Andy and I had heard many good things about Austin, we had wanted to visit for quite some time but flights were always expensive. One day I did a search for tickets to Austin on upcoming weekends. I found round trip flights from Chicago to Austin for $225, before the fares went away I purchased our tickets.
What We Saw & Did
Visited wine country
We had a rental car which made it easy to visit a few of the wineries in Texas hill country. There are quite a few wineries in the area and most of the wine that we tasted was really good.
Checked out the capitol
There are guided tours of the Capitol buildings available but we decided to just walk around the premises outdoors on our own schedule.
Saw various murals
Austin has many murals all over town. We walked/drove around to look at them and snap a few pictures. Some are more artistic than others, but it was fun to see this street art all over the town.
Spent time on South Congress
Our favorite area of Austin was South Congress street. There are a ton of unique shops, bars and restaurants in the area. We spent quite a bit of time in this area, eating a few meals and enjoying drinks on several different patios.
Bar hopped on 6th street
It wouldn’t be a visit to Austin without getting drinks on Sixth Street. We got recommendations of which bars to check out and grabbed a few Lone Star beers. While there were a decent number of college kids that were out, there were also a lot of young professionals.
Austin’s Amazing Food
Whenever we look back to food we have had on vacation, we hands down agree that Austin is our favorite. We were lucky enough that I have a few friends who live/have lived in Austin and gave us their recommendations which were all amazing.
We had heard that Rudy’s was a dive but when we first pulled up we thought that our address was wrong – it was a gas station with a BBQ restaurant inside.
We waited in line and when it was our turn to order the cashier asked if it was our first time at Rudy’s. When we said it was they gave us a sampling of the different meats so we could better decide what we wanted to order. I was surprised that my favorites were the turkey and the sausage as I usually order pulled chicken or pulled pork at BBQ restaurants.
We placed our order and the food was placed on a paper lined cafeteria tray. We sat at the communal tables and used the rolls of paper towels on the table as our napkins. Once we finished up, we washed our hands at the large sinks located in the dining room.
Rudy’s is certainly not a fancy restaurant by any means but it was delicious! We visited another location when we were in Dallas for a wedding but it was not nearly as good as the BBQ that we had when we were in Austin.
Salt Lick BBQ
The Salt Lick is a BBQ institution in Austin and is located about a 20 minute drive from downtown. For those without a car that want to experience the food, there is also a location in the Austin airport.
We were told by our friends who live in Austin to expect a long wait. We waited around 45 minutes to get our table which wasn’t too bad. To help pass the time there was some live music which was entertaining. The restaurant is BYOB so it was fun to see people who had coolers full of beer waiting for their tables. While we BYOB in Chicago, this took the concept to a completely different level.
Similar to Rudy’s when our waiter heard it was our first time, we got a meat sampler platter. Compared to Rudy’s I would say that the BBQ was tied. The ambiance in the 2 restaurants were quite different, but for us, we would choose Rudy’s as we got in and out easily.
One of the things that we knew we for sure wanted to have was authentic TexMex food. There were several recommendations that we got but decided to go to El Chile.
I typically rate a Mexican restaurant on the chips and salsa. You can really tell how much pride a restaurant takes in their cooking and can easily tell when their chips and salsa are from scratch. Both the chips and salsa at El Chile were unbelievable! The chips were thin with just the right amount of salt on them and the salsa was very unique but just the right amount of heat. It was so good in fact that I got 2 jars of it to take home.
We joined Andy’s college friend and his fiance at dinner. Andy and his friend caught up and we all enjoyed the delicious margaritas and Mexican food.
We went to Magnolia Cafe, a 24 hour cafe to have breakfast one morning. It is located on South Congress, our favorite street in Austin which has many cool shops, bars and restaurants. We arrived just in time as there was a short wait when we arrived which grew into a long wait after we were seated.
We decided to split a breakfast entree and ordered a side of gingerbread pancakes, both of which were delicious. The portions were massive! We were hungry but it was impossible to finish it all.
I love breakfast tacos, especially ones with beans in them, and they are very easy to come by in Austin. We grabbed fast, inexpensive tacos for breakfast at Torchy’s Tacos which were really, really good.
DoubleTree Austin University
Austin is a very popular city and hotels are are really expensive on the weekends. Our initial search for hotels in the downtown area were coming up at $170-$250 a night. We certainly didn’t want to pay that, but also didn’t want to stay far from downtown. I was out of options when Andy jumped in with a great suggestion. He has a friend who works at Hilton and was able to extend the family and friends rate for us.
We booked the DoubleTree Austin University as it was the least expensive Hilton hotel that we could stay at that was still in a relatively good location. Friends that were familiar with the area told us that we didn’t want to stay east of the highway. We figured since our hotel was right on the highway and next to the University of Texas campus that it would be fine.
Once we checked in we headed to our room which was really nice, much nicer than hotels that we typically stay at. My favorite benefit of staying at the DoubleTree though is the free cookie that you receive when you check in. Both of us love sweets so a free warm cookie would never be denied.
The hotel is a decent walk from the sights and sounds of town, but living in Chicago we are used to doing lots of walking. Visiting in February, the weather was a little cool but nice and getting around on foot was very easy.
When we were driving back from dinner one night, we saw what our friends had warned us about when we mentioned the hotel location. Just a few blocks from our hotel there were police arresting a few guys and swarms of people flooded the street. While we didn’t feel unsafe, had we been on foot instead of in our car, I think we would have felt very different.
We had an amazing time during our long weekend in Austin. We were able to do a bunch of fun things and ate some of the best food we have had on any vacation.
We expected to absolutely love Austin, while we did enjoy it, we weren’t dying to move there when we left. There were very cool parts of town like South Congress but besides these bubbles, the city felt very suburban.
If we were to do it over, we would visit a little later in the year when it was warmer. While the weather was great in February compared to Chicago, it was cool enough to require a jacket at times.