Look no further than the Lone Star State’s capital for a green-friendly getaway that may find you singing in the streets, trailer-crawling for gourmet grub and zip-lining through Hill Country. And seeing as it appears at the top of the charts as one of the greenest, safest, food-centric and entrepreneurial cities in the country, you may never want to leave.
Downtown Austin is easily walkable and packed with a wide range of boutiques and specialty stores. Embracing the locavore culture, Austinites proudly showcase local designers and artisans. South Congress Avenue is packed with diverse shops and friendly staff who often personally know the people and places behind their products. Parts & Labour is “all Texas all the time”—whether it’s a silkscreen t-shirt or 100% recycled wool yarn from Yarn Harvest. You could outfit a remake of The Wild Bunch with a quick stop at Allens Boots. Or if you like to play a different kind of dress-up, Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds is the ultimate costume and accessory shop.
Heading north over the Congress Avenue Bridge toward the 2nd Avenue and Warehouse districts, you’ll find the unique art of millinery kept alive by designer Milli Starr, available at Beyond Tradition. And if you’re seeking house dressing instead of head dressing, Mercury Design Studio features artifacts, gifts and other unique design elements. Head a few blocks west through the Market District and you’ll land in culinary nirvana at the Whole Foods Market Culinary Center, where you can shop and dine amidst the store’s 80,000-square-foot retail space or sign up for a recreational cooking class.
If your pockets are full of tumbleweeds instead of gold nuggets, fret not; Austin has plenty of offerings. Stop by the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, the most visited of the presidential libraries. Also unique to Austin is the Harry Ransom Center, one of the largest public archives in the world where you can view the Gutenberg Bible and the first photograph. And be sure to visit the Mexican American Cultural Center, which captures the diverse heritage of the southwest set against the backdrop of Lady Bird Lake. All of these facilities are free and open to the general public.
A day on the streets of Austin can work up quite an appetite. Fortunately, on many corners you’ll find a food trailer putting forth innovative munchables for those on the go. Highlights include: The Mighty Cone, featuring their original flour tortilla cone filled with crispy cornflake-crusted chicken, mango-jalapeno slaw and an ancho sauce; Torchy’s Tacos, offering classic breakfast tacos along with more than a dozen other spicy combinations; and Chi’Lantro, reinventing traditional Korean and Mexican cuisine.
When you’re ready to indulge after a full day of shopping and sightseeing, hop in a pedicab courtesy of Red Devil Rides. They offer wine-tasting tours, martini mixers, margarita/mojito mixers and more. And if there’s a rare thunderstorm, you can take advantage of Green Cabbies—a group of socially and environmentally conscious cab operators who are operating “carbon neutral” by planting trees citywide through a partnership with the nonprofit, Treefolks.
Local Intel: Austin
Where to Stay:
Four Seasons Hotel Take advantage of their “Voluntourism” program by donating a few hours of your time with a local nonprofit in exchange for a discounted room rate. (Call 512.478.4500)
The Driskill Built in 1886, one of Austin’s most beautiful historical properties. (Call 800.252.9367)
Where to Shop:
BookPeople One of Austin’s favorite independent book stores.
Mellow Johnny’sSeven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong’s bike shop.
Uncommon Objects. Features antiques, oddities and curious goods.
Where to Eat:
Olivia Chef James Holmes menu highlights local farmers, ranchers, foragers and artisans.
County Line Bar-B-QServes up legendary barbecue since 1975, multiple locations.
Guero’s Taco BarFeatures traditional tacos al pastor and hand-shaken margaritas.
Cypress Valley Canopy Tours Eco-friendly zip-lining and adventure courses.
There is an established farm-to-table movement in Austin, and whether it’s a food cart or four-star restaurant, chefs are shopping local. Visit an urban farm and meet the growers. Boggy Creek Farm and Springdale Farm both have stands open on Saturdays. You’ll meet the farmers and may even run into the likes of Chef James Holmes (Olivia) or Emmett Fox (ASTI and FINO). And to get the full-octane take on green dining, La Condesa is a must. Featuring artisanal cocktails and vibrant cuisine, La Condesa is the first restaurant in Austin to be named a Two Star Certified Green Restaurant by the Green Restaurant Association.
Within its city limits, Austin is known for its outdoor trailblazing attitude, but it’s worth adding an extra day to your western adventure to take advantage of the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa. The 405-acre property features an 18-hole golf course designed by Arthur Hills, a full-service spa as well as 16 miles of hiking and equestrian trails within the adjacent McKinney Roughs Nature Park.
For a final farewell, no trip to Austin would be complete without checking out the music scene. Known as the Live Music Capital of the World, Austin is home to nearly 200 venues that showcase everything from honkey tonk at The Broken Spoke, blues at Antone’s to top local artists of many genres at the Continental Club. Just by strolling the Sixth Street and Red River entertainment districts, you’re sure to stumble across a live performance and an equally enthusiastic audience of locals with a passion for great music.
Whether you’re a foodie, outdoor adventurer or music groupie—Austin is an eclectic destination that attempts (with much success) to avoid mainstream commercialism and embrace its own unique cultural identity. So grab a breakfast taco, hit the streets, and as Austinites say as a tribute to local business, “Keep Austin Weird.”
How to get there: Direct flights from NYC on Continental, JetBlue or American to Austin-Bergstrom Airport. This is one of the most walkable cities in the United States, so when you’re ready to tackle your things to do in Austin list, make the eco-friendly decision to see the sites by bike, pedicab, or on foot. Y’all don’t need a gas-guzzling car.
Photos, in order: Laveen Photography, Matthew Wexler
Matthew Wexler is a freelance writer and chef. His online musings can be found at his blog, Roo de Loo. To sample his cuisine, take a visit to Good Commons.
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