Deep in the wild, sprawling heart of Texas, Austin has long served as the state’s capital of all things artistic, creative, and unique. Once more of a sleepy college town, today the city is one of the fastest growing in the U.S.—and a magnet for travelers looking to pack a weekend with music festivals, food tours, and outdoor adventure.
Longtime Austinite Veronica Ortuño, the artist and interior designer behind Casa Veronica and Las Cruxes, has done it all in the city: from performing in punk rock bands and ‘60s-style girl groups, to participating in film and arts festivals, to owning and operating her own gallery and events space.
Here she invites ELLE along for the perfect day in Austin, letting us in on the best sights—and, more importantly, best food—this rapidly changing cultural hub has to offer.
Grab a breakfast taco
Cisco’s Restaurant, 1511 East 6th Street
Austin’s two biggest culinary claims to fame are its barbecue and breakfast tacos—but only the barbecue requires you stand in an all-day line to sample the best of the best. For travelers ready to dig right in, there’s a taco truck selling heaven inside a tortilla on nearly every corner. But for the best homemade breakfast tacos in the city? Ortuño heads to her favorite spot, Cisco’s, for a taste of old Austin in the East Side neighborhood.
“It’s a family-owned Tex Mex diner—the kind of place where they’re constantly refilling your chips and salsa—and it’s been around since the ‘50s,” she says of the recently designated historical marker. “It’s a perfect weekend spot to go when you have some time to just laze into your morning.”
Although Cisco’s has gotten a few modern updates, the homey, local decor has been preserved, along with the laid-back vibe that Austin was once famous for. While you’re in East Austin, explore the vibrant murals and locally owned shops of this historically working-class neighborhood.
Shop local vintage stores
Blue Vintage Velvet, 217 West North Loop Boulevard
The famous “Keep Austin weird” motto started in 2000 to encourage supporting local businesses; since then, it’s spread to Portland and other cities considered offbeat and countercultural.
Travelers can find lots of eclectic, one-of-a-kind gifts and souvenirs at the shops along South Congress, including a westernwear store with more than 4,000 cowboy boots on display. But Ortuño recommends the small cluster of stores, including Room Service Vintage, Revival Vintage, and Blue Velvet Vintage, along North Loop Boulevard in North Austin for all your shopping needs.
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“I’m always in search of timeless pieces that I can pair with vibrant colors and unexpected textiles—and that’s the kind of stuff you can find at Blue Velvet Vintage,” says Ortuño. “I’ve been shopping there since 2003 and still own one of my favorite pieces from Blue Vintage—a reversible Japanese Sukajan jacket with an embroidered tiger on the back and a satin interior that I picked up for $50 when I first moved to Austin. I like to drop in to treat myself to something unique or just to be inspired by their selections.”
Take in some music
Breakaway Records, 211 West North Loop Boulevard
Austin has long been touted as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” which sounds audacious until you check out a local show calendar; take your pick of live garage music, bluegrass, blues, and rock.
If you want an excuse to break out your cowboy boots and hat and get the quintessential Texas dancehall experience, head to South Austin and check out the Broken Spoke, an iconic local honky-tonk open every Tuesday through Saturday. Don’t worry if you’re new to two-stepping—the bar offers lessons most nights from 8pm to 9pm before the band goes on.
However, if you want to hear world music, reggae, Soul ’45s, and international sound, visit Breakaway Records. “This is my go-to spot when I’m looking to add new vinyl to my collection or pick up a gift,” says Ortuño. “When I want to hear stuff I’ve never heard before, I come to their listening station.”
“The staff at Breakaway is always welcoming and eager to share their extensive music knowledge. Alice Coltrane’s ‘Journey in Satchidananda’ and Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’ are great records to listen to on a Saturday morning while you’re relaxing, making breakfast, and planning the rest of your day.”
Grab a coffee
Epoch Coffee, 221 West North Loop Boulevard
When you’re done at Breakaway Records, head over to Epoch Coffee to caffeinate and catch up on emails. The coffee shop has an outdoor patio filled with locals, and a wide selection of coffee and tea. Ortuño likes to go there and get creative work done in the afternoon, or just meet up with friends and play cards over an iced chai or vanilla latte.
If you’re feeling really hungry, grab some pizza at East Side Pies, or food from one of the many food trucks and restaurants packed into the walkable North Loop area of town just a couple miles north of the University of Texas campus. Ortuño says it’s the part of town that reminds her most of Old Austin and the slow-moving arts scene best captured by Richard Linklater’s 1990 film Slacker.
Take a dip
Barton Springs Pool, 2131 William Barton Drive
One of Austin’s many highlights is the fact that you can immediately disappear into a stunning natural area any time you feel the call of the outdoors. Just South of Lady Bird Lake, a reservoir on the Colorado River that divides North from South Austin, is the city’s recreational gem: Barton Springs Pool.
This natural-spring-fed swimming hole has been an Austin institution since the days of the earliest Native dwellers. Today, it’s an idyllic spot to kick back, pool-side, with locals and tourists alike—as long as you’re ready for the brisk temperature (around 68°F year-round) of the water.
For Ortuño, it’s a place to run into old friends and new. “Barton Springs is absolutely one of the greatest things Austin has to offer—I make an effort to take any out-of-town family and friends there when I can,” she says. “It’s amazing how years will go by without seeing someone, and then one day they’re hanging out, sitting on the ledge with their feet in the water.”
When you’re done with Barton Springs, you can hike the adjacent 13.8-mile Barton Creek Greenbelt Trail up toward Monument Falls, or walk the trail back around the lake into downtown. The pool is located in Austin’s “most-loved park,” Zilker Park, which is also home to a botanical garden, sculpture garden, the Austin City Limits Festival, the Austin Kite Festival, and many more annual events.
Close down the night
Justine’s, 4710 East 5th Street
To end the perfect day, head to Justine’s, a French brasserie where they serve food until 1:30 a.m. It’s Ortuño’s favorite place to shut down the night and drink one of the bar’s many specialty cocktails. The drinks and food are phenomenal, but she says the chill atmosphere and camaraderie is what keeps bringing her back.
“A lot of artists and creatives go to Justine’s because you can just relax and be expressive and be yourself,” she says. You’ll also get a taste of the Southern hospitality that makes visitors return and newcomers flock to the city. “Texas has some of the nicest people I’ve ever come across,” she says. “Even as Austin grows, I still feel its friendly and creative heart.”
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