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The essential guide to Austin, Texas

Famous for festivals, live music and barbecue, the cosmopolitan capital of Texas has plenty to recommend it all year round

Austin is not what you expect from a Texan city. It’s a cosmopolitan, dynamic metropolitan hub with live music in almost every venue, beautiful natural attractions, a global dining scene and enough barbecue to kill a cowboy. You’ve heard about the famous queues for Franklin’s BBQ? Skip them like a local by ordering online and collecting your food from the trailer around the back of the restaurant. And that’s just the beginning of your good times here. This is not a city you’re going to want to leave in a hurry.

Doing the great American road trip? Check out our guides to Nashville and Memphis

Don't have much cash? Try these four weekend getaways for under $400.

Austin, Texas

Where to see live music in Austin

Where to see live music in Austin

Book tickets to Austin City Limits, Live at The Moody Theater
The biggest names in modern music have played against that famous skyline backdrop for Austin City Limits, the televised live music program that has been running for more than 40 years now, and you can go into the lottery to get tickets to a taping, which opens up a week prior to the gig. In between the Moody Theatre hosts big touring artists like Blondie, Jason Isbell, Father John Misty and Fleet Foxes. 310 Willie Nelson Blvd, Austin TX 78701. +1 512 225 7999. http://acl-live.com/.

See a band at Antone’s
There’s live music on every night at this long club in the heart of downtown Austin, and you won’t pay more than $15 for the door charge – often it’s free. This is a great spot if jet lag has you up all night - they keep the tunes pumping until late. 305 East 5th St, Austin TX 78701. +1 512 814 0361. http://www.antonesnightclub.com. Daily 5pm-2am.

Catch live music every night at the Continental Club
This famous live music club has been hosting gigs long before the gentrification of South Congress, and they still host multiple shows most nights of the week with surprisingly affordable door charges. The crimson lined club has been standing since 1955, when it was a proper supper club, but no sports a harder-worn, rock’n’roll vibe. If you’re lucky a touring muso might make a surprise appearance during a set. 1315 South Congress Ave, Austin TX 78704. +1 512 441 2444. http://continentalclub.com. Mon-Fri 4pm-2am; Sat 1pm-2am; Sun 3pm-2am.

Where to eat in Austin

Where to eat in Austin

Eat sausages, pretzels and ping pong at Easy Tiger
If you’re at a loss for where to go in the afternoon, track down Easy Tiger. They have a ridiculously generous happy hour (4.30-6.30pm weeknights), a big sunken beer garden with an outdoor ping pong table and they bake a mean pretzel that you swipe through a malty ale cheese dip. This is also the place to get a taste for links – house-made sausages are a religion in Texas. 709 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701. +1 512-614-4972. http://easytigeraustin.com. Daily 11am–2am.

Go HAM on breakfast Mexican at Taco Deli
This is the original outlet of what are some truly excellent soft tacos. It’s worth the drive to head out here and beat the crowds so that you can sit out under the trees in this quiet suburban pocket and smash as many of their tacos as you can, helped along by cups of sweet, nutty horchata. They use high quality ingredients so when you order a steak taco, you’re getting the good stuff and you can taste it. 1500 Spyglass Drive. Austin TX 78746. +1 512 732 0303. http://www.tacodeli.com. Mon-Fri 7am-3pm; Sat-Sun 8am-3pm.

Eat al fresco oysters at Perla’s
This elegant dining spot makes the perfect mid-shopping break when you’re cruising down SoCo (South Congress). It might feel weird to be eating seafood so far from the sea, but they take their regional oysters very seriously here, and they’re not at all like the Sydney rocks and pacifics you’re used to. The serves are huge, but you won’t want to hurry away from your garden table at this elegant seafood diner. 1400 South Congress Ave, Austin TX 78704. +1 512 291 7300. http://www.perlasaustin.com. Mon-Wed 11.30am-3pm, 5.30-10pm; Thu 11.30am-3pm, 5.30-10pm; Fri 11.30am-3pm, 5.30-10.30pm; Sat 10.30am-3pm, 5.30-11pm; Sun 10.30am-2.30pm, 5.30-10pm.

Ride a sugar wave at Sugar Mama’s
New York isn’t the only city with strong cupcake game. At Sugar Mama’s they’re elevating the single serve cake to great new heights You can get a dark chocolate and chipotle edition, black forest. A chai-spiced cake and a really, really good carrot cake, complete with cream cheese icing. 1905 South 1st St, Austin TX 78704. +1 512 448 3727. http://www.sugarmamasbakeshop.com. Tue-Sat 10am-8pm; Sun 10am-6pm.

Drink cocktails at Peche 
Being a late night, music city you’d expect Austin’s booze game to be on point and Peche doesn’t disappoint. Their spirit collection runs the length of this narrow cocktail bar, and they are as skilled with the classic sas they are with drinks of their own creation. This is a bar for career bartenders so if you take your top shelf seriously, it’s worth a visit. 208 West 4th St, Austin TX 78701. +1 512 494 4011. http://www.pecheaustin.com. Mon-Fri 4pm-late; Sat-Sun 5pm-late.

Where to shop in Austin

Where to shop in Austin

Explore South Congress Avenue
You will want to spend a lot of money when you walk up and down South Congress, on the other side of the river to Downtown. Buy South American folk arts, jewellry and clothing from Tesoros Trading Company (1500 S Congress Ave); buy every weird and wonderful sweet you’ve ever seen in the movies at Big Top Candy Shop (1706 S Congress Ave); covet crazy expensive cowboy boots at Allens Boots (1522 S Congress Ave) and buy vintage motorcycle-inspired clothing and accessories at Revival Cycles Store (1603 s Congress Ave). If you want to splash cash on high end fashion pop into indie boutique Sunroom (1603 S Congress Ave). South Congress Ave, Austin TX 78704.  https://www.austintexas.org/listings/south-congress-avenue-(soco)/4359/.

Austin nightlife

Austin nightlife

Seek out the Red Headed Stepchild
This hidden bar requires a passcode to get in, and is hard to find (look for the ‘Floppy Disk Repair’ sign) but most locals know the code so if you ask passers by you’ll get in. This is one for cool hunters who like to work for their hijinx. 119 East 5th St, Austin TX 78701. +1 512 514 1081. http://www.floppydiskrepairco.com. Daily 4pm-2am.

Take a Food and Drink tour of Austin
If you don’t have a car you’ll be able to explore central Austin easily on foot, but you might miss some outlying attractions. That’s where booking a food tour with Austin Eats becomes a very good idea. Super friendly hosts take you to see the sights, so you might start with a south Italian flatbread at Lucky Puccias (1611 West 5th St), followed by fresh brews at, Lazarus Brewing Company (1902 East 6th St). You could sit down for a full meal at Hightower (1209 East 7th St). If you’re getting the idea you should wear stretchy pants on this tour or risk getting pinched in half like link sausages, you’re bang on. If your night ends with two-stepping at White Horse (500 Comal St) don’t be surprised if a friendly local asks you for a twirl around the dancefloor. http://www.austineatsfoodtours.com/.

Where to stay in Austin

Where to stay in Austin

Float in the rooftop pool at the Westin Austin Downtown
This centrally-located hotel is spacious, comfortable and well appointed, but the star on the top of this accommodation tower is the rooftop pool where you can flallop around on a balmy evening. They’ve also got a bar up there. Got a four-legged pal? They’re also welcome at this hotel - you can even request a dog bed in your room. 310 East 5th St, Austin TX 78702. +1 512 391 2333. https://www.expedia.com.au/Austin-Hotels-The-Westin-Austin-Downtown.h9689189.Hotel-Information

Why not book a whole house?
Did you know you can book a whole house for your Austin stay? If you’re travelling with a crew it makes sense to book a sweet pad to use as a base from which you can head out hiking, to the multitude of local swimming holes, ziplining, down to Lockhart for barbecue, or out on the town, especially during South by South West. Expedia Vacation Rental - https://www.expedia.com.au/

Getting there

Qantas (www.qantas.com) flies to the USA daily, to Los Angeles or Dallas-Fort Worth, with internal flights operated by American Airlines (www.aa.com).

Expedia.com.au is a one stop shop for booking travel, activities, accommodation, and attractions when you're in the USA.

*Time Out travelled as the guest of Brand USA and Expedia, and visited Austin courtesy of Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau. www.visittheusa.com.au


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