Buckle in ladies. Today, we’re going to learn all about the three main cities bursting with life in good ol’ Texas!
Start your journey in Dallas. Albeit, this will be the least “Texan” stop along the way, so allow yourself to ease into the Southwest in the city full of bougey bars, boutiques and eateries. Being a Dallas native myself, I was thrilled to see how the Downtown area has come alive in recent years. The formerly barren core of the city is now bustling with cultural hotspots and culinary destinations.
I had the pleasure of staying at the historic Adolphus Hotel, located in the heart of downtown. Since its opening in 1912, the hotel has been an institution of the city — recently undergoing a renovation that blends its rich past with a fresh sophistication that appeals to guests both young and old. We began our visit with a brunch at City Hall Bistro, a European-style restaurant conveniently located inside the hotel. Each dish was inventive and layered with flavor, paring perfectly with the French rosé our server had recommended. Later that evening, we returned from exploring downtown in the freezing rain to have cocktails at The French Room Bar — sinking into the velvet sofa by a glowing fire, Gin Fizz in-hand.
Downtown Dallas alone is full of places to discover. Grab an insta-worthy cappuccino at Commissary, shop (or window shop, at least) till you drop at 4-story fashion mecca Forty Five Ten or visit the flagship store of the iconic Neiman Marcus just across the street. There’s also an array of high-end boutiques along Main street that are sure to impress even the most discerning customer (Le Labo, TenOverSix, The Taschen Library). Once you’ve gotten your shopping fix, learn about the most significant event in the city’s history at The Sixth Floor Museum — the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy. For the more faint-hearted, a visit to The Arts District will not disappoint as there are world-class collections at both The Dallas Museum of Art and The Nasher Sculpture Center.
Have a sunset walk across Ronald Kirk Pedestrian Bridge, enjoying one of the best views of the Dallas skyline and finish it with dinner or a drink at Trinity Groves, which is at the base of the bridge and has a rotating selection of pop-up restaurants that showcase cuisines from all over the world.
Any proper Dallasite will tell you that come Saturday morning, everyone goes for brunch. Dallas is a city of amazing patios, and the typically sunny skies are the perfect setting for some bacon and bottomless mimosas. The popular Uptown area is brimming with brunch spots, some of my favorites in this area include Breadwinner’s Cafe, The Rustic or Common Table (try the chicken & waffles, you can thank me later).
Burn off brunch with a walk on The Katy Trail, a pedestrian-friendly biking and running trail that snakes through the city. End the afternoon with a local craft beer (or two) at one of my favorite spots, Katy Trail Ice House — an outdoor beer garden with a Texas twist.
When I lived in Dallas, this was my favorite part of the city. It’s full of grungy favorites that ooze an unassuming, I-don’t-really-care cool. Recently, it’s gotten a little hipper and little “yuppier” but is still a refreshing escape from the typical Uptown crowd. Here’s what’s on my list when I’m back for a visit:
Drink locally-brewed craft beer with live music: Deep Ellum Brewing Company, Braindead Brewing
Shop around: Dolly Python (the best vintage shop), Jade & Clover (cute knick-knacks and a make-your-own terrarium plant bar)
Eat incredible food at these local restaurants: Pecan Lodge (true, Texas barbecue), Deep Sushi (hip sushi spot with great specialty rolls), Cane Rosso (authentic Neapolitan pizza and the best in Dallas), Twisted Root Burger Co. (you guessed it, killer burgers), Pepe’s & Mito’s (homestyle Tex Mex)
Grab drinks among the cool kids in town: Twilite Lounge, Adair’s Saloon, Black Swan Saloon, Off The Record Craft Beer & Vinyl
Late-night eats: Serious Pizza, Fuzzy’s Tacos, Glazed Donut Works (specialty donuts till 2am)
Alright, It’s time to bid-adieu to D-town. Hop in your rental car, pop on some George Strait and head south down the highway to the coolest town in Texas, Austin.
Welcome to the start-up, live music and breakfast taco capitol of Texas (oh, and it’s also the actual state capitol, too). There’s a booming restaurant scene and tons of outdoor activities (that every Austin resident wants nobody else to find out about) ;).
I stayed right in the middle of hip, up-and-coming East Austin at The Heywood Hotel. It actually felt as though I was crashing at my most stylish friend’s house, that friend who knows all the local hot spots with a killer eye for design to boot. There are 7 uniquely designed rooms in the renovated house, each featuring local artwork and artisan snacks from businesses around town. The Heywood team is full of amazing Austin recommendations and even has a curated map and neighborhood restaurant guide in each room.
My day began the only way it should when in Austin, with food truck migas tacos and a Mexican coffee from Flat Track Coffee (a bike repair shop slash artisan coffee brewery). And I’m just gonna say it and save you the research, the BEST breakfast tacos in town are from Veracruz All Natural — an unassuming food truck tucked away from all the tourists in the East. Actually, you’ll find a great majority of bars and restaurants loved by the locals in this part of the city. To name a few…
- Hillside Pharmacy: A historic drugstore lovingly restored into a charming brunch destination offering southern comfort food with a refined twist
- Franklin’s Barbecue: Classic Texas barbecue in a casual, down home setting. Line up early, this place only serves it’s famous fare for lunch and it goes FAST.
- Stay Gold: Drink among laid back locals with a varied drink menu in this dive bar with live music
- Whisler’s: One of the best patios in town with whimsical punch bowls (shaped like poodles) for a hot day
- Weather Up: Vintage leather banquettes, marble tables, chic cocktails in gold-rimmed glasses and an airy patio with a giant oak tree
- Kitty Cohen’s: Lounge poolside in a wonderfully kitsch setting that oozes 1970s glamour.
Visit this street of old, historic homes that have all been converted into bars offering everything from tallboys to tequila. Go during the work week to avoid too many wild students or bachelorette parties. Sample the best of Texas craft beer at Craft Pride Austin, sip on a Bartender’s Choice cocktail at Half Step or hula-hoop in the backyard with a frozen lemonade (made with strawberry moonshine) at Lustre Pearl.
South Congress Ave.
This one street is the perfect pedestrian location for an easy afternoon of window shopping, sipping and snacking. Get yourself a proper pair of Lucchese cowboy boots at Allens Boots — an Austin landmark with over 4,000 pairs to choose from! Grab pizza from Home Slice, a gourmet burger from Hopdoddy’s Burger Bar, an iced coffee from Jo’s Coffee (and snap a photo at their famous “I love you so much” mural if you’re feeling extra touristy) or a sweet treat from food truck Hey Cupcake! The street is brimming with quirky boutiques — offering everything from cool menswear (STAG Provisions) to vintage costumes (Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds). Take a look down to the capitol building when crossing the street for one of the best views in the city!
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ALSO, DON’T MISS OUT ON…
Hiking to the top of Mount Bonnell for an amazing view of the city. Great for a sunset photo op or a little picnic!
Have a day in the sun at the popular public swimming hole from natural springs, Barton Springs.
Go to a group exercise class or outdoor concert at Zilker Park.
Rent a kayak, canoe or paddle board and make your way down the Colorado River, that conveniently runs through the heart of the city.
Sample incredible Japanese fusion food at Uchi — the brussel sprouts will leave you with cravings for months.
If you can visit Austin during festival season, even better! South By Southwest (SXSW) and Austin City Limits are both world-renowned festivals with killer musical lineups each year.
The third and final stop of the Texas Trifecta is just a 45 minute drive from downtown Austin. San Antonio is the most manageable of the 3 cities when it comes to getting around town, but you’ll want to stay in the middle of the action on The Riverwalk.
I stayed at Hotel Contessa, which is located in this lively district. Convenient location aside, the suites were modern with sophisticated Western and Spanish influences and the staff had that friendly Texas hospitality I so often miss overseas. Guests can dine right along the water on the hotel’s outdoor terrace, or order breakfast tacos in bed (which is what I did). A quick 5 minute walk will put you in the thick of the most visited area in the city.
We strolled down the riverwalk with no set agenda, stopping into shops along the way and sitting along the water watching boats pass by. We had an amazing lunch at Ácenar, which serves up traditional TexMex and has guacamole that’s made table-side. I will say that San Antonio consistently has the best traditional TexMex and Mexican food in the state — so take this as your chance to indulge! The Riverwalk area is full of Mexican restaurants — we also had dinner and the most amazing Margaritas at Iron Cactus.
After getting your taco fix, head down to The Pearl District, a mixed-use space with green areas, restaurants and live music — all centered around a former brewery founded in 1883.
For a fun little afternoon or evening trip, drive 45 minutes to Gruene (pronounced Green) — a tiny little town with adorable bed & breakfasts, shops and a historic downtown area that feels like something out of a movie. We spent an evening at Gruene Hall, which is the oldest dance hall in Texas! Grab a Shiner and hit the dance floor for some traditional Texas Two-Stepping.
Of course, no visit to San Antonio is complete without a visit to The Alamo — which is probably the most famous landmark in Texas. Tour the 18th century landmark and let the history of the former fortress (during the Texas Revolution) seep in. Stroll through downtown to sit on Main Plaza in front of the stunning San Fernando Cathedral. Then, have one last TexMex dinner (or even a late night snack since they’re open 24 hours a day!) at kitschy fun Mi Tierra Cafe y Panaderia.
Between these three cities, there’s truly something for everyone. If you’re wanting to take your Texas trek a step further, check out this article about an adventure to Marfa and Big Bend National Park. I hope Y’ALL enjoy my home state as much as I do!