A weekend in Austin is the perfect amount of time to explore. The city is so alive and accessible that it takes little effort to be completely immersed in its life and culture.
This is probably the only day you will wake up early. First thing on the agenda is a hearty breakfast at the Magnolia Cafe. To walk off all the calories you just consumed, head straight out the door of Magnolia Cafe and down the street to Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake). Enjoy walking the overgrown trails, watch the turtles and ducks putter in the lake, and take in the stunning view of Austin’s skyline. Along the trail you can pay homage to Austin music legend Stevie Ray Vaughan at his famous statue.
Next make your way to one of the most popular record stores in the United States, Waterloo Records, and check out their extensive collection of Texas music. After buying a Willie Nelson CD, walk across the street to Whole Foods world headquarters and buy some granola, energy bars, or dried fruit to consume the following day on a hike.
A first day in Austin must include a visit to the Texas State Capitol. Walk the grounds, stand beneath the dome, and take in the gubernatorial history. If it’s between 2pm and 4pm, make your way over to the Governor’s Mansion for a tour of the historic home that some think is haunted.
Before evening descends, get a copy of the Austin Chronicle and look at the entertainment section. Pick a show—any show—and plan to have your socks blown off by a great night on the town. For an authentic Austin night out, catch a country band at the Broken Spoke. If you have the guts and gumption, try your hand at two-stepping.
The first half of Day 2 is devoted to an education in Texas pride by visiting the Bullock Texas State History Museum. After you’re all Texased out, have lunch at nearby Texas Chili Parlor, then walk over to Austin’s world-class repository for art, the Blanton Museum of Art. After admiring the Picassos, make your way down to the Driskill, Austin’s famed haunted hotel. Even if you don’t stay here you can marvel at the architecture and the creepy vibe, and get a confection at the 1886 Café & Bakery.
Cross over Lady Bird Lake and keep going until you arrive at the city’s most popular strip, South Congress Avenue, which is lined with funky shops, trendy boutiques, and restaurants. If you get hungry, order a margarita with shrimp fajitas at popular Güero’s Taco Bar. Check out the oddity shop Uncommon Objects and marvel at the $3,000 cowgirl boots at Allens Boots. As a side note, staying at one of the trendy hotels on South Congress is highly recommended.
By this time the music scene is getting revved up. Check out music listings in the Austin Chronicle and catch some live music at the Continental Club on South Congress or any of the venues on 6th Street or Red River Street, such as Stubb’s Bar-B-Q, The Mohawk, or The Parish. Peruse the music listings for Austin City Limits Live at The Moody Theater. This is a great way to see a world-class act and get close to the famous Austin City Limits stage.
Kick off today with a trip to the most visited presidential library in the United States, the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum. You’re sure to be moved by the exhibit about the president’s life, and may well up with tears when you walk into the JFK assassination exhibit, or feel a sense of pride at seeing the pen LBJ used in signing the Civil Rights Act. Follow up the LBJ experience with lunch at Rudy’s Country Store and BBQ for some smoky beef brisket. If it’s not over 100 degrees, make your way to Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve, which is close by. Walk the hills and learn about Central Texas flora and fauna through interpretive trails. At the end of the trail be sure to sit on the bench and enjoy the view of the city skyline for as long as you can.
Once you’ve acquired peace of mind, take a walk through Zilker Botanical Garden. Consider how this area was the stomping grounds of dinosaurs in the Hartman Prehistoric Garden, and then get a bite to eat at nearby Shady Grove Restaurant. Once you’ve filled up on great Tex-Mex, head downtown to famous Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. Order a pitcher of beer and watch a random movie or attend a Michael Jackson sing-along.
Your final day in Austin will start with a trip to Zilker Park, where you’ll take a ride on the Zilker Zephyr. This mini-train takes both mini and full-size passengers throughout the park. If you’re lucky your train ride will include a brief performance by “the man with the guitar in the cutoff shorts.” Assuming it’s a hot summer day, get off at the Barton Springs stop and jump in Barton Springs Pool. Plan to splash around in the constantly 68-degree water and people-watch for a couple of hours.
Before evening sets in, make your way to Lady Bird Lake and watch the bats of Congress Avenue Bridge, which take flight just before sundown. A great way to view them is by taking a ride on Lone Star Riverboat, a genuine double-decker paddle wheel riverboat. Follow this up with a visit to Austin’s burgeoning Warehouse District. First stop off at the Irish pub Fado’s or the popular pub The Ginger Man and drink a pint of beer produced by local brewhouse Live Oak Brewing Company. It’s your last night, so if you still have ears for music, check out some more bands and musicians. Or if you prefer a calm evening, walk over to Halcyon Coffeehouse to roast marshmallows and make s’mores at your table.
If you can squeeze one more day into your long weekend, a trip to San Antonio to visit The Alamo is essential. The drive is just two hours to downtown. After exploring Texas’s most sacred site, walk down to The Esquire Tavern, a spot famous for pub grub and for having the longest bar in Texas. Afterwards enjoy a stroll on San Antonio’s greatest feature, the River Walk. If you still have some time to kill before heading back to Austin, drive the Mission Trail.
Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Austin, San Antonio & the Hill Country.