Arrive in Austin on a Friday, or a Thursday, or even a Tuesday and it doesn’t take long before you hear music, live music.
It pours out of big restaurants which take up a whole block and in tiny storefronts where five is a crowd. Music is the heartbeat of this city, the pulse that makes Austin the live music capital of the world.
CHECK IN : Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt was inspired by, of course, a musician and some of the biggest names, think single syllable names like Madonna and Adele, have used this as their base while performing in Austin. The hotel has an in-house music specialist who knows all the best places to catch musicians who are about to hit it big. Everything in the hotel, from the books on the coffee table, to art work made from old vinyl records, is designed to focus on the music. The hotel bar Geraldine’s has a ceiling contoured to maximize how visitors listen to music
Springtime is the best time to go to this part of Texas. Austin City Limits fest, the three-day event is held in September and if you go any time between May to October, temperatures can hit 105 degrees. Stick to springtime if you can. March and April are ideal times to go to Austin. There’s the added bonus then of the Austin Food & Wine Festival’s “Feast under the Stars” a five-course meal prepared by five different chefs and diners sit at long elegant tables outside.
9 PM : On your first evening in Austin, go visit one of the most unique areas in the U.S. to hear live music. Rainey Street entertainment district is not the usual club scene you might expect. It’s a residential neighborhood where rows of converted bungalows provide an only-in-Austin live music and bar experience.
8:30 AM : The next day should start early enough for breakfast. They do breakfast large here in Austin. At Annie’s Cafe, there’s a full service breakfast with grits and shrimp and pancakes that overflow the rim of plates plus a classic cafe lunch service.
10 AM : Start the day with the big picture. The A&O Tour of Austin and Hill Country covers 30 miles in 90 minutes, providing an overview of the city’s history and culture and musical origins. Hint: most of it stems from the city’s most famous resident, the Red-Headed Stranger. You’ll show your ignorance if you ask on your first morning who that is. So wait a bit. Walk down West 2nd Street and you’ll encounter an eight-foot-tall, one-ton bronze statue of a guitar player in braids. Here’s another hint. The statue was erected on 4/20 as a nod to this man’s reputation as a stoner.
12 PM : Patio dining culture dominates this city and Perla’s, in South Congress is one of the favorites among locals. Fresh oysters and seafood is flown in daily. Grilled octopus with Papas Bravas has the perfect bite of spice and chew.
2 PM : Wander around the South Congress Entertainment District and 6th Street, two shopping areas which showcase the eclectic and playful side of Austin. The areas feature an array of independent shops, where you can pick up your Keep Austin Weird t-shirt, one-of-a-kind boutiques, antiques, and hat shops.
7 PM : Dinner at Hillside Farmacy There’s history here and this restaurant proudly shows off its farm-to-table menu alongside pharmacy paraphernalia. In the 1920s, Hillside Drugstore was owned and operated by Doc Young, Austin’s first African American pharmacist. The operation shut down in the late 70s and the building was boarded up until 2012 when the concept was revived. An old-fashioned soda counter serves alcohol and ice cream. Try one of their inventive drinks such as Austin Sunset which includes gin and rosemary and Basil Smash with muddled basil and whisky.
9:30 PM : Live Music crawl. So many places to hear great live bands. If you’re into jazz, head to Elephant Room.
Something a little more downmarket can be found at Hole in the Wall which serves Japanese street food. Seeking the blues? Head to Antone’s Nightclub where a 19-year Stevie Ray Vaughan first took to the stage.
9:30 AM : Breakfast at Walton’s Fancy & Staple, a flower shop and breakfast joint opened by actress Sandra Bullock in 2009. There’s usually a line-up for those grabbing a coffee and a pastry, but it’s the weekend so settle down and take a seat at a table in the back and have a hearty breakfast of eggs or avocado toast.
11 AM : Drive to New Braunsfels, 50 minutes away from Texas and check in to The Gruene River Inn, overlooking the picturesque Guadalupe River.
This town was founded by a German prince in 1845 and there’s still a strong German heritage here. My favourite fact about New Braunsfels: it is the only high school in the U.S. where the mascot is a unicorn. This was long before the unicorn craze and the critter was picked because it was on the banner of the town’s founder.
1 PM : Lunch at the Gristmill River Restaurant Situated on a bluff overlooking the Guadalupe River, this spectacular restaurant is nestled under the shade of towering oak trees. It feels like you’re eating aloft the treetops. The Gruene cotton gin processed crops raised by area farmers until the wooden structure burned to the ground in 1922. All that remains of the water-powered mill today is the three-story brick boiler room which is now one of the biggest restaurants in the area.
3 PM : Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch and Natural Bridge Caverns Yes, it’s a cliche, but they do things big here. Discover incredible underground chambers filled with spectacular formations at the Natural Bridge Caverns, Texas’ largest show caves. The caves were discovered in 1960 after four university students convinced the land owners that large underground passages existed under the amazing 60-foot limestone bridge. And because this is Texas, of course you can go on a safari. Next door to the caverns is the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch , 450 acres of ostriches, zebras, buffaloes and giraffes all wandering around as you travel through by jeep. There are more than 500 animals on site.
6:30 PM : Dinner at Myron’s Prime Steakhouse Let’s keep it simple. Eat a steak while you’re in Texas. Go for the ribeye 22 oz.
8 PM : Live music at Gruene Hall This is the oldest and one of the most famous continuously operating dance halls in the state. This 6,000 square foot dance hall still has a high pitched tin roof. Even on the muggiest nights, breeze comes through because the original layout has side flaps for open air dancing. They’ve even kept the signs up from the 1930s.
You can listen to music anywhere, but to hear great bands like Texas legend Joe Ely play in a historic venue where by design not much as changed since 1878 is simply an enchanting way to end your trip to Texas.