I’ve called Austin, Texas home for nearly eight years now, and even though the city was bustling and growing when we moved here in 2014, we’ve seen even more explosive growth since the pandemic hit in 2020. This capital city is not only home to one of the largest state universities in the country - University of Texas - it is also one of the biggest tech and startup hubs in the world. We are lucky enough to still have a major dose of “Austin weird” with our cool eateries, bars and hole-in-the wall music outposts, but my favorite aspect of Austin is its family-friendly ethos. Below are some of my favorite places to eat, drink and hang out in Austin whether you’re visiting with or without your kids.
GETTING AROUND AUSTIN
Downtown Austin is definitely walk-able, but if you’re wanting to explore areas beyond downtown, you’ll want to have a rental car or use ride-share transportation. When we first moved to Austin, Bill and I had just gotten married and didn’t have children yet. We lived in the Austonian, which was then the tallest building in all of Austin. We were blocks from the W Hotel and Austin City Limits where we could easily take in shows and delicious cocktails. But in the past few years, downtown has really expanded and there are so many yummy restaurants and venues to explore by foot. You can also easily walk to South Congress from Downtown, which makes for a nice one-two-punch.
WHERE TO STAY
When Bill and I first came down to Austin to make sure it was a place we wanted to live, his company put us up at the famous and historic Driskill Hotel, right in the heart of Downtown Austin. This hotel is in a very central location, and is known to have ghosts of the past floating around its halls (which in all honesty really freaked me out!).
Some other great hotel options that we’ve recommended to friends and family over the years include:
- The Proper - in the heart of the new Second Street District, this Kelly Wearstler-designed hotel is the epitome of “New Austin.” It’s chic, chic, chic. Don’t miss the hotel’s two delicious restaurants: The Peacock (great for brunch or dinner), and La Piscina (amazing fajitas and great vibe by the hotel pool). The hotel’s lobby bar is also a great congregating spot for a cocktail before meeting friends for dinner elsewhere.
- The Soho House - You know your city is fancy when it adds a Soho House to its lineup. Even if you’re not a member, you can still stay at this elegant and trendy hotel that sits right in the heart of the new Music Lane area of South Congress. There are restaurants, shops and coffee joints galore up and down South Congress, so if you’re in the mood for a true Austin experience, this is a great spot to park.
- South Congress Hotel - Just as the name implies, this hotel is right in the heart of South Congress, which is one of Austin’s major shopping and eating destinations and offers a good mix of “Austin weird” and new-school luxe. With elegant decor and a delicious restaurant, this hotel is perfect for a weekend away with girlfriends.
- JW Marriott - We spent a week at this mega hotel during the infamous Texas snowstorm of 2021, so I know it like the back of my hand. It is smack dab in the heart of downtown, within walking distance of the 2nd Street District, South Congress and 6th Street. It’s also only a couple of blocks from the Austin Convention Center if you’re in town for business. Furnished with modern and updated rooms, a fun indoor/outdoor bar, Corner,” and a nice pool, this is a great option for families or business travelers alike. The suites are a nice option if you’re traveling with kids as they offer substantial separation between the two sides of the room and ample space.
- Hotel Magdalena - The best spot for a girls trip or staycation. I did a fun one-night staycation here with my girlfriends last year, and the suite we rented was comfortable and brand new. It is a cool, hip and trendy new hotel right in the heart of Music Lane on South Congress, and you can easily walk to Two Hands Coffee, Aba and Summer House (which is part of the hotel).
WHERE TO EAT
- Clark’s - When we first moved to Austin, I immediately gravitated to Clark’s because of it’s East Coast vibe and delicious seafood options. It’s still one of our standby’s - the cocktails are delightful, and their ever-changing rotation of fresh fish is out of this world. Make sure to try the french fries, or share them as an appetizer.
- Aba - This restaurant is one of Austin’s newer selections, but has quickly become a mainstay in our rotation of date-night spots. I also love it for a fun girl’s lunch or dinner. The atmosphere is gorgeous, with a very “indoor-outdoor” vibe, and to me it feels like you’re in Miami or LA, not Austin. The cuisine is Mediterranean-focused, and very shareable, even for someone as picky as me. I love the hummus (I get it with GF crackers which are more like delicious breadsticks). I also never pass up the falafel which is fried perfectly and has a little bit of spice to it. And the grilled cauliflower is to die for. It’s hard to score a reservation here though, so we usually just opt to walk in and have a cocktail while we wait. There is an indoor bar, outdoor bar and lots of areas to stand and wait for a table.
- Josephine House - One of my go-to spots for a ladie’s lunch, Josephine House is a darling little cottage in the heart of Clarksville with both indoor and outdoor seating. I love the rice bowl topped with an egg for a hearty, yet healthy lunch. It’s also a fun place to grab a cocktail before heading next door to sister-restaurant Jefrrey’s.
- La Piscina - For delicious fajitas in an elegant setting, look no further than La Piscina, inside the Proper Hotel downtown. Perfect for a date night, girl’s dinner or a quick place to grab a cocktail, this indoor/outdoor restaurant has the winning combination of crowd-pleasing, yet elegant Mexican food, combined with a sophisticated setting.
- Hula Hut - If you’re looking for a casual and unique lakeside experience, check out Hula Hut, right on Lake Austin in the heart of Tarrytown. The food is not the main attraction, although the Mexican/Polynesian cuisine actually has some winners like the tubular tacos. It’s the view and the setting that matters here. It’s a perfect place for lunch with or without the kids.
- Pool Burger - Another unique “Austin” experience is a stop at Pool Burger. Right next to the famed Deep Eddy pool and Deep Eddy Cabaret sits a newer - but very popular - destination. Set up as walk-up burger stand with outdoor seating options, this Maguire Moorman restaurant has delicious burgers (their veggie burger is the best in Austin in my opinion), and the best crinkly fries around. It’s a fun place to grab a drink and a burger after a hike around Ladybird Lake or a dip in Deep Eddy pool.
- Jeffrey’s - If you’re looking for a romantic date-night spot for the best steak in town, try Jeffrey’s in the heart of Clarksville. A long-time Austin fine-dining staple, this elegant restaurant was acquired by the McGuire Moorman Group in 2012 and elevated to its current state. The bar is my favorite place to dine because in my opinion it has the best ambiance, but make sure to make a required reservation because it’s tiny and fills up quickly. The Napolean Room is a very intimate and chic private room in the back of the restaurant that seats 12. We’ve hosted special occasion dinners there and it’s magical.
- Uchiko - If you’re craving deliciously fresh sushi, try Uchiko or its sister restaurant, Uchi. With inventive yet accessible options and a national reputation, this fun date-night spot converts even the pickiest sushi diners.
- Jo’s Coffee - If you’re looking for delicious coffee with Instagram pic options galore, try Jo’s on South Congress. This walk-up coffee stand boasts the famous “I Love You So Much” painted wall, which is a nice photo opportunity while you wait for your latte.
- Littlefields - If you’re in town with the kids, take them to Littlefields, right off the Windsor exit on Mopac. With two delicious food trucks (tacos and coffee) and a smartly designed turfed area for the kids to play, this outdoor cafe has something for adults and kids alike.
WHAT TO DO
- Walk Or Bike Ladybird Lake Trail - This prime spot in the heart of downtown Austin is perfect for taking a nice walk, run or bike ride.. It’s also a stellar place to watch the Sunset. If you’re bringing along the kids, hang out on the Congress Bridge to watch the bats fly out (usually late summer through early fall, around dusk). Park by Auditorium Shores for easy access to all Ladybird Lake has to offer
- Mount Bonnell - This view will surprise and delight you in the best way possible. Contrary to what you may think, Austin has some of the most stunning views in all of Texas. You just have to know where to look for them! Take a small trek up the hill of Mount Bonnell to take in stunning views of the hill country. Best at sunset, but fun any time of day!
- Walk South Congress - One of Austin’s most iconic thoroughfares, South Congress is home to some of the best restaurants, shopping and sightseeing in the entire city. It’s also super funky and cool and a good mix of old school and modern. Stop by Guero’s for live music and Tex Mex, Perla’s for delicious seafood, Hopdoddy for a burger with the kids, or Home Slice Pizza for a pie.
- Barton Springs Pool - Austin is known for its natural springs pools, and Barton Spring is the place to be on a hot day. Half public pool, half river, this “pool” is a site to see and the kids will love it.
- Paddle Board or Kayak on Lake Austin - If you’re feeling active, rent Kayaks or Paddleboard from SUP ATX rentals for a fun day on the lake.
- Rent a Boat - Austin is known for its amazing lakes, and you can’t go wrong spending the day on Lake Austin with friends or family members. From wake surfing to tubing to cocktail cruising, there’s something for everyone and amazing views. I’ve rented from Boatsetter.com before - it’s a bit like Uber in that you can find a boat that fits your size and timing needs to make for a memorable experience.