Texas

Art of the City, Austin: An All-American Town That Will Open Your Eyes

Austin is more than a ball of quirky energy, music, and breweries. From art to outdoor activities, there are plenty more things to do in Austin, Texas.

As I walk through the streets of Austin, the culture is palpable, buzzing all around me. I work right on the corner of 7th and Congress, so I get to take in the nature of the city every day — and no two days are alike. Within the span of 10th to 7th, I’ll see a street musician belting Willie Nelson, a businessman dressed to the nines, a biracial family walking to the Capitol for a picnic, and an artist adding their touch to a mural. The Capitol building, with an undeniable resemblance to its Federal counterpart, sits squarely in the middle of the urban downtown area as if to keep the up-and-coming atmosphere around it grounded in its history.

Lining the edges of Congress Street, old buildings turned into hip offices, businesses, hotels, and restaurants beckon the artfulness of blending old and new. Yet, while Texas is known as a red state, the community of Austin comes together to break down those traditional conservative roots. There are often marches in the street for children kept at the border, women’s rights, and other fundamental issues. Even though it is the capital of Texas, it’s a city that bases its values on love and friendship and is doing its part to open the rest of the state’s eyes.

Most people will know Austin for its quirky energy, its eclectic breweries, its ginormous music scene, and its self-proclaimed slogan of “Keep Austin Weird,” but the ever-changing city is so much more than that. Much like New York City, Austin has that same je ne sais quoi that makes everyone, from newcomer to passer-through, feel like a local, but at a much slower pace. From its exquisite upscale hotels to its unique art scene and outdoor activities, Austin is unlike any city in the world.

On the Corner of Congress

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Sandwiched on the famous corner of Congress and 7th, the Aloft Austin Downtown sits on a coveted corner of real estate in the city. Just a few blocks south of the Capitol, this modern hotel emanates everything Austin—from its pet-friendly accommodations to its rental bikes.

Besides its colorful, modern rooms—try to get your hands on one with lots of windows for picturesque views of the surrounding Austin skyline—be sure to capitalize on its “Ride + Dine” program that takes you around town in a cute little electric cab to try all the best bites. You get your choice of alcoholic beverage and a curated menu per each stop. Without a doubt, it’s one of the best ways to cram as much Austin into your visit as your stomach can hold.

Aloft Austin Downtown

Top rated
Austin, 0.9 miles to Downtown Austin
8.9 Excellent (467 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.3 / 10
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#AustinMurals

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A mid-century dream, this boutique hotel sits in the middle of South Congress Street—the best spot for quirky vintage shopping and snapping pictures by the most Instagram-famous murals in the city (#austinmurals).

Each room is minimally and artfully decorated with locally-sourced goods and bespoke linens, making you feel like you’re residing in a historic Travis Heights home. To allow you to take in the area like a true Texan, you can rent a motorcycle from Revival Cycles to cruise around on. Sip a refreshing cocktail or have a snack alongside the rooftop pool which levitates over South Congress and offers scenic views of downtown. With plenty of amenities and happenings to check out, the South Congress Hotel is worth a stop on your travel itinerary.

Take your special someone around the state

Texas

8 Romantic Getaways in Texas

Hotel South Congress

Top rated
Austin, 2.4 miles to Downtown Austin
8.6 Excellent (123 reviews)
Excellent Location 9.3 / 10
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Places to Eat in Austin, Texas

It’s no secret that Austin is one the most desired foodie cities in the world. From Seth Rogan to Matthew McConaughey, celebrities have raved about their favorite spots to chow down. The range of food is spectacular and, I can honestly say, I’ve never had a bad meal in Austin. Whether it’s one-of-a-kind bites at a food truck park or a steak and lobster dinner from a five-star restaurant such as Truluck’s, there is truly something for everyone on each block of this town.

Before Leaving The Hotel

One of the best spots to do happy hour, Caroline at the Aloft hotel is a trifecta of an establishment. With an amazing coffee bar featuring house-made pastries, an elegant dining area, and a laid-back upstairs portion—aptly named “Upstairs at Caroline”—you truly can’t go wrong. The intimate-backyard-esque atmosphere upstairs will make you feel like you’ve gone to a local party without having to know a soul. Get competitive with the giant Jenga game, corn hole, or shuffleboard while drinking an ice-cold can of Uncle Billy’s Pale Ale (locally-brewed, of course). If that isn’t inviting enough, their brisket taco is out of this world. With pickled onion and chipotle ranch, did you even really visit Austin if you didn’t combine Tex-Mex and barbecue?

Over at the South Congress Hotel, be sure to stop in Café No Sé and cash in on their all day rosé. Pair your crisp wine with the sweet potato beignets, which are little bits of puffy heaven. While the beet toast is just begging to be photographed for your Instagram grid, the milk-braised pork sandwich is one of the most unique things you will sink your teeth into—I say, go for all three.

If you want to get fancy and have an intimate dining experience unlike any other, the South Congress Hotel has Otoko—a Japanese omakase restaurant that only seats 12 at a time. Reserve your tickets ahead of time and enjoy the seasonal multi-course offerings of Head Chef Yoshi Okai.

A Sustainable Choice

On the Eastside of the city, a little historic building houses one of the best farm-to-table establishments around. The Hillside Farmacy restaurant lives inside of an old family operated pharmacy that closed its doors in the 1970s. Spruced up and restored, the Hillside Farmacy team even put in a classic fountain soda system. Their refreshing house punch pairs eggs-ellently with the fried-egg sandwich—complete with fried green tomatoes, hello southern charm!— and malt vinegar fries. With farm-fresh ingredients and a historic venue, it would be a mistake not to check out Hillside Farmacy.

Bars in Austin, Texas

We’ve got two words for you: Marshmallow Late. Before leaving the hotel, check out the Coffeehouse at Caroline offers custom espresso drinks to suit your every need, and this one takes the cake (or marshmallow, I guess). A creamy mocha delight, this craft latte has brûlée marshmallow cream on top. Sweet and decadent, this pairs well with one of their locally-baked goods. Not in a hot coffee kind of mood? Try their iced lavender latte for a uniquely sweet and refreshing pick me up.

The bar at South Congress Hotel combines the ambiance of an upscale lounge with the trendiness of a local bar. You’ll most likely meet someone new and interesting as a lot of up-and-coming entrepreneurs use it as a local watering hole while they work on the best new app. Chow down on some house-made barbecue pecans while you sip on a smooth Old Fashioned or three. You won’t be disappointed.

First-Class Boozy Punch

Photo courtesy of Resplendent Hospitality

The story behind Irene’s is one of the muses that inspired the hottest spots on the westside. One of their partner’s grandmothers, who is a “drinking, smoking, gambling woman with an immense heart and a keen understanding of true hospitality,” and her essence is sprinkled all throughout this cozy restaurant.

Like a classic Austin joint, Irene’s doesn’t come without a quirky backstory and perfectly boozy punch to go with it. With plenty of yummy bites and a full bar to pick from, I have three favorite drink choices here: the frosé on a hot afternoon, the sangria (which is easy to knock back two or three of), and the Sunny Afternoon—a punch consisting of gin, lemon juice, strawberry jam, and basil. Its interior is styled after an old airplane hanger with mirrors that look like airline windows and its touches of campy, mid-century decor make you feel like you’ve been transported back in time. With indoor seating, a coffee window up front, and a tree-shaded patio out back, you won’t find anything quite like Irene’s anywhere else in the country.

Fresh-Squeezed, Please

A fairly new addition to Austin’s thirst-quenching industry, Squeezery is a must-stop for a ginger or espresso shot first thing in the morning. With the freshest tasting smoothies around town, this place is here to wake you up with either a buzzing green juice or a unique beet latte. Just around the corner of the Aloft Hotel, it’s a hot spot to get your health on. My personal favorite is the Liquid Lunch with a shot of espresso added—this concoction will keep you going all morning. So whether you’re in town for work or play, stop by here to pick up your morning buzz. And while you’re at it, check out The Refinery, the cute coworking and event space it shares a building with. It’s made up of all the marble and copper dreams one could possibly imagine.

Austin Art

Kitty-corner to the Aloft Hotel, The Contemporary Austin houses itself in its South Congress location, the Jones Center. With a rooftop view that gives you surrounding views of downtown Austin, this modern art museum displays thought-provoking art on its first and second level. Offering engaging exhibits, activities, and events for the entire community, walking over to the Jones Center is a great way to connect with diverse cultures. Drop in on a Tuesday and it’s free!

Photo courtesy of Visit Austin

Groovin' On South Congress

A landmark on South Congress Street and just a couple doors down from the South Congress Hotel, this legendary music venue needs no introduction—but I’m going to give it one anyway. The Continental Club has held its piece of real estate since 1955 and hasn’t lost any of its magical appeal. Any night of the week you can walk through The Continental Club’s doors and experience some down-home blues, rock, swing, or even punk or indie—whoever is playing is guaranteed to rock your soul and get your body moving. This club is so much more than a music venue. It’s also a piece of Austin’s history, heart, and soul that keeps its doors open for aspiring artists and eager music lovers alike. Step through those doors and become a part of Austin’s rich culture.

Austin Outdoors

Zilker Park is famous for its enormous amount of land and beautiful green lawns, but its most appealing amenity by far is Barton Springs Pool. Fed by underground springs, this swimming oasis stays at a nice 68-70 degrees and welcomes everyone to come by to take a refreshing dip. The heat in Austin is bake-cookies-on-the-dashboard hot—so if you’re visiting anytime after June, I highly recommend putting this as must-do on your itinerary. Nothing quite beats dunking yourself in the springs and floating around after a long hot day in the Texas heat.

Gettin' Batty

Photo courtesy of Geoff Duncan of Visit Austin

Underneath the South Congress Bridge live nearly one and a half million bats—bet you didn’t know that, huh? It gets better. From March to November, these bats fly through the Austin sunset and over Lady Bird Lake to go get their dinner (around 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.). People line up on the side of the bridge to see them, but I have a better recommendation.

Get yourself a ticket to the Austin bat tour. You get to sit on a cruise ship and take a trip up and around the lake, allowing for a lakeside view of the beautiful Austin skyline and historical information about the city. The tour ends with the boat parked under the bridge, and you get to sit in awe as you watch thousands of these tiny winged creatures fly out into the night to munch on insects. I’m not sure where else in the world you can sit on a lake in the middle of summer and watch thousands of bats fly over your head. It’s just another reminder of how special Austin really is.

Feature image courtesy of Visit Austin