You just arrived in Austin, TX for famed music, film and interactive conference SXSW. Sure you have tons of bands to see and parties to attend, but Austin is also an wonderful city that needs to be explored for its amazing restaurants, shopping and natural beauty. Ditch the travel guide and listen up: we visited this incredibly eccentric and cultured city and asked some locals to give us an insider’s look on where to eat, drink and shop. Take a look at our recommendations below and get the most out of your SXSW journey.
As the “modern-day general store for every man,” it doesn’t get better than STAG fellas. Stocking everything from clothing, antiques, accessories and grooming essentials from the best and brightest brands, they pair high end with low, mix vintage classics with new collections and meld the unexpected with the nostalgic. And with brands like Billykirk, Burkman Bros and Kika NY, it’s the one-stop-shop for everything cool.
If STAG represents the East Coast, Service Menswear definitely holds down the West. Swimwear brands like Onia and Paste will have you ready to dive into Barton Springs, and street wear like RVCA and Vans have your outdoorsy side covered.
Room Service Vintage
If thrifting is more your thing, stray from the string of vintage haunts on South Congress to find much better deals. There are a ton of great stores, but Room Service Vintage was a personal favorite. With everything from cowboy boots to barware to vintage Playboys, you could spend hours searching every nook and cranny.
We are huge fans of the nose to tail food movement, and you can get a delicious taste of it at Salty Sow. Serving local and sustainable ingredients in a modern farmhouse atmosphere, the seasonal menu changes daily depending on what is available that very second. Dishes like Candied Pork Belly with collards and soy balsamic syrup are complemented by an extensive wine, beer and cocktail list. Disclaimer: not for vegetarians or those looking for a light meal.
Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q
As pork rib enthusiasts, we did our research before heading down south and conjured a list of BBQ places to try. But friends living in Austin suggested we ditch the hyped joints and hit this tried and true spot, and the locals are always right. Order at the counter, cafeteria style, by the rib, slice or pound. Tell the crew you’re a newcomer and they’ll let you try before you buy.
You WILL want to eat five, but start with two and take it from there. Sink your teeth into a Democrat – shredded beef barbacoa topped with avocado, queso fresco, cilantro & onions – or go for a Dirty Sanchez – scrambled eggs with fried poblano chile, guacamole, escabeche carrots & shredded cheese – if you get down like that. This delectable outpost has become a small Texas chain, but visit the Trailer Park location and eat al fresco.
The Driskill Hotel Bar
If you’re looking for a good date spot or just a strong cocktail in a swanky lounge, the Driskill Hotel bar is the epitome of Southern charm. Pony hair upholstery, stained glass ceilings and a haunted grand staircase lend ambiance as a live bluegrass band provides the entertainment.
Head to the East Side of Austin for, in our opinion, pretty much the best bar patios in the country. But our favorite has to be Rio Rita for a colorful backyard and killer cocktail menu. You won’t regret ordering the Bloody Mary, or any of their concoctions for that matter. Try the sinus-clearing habanero shot if you dare.
If you’re looking to dance and go a little HAM, Barbarella is the place to drop it like it’s hot. Unpretentious for a club, busy nights feature three DJs – upstairs, downstairs and patio – so you can choose your own musical adventure.
Barton Springs Pool
Even though the icy waters of Barton Springs might be too cold to swim in this time of year, grab some friends and relax on the grassy hill while taking in the view.
The Oasis on Lake Travis
This incredible lookout spot may be a 30 minute drive from Austin city proper, but it’s worth the time spent on the road if you need a break from SXSW madness. Stay to eat or just come for a view of the sunset.