or So You Are Coming to Austin
This is in response to the question I get the most, “Where should I go when I visit Austin?”. Then it’s usually followed by “Where should I live when I move to Austin?”
I’ve tried to write this post several times but it always gets out of hand since there is so much I want to tell you! One attempt turned into a downtown guide just for SXSW and another turned into my every vegan option I know of in the city guide, and then I do a yearly post of top ten favorite dishes. This one is going to be just the best: what you shouldn’t miss on a weekend trip to Austin and I’m sorry but you are going to have to eat a lot of food. I can’t leave too many things out! I am going to do a blog post too which is the condensed version so if you don’t want to read my whole Lonely Planet style rambling click here. I also made this google map! And there are a bunch of reviews here. And now a late night guide here.
Lamar is the main street through town and probably where you will start your vegan journey because everyone I know that has ever come to Austin is always amazed by our Whole Foods on 6th and Lamar. The company started a couple blocks away and through the years keeps getting bigger and bigger. Walk around the whole store and sample fruit and other things along the way. There is “Greens” raw/vegan cafe just past all the produce and usually they will let you try whatever they’ve got. Towards the middle of the store is the Lamar Bar where you can sit down for whatever they’ve got on tap or you can pick out whatever you like from beer alley. Keep walking past that and you will find the loose tea, the chocolate fountain, and eventually a huge salad and food bar. My advice is to skip all of it and wait in the breakfast taco line with everybody else. It is by the coffee and the pizza. If it is before 1 on weekends or 11 on weekdays you will notice the giant line snaking through the store. The bakery case is right next to it so grab some Big John cookies and kolaches while you wait and marvel at the giant vegan donut.
6th and Lamar is also a great corner for shopping, across 6th street is our fabulous Book People, with an REI and Anthropologie next door. Across Lamar from there is Waterloo Records which is one of the best places to buy recorded music anywhere. They often have bands playing in the store with free beer too so check the schedule. Kind of behind Waterloo is the very vegan friendly Lush cosmetics where you can buy a bath bomb and the best smelling soap you will ever use in your life. There are quite a few others stores up and down the street if you continue along west down 6th street there are some art galleries and other businesses as well. Also, you will find Beets Living Food Cafe tucked into a larger building where you can try their raw Asian Noodle Salad or Jalapeno Poppers. The desserts are the best part and totally worth the price.
If shopping isn’t your thing, turn towards downtown east on 6th street and you can walk around the heart of downtown and see some historical sites or stop at one of our many museums. If you are feeling like a fancier downtown definitely make a reservation for the gourmet Mexican food at La Condessa their vegan plate is not on the menu but they have assured me that the chef will always make something fabulous inspired by what’s in season and they always have a vegan dessert too. It’s one of my favorite most places. Otherwise, stick with the trailers you will see everywhere. Downtown will completely change at night when 6th street closes down to cars and all the college kids, tourists, and music fans take to the street. Check out this sxsw post for late night vegan options. People always ask me where to see live music but I really can’t tell you cause there are a hundred places playing everything from rockabilly to viking metal to whatever floats your boat. If you don’t want to wander, check out the free Austin Chronicle available everywhere for ideas.
If you head south down Congress you will eventually get to the Anne Richards Bridge (aka the south congress bridge) which is home to one of the largest urban bat colonies in the world. At dusk during bat season the bats emerge from their nesting spot and take off to hunt for the night. It is fun to watch as thousands of bats fly off for about 20 minutes. Lots of people line up on top of the bridge but I think the better spot is under the bridge on the south side by the Austin American statesman building. My pro tip here is to not go at sunset, but afterwards or else you will have to wait forever, you can even call the hotline! Instead wander down South Congress and stop at Snack Bar for some cocktails on their outdoor patio or Gueros for some margaritas and food for lover’s vegan queso. Make sure you ask for the vegan menu if you decide to dine there. The Continental Club is a really perfect spot to see Austin style music like Dale Watson or Alejandro Escovado. You can walk all along south congress and stop at whatever cute stores strike your fancy but don’t miss Hey Cupcake where you grab one of Celeste’s best.
You can even stay right at the San Jose Hotel so that in the morning you will be ready to head to Bouldin Creek bright and early before they run out of the rennedict. Actually, no matter what happens make sure you go to Bouldin Creek. They have my favorite tofu scramble in the world (you can get it to replace eggs in and dish) and their tofu bacon is surprisingly delicious. Resistencia Bookstore, End of an Ear record store, and Roadhouse Relics where you can take a picture in front of the Austin postcard mural, are all along that street. I also recommend stopping by the Fair Bean for a Horchata Latte and a vegan empanada.
My most favorite part of Austin is probably Barton Springs and the Greenbelt that flows up to it. Barton Springs is open year round (but closed on Thursdays) and in the summer it is a few dollars to get in but it is the best. Even when everyone in town is there the pool is never too full and when it’s 110 degrees out the cold spring water feels so good. If it is hot out grab a frozen chocolate covered banana from Bananarchy on the way.
Just south of the pool in Zilker Park is the greenbelt trail which stretches for many miles and is really fun to hike or mountain bike through, especially when we have gotten a lot of rain and you can swim in the natural swimming holes and rivers that pop up. People climb on rocks, babies learn to swim too and hippies play drums while teenagers drink beer so there is something for everyone. North from Barton Springs you can rent canoes and kayaks to tour around which I also recomend. It is a great way to see Austin and there is always a ton of people on the water but only a couple of powered boats. The hike and bike trail circles the lake and is a much easier hike than the greenbelt and also a fun way to see the city. The pedestrian bridge and the statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan make for great photo ops. After all the exercise if you want to really stick with something healthy and Casa de Luz, an all vegan macrobiotic restaurant might be the perfect thing, especially for the brown rice crowd. It’s kind of a buffet where you pay up front and then help yourself to set menu for the day which you can check ahead. The restaurant is a part of a community center so the grounds are really pretty and relaxing. Another place right along Barton Spring road, Juiceland, is definitely a spot you shouldn’t miss. The next level juices and smoothies will amaze you. I promise.
Otherwise, Mr. Natural is just down the street and the perfect place to go for Mexican vegetarian food. Most things are vegan and they too have buffet, but here you can at least select from a couple options. They also have a menu which you are welcome to order off that has everything from crispy tacos to milanesa and soya guisado. You will probably love whatever you try, just make sure that you finish up with the vegan tres leches cake.
Probably my favorite thing to do in Austin is go to the Alamo Drafthouse. There are a few in town but the location on South Lamar is the one I go to the most. It is basically the place where movie geeks want to go when they die.This local chain started downtown and the reason it is best is because of the programming. Of course, you can just see the new Tom Hanks movie or whatever is out but I highly recommend you go to an original event. They have had everything from an R Kelley trapped in the closet sing-a-long to a silent film with a score being performed live by a local group, or Master Pancake where you can watch a movie like the “Lost Boys” while three comedians riff MST3K style. In the summer they do big events like having a canoe trip and then showing Deliverance in a cave. When I have friends coming from out of town I always look at the Alamo schedule first and plan their trip around it. I’m a dork though. The south location is in the same strip is the Highball which is owned by the same people. It is a swanky retro style lounge that has a bowling alley, private karaoke rooms, and special events as well. The one caveat to both places is that while they do have something you can eat they really don’t cater to vegans at all so I recommend you eat somewhere that loves us before you go and just get drinks while you are there. Also avoid any of the feasts or movies with food pairings. I can’t tell you how much I long to go to the Lord of the Rings all day marathon with hobbit meals included (elevensies! second breakfast!) but they never have a vegan version.
The eastside is the fastest growing part of town and every time I go I am continually amazed by all the new businesses that sprout up like mushrooms. Walking around east 6th bar hopping is pretty fun and you are bound to see some good music and find a place that you want to stop at. You might enjoy the vegan and queer friendly bar Cheer Up Charlies, they always have really fun events and though they don’t have food, there is a trailer park next door with lots of options, including the best veggie burger in Texas at Arlo’s which is all vegan too and has items like a Buffalo Chik’n Sandwich and a Bac’n Cheeze Burger. Via 313 Pizza is across the street and will deliver to any of the nearby bars. I also love the Eastside King which has several locations, the one behind a bar called the Liberty being the most vegan friendly. They have these fried brussel sprouts that you wouldn’t believe. Another block down across the way from the Brixton is
Further south but still on the east side is Ceaser Chavez street which is home to our beloved Counter Culture which started on North Loop as a trailer but finally became a brick and mortar restaurant and will soon be the center of veganville. Here on certain nights you can pick up special vegan items from the Rabbit Food pop-up shop or just enjoy their menu which can appease someone following any diet. Well, maybe not Atkins.
So that leaves north Austin, the home of UT campus and most of the people that live here! North Austin goes on forever and there is an endless amount of restaurants and hotpots but I am only going to share a couple that you must try. Capital City bakery is a trailer that is open 11-8 Tuesday-Saturday and has the best vegan cupcakes you will ever try. That whole trailer food court is really vegan friendly if you are looking for something savory.
The number one stop for north Austin is Wheatsville Co-op, don’t blow it off as some campus grocery store, these people know how to cook southern comfort and it is one of the most vegan friendly places I have ever been to. You have to try the popcorn tofu. Seriously. The best way to do this is in a popcorn tofu po’boy but now they also have buffalo popcorn tofu with blue cheese dressing so it’s a toss up of which is better. You can always stuff some in your bag for your trip home! They also have my favorite noochy vegan mac and cheese, Red Rabbit donuts, rice krispie treats, black bottom brownies, vegan sushi, frito pie, and a million other things that are all fantastic. You will want to move here like everyone else.
Just across the street and a little south of Wheatsville is Toy Joy which is pretty much the best toy store for ever, even if you are over the age of 12. You will find so much fun stuff to play with and you will probably have to buy something like a Star Wars lunch box or smurf figurine. They even do free gift wrapping!
The back of the store has so much Hello Kittie stuff that you won’t believe it and bubble tea and a vegan ice cream stand! I love the notella milkshake or the faux butterfinger.(ed toy joy broke my heart and closed off the ice cream section at the end of 2012) If you want a waffle cone or a glitter sundae you are going to have to go a few blocks north to the Daily Juice Cafe where you will find Sweet Ritual and their lovely ice cream stand! They have the best soft serve and the most adorable vegan owners and while you are waiting you can get nachos at the Daily Juice!
So that’s the basics, feel free to hit me up in the comments for any specific questions!!!