Any trip to Austin is destined to be filled with great food, shopping, and drinks. There’s no lack of things to do there. New places are popping up what seems like daily. There are many food truck parks, nearly countless bars, coffee shops on almost every street, and cute shops all over. Best yet, most every spot is local, giving each place its own unique vibe.
Given all there is, if you’re only in town for a day, it’s best to pick a specific part of town to explore. Let me recommend East Austin, which is home to a little bit of everything, including some of the best local spots. Sure, there are a lot of Instagram stops on South Congress, but if you want to experience the city like a local, head east of 35.
Flitch Coffee is a can’t-miss East Austin spot. Actually, it’s a can’t-miss spot in all of Austin. I’ve been to more than 30 ATX coffee shops, and there’s just something special about this little coffee trailer. It’s a bit off the main path, so it’s a peaceful place to relax in the morning, but close enough to downtown to be convenient. Most of the seating is outside, meaning you can chill in the fresh air as you enjoy your morning meal and caffeine kick.
Latte, cold brew, or drip—you honestly can’t go wrong with any drink here. Also, remember a breakfast taco when you’re ordering—a classic Austin food that you need to experience. Grab a little salsa before heading outside to sit down.
Oh, and it might be the only spot in Austin with easy parking (I kid—sort of).
If you want to do some local shopping, there are several cute places on East 11th Street. A lot of the shops open around 11 AM, so it’s a perfect pre-lunch stop. take heart is an adorable boutique that specializes in thoughtfully-designed goods. You’ll find things like mugs, plates, candles, and all kinds of other well-crafted items. Plant Party is another good spot. They have amazing terrarium and plant displays. And, you can even do a terrarium build workshop (just schedule ahead of time)!
Everyone’s going to tell you to go to Franklin Barbecue when you’re in East Austin. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good—as long as you want to spend the day waiting in line. But, for those who don’t want to devote hours to brisket, there are plenty of other amazingly delicious options.
It started as a trailer serving organic Turkish kebabs, and it eventually expanded to a storefront on East 7th. There’s not a lot of room inside, but the back patio is perfect for enjoying the Austin weather and your freshly made kebab. When you’re there, you need to get a “falafel shot”—a falafel ball, a slice of lemon, and a little container of sauce, all of which combine into one of my favorite Austin bites (not something I thought I’d ever say about a falafel). One more recommendation: order fries inside your kebab. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
No trip to a new city is complete without visiting a museum, and the Blanton Museum of Art is one of Austin’s best. Okay, it’s not actually east of 35, but it’s less than a 10-minute Lyft and definitely worthwhile. They have almost 18,000 works in their collection from different time periods and art movements. They usually have stunning temporary exhibitions, too! Even more reason not to miss this spot: Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin opened in 2018. It’s part building and part work of art, with stunning colored glass windows comparable to a walk-in kaleidoscope.
When you’re in Austin, you must go to Ramen Tatsu-Ya. I’ve had ramen from cities all over North America, and, without exaggeration, this is the best bowl I’ve had. And, you definitely won’t leave hungry. There are options both for those who love a spicy kick and those who prefer a more mild experience. Different from the typical restaurant, you wait outside in line, and you order and get seated as tables open up. Don’t worry, though, you can enjoy drinks as you wait.
Picking a bar can be challenging—you can often see three or four from any spot on the street. Whether you’re looking for an inexpensive dive bar or a classy cocktail spot, there are innumerable choices. If you’re only able to go to one, may I suggest Kitty Cohen’s? It’s a patio bar with an aesthetic unlike anything else in Austin. It’s a quirky cocktail lounge inspired by the 1970s with a pool right on the patio. Plus, it’s pretty Instagram famous for the flamingo wallpaper in the bathroom—a perfect selfie spot.
If Austin’s known for one thing, it’s live music. That means you need to catch a show while you’re here. My favorite East Austin venue: the Historic Scoot Inn. It opened in 1871 and has been everything from a community grocery and mercantile to a saloon. In fact, it’s apparently the oldest continuously running beer joint in the area. Currently, it’s home to one of Austin’s best music venues. It has an intimate outdoor stage that honestly doesn’t have a bad spot for watching whoever is on stage. The spot’s imbued with so much character that it’s worth checking out even if you don’t know who’s playing that night. It’s the perfect Austin way to finish up your visit.
A note on getting around: If you don’t want to drive, you have a few options. Austin has public transit—the CapMetro bus system. This can be a convenient way to get around if there’s a stop nearby. Granted, you may want to plan on waiting up to 20 minutes for pick up. Otherwise, rideshares are your best bet. Lyft Shared is my personal favorite because it’s a bit better on the environment—Lyft is going carbon neutral! Looking for a local option? Try Ride Austin. It’s an Austin-made nonprofit rideshare that has an option to donate to local charities.
Too tired from a busy day in East Austin? You can’t find a better place to spend the night than Native Experiential Hostel. They have typical hostel rooms with four to eight beds per room, and, if you want more privacy, they have two king suites that you don’t have to share. Not only is the building aesthetically stunning, but they also have a coffee bar where you can get a drink in the morning for your drive home!