Austin Music Scene
Of course the music scene is where the Austin story should begin, as that is one of the most distinctive features of this town, and it grabs you the moment you arrive at the airport where giant guitar statues surround the baggage claim carousel. You know you're in for the ultimate music experience here. Welcome to Austin!
Austin Bergstrom Airport
The best way to get acquainted with the city and its music districts, as well other city highlights, is the AO Tours Austin and Hill Country 90-Minute Tour. This was recommended by Austin Tourism and is the perfect tour to take on your first day in town to get familiar with "All Things Austin". For a nominal cost and a ride in a comfortable Mercedes Benz small tour van, you get to see the highlights of Austin, the city's key landmarks, the main music districts, and other points of interest in and around the city.
For a tour that's specifically music focused, Austin Detours Live Music Crawl is highly recommended to get a flavor of the live music scene around Austin. We would have loved to have done this but you have to plan in advance and it was already booked a couple weeks before our trip. The tour is offered on Friday and Saturday evenings only. We did come across the tour group at The Continental Club, one of the most popular live music clubs located in the South Congress district, also known as SoCo. This retro club opened its doors back in 1955 and features multiple live bands performing blues, rock, country and more throughout the evening and late into the night.
The Continental Club, South Congress, Austin
The Live Music Crawl tour group, and many others, were having a blast out on the dance floor stepping to the Blues Specialists band. When the band finished their set, the tour group was rounded up into their tour van to head off to the next venue. It looked like a great way to get around to several venues in an evening while someone else does the driving.
Another popular street for live music and bars is Rainey Street, located just south of town where bungalow style homes have been transformed into cool cocktail bars and restaurants with live music of all types. Stroll along the two blocks of this lively street for an evening out on the town. We dropped into the Container Bar, an unusual and fun bar design made up of containers turned into cocktail lounge areas.
The Container Bar, Rainey Street, Austin
Our next stop along Rainey was the Half Step bar, a very large bar with cozy inside seating and plenty of outdoor tables and chairs to relax and enjoy an evening of cocktails and music. A trio with a really good bluesy sound performed inside. Don't forget to grab some freshly made tiny donuts at the little pink food truck, Little Lucy's Mini Donuts, located right outside adjacent to the club. Catch one of the many open-air electric car cabs or pedi-cabs that line the street for a quick lift home.
Half Step Bar Band, Rainey Street, Austin
The Bar at Half Step, Rainey Street, Austin
Distinctly different and more gritty and edgy than Rainey Street is Sixth Street downtown, sometimes referred to as Dirty Sixth by locals. This area claims to be where Austin's music scene originated. Bar after colorful bar line this street, with live music emanating from nearly all of them. Take your pick for whatever type of music you're up for, whether rock, blues, country, or jazz. There is much to experience on this wild and crazy street.
Sixth Street, Downtown, Austin
Sixth street also intersects Red River street, a three block long street full of music venues, bars and dance clubs. Stubb's BBQ has a huge outdoor music venue, and on the night we arrived Ryan Adams was performing to a sold-out crowd. The annual Austin City Limits Music Festival was about to get underway that weekend.
Austin Foodie Paradise
When you think of Austin, you might think of Tex Mex and barbecue. Well, that's a good start and there are many options for that in Austin. Tacos of every type as well as barbecue reign supreme here, but there are also so many other types of excellent dining experiences in Austin. Think food trucks, for one. I've never seen so many food trucks of so many types of foods anywhere before. Whatever you're in the mood for, there's a food truck for it in Austin.
Best way to find out where to eat in Austin is to ask the locals, but then I ended up with a pretty long list since there are so many good places to eat there. Several rose to the top of the list from multiple sources and we did our best to try as many as we could.
For our first night in town we wanted to try a barbecue restaurant. We chose Lamberts downtown, a rather large restaurant with dining downstairs and a bar upstairs with a stage. Since I'm a connoisseur of brisket, I tried theirs and was not disappointed. It was melt-in-your mouth moist and tender with plenty of good smoky flavor.
Lamberts Restaurant, Downtown, Austin
Lamberts Restaurant and Bar, Austin
For some good nachos and Mexican food, try Manuel's downtown. The salsa served with the chips was on fire, nothing like the tepid salsa we get at many places up north. The food was tasty and well-prepared, and don't forget to finish it all off with their delicious flan dessert.
Salsa at Manuel's, Downtown, Austin
If you're in East Austin, check out The Hightower restaurant for some creative dishes representing New Texan cuisine, and be sure to try the desserts there for some truly unique and delicious flavor combinations.
Dessert at The Hightower, East Austin
For a casual relaxed meal of some home-style cooking, head over to the Shady Grove restaurant in South Austin and enjoy an Airstream Chili Cheeseburger or some Truckstop Meatfloaf and a Wat-a-Rita or Draft Beer while you dine in the shade of a tall pecan tree in a pecan grove.
Whether for lunch or for dinner, Hopdoddy Burger Bar is the place to go for some awesome burgers topped with sauces made from scratch placed on fresh baked buns. Being a frito lover, the Terlingua burger satisfied that taste, and the Goodnight/Good Cause burger was a classic with just the right combo of ingredients to light up your taste buds. Add one of their hand-cut french fry combos to your order, like the Chili Con Queso Fries where you'll practically want to eat the sauce with a spoon it's so good. And don't forget to try one of their creative handmade shakes, like their Stout Chocolate - so much rich goodness you wouldn't want to miss.
Hopdoddy, South Congress, Austin
While you're out and about downtown at lunchtime and want something fast and simple, try Which Wich sandwich shop where you can decide which kind of sandwich you're in the mood for by selecting your own ingredients or picking which one you want from a list of fan favorites.
If you're in the SoCo (South Congress) neighborhood, you don't want to miss Torchy's Tacos, featuring a wide variety of taco combinations, with names like The Democrat, The Republican, The Independent, Trailer Park, and so on, which include some interesting and unexpected ingredients. Their motto is "Damn Good" which is posted in neon lights on their wall. I'd have to agree.
One can't visit Austin without trying one of their most popular barbecue joints. The locals will point you to La Barbecue for some of the best barbecue in town. Like it or not, you'll have to stand in line for this barbecue, which I did, for an hour, while I watched someone come out of the kitchen periodically and post a "sold out" sticker on various menu items while I waited in line. Turkey and beef ribs, and a couple of sides, sold out during my wait. I wasn't there to try those items, thankfully, but I did sweat it out that my barbecue of choice - brisket - might sell out right as I hit the front of the line. But I was lucky, it did not, and I got to sample some of their mouth-wateringly tender and delicious brisket, with a side of super hot pickles, and the classic side of potato bread slices.
While heading up to check out the State Capitol building, we took a lunch break at Quattro Gratti Ristorante e Pizzeria, just a couple blocks from the capitol and located in a historic 1876 building. The Spaghetti al Pomodoro was classic with a simple homemade Italian-style sauce with just the right balance of basil, garlic and seasonings, and the Nonna Mina Panini of meatballs and mozzarella was fresh and delicious. No doubt their pizzas are excellent too.
Quattro Gratti Ristorante e Pizzeria, Austin
Looking for a quick breakfast, Jo's Coffee downtown has a selection of breakfast tacos, fruit, granola, pancakes and more. Jo's in SoCo has breakfast tacos only. But both serve sandwiches and other light fare throughout the day.
Jo's Coffee on South Congress, Austin
Texas-size Pancakes at Jo's Downtown, Austin
Whataburger also has breakfast sandwiches, tacos, and biscuits and gravy. Nothing too exciting there but a quick and easy fast food breakfast.
The best breakfast of all turned out to be Hoover's Cooking at the Austin airport on our way home. It was a small take-away counter featuring southern soul food and it had, in our opinion, the best breakfast tacos and sausage sliders we'd had the whole trip. Their signature dishes are southern fried chicken, chicken and waffles and country sides, which I imagine are pretty darn good. So if you're looking for something tasty and filling before you leave Austin, then stop in here. It's the best airport food ever and located in the Gates 1-9 area.
Hoover's Cooking, Austin Bergstrom Airport
Austin Sights Around Town
There's a lot more to Austin than music and food, so we did visit a few other places around town. I think we would have to live here for a while to see everything, but we did the best we could by foot in four days.
As mentioned above, take the AO Tours 90-minute quick tour to get acquainted with the city. You can pick up the tour at the Austin Visitors Center or at the Wild About Music store, located downtown right next to the 6th street entertainment district. I chose to pick up the tour there since I wanted to start my trip diving right into fun music memorabilia, and this store has everything imaginable for music-lovers.
On this tour you'll only get a quick glimpse of all of Austin and a little bit of the Hill Country too, but it's good enough to help you figure out what you might want to see in more depth during your visit in Austin. Since it's a small group tour, you have plenty of opportunity to chat with the tour guide and ask lots of questions.
Willie Nelson Statue on Willie Nelson Blvd., Austin
The Texas State Capitol is well worth a visit and tour. Try joining one of the free tours offered inside. The Capitol is an impressive structure that rivals the U.S. Capitol in size. The tour is very informative with lots of interesting anecdotes about the state of Texas, its history, government and governors while you tour the grand rotunda and dome and enter the legislative chambers. The grounds are very beautiful with several large memorials and statues reflecting Texas history.
Texas State Capitol, Austin, Texas
If you're on a walking self-tour of the downtown area, stop into the beautiful and historic Driskell Hotel on East Sixth Street to relax in their ornate bar area and refresh with a signature cocktail in one of their intimate nooks of comfy western style chairs and sofas. There is live entertainment six nights a week in the bar.
The Driskell Hotel Lobby, Austin
If you're out at dusk, one of the most popular events to view is the night flight of hundreds of thousands of bats from under the South Congress Bridge, also known as the Bat Bridge. You can stand along the bridge, under it, along the Lady Bird Lake footpath near the bridge, or take a cruise that hovers near the bridge. Every night from March through November, between 7 and 8pm, these bats fly out and blanket the sky for their nightly feast on bugs. Unfortunately for us, the night we staked out this apparently incredible sight, along with throngs of other bat watchers, the bats did not come out for some unknown reason. Maybe it was the wet weather earlier that day or it was the one night the bats were not hungry, we don't know. But definitely check out this phenomenon because the locals say it's a sight to behold.
Austin at Night
Take a day to stroll up and down the SoCo (South Congress Avenue) district to enjoy all the vintage architecture and unique stores, eateries and music venues.
Amy's Ice Cream Shoppe, SoCo, Austin
Austin Motel, SoCo, Austin
Boutiques in SoCo, Austin
The 90-minute AO Tour only allows you to catch a quick look at popular points of interest around Austin so if you have more time, here are a few things we passed on the road that looked particularly interesting and worth another visit.
Lady Bird Lake for a scenic walk, or a hike on the trails or some biking along the lake where you'll find fantastic views of Austin. You can rent paddle boards, kayaks and canoes to have some fun in the water, but you can't swim in the lake because the currents are strong.
Visit Mt. Bonnell, also known as Covert Park, the highest point near the city, for some amazing views, especially at sunset. It's located on a ridgeline along the Lake Austin portion of the Colorado River and you can enjoy a hike and a picnic along here as well.
Laguna Gloria in West Austin is a gorgeous villa and historic landmark with a contemporary art museum and sculpture garden. Just stroll around the beautiful grounds and enjoy the natural setting and quiet of this peaceful sanctuary located in the middle of the city. A lagoon is located on one side and Lake Austin on the other affording lovely views. There is also a peacock farm there with numerous peacocks strutting around.
If you have time, venture out into the Austin Hill Country where wineries abound, vibrant historic towns dot the landscape for miles, and the homes on the hillsides are spectacular. This is certainly an area to explore outside of the Austin city limits. And speaking of that, Austin is the home of the Austin City Limits music festival which occurs every year and features over 130 bands over 3 days on two consecutive weekends. Music lovers from all over the country converge on the town for this big event every year.
I could go on and on about things to do in Austin. This article just scratches the surface. Whether you're visiting for a weekend or longer, the best way to find out what to see, where to eat or where the best music venues are based on your personal tastes is to ask the people who live there. They provide some of the best tips and honest opinions on what's good in Austin. I definitely want to go back to see more of all things Austin someday.
Austin Tourism: Austin Texas - Live Music is the latest video from the Live Music Capital of the World®. Filmed live from the streets of Austin, Texas, this one-of-a-kind collaborative video project features some of Austin's best musical talent -- lending their own personal style and creativity to American Blues Legend Jimmie Vaughan's song "Tick Tock." Read more about the artists and venues at http://www.austintexas.org/visit/music-scene/tick-tock/