AUSTIN (Reuters) - In Austin, flip-flop-wearing University of Texas students mingle with coat-tie-and-boot-clad state lawmakers and technology workers in jeans.
The Lone Star State capital prides itself on its slacker vibe, but it’s also the place where a college student named Michael Dell once started a computer business and where Whole Foods Market started and has its headquarters.
This fall, Austin will attract Formula One fans from around the world, who will descend on the new Circuit of the Americas racetrack southeast of town for a November Grand Prix.
The city that calls itself the Live Music Capital of the World hosts blowouts like the Austin City Limits Music Festival and the South by Southwest music, film and interactive conferences.
But the ideal way to experience Austin, where the best weather is in the spring and fall, is just to hang out. Somewhere between the barbecue and the exhilaratingly chilly waters of Barton Springs, you’ll find bliss, even if you visit during a sizzling Texas summer.
5 p.m. - Check in to your hotel. You could stay in the heart of hip South Congress Avenue at the zen-like Hotel San Jose, or in East Austin at the Heywood Hotel, a modern boutique hotel. Downtown options include the W Hotel (a new bronze statue of Willie Nelson is just steps from the front door) or the historic Driskill Hotel, built in 1886.
Grab a drink at or near your hotel: sangria at San Jose’s poolside bar, or a cocktail at the W or Driskill bars. From the Heywood, grab a free loaner bike and ride to Hillside Farmacy, a recently restored 1950s pharmacy that offers afternoon tea and plates of cheese and marmalade.
7 p.m. - Enjoy dinner at Contigo, a restaurant inspired by a South Texas ranch. Sit at an outdoor picnic table under strings of lights and munch on crispy fried green beans and house-made sausages while sipping a beer or El Pepino (tequila, cucumber, mint, lime).
9:30 p.m. - Head to the bars in the Rainey Street area, starting with Clive, a remodeled house with a cozy wooden interior and white leather chairs.
8:30 a.m. - Take a walk, jog or ride a bike on the trail around Lady Bird Lake. Grab coffee and a pastry at either Jo’s location.
10 a.m. - Texas appreciation tour! Check out the pink granite state capitol, which any Texan will inform you is taller than the U.S. Capitol. Then head over to the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, where you can see the late Texas bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan’s well-worn “Number One” Stratocaster guitar at the Texas Music Roadtrip exhibition until October 14.
11:30 a.m. - It’s time for a religious experience: Texas barbecue. Arrive early to the JMueller BBQ trailer on South First Street, before the meat sells out, and dig in to your peppery brisket at the picnic tables. If you don’t want barbecue, there’s another great option across the street: Elizabeth Street Café. At this Vietnamese-French spot, you can get a grilled octopus vermicelli bowl, macarons for dessert and, if you want to linger, a carafe of mandarin mimosa punch.
1:30 p.m. - From the restaurant, walk over to South Congress Avenue, where you can browse shops selling vintage and new clothing, gifts and toys. Pick up some Texas footwear at Allens Boots, where the friendly salespeople will teach you what to look for in a boot.
3:30 p.m. - Grab your bathing suit and head to Barton Springs Pool, a spring-fed oasis that many consider the soul of Austin.
7 p.m. - After stopping by your hotel to clean up, head to Uchiko on North Lamar Boulevard, the “Japanese farmhouse” and sushi restaurant where you will have already made reservations now that Top Chef: Texas winner Paul Qui has become a celebrity. You’ll drool over each artfully arranged plate of morsels like diver scallop with tomatillo, kalamata olives and black lime.
9:30 p.m. - It’s time to learn why Austin calls itself the Live Music Capital of the World. Check the Austin Chronicle or austin360.com for listings. If you’re lucky, you can catch Kat Edmondson, Gary Clark Jr., Grupo Fantasma, Quiet Company or Carolyn Wonderland. But you can’t go wrong at The Continental Club, Antone‘s, or, if it’s a nice night, Threadgill‘s. If you want to hit the dance floor at a Texas honky tonk, put on your new boots and head to The Broken Spoke.
1 a.m. - Hungry again? The waffles at 24 Diner are calling your name.
10:30 a.m. - Head out for Sunday brunch. The delicious and inexpensive Mexican breakfast at El Meson on South Lamar Boulevard - with house-made salsas and tortillas - may be Austin’s best-kept secret. Across the street is another tasty brunch option: Olivia, a light-filled restaurant where the chai French toast with peaches comes with mint grown in the on-site garden. If you aren’t in the mood for a sit-down meal, pick up the most Austin of morning meals - breakfast tacos - at the south location of Tacodeli.
Noon - Head to the intersection of West Sixth Street and Lamar Boulevard, where you can peruse music from Texas and around the world at Waterloo Records, visit the beloved local bookstore, BookPeople, and ogle at the chocolate fountain and walk-in beer cooler at the flagship Whole Foods Market store below the company’s headquarters.
2 p.m. - Beat the heat in an air-conditioned movie theater. The Alamo Drafthouse - try the Ritz location downtown - is an Austin favorite where you can order burgers and beer from your movie seat. And downtown’s Violet Crown is a sleek art house theater and bar that offers snacks like hummus with pita bread.
Editing by Patricia Reaney and Paul Casciato