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. You can even shop and drink beer at the same time which is always fun. 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 bowl stand (skip it) and the pizza stand (good enough if you like Daiya). Stop at the bakery case too and grab some Big John cookies a while you wait for your taco.
6th and Lamar is also a great corner for shopping, across 6th street is our fabulous giant independent book store 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.
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. If there is one thing that pretty much everyone in Austin agrees on it is that Arlo’s is not to be missed. They are set up at queer-friendly Cheer Up Charlies on Red River and they have the best greasy vegan bacon cheeseburger ever. 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. The rainy street district down towards the river is fun to walk around and see all the converted bungalows. My favorite pizza in the world is also down there are a little trailer called Via 313 on the patio of Craft Pride. 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 right at sunset, but 30 minutes afterwards or else you will have to wait forever, you can even call the hotline to find the right time! Instead wander down South Congress and stop at Snack Bar for some cocktails on their outdoor patio or Gueros for some margaritas. 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 on the first Thursday of every month there are even more shops and people than usual. 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.
A couple blocks down at South First and Live Oak you will find Rabbit Food Grocery our super awesome locally owned and operated all vegan store! They have tons of vegan items and they are constantly expanding, here is a review. 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. You can also stop at Bananarchy in the warm months for a frozen banana with toppings on a stick! They have many vegan flavors and it’s always a great treat. 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.
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, and hippies play drums while teenagers drink beer so there is something for everyone. If it’s winter or spring there should also be plenty of swimming opportunities hiking through the greenbelt. Here is a great post that explains the access points and has pictures. Just north from Barton Springs you can rent stand up paddleboards, canoes and kayaks to tour around which I also recommend. 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 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. One of my favorite vegan trailers Unity Vegan Kitchen is on Barton Springs road too and if you dream of muffaletta sandwiches or cashew cheese lasagna this is the place to be. 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. It 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.
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. I already mentioned how I adore VIA 313 pizza and they have another location here outside the Violet Crown Social Club. 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.A bit farther north on 11th and Waller you will find Sagra which is an Italian restaurant with a lovely vegan menu that has options like Macaroni and cheese with truffle oil, pizzas, and rissoto.
Ceaser Chavez has become home to many vegan eateries. A little bit up in an alley off on Navasota between 6th and 7th you will find Cool Beans one of the best Mexican food trucks in town and it’s all vegan and organic! They have amazing tamales and handmade tortillas so be sure to try it out. It’s behind Friends and Neighbors coffee shop.
Down the road are a couple more vegan trailers BBQ Revolution is the go to spot for smoked vegan barbeque in Texas! They have your choice of proteins from local tempeh to house made seitan and mac and cheese and other fixin’s. Check their Facebook page to make sure they are ope, they do run out sometimes.
The Vegan Yacht is a trailer at soma vida at 2324b e. Cesar Chavez st. specializing in non GMO and organic sandwiches and burritos. Everyone loves their Frito Burrito which is a Frito Pie in Burrito form. Here’s a tip, spring for the guacamole, it’s totally worth it.
Ceaser Chavez street is also home to our beloved Counter Culture which started on North Loop as a trailer but finally became a brick and mortar restaurant and is now the center of veganville. Enjoy their comfort style menu which can appease someone following any diet. Well, maybe not Atkins. Try the cheese plate with homemade artisan cheeses for happy hour. Capital City Bakery is also on Ceaser Chavez and should not be missed! Whether you want their light and fluffy cupcakes piled high with frosting or their savory kolaches or monster sized brownies you won’t be disappointed.
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, doughnuts, 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.
Although the biscuits and gravy trailer Biscuits and Groovy on 5015 Duval St at 51st St isn’t 100% vegan they probably have more vegan biscuit and gravy options than anyone else in the south since everything on the menu can be made vegan. Try the Gloria Gaynor which has three biscuits, gravy, vegan sausage, tofu scramble, daiya cheese, tempeh bacon, and jalapenos.
Up north we are so lucky to also have an all vegan ice cream shop called Sweet Ritual which is like something out of a dream. They have softserve and hard-pack ice creams with flavors like coffee with chunks of doughnuts mixed in and horchata. They also have have a range of sundaes like the Glitterbeast which has salted caramel sauce, strawberry sauce, and edible glitter. It shares a space with another Juiceland but if you are on vacation, I say go for the ice cream..
Sweet Ritual Waffle Cone Sundae FTW!
Just north of Sweet Ritual on North Loop you will find the cutest little strip with one of my favorite vintage furniture stores Room Service, our awesome anarchist bookstore MonkeyWrench Books, My favorite taco spot The Vegan Nom Rockin’ Vegan Tacos is also in this lot. I love the migas taco, the tofu scramble and tempeh, the vegan migas. the fish taco, the sweet potato taco, and really everything I’ve ever had there.
Down the street another vegan trailer Bistro Vonish is also on the property. They are hoping to open a fine dining restaurant soon but for now the trailer will feed you from their seasonal menu with pizzas, kolaches, and an ever changing menu. Its a great spot to go for brunch.
So that’s the basics, feel free to hit me up in the comments for any specific questions!!!