When you’re traveling, time isn’t always a luxury you can afford. But two minutes might be all you need to take in that historic landmark. In 20 minutes, you can have lunch at that famous café. In 120 minutes, you can tour that iconic gallery. By shifting your sense of time, you can manage it, maximize it, and have a journey that’s as full as it is fulfilling.
There’s a reason (or rather, many reasons) why Austin repeatedly tops the lists of fastest growing cities in the country. And if you’re a creative working in film, TV, tech, or music—and have attended one of our world-famous festivals—you probably understand why. Austin has a pace unlike any other, and one-well-executed trip is all you need to fall in love with the city.
If you happen to be here during South by Southwest (SXSW), it’s easy to get swept up in what everyone else is doing. But if you’re looking to spend an extra couple days in the city, or find yourself here on a 48-hour stopover, this insider’s guide is all you need to get a taste of the local scene.
Wake up and go
It’s not hard to find a hip coffee shop to hang out in, but getting your caffeine to go keeps things moving. Stop by Picnik’s original trailer in the ’04 for their famous butter coffee. You’ll feel the benefits of this energizing tonic right away—it’s the perfect way to fuel up for a busy day in the city.
“One-well-executed trip is all you need to fall in love with the city.”
Taco ’bout it over breakfast
You can’t come to Austin and not eat a breakfast taco. From Picnik, head south to join the line at Veracruz All Natural and place an order for Migas Poblanas (egg, queso fresco, peppers, black beans, and avocado in a homemade tortilla). The food truck is parked outside Radio Coffee & Beer, a cafe that doubles as a music venue—a lot of the artists performing at SXSW can be found playing extra sets here.
Sort through some vinyl
Record collecting in Austin is a religion, and there are a lot of great stores. Waterloo, Antone’s, and Breakaway are considered houses of worship for many locals, but End of an Ear is especially loved by audiophiles who enjoy searching through highly curated titles for indie gems and rare issues, or catching in-store performances.
“It’s the ideal resting spot between festival going and a great place to meet locals and visitors who covet being able to soak up the rays so early in the year.”
Relax at Barton Springs
It can get hot in Austin. If you need to cool off quick, head to Barton Springs. Located in Zilker Park, this huge pool is entirely spring fed, making it 68°F year-round. A plunge, a few laps, and a bit of sunbathing on the grassy hill is all you need to feel refreshed. It’s the ideal resting spot between festival going and a great place to meet locals and visitors who covet being able to soak up the rays so early in the year.
Enjoy an early bird dinner
Happy hour at one of the city’s most popular establishments is a must. Arriving at 5 o’clock will give you plenty of time to enjoy the Sake Social at Uchi, chef Tyson Cole’s contemporary Japanese restaurant—order the Hama Chili, cold unfiltered sake, and whatever’s on special.
“…the Red River Cultural District is the better bet for catching shows from the local talent—or a buzzy touring act.”
Feel the music
There’s a venue for everyone in the Live Music Capital of the World. Though many people have heard of the infamous Sixth Street, the Red River Cultural District is the better bet for catching shows from the local talent—or a buzzy touring act. Check the listings for Mohawk, Cheer Up Charlies, Barracuda, Beerland, or Empire to discover your new favorite band.
Have a midnight snack
Justine’s Brasserie is the late-night spot in town. Indulge in buttery escargot and hearty steak frites while you sip an Enfant Terrible (lemon vodka, St.Germain, lime, cranberry) in this sexy, stylish respite from downtown—and remember to snap some pics in the mirrored infinity room before you go.
Go for a spin
Lady Bird Lake’s Hike-and-Bike Trail is a favorite destination for folks (and geese) to flock to year round, but it’s especially popular in the spring. Rent a B-Cycle and go for a 10-mile ride around the lake (which is actually a dammed part of the Colorado River), past fleets of rowers, kayakers, and paddle boarders. Stop by the off-leash dog park to meet some furry friends, and snap a ’Gram at Ai Weiwei’s awe-inspiring Forever Bicycles installation.
Eat dessert for breakfast
There’s a hot new brunch spot opening every minute, but Launderette in booming East Austin is a trusted favorite of mine. Order the “Pastry of the Day” as soon as you arrive—James Beard-nominated pastry chef Laura Sawicki’s creations never disappoint (just think of it as a sweet appetizer).
“Bathe in the rainbow sunshine that beams through the limestone masterpiece’s colored glass windows for a serene and joyous experience unlike any other.”
Color outside the lines
The University of Texas is home to one of the city’s most impressive attractions: the Blanton Museum of Art. American artist Ellsworth Kelly chose it as the site of his last work and only ever building design, Austin. Bathe in the rainbow sunshine that beams through the limestone masterpiece’s colored glass windows for a serene and joyous experience unlike any other.
Shop your way down SoCo
Make your way back west to stroll South Congress Avenue (or SoCo, to locals). Here, boutique shops like Parts & Labour, Yard Dog Gallery, and ByGeorge are overflowing with quirky souvenirs, local art, and stylish threads. If you need sustenance, pop into the uber-hip Hotel San José to sip rosé in the poolside courtyard or grab a café table on the sidewalk at June’s All Day.
“Austin is home to popular film and TV festivals including SXSW, Fantastic Fest, AFF, and ATX—but it’s also the birthplace of the Alamo Drafthouse.”
Enjoy dinner and a movie
Austin is home to popular film and TV festivals including SXSW, Fantastic Fest, AFF, and ATX—but it’s also the birthplace of the Alamo Drafthouse. This local theater comes with comfy reserved seating, food-and-drink service, and the strictest of etiquette standards (anyone caught talking or texting will be “ejected”). Thanks to the city’s many festivals it’s one of the best places to catch a film before it receives wide distribution.
Two days—48 hours—doesn’t seem like a lot. But what if you change your mindset: what if you think about it as 2,880 minutes? You can’t alter the passage of time, but you can change how you calculate it, perceive it, and use it. Make the most of every minute in Austin with these local favorites, and check out our local guides.