You don't have to be a UT Longhorn to get hooked on Austin. Few can resist all that great music and the food--tangy barbecue cooked to perfection over hardwood coals or a plate of enchiladas, smothered in fresh sweet Texas onions. On a winter weekend morning, when the football crowds are long gone, you're about as close as you can come to having the city all to yourself. Enjoy it while you can, and share it with someone you love.
Friday Night Footlights
The freshly renovated Inter-Continental Stephen F. Austin Hotel at 701 Congress Avenue makes a great base for enjoying the downtown area for around $169 per night; 1-800-327-0200 or www.interconti.com. Make sure you ask about the Romance Package. (If this is a bit beyond your budget, try the Holiday Inn Town Lake. Rates start at $79; 1-800-465-4329.) Have an early dinner downstairs at the elegant new Star Canyon Restaurant, where chef Ron Brannon rides herd on Texas dishes, including some of the most flavorful enchiladas you'll ever taste. After dinner, it's just a short walk down the block to a performance at the historic State Theater or the Paramount Theatre. An evening of "Lone Star Love Songs," featuring songs by Texans and about Texas, takes the stage at the Paramount on February 16; (512) 472-5470.
Saturday--Shop and Take It Easy
For a taste of old Austin, order the trademark migas (eggs scrambled with tortilla pieces) for breakfast at Cisco's Restaurant in East Austin. Ask for seats in the back room, where Darrell Royal, Ben Crenshaw, and several other famous folks sometimes drop in for coffee and conversation on Saturday mornings. You never know who you might see.
Then set out to explore the city and find the perfect gift for your sweetheart. Congress Avenue is lined with an array of one-of-a-kind shops and galleries. The local musical scene is celebrated in everything from oil paintings to signed guitars at Wild About Music, next door to the Paramount Theatre. Buy some trout flies to fill your tackle box or decorate your walls at Austin Angler. Early Texas maps, photographs, and flags are featured at Gallery of the Republic, two blocks off Congress at the Four Seasons Hotel. Southern folk art ranges from a few dollars to the thousands at Yard Dog Folk Art, located across Town Lake on South Congress among a cluster of other shops. One of Dallas artist Isaac Smith's fanciful wooden bulldogs will cost you $1,200.
When lunchtime rolls around, head up to north Austin for chicken-fried steak at Threadgill's, the converted service station and music parlor where Janis Joplin first became a pearl of a singer. The Arboretum in northwest Austin offers plenty of shopping for trendy fashions, collectibles, and art. The grounds, which border a small pond, are a romantic place to go for a stroll in nice weather. Artisans Gallery sells heart-shaped etched glass, perfume bottles, and other Valentine gifts starting at $25. Owner Ellen Sloane-Solley often plays Cupid, helping customers select something special that says "I love you."
Go downtown for a romantic dinner at the Shoreline Grill, near the Four Seasons Hotel, overlooking Town Lake. Spend the rest of the evening soaking up the sounds of Austin. Feel the blues down to your shoes at Antone's, or catch an Austin star at La Zona Rosa. Pick up a copy of the Austin Chronicle to see who's on stage on Sixth Street and elsewhere around town, or look online at www.austin360.com for a comprehensive roundup of entertainment and information on what kind of music each club features.
Sunday--Let It Rain
Pop over to Sweetish Hill Bakery for melt-in-your-mouth blueberry croissants, or make reservations for the Sunday gospel brunch at Stubb's Bar-B-Q. Cap off your visit with a trip to the new Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. Don't miss the Texas Spirit Theater, where the special effects include imaginary grasshoppers and a storm that really rains on the audience. It's all part of the fun of being a Texan--even if it's just for the weekend.
For more information: Contact the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau, 201 East Second Street, Austin, TX 78701; (512) 474-5171, 1-800-926-2282, or www.austintexas.org.
This article is from the February 2002 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.