Yes, it’s that time of year again: time for the streets of quirky Austin, Texas to be filled with tech nerds looking to find out what’s the latest and greatest on the horizon. Ah, there will always be a soft spot in my heart for Austin.
While the interwebz has no shortage of content on what to do, eat, and drink in Austin during SXSW, I’d like to share with you some deluxe Austin recommendations. At some point, you’re going to need some fresh air. And why not take advantage of Austin’s classy casual atmosphere to luxe things up a bit. Go on, you deserve it.
Lean into it With a Bit of Austin Flair
Ease into things with a cup of Jo’s Coffee, where I tend to end up spending most of my time whenever I am in Austin. I prefer the South Congress location but either works when you need a pick me up.
I suspect you’re just here for the booze + calories, but before we go there, let me tempt you with a cultural suggestion: the Wally Workman Gallery. You’ll find great art on the walls of just about every indoor building in town, but this gallery features a monthly rotation of eclectic pieces. I also like the AMoA-Arthouse.
Need to spend the rest of your SXSW budget in some Texan boutiques? Lucky Mag has a great list of shops, but honestly, just head down south Congress and pop your head into any shop that looks interesting. You’ll also have the benefit of plenty of foodcarts nearby should you feel a bit peckish.
If When you’ve got weary feet, pop into the Four Seasons spa – for the perfect anti-conference cure, try the Detoxifying Back Treatment (50 minutes, $145), which includes a detoxifying mud mask and back, shoulder and neck massage.
Lastly, I want to give a shout out to Lady Bird Lake. (That’s the waterway under the Congress Avenue Bridge, which might look more like a river to the uninitiated.) While the weather in Austin is unpredictable in the spring, it’s often a lot warmer and sunnier than I’m used to, so I like to get some fresh air when I can – and the running/walking trail around the lake is the perfect place to clear your head. Put on some comfy shoes, load up the Spotify playlist, and cruise.
Fine Dining without a Change of Clothes – It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere
I’ve covered some of my favorite places to eat in Austin, but I’d like to refresh up the list with some more recent new openings as well as updates on old favorites. The nice thing about Austin that even the most upscale dining spots are pretty casual – which is nice after a long conference day, and something I’m quite used to here in Portland.
- Cork & Co is a terrific little wine bar and a great place for some wine pairings over good conversation. It’s a tight space, and always bustling, so don’t be afraid to share half a table with strangers – you never know who you might meet.
- 400 Rabbits is a tequila bar/restaurant located in the Alamo Drafthouse, a theater that actually topped my list of the most unique movie theaters, so you’re guaranteed a genuine Austin experience here. Also, the name makes me laugh.
- Living Room is the lobby bar at the W Austin; while some W’s take on an unwieldy air of pretension, Austin keeps it cool, and I think closing that business deal over a tasty libation and good nibbles is just downright civilized.
- Easy Tiger took two beautiful things and paired them: a bakery and a beer garden. Doesn’t that just sound like a place you want to be? They make everything in house except for the adult libations, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they opened up a brewery out back next year.
- Russian House is, as the name suggests, Austin’s latest attempt at fabulous Russian cuisine. Borsch and cabbage might not be tempting you, but what if I told you they have an extensive vodka list, with infusions you can’t find elsewhere?
- TRIO at the Four Seasons: This is the best happy hour in Austin, hands down. Why? Because they have their own award-winning sommelier, Mark Sayre. Tell him I sent you and ask for his custom-blend, the Va Piano Signature Series Syrah. It’s divine, and I couldn’t leave it off my list.
For more suggestions, take a look at the Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide.
The best time to book your SXSW hotel is about 360 days before the next SXSW. (That’s a lie – it usually is a couple of weeks after SXSW before hotels start showing inventory.) Getting an Austin hotel really is the most difficult part of the process. We’ve mentioned a few hotel hot spots above; file these recommendations away for next year:
- The Driskill: This venerable property is an Austin institution. If you aren’t staying here, be sure to take a stroll through the lobby – it is gorgeous (especially at Christmas).
- Hotel St Cecilia: Centrally located and yet ultra-exclusive. It’s actually the perfect spot if you want to plan your own writer’s retreat.
- Travaasa: Out on the edge of town, it’s not ideal for conference goers, but why not stick around Austin a few days before/after the show and bliss out at this experiential resort and spa hotel. It’s one of a kind – there’s only one other Travassa, in Hawaii, but the Austin property is tres chic unique.
Now that you’ve had your fill of deluxe, how about our previous round up of weird things to do in Austin? Don’t say we didn’t warn you.