Austin. It’s been creeping up on my travel radar for years. And my radar rarely steers me wrong. I’ve been watching the live music scene blossom, observing some of the best spas in the nation make big lists and drooling over the vibrant culinary scene: the food trucks, the barbecue, the over-the-top craft cocktails and the chefs who are flocking there.
The ink was barely dry on my friend Gina’s Facebook post when she announced she was moving to Austin. Months before the moving van pulled up to her new Austin-area home, the plane tickets were bought and I’d recruited a bunch of girlfriends for a long weekend in Austin.
Gina probably wasn’t surprised; I’d been planning girlfriend getaways for nearly ten years. But none had ever quite reached the epic proportion that was about to reach Austin: There were to be ten girlfriends in total. Friends. And friends of friends. And friends of friends of friends. Some were locals from Austin and other parts of Texas. The rest of us hailed from as far away as New York.
As the planning progressed, we had some tough decisions to make. Where would we stay? Where would we eat? Where would we listen to live music? And where would we spa? All are important aspects of a successful girlfriend getaway. Read on for my top picks for a girlfriend getaway in Austin.
Where to stay in Austin
We rented a house in the trendy Travis Heights area for its proximity to one of Austin’s most sought after shopping, dining and entertainment districts – South Congress (aka SoCo). The house was nothing to write home about but the location was rock star. With eight of us needing lodging it made sense to forgo traditional hotel rooms and to seek out a rented home. We found ours on VRBO but any trusted vacation home rental site will do. The house we choose fit our criteria nicely: plenty of bathrooms (4), private or semi-private bedrooms for each guest and a location within walking distance to SoCo. This was no easy task, but with perseverance we found a suitable house in a quiet residential neighborhood. The upside of a rental home is the ability to cook in some meals if we choose – for us, it was simple breakfasts – and to be able to store our wine and snacks in the fridge (the important stuff!) Sitting around the kitchen table drinking Cosmopolitans and noshing on homemade guacamole was priceless. It also made it easier to round up everyone when it was time to leave for a scheduled activity. With everyone located in the same house, we avoided the “meet in the lobby” game that can start to feel like an exhausting game of tag
If you’re looking for more traditional lodging in a hot downtown location, look no further than The Driskill Hotel. Classy, sophisticated and upscale describe The Driskill with a rockin bar scene at The Driskill Bar.
Where to eat in Austin
Austin is a paradise for foodies. Every imaginable cuisine is found here from casual and fine dining to the famous food trucks scattered all over town. Being so close to the border, Tex Mex is a given.
It was our third day in town and we hadn’t had our Tex-Mex fix yet, so we eschewed the advice in the guidebooks and turned to the Urban Spoon iPhone App. We trecked all over town on foot, past some of the more commonly known places, to Polvos Mexican Restaurant on S 1st Street. Polvos is a cross between Tex-Mex and authentic interior Mexican cuisine. The Chili Relleno al Nogal, topped with a pecan cream sauce, was the best dish of the entire trip. The freshly made margaritas were worth every extra step we took to get there. Polvos isn’t fancy, but the cuisine is genuine, fresh and flavorful.
If your visit to Austin falls on a Sunday, do not miss the Gospel Brunch at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q. Book a table with a view of the band and trust me when I say this: go hungry! You’ll leave so full that eating dinner that night will be a challenge. The food is good, maybe even very good. But the Gospel music is fantastic. It started out a little slow, with a few musicians jamming on stage in the background while you’re feasting on southern-style grits, migas, fried catfish and Stubb’s famous BBQ brisket. But then the lead singer came on stage and began belting out this powerful, joyous gospel music. Even if you think you don’t like gospel music, go. You can’t help feeling uplifted at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q’s Gospel Brunch.
America’s interest in Cuba will no doubt soar as entry requirements are relaxed to visit this exotic island where time stands still. In the meantime, Pleasant Storage Room on 4th Street can give you a sense of what Golden Age Cuba and the Caribbean during the early to mid-20th century might have been like. At Pleasant Storage Room, rum is key. Do yourself and your girlfriends a favor and order one of their fancy group-style rum punches, served in a punch bowl, and you’ll understand how sophisticated (and not sticky sweet) a rum punch can be. Everything on the menu is unique and delicious but a few of the standouts are the empanadas, jerk chicken and wood grilled corn.
Not to be ignored is the Austin food truck scene. On a quest for cupcakes, we happened upon a silver trailer that housed Hey Cupcake! on South Congress Avenue. It wasn’t yet lunchtime, but doesn’t every group of girlfriends need to nosh on an assortment of mini cupcakes while they’re waiting for public transportation? Hey Cupcake! has multiple locations throughout Austin, but the SoCo location is right in the heart of this wonderful shopping and dining district and just behind a bus stop.
Where to have fun in Austin
Every girlfriend getaway needs a night of rowdy and raucous fun and Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar is it in Austin. The entertainers are hilarious and really talented. The crowd is a bit more mature (say 30’s and up) than what you might find at some of the other establishments on the notorious 6th Street, but no less looking for a good time. Reserve a stage-side table and if you really want to be reckless, share one of Pete’s 52 ounce Signature Drinks that serves up to five thirsty girlfriends. If it’s a Saturday night you’ll probably spot at least one bachelorette party. On the night of our visit, one bride-to-be and her crew of bridesmaids were partying with a blowup doll that eventually made its way on stage. Fair warning: Pete’s is not for the modest or the extremely virtuous. Second fair warning: all in good spirit, everyone in the audience is a target for the entertainment of others
What to do and see in Austin
We had a blast touring the Texas Hill Country Olive Company in Dripping Springs (about 45 minutes outside of Austin) led by owner John Gambini. After learning about the process of extracting the rich, healthful oil from olives, we sampled delicious and robust olive oils, flavored balsamic vinegars and some of Texas’ best wine. My favorite olive oil was the silver medal winner Terra Verde Estate Blend, which I promptly bought two bottles of, along with some wild cherry balsamic vinegar, to bring home. Never was I so happy to have traveled with checked luggage so I could stowe my 250ml bottles of sunshine.
The pilgrimage, and it really was a pilgrimage high above the city, to Hope Outdoor Gallery (HOG) was worth every step climbed. Perhaps the coolest outdoor gallery ever, HOG is a three-story educational art project located at 11th & Baylor Streets in Austin – one of the largest outdoor galleries in the USA. This project was developed to provide muralists, graffiti artists and community groups the opportunity to display large scale art pieces driven by inspirational, positive and educational messaging. The hike up to the top of the exhibit will leave you breathless, but so will the view from the gallery on a clear and sunny day. Beside, you have a LOT of calories to work off from Austin’s great eating! Hope Outdoor Gallery is street art that worth going out of your way to find.
Where to shop in Austin
Hands down SoCo is the place for you and your girlfriends to get your shop on. SoCo is a contrast of boutiques, eateries, and all things trendy, vintage and fashionable. Allen’s Boots is a dream for any boot lover.
Where to spa in Austin
Mandatory on every girlfriend getaway (preferably after the raucous and rowdy night out) is a visit to a spa. Austin has its share of beauties, but I have two to recommend that are can’t-miss options.
Lake Austin Spa Resort is situated beside Lake Austin, about 45 minutes outside of downtown Austin. It’s worth every second of the agonizingly slow Austin traffic which is particularly agonizing at rush hour (which never seems to end). What I love about Lake Austin Spa Resort is that they cater to groups. In other words, all I had to do was collect everyones spa treatment choices and therapist gender preferences and the lovely spa coordinators at Lake Austin did the rest. They reserved us a table in the Aster Cafe so we could all lunch together, scheduled our spa treatments so we could maximize our time together and kept track of it all so we didn’t have to. You can read my full review of our journey of many friendships to Lake Austin Spa Resort by clicking here.
To get to Hyatt Regency Lost Pines from Austin, one drives out of town past the airport down nondescript Texas Highway 71. It gets rural rather quickly and stays that way right until the turn onto the private Hyatt Lost Pines Road. It’s here that you think you’ll run smack into the mega-luxury resort, but this is where it gets interesting. The road that leads to the Hyatt is the best part of the journey: around twists and turns, over hills and finally, after 3 miles I arrive at the resort. You can read my full review of my visit to the Hyatt and Spa Django by clicking here.
Getting around Austin
Austin has a fantastic public transportation system. And thank goodness. As you’ve probably guessed by now, traffic can be problematic. We had a rental car but found it more convenient to walk, take cabs or use public transportation when we were around town. A car is a necessity for traveling away from the city, such as to Lake Austin Spa Resort and Hyatt Regency Lost Pines. But getting around locally is easy with Capital Metro’s MetroRapid, the best bus system we’ve seen in any city. In a nutshell, there are two routes: the 801 (North Lamar/South Congress) and Route 803 (Burnet/South Lamar). Busses run every 12-30 minutes, depending on day of week and time of day. You’ll never wonder if your bus is running late or not because each station has a digital display telling you when the next bus will arrive. Busses are new, clean, affordable and comfortable.
Michele McIntyre is a freelance writer who covers spas, travel, fitness, wellness, beauty and healthy living/eating. She is happiest when lying face up on the treatment table, writing about her spa and travel experiences or testing new products to share with her readers. She lives near Syracuse, NY with her husband and son. Michele is a regular travel contributor to LivingBetterat50+ and has written for Today’s Central New York Woman Magazine and online at Tripology, TripAtlas, and Splash Magazines Worldwide. Michele blogs about the spa and travel industry. When she isn't writing about or visiting spas, Michele loves traveling, hiking, skiing, camping, yoga and reading. If any of these pursuits can be combined with a visit to the spa, even better!