A fun, cool vibe awaits in one of the South's most entertaining cities.
1 of 6Photography Gary Clark
Where To Stay
An invigorating energy wrangles each corner here. Austin's greatest appeal lies in its ability to balance its trendy scene with an inclusive attitude. The cowboy, the politician, the punk rocker, and the soccer mom all groove at the same music clubs and palm tortillas at the same Tex-Mex joints. No matter who you are, you'll fit in. Snugly.
Set yourself on Austin's pace by booking a room at the Austin Motel (rates $75-$158) down on South Congress Avenue, aka SoCo. There's not a more unique property in the whole city. Decorated with colorful wallpaper and 1960s and 1970s furniture, it reminds us more of a mom-and-pop lodge we'd find off Route 66. As an alternate choice, you can't beat the location and chain-like consistency of the Embassy Suites (rates start at $179) just south of the Congress Avenue bridge.
left: Some of the best features of the Austin Motel's pool are the retro chairs from the 1950s.
2 of 6Photography Gary Clark
Where To Eat
We like Magnolia Cafe South's giant buttermilk pancakes ($3.50 for a short stack) almost as much as the pterodactyl-esque dinosaur hanging from the ceiling.
For a quick kick any time of the day, try the Turbo ($3.25), an iced coffee drink guaranteed to crank your tractor, at Jo's Coffee. The crazy characters--uh, employees--at Amy's Ice Creams serve several fun and funky scoops ($3-$5).
Request an outdoor table at Shady Grove. You can't lose with their spicy green chile cheeseburger ($6.59). Pizza joints thrive in college towns (duh), and Frank and Angie's Pizzeria consistently ranks as one of the best. We like the 10-inch Pavarotti ($8.95), a thin-crust pizza made with portobello mushrooms, pesto, spinach, and feta, among other toppings.
Start dipping your chips in the peppery salsa at Vivo, a contemporary take on Tex-Mex. While waiting for your chile enchiladas ($9.95), walk around and check out the vibrant artwork and atmosphere.
left: Request an outdoor table at Vivo, a Tex-Mex restaurant.
3 of 6Photography Gary Clark
Where To Shop
Head first to the recently revitalized 2nd Street District. For high-end, custom-made boots or studded belts, drop into Cowboy Cool. Just down the street, Mercury Design Studio offers chic pillows, home accessories, and gorgeous coffee-table books on everything from travel to design.
Imagine an antiques store on a caffeine buzz from three espressos, and you have Uncommon Objects. The oddities lining the shelves in this SoCo staple will entertain, perplex, and possibly inspire. And a few blocks down, Vivid racks some of the hottest designs in Austin fashion.
left: Vivid, a designer clothing store, kicks off a strip of eclectic shops in SoCo.
4 of 6Photography Gary Clark
What to Do
Warm spring days make walks along the trails lining Town Lake perfectly pleasant. Get on the water in a kayak from Rowing Dock (singles start at $10 per hour).
As the day wanes, claim your spot along the Congress Avenue bridge for the best free show in town. At sundown from March to November, 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge in a cloud, like a giant swarm of bees. Editor's tip: You'll have to pay a few bucks, but one of the best vantage points is the sixth floor of the parking deck adjacent to the Radisson Hotel and Suites.
left: Canoes and kayaks slide across Town Lake on warm spring afternoons.
5 of 6Photography Gary Clark
Where To Hear Music
Some say Austin marches to the beat of a different drummer. We're convinced the city broke off long ago to start its own band. First stop: Waterloo Records. It's possibly the best independent music store in the South, if not the world. You'll dig the specialty sections, expert staff, and free in-store performances throughout the week. Back on Congress Avenue, descend the stairs to the Elephant Room, a club known for its smooth jazz. Editor's tip: Breathe easily. Austin recently passed a no-smoking ordinance in the city's businesses.
An eclectic lineup keeps the Continental Club one of the city's best live music venues. The club's rich history draws the big guns of rock and alternative country in unannounced sets, so you might get lucky and catch the likes of Kris Kristofferson or Sheryl Crow. Because of its popularity, arrive early or prepare to wait. You could be standing in line with a tattooed biker or a fresh-faced kid in tight Wranglers. Either way, don't be too surprised at how much you have in common when you strike up a conversation with them. That's so Austin and so why you'll love it.
left: You can barely turn around without finding a show here.
A NOTE TO OUR READERS:
"Living It Up In Austin" is from the April 2007 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.
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