Sometimes a destination woos you at first glance. Panning Austin’s city limits and urban energy as I roll in, I’m smitten in seconds! To be fair, I had been reading up on Austin’s personality profile for awhile. I knew there was a good chance we’d be kindred spirits due to our shared love of good design, good food, good people, and well, the good life. The weather’s year-round 70-degree average and inkling toward indie is the icing on the cake – that, and the frozen custard I discovered.
Austin surpassed up-and-comer status 10 years ago. Nowadays, its contagious and unpretentious cool is enticing an average of 130 people per day to relocate and become official Austinites. I get this influx as I’m stand-up paddleboarding on the Colorado River that runs through the city, sipping locally-roasted coffee from a trailer, bicycling along a 20-mile urban trail stretch, and listening to live music at a famed underground venue. All of this in one day!
When I’m researching a destination, I start with a cool hotel, and grow my trip from there. Hotels – especially design hotels – are my heaven, my travel 101, and my inspiration. Two properties in Austin more than fit this philosophy; the Hotel San Jose and Hotel St. Cecilia; same owner, each a different kind of hip.
Leafy lounging at Hotel San Jose
I start at Hotel San Jose, a lush, minimalist muse in Austin’s buzzy South Congress neighborhood. Serape robes hang in the bathrooms. Concrete floors cool the space. Butterfly chairs flutter about the rooms and leafy grounds. Intent on experiencing every inch of it, I order two drinks at the lobby’s wo-manned minibar – it’s a prosecco night for me and a Lone Star beer night for my husband – and walk to the outdoor courtyard’s open seating to soak up the casual-chic atmosphere. Oddly, we sit in silence, content to absorb the prefect example of a stay that mixes and mingles locals and guests.
In the morning, we don’t fly far from the coop. There’s an open-air, front porch-style coffee shop, named Jo’s, beside the hotel. We plant ourselves on the metal, lime green chairs around a wooden table for two, and something magical then happens: a four-piece band comes on and serenades us (okay, everyone in the packed place). They’re really good; as they strum, I sway. We linger sipping our iced coffees until only the ice is left. Then, in perfect harmony with a quiet point in the song, I slurp, and that’s my cue to leave!
Viewfinder Tip: Don’t miss a live show in Austin, as it has over 250 music venues.
Turns out, this brush with live music is pretty commonplace, part of the everyday. Austin is the live music capital of the world with over 250 venues of mega and mini proportions scattered about town. Walk around at any hour, anywhere, and you’re likely to hear a tune traveling in the wind. Just listen for what you like and stop in. Sound spots I dig are The Continental Club and the Rattle Inn.
Now midday and Texas toasty, my iced coffee and breakfast taco are struggling to sustain, so we walk a few blocks for brunch, and become conveniently distracted enroute by the lure of an air conditioned cowboy bootery. This is Texas after all! Allens Boots blows my West Coast mind. There’s quite possibly enough boots of the plain, bedazzled, and embroidered variety to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool. I’m far from a country gal, but if it wasn’t for my small carry-on, I could have spent some serious cash on Southwestern wear (and on designer duds at By George boutique).
Minutes later we barely find a Sunday brunch seat at the nearby Elizabeth Street Cafe, a French-Vietnamese eatery dressed in white marble and happy hues. As I sip my passionfruit mimosa al fresco, I let out a sigh of joy, enamored by the restaurant’s gorgeous design. In this moment, my Austin status goes from fling to real thing: after taking in an open-air concert and trying on cowboy boots, I’m now eating South Asian-Euro fusion. I knew I could relate with the Southwest indie darling’s hip and eclectic side, yet the more I get to know her, it’s her authenticity I love.
What city have you fallen in love with at first glance?