPGGo for a dip in a Texas swimmin’ hole. Though it’s probably still too chilly out to do much swimmin’ in March, you can always come back in the summer and soak your bones in what is a truly awesome, truly Texas experience. Barton Springs is by far the most famous, most popular and most accessible spot to take a dip in Austin. It’s clear, spring-fed waters are a constant 68-71 degrees year round, but the groovy people-watching here is as much a draw as anything. Krause Springs out here in Spicewood is hands down our favorite little spot. It’s also spring-fed, and its waterfalls and towering, gorgeous cypress trees make you feel like you’re worlds away from everything. And Hamilton Pool is equally pretty and secluded, but our ongoing drought in Texas has definitely taken a toll here. In fact last couple of times we were there its signature waterfall was reduced to barely a trickle. But still it remains one of the coolest and most popular spots around.

alamoTake in a flick at the Alamo Drafthouse. The Drafthouse is quickly growing from its humble beginnings here in Austin, and now has locations (or is planning locations) across the U.S. Which is cool but kinda sad too. But still it remains the quintessential Austin movie-going experience, and once you see a film here you’ll scoff at the idea of ever going back to the nasty cineplex at the mall. It’s great that you can not only enjoy a full bar and great food during a movie at the Drafthouse, but that they absolutely do not tolerate texting, talking, or any such tomfoolery during the show, guaranteeing a bullshit-free experience. They make it clear that if you text or talk during a movie here they’ll throw your chatty ass out. One warning though: watch out when the bill comes. We’ve been a couple of times when the wait staff took advantage of the dim lighting and added a few extra items and/or dollars to our tab.

south-congressStroll down South Congress.  If you didn’t know, the famous SoCo food truck park is gone, sadly. Forced to shut down last year to make way for – what else – a new hotel and retail development. But SoCo remains the one of the hippest, funkiest and coolest few blocks in all of Austin. Everybody – especially out of towners – raves about Guero’s Taco Bar and we know why. It’s got a great vibe and is totally worth a visit, just don’t be surprised if the food isn’t as good as you’d expect. The brunch and Bloody Marys at the South Congress Cafe, however, are giddyup-good – albeit a bit pricey. Doc’s is a cool place to plop down on a table outside and people watch with a cold beer in hand. Hipsters in particular will dig the variety of groovy shopping choices in SoCo. And when the sun goes down, Austin’s legendary Continental Club has incredible live music seven nights a week.

ginger2Comfort your craft beer cravings at the Ginger Man. Over-hyped and definitely over-priced is how we would describe just about any place in Austin’s oh-so-trendy Warehouse District. And while not an entirely unique “Austin” experience, The Ginger Man is one of our favorite spots to chill and expand our craft-brew horizons. The beer list is expansive, international and ever-changing, and the picnic tables out back are a great complement to the Ginger Man’s cozy interior. Best of all, the bartenders are always friendly, helpful and accommodating – which has become something of a rarity in Austin. We’ve been to too many craft brew pubs where the bar is manned by snotty hipster kids who make it a point to let you know they know more about the beers of the world than you’ll ever dream. Just give us a beer, dude. And don’t be a dick when we ask you about something new on tap.

So, yeah. That’s a start. There’s clearly a lot more to do, see and taste in Austin – but that’ll give you some of our own “local” perspectives.

What are your favorite spots in Austin? What would you recommend to folks visiting our fair city? Leave a comment and let us know.

Meantime, we’re headed over to Opie’s. We’ll try to save some spicy corn for ya.

Cheers!

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