Arts and Culture-Filled Weekend in Austin

  • Distance from Houston: 165 miles
  • Best time: Year Round
  • Best for: FamilyRomanticArts and Culture

In recent years Austin has become known for a variety of attributes, most notably its live music scene. The unofficial motto of "Keep Austin Weird" seems to permeate daily life. And that's a good thing. From funky boutiques to unique movie theaters to restaurants dedicated to doing things their own way, you're sure to have a memorable time when you spend a weekend here. Thanks to the bustling music, film, and arts scenes, it's a great place to spend a culture-focused getaway. This melting pot for techies, movie buffs and musicians is sure to satisfy any of your curiosities—artistic or otherwise. –by Kristin Finan

Friday

1 If you're in Austin to have a cultural experience, the Blanton Museum of Art is a wonderful place to start. Featuring the largest and most comprehensive collection of art in Central Texas, the Blanton is home to more than 17,000 works that include European paintings, and modern and contemporary American and Latin American art.

2 Next, grab some grub at the popular 24 Diner, which features contemporary "chef-inspired comfort food" and is open, appropriately, 24 hours a day. Menu items here include a bacon gorgonzola burger, pork belly sandwich, meat loaf, and no-bean chili.

3 Finish out the evening with cocktails and a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse, the quirky Austin theater chain that allows you to drink (beer, wine, cocktails) and eat while you watch a movie. The theater chain, which has multiple locations in Austin, also frequently hosts fun special events (Dirty Dancing sing-a-long, perhaps?). Check the website for details.

Saturday

1 Start your morning at one of Austin's favorite brunch spots: South Congress Café. Begin with a Mimosa, followed by one of the eclectic brunch menu items that may include smoked brisket hash, carrot cake-French toast (complete with cream cheese-pecan syrup), or crab enchiladas. Lines here can get long, so call ahead to put your name on the waiting list.

2 Founded in 2004, the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture is a quirky, random and fun place to learn about the ways that Austin's art and culture scenes have evolved over the past 50 years. Expect to find exhibits here ranging from the artifacts of well-known musicians to vintage artwork and posters that have been used to promote the live music scene for decades. The museum is open Thursday to Sunday between 1 pm and 6 pm or "by appointment and chance."

3 Lyndon Baines Johnson had strong ties to Central Texas, so it makes sense that the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum is conveniently located in downtown Austin. Exhibits here include a recreated Oval Office from Johnson's time in the White House, artifacts detailing his courtship with wife Lady Bird Johnson, 45 million pages of historical documents, and detailed timelines explaining both his personal and political life. The museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.

4 It has been lauded as the best barbecue in Texas (and the world), so you owe it to yourself to give Franklin Barbecue a try for lunch. Be warned—the line here forms early—but it is well worth the wait. Originally served out the window of a modest food trailer, Franklin's fall-off-the-bone meats and ample sides are now available in a restaurant setting. The restaurant opens at 11 am and serves until it sells out. Come hungry.

5 After lunch it's time for a little retail therapy at the popular South Congress Avenue District, where fun, unique boutique stores await. Favorites on this strip include Monkey See Monkey Do, a toy store for kids and kids at heart; Big Top Candy Shop, home to every kind of nostalgic candy you can imagine; and Parts and Labour, which features "functional artwork" such as jewelry, clothing and accessories created by Texas artists.

6 Next, it's time to cool off inside one of the most legendary music venues in Austin: The Continental Club. One of Austin's most popular music venues since 1957, the Continental Club has hosted everyone from Stevie Ray Vaughn to Joe Ely to the Butthole Surfers and Kinky Friedman. All genres—including blues, folk, country and soul—are featured here.

7 Finally wrap up your night at Perla's Seafood and Oyster Bar, the perfect South Congress Avenue restaurant to grab a bite. Start with a fresh cocktail (from dozens of selections) and nibble on the complimentary hush puppies. For dinner, choose between menu items such as bouillabaisse, lobster bucatini, and an ahi tuna melt. Fresh oysters and fish are flown in daily from both coasts.

Sunday

1 It's no secret that Austin is home to a slew of wonderful breakfast taco joints. Among the most famous is Torchy's Tacos, an Austin favorite that serves up every variety you can imagine. Tacos here include the Monk Special (eggs, bacon, green chiles, and cheese), the Wrangler (eggs, potatoes, smoked brisket, and cheese) and the Ranch Hand (eggs, beef fajita, and cheese).

2 Continue your tour of Austin at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, which is comprised of three floors of interactive exhibits, special collections, and an IMAX theater. Recent exhibits have included "Encounters of the Land," which detailed the first meetings of Native Americans and European explorers; "Creating Opportunity," which covered the history and importance of ranching in Texas, and "Building the Lone Star Identity," which discussed the Texas Revolution.

3 Finally, wrap up your cultural Austin weekend with a visit to the Umlauf Sculture Garden, one of the most serene spots in the whole city. It features works by Charles Umlauf and other contemporary sculptors, and is a wonderful place for all ages to spend an hour wandering and relaxing.

Where to Stay

If you're looking for fun, funky and upscale, don't miss the opportunity to stay at the Hotel Saint Cecilia (rates from $300), a hotel that aims to "stir the poet and artist in each of us." Grab a record from the extensive vinyl library and try it out on the turntable—every room comes with one.

Those traveling with the family will want to consider the Austin Motel (rates from $100), which is located in the heart of South Congress Avenue and features a sparkling 1950s-style pool that will delight the entire clan. Room décor varies, but our favorites include a "polka-dot surprise" room with turquoise and yellow polka dot décor; the art-inspired "Monet honeymoon" room; and the relaxing "Zen" room.

When to Go

Spring and Fall are wonderful times to visit Austin, although Winter and Summer feature a variety of activities that make it worth a visit.

Notable Austin festivals include the music-filled SXSW (March), family-friendly Eeyore's Birthday Party (April); arts-focused Pecan Street Festival (May and September); and outdoor music festival Austin City Limits (September).

How to Get There

By Car: Take Hwy 10 W. to Hwy 71 W. and you'll be in Austin in less than three hours.

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