Feed Your Senses in Downtown Austin
We could debate the best businesses in Austin for the rest of time and still not come to a consensus. But we all agree: there are some great places to eat, shop, laugh and learn in our beautiful downtown. Whether you want to feed your mind with art or education, feed your belly with great tastes and tantalizing treats, or feed your ego with opportunities to walk among the celebrated, we have it here.
There have long been lists of the “best” of Austin, and everyone’s got their own opinion. So, we’ll let you decide what constitutes the best for you and yours, but we’ve created a list of some of our favorite “bests” to get you started.
Feed Your Mind and Body with the Best of Austin
There are so many things to do in Austin that it’s hard to know where to start. To help you decide, we’ve collected a few of the best ways to feed your senses and your soul.
Best Place to Learn — Austin Children’s Museum
This place will feed the minds of children and the inner child of adults of any age. The hands-on exhibits include 123 Geometry Lane, the three-level Funstruction Zone, Rising Star Ranch for children under two, and the engineering-focused Tinkerer’s Workshop. Summer camps and the weekly Parent’s Night Out combine learning with laughter in such a natural way that kids won’t even know that it’s good for them.
Best Place to Laugh — Esther’s Follies
This constantly changing show is a must-do for visitors and locals alike. Topical and hysterical, the ever-changing cast and and the unique interaction between the performers and the folks passing by on the street mean that no matter how many times you visit, you’ll never see the same show twice.
Best Place to Listen — Antone’s
A fixture on the Austin music scene for more than three decades, Antone’s has been a stop on the path to success for many household names, including Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, U2, ZZ Top, Eric Clapton and Elvis Costello. Named “Nightclub of the Year” by USA Today, you can step inside and feel the history as the sounds surround you.
Best Place to Feed your Soul — Stubb’s Bar-B-Q
“Live Music. Cold Beer.” What more could you ask for? This is one of the best places in Austin to catch a live band, and the bar-be-cue is some of the best in the nation. (If you get a hankerin’ when you’re at home, just open a jar of the sauce, available at most every grocery store in the area.) Don’t miss the Gospel Brunch each Sunday, for one truly spiritual combination of food and music.
Best Place to See — Paramount Theatre
If you hang around the entrance to the Paramount Theater long enough, you’ll see Hollywood walk in. First a vaudeville theater, then a movie house, this beautifully restored building has become a home for the best performances that Austin has to offer. It regularly hosts world premiere movies, and some of the most famous celebrities have walked through its doors.
Best Place to Be Seen — W Hotel
You may not know any rock stars, but you can still hang out in their living room — the new W Hotel. This luxury brand has reinterpreted itself for Austin, building intimate spaces instead of the more traditional grand lobby, and serving as the new home of Austin City Limits’ exceptional 2,700-seat theater — a space that manages to maintain an evocative, personal atmosphere that belies its seating capacity.
Best Place to Taste — Whole Foods
Whether you’re a Top Chef or a kitchen-challenged gourmand, the flagship store of this national brand, located at 5th and Lamar, is a playground for your taste buds. Stations in several areas of the store offer samples of some of the best desserts, breads, fish and produce in the world, and you can’t go wrong with lunch from the large in-store restaurant. (The brick-oven-baked pizza may just be the best anywhere.)
Best Place to Touch — Uncommon Objects
More than 20 years ago, this unique antique shop opened on South Congress, just blocks from Lady Bird Lake. Today, it is one of the most unusual shopping experiences in Austin. You can spend hours pouring through the one-of-a-kind objects that they’ve assembled, and the collection changes so quickly that return trips are guaranteed to be new experiences.
Best Place to Test — Amy’s
Opened in 1984, Amy’s is an Austin original, and they have teased our taste buds with the most unusual ice cream flavors anywhere in Texas. They’re happy to let you sample any of their original flavors, but it may take more than a few taste tests to decide. Some of the best are the alcohol-laced temptations, including Bourbon Chocolate Walnut, Buttered Rum and Irish Coffee. The flavors change frequently, so stop by and ask for a sample of their newest creation.
Best Place to Train — Row Austin
Rowing is one of the best overall workouts you can do, and Lady Bird Lake is probably the most beautiful place that you can do it. The good folks at Row Austin work with individuals, businesses, schools and other organizations to teach techniques and make tools and facilities available to everyone in Austin. Take a one-time class or enroll in a camp; either way, take advantage of one of the best recreational opportunities Austin has to offer.
Best Place to Escape — BookPeople
One of the oldest independent bookstores in Texas, BookPeople opened in 1970 and has been feeding the minds of Austinites ever since. Some of the most celebrated authors have made this place a stop on their book tours, including two former presidents and a slate of Hollywood celebs. This is a great place to sit, relax, and take a deep bite of that juicy novel you’ve been planning to read, with comfortable chairs available all over the store. Make sure to stop by the children’s section, featuring nooks and crannies where kids can escape into a world of their own imaginations.
Sidebar of Related Information
Best of Austin — the Free Edition
There are plenty of businesses in downtown Austin that are well worth the dollars, but there are also great opportunities for folks that just want to enjoy the spaces that are free for us all.
- Lady Bird Lake — Walk, run, boat, stroll, take pictures and fall in love with nature at this oasis in the city. Home to the largest urban bat colony in the nation, a 10-mile jogging trail, 416 acres of water and some of the best people watching in the country, this is the center of Austin gravity, and one of the best reasons to visit downtown.
- 2nd Street — The area surrounding the new City Hall has quickly become a destination in itself, with some of the best window shopping in town. Plenty of patios offer food and libations in a casual atmosphere, but there are also some exquisite fine dining options.
- Texas State Capitol — This iconic landmark offers free tours seven days a week. The magnificent buildings are imposing, even from a distance, but you can only appreciate the intricate details of the pink granite structure when you get good and close. (Even the hinges and doorknobs are meticulously crafted. Be sure to take a closer look.)
- Music and Theater — All summer long, the hillsides around downtown are filled with Austin arts. The Zilker Hillside Theater produces musicals each summer in a natural ampitheater, alongside the Austin Symphony and Shakespeare in the Park. KGSR presents Blues on the Green on summer Wednesdays, also in Zilker, and Movies in the Park, provided by Alamo Drafthouse and the Austin Parks Foundation, is held in the Park at Republic Square.