Downtown: Politics & Culture
Downtown is a lively jumble of politicians, office workers, tourists, creatives and a fair number of homeless folks. Cops on bikes patrol the area, particularly near gritty 6th St, but generally the streets are safe. Lined with historic buildings, art museums and cool cafes, Congress Ave is the main thoroughfare, and it's an invigorating place to stroll.
Crowds can be distracting in the state capitol building, but the sprawling grounds are typically tranquil. Here, an easy, tree-lined walk passes 20 statues and memorials. On the south lawn look for the Texas cowboy and a monument honoring heroes of the Alamo. The Tejano Monument spotlights the contributions of Spanish and Mexican settlers to the state's history and culture.
Austin was established in 1839 to serve as the capital of the Republic of Texas. Development plans called for a 120-foot wide ceremonial boulevard stretching from the capitol to the Colorado River. No buildings from that era survive, but the grand boulevard – Congress Ave – still thrives. Today, buildings date from various eras. The Paramount Theatre celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2015.
Scruffy and crowded, Hideout Coffee House stands apart from the competition because of the small improv theater in the back. Step in for a latte, a pastry and maybe some audience participation.
The Driskill Bar
This clubby place feels like Texas. There's a longhorn steer mounted over the fireplace, a copper tin ceiling overhead and cowhide covers on the chairs. And lots of private areas to loosen your tie or kick off your heels. Join politicians, screenwriters, musicians and everyone else in search of a good cocktail in a bar that knows what it's doing.
Movie Lovers Unite!
Cinephiles flock to Alamo Drafthouse for food, beer and a great movie-going experience. Think comfy seats and absolutely no tolerance for talking or cell phone use. An Austin original, Alamo Drafthouses are now scattered across the state and venturing into non-Texas territory. Check the online calendar (the Ritz location) for dance parties, Girlie Night (watch The Notebook!) and Terror Tuesday flicks.
The exhibits rotate regularly at this airy contemporary museum, so popping in always feels like a mini-adventure. Even better, it's a small place, so you can immerse in the art – which spotlights Mexican and Latino works – and never feel rushed. If you're looking for a unique present, the gift shop is loaded with eclectic arts and crafts.
- Car For the best rate, park in the Capitol Visitors Parking Garage.
- Bike There is a B-Cycle station at S Congress Ave and W 11th St, just south of the capitol grounds.
- Bus 1, 6, 7, 10 and more stop at S Congress Ave and W 11th St.