I’ve never gotten Presidents’ Day off work before, so when I learned I had the day off work my new job, I knew I had to take advantage of the three-day weekend. My sister also didn’t have work, so we decided to head off on another adventure together. We debated a few places, but ultimately decided on Austin, Texas since it had been on our lists for a while and would offer a more mild climate than DC this time of year.
I had the best time with my sister Jennifer on our trip and I loved exploring Austin, but I have to say, I liked San Antonio better! I feel like San Antonio doesn’t have as great of a marketing campaign, so it’s a really underrated town—whereas ATX has really blown up in the past ten years because of the live music scene, bachelorette party economy, and tech hub. I can see why so many people love it, but it was a little too spread out and was just a tad too hipster for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’d definitely go back if given the chance, I’m just not sure I’d go out of my way to go back.
For this trip, I decided to leave my DSLR camera at home since we were only in town for two quick days. My DSLR is awesome—but it is heavy and setting up the light to get the perfect shot can sometimes take a few minutes. On this trip, I wanted to travel light without the pressure of getting the perfect shot. Right around the holidays, I upgraded to an iPhone XS, and every photo in this post was taken on my phone. I’ve been so impressed with the quality of the photos it captures—they are better than the point-and-shoot Nikon I took with me to college, hah! I did edit these photos in Lightroom like always, but other than that, they’re just plain old iPhone snaps.
HOW TO GET THERE /
We arrived in Austin late Friday night and left mid-morning Monday, so we were able to enjoy two full days in town. Getting to Austin from DC is super easy—on the way there, we flew from IAD to DFW and then had a one-hour layover before flying to Austin from Dallas, which is a quick 34-minute flight. On the way home, we had a direct flight. In the future, I’d just pay the extra money to have direct flights both ways, but since it was a holiday weekend, flights were a bit more expensive than usual so we were trying not to break the bank. Our tickets were about $400. There were comparable flights out of DCA, but since I work in Tysons and my sister works in Fairfax, Dulles was easiest this go-around, and my parents live pretty close to the airport and provide awesome free Uber services.
I recently upgraded my credit card, and received a Priority Pass membership as a perk. Ahead of our flight out of Dulles, Jennifer and I enjoyed complimentary wine and food in the Turkish airlines lounge at Dulles. It was my first time in an airport lounge, but definitely not my last—it was such a nice perk to be able to avoid overpriced airport food and drink while still being able to fuel up before a trip. There are several other Priority Pass lounges at Dulles, but I had read this article and heard from friends that the Turkish Airlines one was the best, so that’s where we went.
GETTING AROUND AUSTIN /
On our first day in town, we took Ubers most places around Austin. Our hotel was in a very safe neighborhood, but there was a large homeless shelter about two blocks away, and since we didn’t know the area super well, we opted for a ride whenever we had a destination that would have required us to go in that direction. Every Uber ride we took was under $8, so it was a very economical way to get around town.
On our second day in town, there was a huge marathon happening, so many of the streets were blocked off to cars. As such, we decided to use Bird dockless scooters to get around. There are plenty of dockless scooters in DC, but I had never gotten on one before. They were such a fun and easy way to get around—I really felt like a kid again when I was riding one! We were able to cover a lot of ground on the scooters, and each paid about $20 to take multiple rides throughout the day. They can go very fast—up to 10 miles an hour—so we were definitely very cautious when riding them and opted to ditch them on very crowded sidewalks and streets. If the scooters aren’t your thing, Austin is very walkable! We could have walked anywhere we took the scooters to, we just were having so much riding them and liked that we could save a little time with them, too.
WHERE TO STAY /
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I am more of a hotel person than an Air BnB person. For this trip, my sister and I stayed at the Omni Austin Hotel Downtown. Nearly every major chain hotel has an outpost in this area, which is right near Sixth Street, a popular street for nightlife akin to Bourbon Street in New Orleans or Broadway in Nashville. We loved the location—it was central to everything! I had no complaints about the hotel—it’s on the older side, but has been kept up well, and the beds were super comfortable. It’s connected via an indoor atrium to an office building, so it reminded me a lot of an Embassy Suites.
If you’re looking for a splurge hotel, The Driskill Hotel is the most iconic hotel in Austin—its lobby is pictured below on the left. It’s where LBJ met his wife and where the Secret Service took Jenna Bush Hager on September 11 after the terrorist attacks. Built by a wealthy cattle rancher in the 1880s, the hotel feels like old-world Texas, complete with dark woods and rustic accents. We stopped in for a drink at their bar, which was named one of the best hotel bars in America.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK /
You will not go hungry or thirty when in Austin, that’s for sure! When my sister and I were planning this trip, we had a four-page shared Google doc that was pretty much just a running list of restaurants. Next time I’m in town, I’ll definitely be eating my way through more of our list. Here’s where we went on this trip:
- Juan in a Million—an East Austin establishment, Juan in a Million is a Mexican breakfast and lunch diner that’s known for their breakfast tacos. When we sat down for breakfast, we were given fresh chips and salsa, so I knew it was going to be good. This place is extremely popular, so I recommend going early if you want to avoid a wait. We got there around 9:30am and were seated immediately, but by the time we left an hour later, there was about an hour wait. I opted for the migas and Jennifer had the Don Juan, their signature dish—we both loved our meals and, as a plus, the food was very affordable. We got out of there for under $25, including two mimosas! Business Insider wrote a great piece on them here.
- La Barbecue—Austin is known for their barbecue, and La Barbecue certainly didn’t disappoint as it was some of the best I’ve ever had. While researching the trip, we knew that most barbecue places in Austin had long lines, so we weren’t surprised when the La Barbecue line extended into its parking lot. We ended up waiting in line nearly two hours, which actually wasn’t terrible—we enjoyed a few beers while in line and made friends with the people around us. I had the pulled pork sandwich and it was melt-in-your-mouth good. That being said, I’m not sure there was a true reason for the line—they only had one register open, the meat was pre-carved, and it seemed like most of their employees were mulling about. All of these factors combined makes me think the line might be a be a bit of a marketing ploy!
- Container Bar—Located on Rainey Street, which is a historic, adorable street where old craftsman-style houses have been turned into bars. It’s a fun party district that had a lively day drinking scene, and we really enjoyed our afternoon there. The first place we stopped into was Container Bar, which is America’s first bar made entirely of shipping containers. Compared to the rest of Rainey Street, it was very industrial. We popped into a few of the containers themselves, but ultimately decided to sip our margaritas outside and people watch.
- Unbarlieveable—also on Rainey Street, Unbarlieveable was my favorite bar we went to the whole trip! It’s a circus theme bar that has a huge giraffe and lawn games out front, and a slide in the back. Yes, that’s right—there’s a slide! And it was so much fun. Jennifer and I must have gone down it 20 times each. There also was a great cover band singing country music, so this was really my kind of place.
- Pelon’s—we went here for Tex Mex on Saturday night. Their chips were super fresh and delicious, and while I enjoyed my margarita and fajitas here, I didn’t think there was anything outstanding about Pelon’s. It was good food and the restaurant decor, especially the bar, was cute, but since we were in Texas, I think I was expecting it to blow me away more than it did.
- Moonshine Grill—we ate at Moonshine Grill for Sunday brunch, and it was probably my favorite meal of the entire trip. During brunch, the restaurant serves up a delicious buffet filled with all kinds of breakfast and lunch favorites. When we checked in at the hostess stand at 10:30am the wait was about two hours (they don’t take reservations). We went to the bar to order a mimosa for the wait, and ended up snagging a high top table in the bar with virtually no wait. Mimosas are $4 during brunch and the buffet was only $18, so this was a very affordable and fun way to kick off our second day in town.
- Torchy’s Tacos—I found my new favorite fast casual chain, and it’s Torchy’s Tacos! We stopped in here for a late lunch on Sunday afternoon and loved it. I had the fajita tacos with chipotle sauce and they were delicious—the ingredients tasted so fresh! I wasn’t in the mood for a margarita, but there was a full bar inside, which I’d definitely like to have a drink at next time.
- Hillside Farmacy—Hillside Farmacy has a really cool story—in the 1950s, pharmacist Doc Young and his family operated Hillside Drugstore. It closed in the 70s, but the Hillside Farmacy team restored the building and opened the restaurant inside, with decor and branding that honors the original pharmacy. They offer great American food—I had the burger, which had delicious 77 sauce on it, with the malt fries. I also loved the decor!
WHAT TO DO /
There is so much to do in Austin, we really only skimmed the surface the two days we were there! A highlight of our trip for me was touring the Texas State Capitol. It’s one of the largest state capitols in the country—everything is bigger in Texas! It’s anchored by a huge Rotunda—the Statue of Liberty can fit inside without her base, and the star on the light blue ceiling of the dome is eight feet long by eight feet long. In the Rotunda, they have a portrait of every former governor of Texas—including W! Off the Rotunda are the Senate and House of Representative chambers. We loved seeing how much Texas pride was incorporated into design details—the door hinges say Texas Capitol, the original 1880s light fixtures have lights that spell out Texas, and many of the wood chairs around the building have a lonestar engraved into them. There are free tours every half hour of the Capitol Building, and I can’t recommend one enough! We learned so much interesting Texas history, but the fact that blew my mind the most was that the amusement park Six Flags got its name from the six flags (representing the six ruling countries) that at one point flew over Texas.
After our time at the Texas State Capitol, we took a short ten-minute walk over to the UT Austin campus. I consider myself very lucky that between family vacations and my college search, my dad took us to nearly every major college on the Eastern Seaboard and through that, seeded a deep interest in me and my sisters of scoping out college campuses. UT Austin is steeped in so much history and tradition, it was cool to walk around and see their famous Main Building and get a glimpse of their huge football stadium! I can see why it has such an impassioned fan base.
Two neighborhoods we checked out were Rainey Street, which I mentioned earlier was the cute street of historic craftsman-style homes that have been transformed into bars, and South Congress. South Congress is a vibrant neighborhood with lots of shopping, coffee shops, and restaurants. In addition to your classic souvenir shops, we stopped into the original Kendra Scott, which offers exclusive home accessories and the cutest bar and patio. We also loved checking out the Yeti flagship store, which was merchandised in such a fun way with campsite and fishing scenarios set-up. There was also a lively bar out front and beer was served out of—you guessed it—Yeti coolers! While you’re in the SoCo neighborhood, make sure you stop by Jo’s Coffee to snap a picture with the famous “I Love You So Much” mural.
Nearby South Congress is the famous “Greetings from Austin” postcard mural, so definitely stop by if you’re in the area—it’s a quick scooter ride away. There were plenty of other people around when we were there, so it was easy to find someone to take our picture, and everyone was very respectful of solo shots, too. When we were planning, we found this awesome blog post that has a list of all the murals in Austin in case you’re interested in scoping out more! We saw so many in town—they add so much color and character.
On Sunday of our trip, we lucked out with awesome weather, we hopped on the Lady Bird Lake bike and walking trail. There was an easy path down to the trail from the South Congress Avenue bridge, which connects downtown to the South Congress neighborhood mentioned above. It was so nice to be right on the water, and if you wanted to get even closer, there was a rental place offering kayaks, canoes, and swan-shaped paddle boats.
To cap off our trip to Austin, we popped into a few bars on 6th Street. On weekends, they block it off for pedestrians, so it’s super easy to bar hop. I don’t have a ton of specific recommendations here—we just popped into the bars that looked like they had the best party going. I’m glad we stopped by since it’s such an iconic Austin nightlife spot, but I definitely preferred the vibe on Rainey Street!
So many of you gave me such great Austin recommendations via email and on this post—thank you, thank you, thank you! When you only have two days to explore a town with so much good food and fun to be had, it’s nice to have recommendations from trusted sources. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions about our trip to Austin—firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can’t wait to see which city in Texas I’ll pop up in next! You can check out my San Antonio guide here and a few posts on my Dallas visit here and here—I didn’t write travel guides in the same way back then, which is a bummer!