A Visit to Austin: Where to eat, stay, and play in Austin with kids
This spring we spent a few terrific days visiting with our growing population of friends in Austin. I hadn’t been there in quite a few years but had fond memories of food, music and a generally great vibe in this city that really could be named Brooklyn, Texas.
The city has grown very quickly in the past decade, with no sign of stopping and definitely no shortage of conspicuous facial hair or big conversations about small record labels. Here's what we did, where we stayed, and what we ate in Austin with kids.
We wanted to get a sense for one of the fast-growing neighborhoods in Austin proper, so we stayed in a great little “hip east downtown Austin home” that we found through airbnb. The surrounding area appears to be in full gentrification mode at the moment. We continue to love airbnb for lots of reasons. In Austin we especially loved it for the opportunity to live very briefly in a neighborhood where we would never live in real life because we’re about a decade too old and have kids who need a good school district. Four days was just the right amount of time to pretend we belonged there before the illusion started to crack, which was fine with all of us and no doubt also with the area’s actual residents.
We knew we’d found a good place when we realized it was a mere five-minute walk to Hillside Farmacy, pictured here with the world’s biggest, most ornate Wasabi Bloody Mary and the cute apothecary vibe. We know some people who are pretty with-it for a bunch of married 40 year olds with kids, and you could tell any of them you’d been to Hillside Farmacy and expect an approving nod. You’ll find details about this and other restaurants below. Don’t miss it when you plan your next Austin visit.
I’ve mentioned before that for a family of non-meat-eaters, we really love our burger joints. So we tried Hopdoddy, which I’m sure any number of Texans would draw their concealed weapons at me for saying is basically Texan Shake Shack. Of course I would never say that out loud, but not because I fear for my life. Rather, I fear confusing you since Shake Shack now has two actual locations in Austin.
Compared to Shake Shack, Hopdoddy has some good points: a much more extensive adult beverage menu, fries with parmesan-truffle aioli, two kinds of non-meat burgers, and notably a staff that helps reserve you a table when you get in line for food. (This is major, and I hope Shake Shack will follow suit one day.) It also has some downsides, most importantly that the food doesn’t have as much of a savory kick. My tuna burger managed to be both overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time — messy with lots of elements, but not big on taste. And although I love raw tuna with a passion, I don’t want my burger to be cold on the inside. Still, I suspect we’d go back again, because burger places.
Elizabeth Street Cafe
We met up with friends at Elizabeth Street Cafe, whose name may hint at its bakery and coffee aspect but does noooooot immediately reveal that it’s primarily a Thai noodle and báhn mì restaurant. Whatever it is, it’s delicious and beautiful and fun. Here’s me having so much fun I’m blurry. Good times.
Although it’s starting to look like we just drove around from one meal to the next, I assure you we played a lot — and even got some work done — in between meals. Zilker Park is a giant, really schmantastic park with everything from a lake and natural swimming pool to a playground to hiking/biking/running trails, music venues and sculpture gardens. Since Austin is full of fit, outdoorsy types who gravitate there, it’s also a fun place to people-watch.
Here’s the little one taking a break from the monkey bars to mingle with scholars at Philosopher’s Rock. She’s the whole package.
Where to stay in Austin with kids
And here we are back at “home,” relaxing on the deck. The lone star (which makes me antsy) is everywhere you look in Texas, but luckily string lights (which make me happy) are equally ubiquitous in Austin. That’s the Brooklyn of Texas in a nutshell.
Where to eat, stay, and play in Austin with kids
Hillside Farmacy – delicious, well-sourced food and drinks in an old-school apothecary vibe. Good for both breakfast/brunch and dinner.
Elizabeth Street Café – beautiful space serving Thai food, baked goods and coffee. It was packed for lunch.
Hopdoddy Burger Bar – Craft beers and complicated burgers. Pretty good.
Whole Foods – The flagship Whole Foods on Lamar Boulevard is truly incredible and worth a pilgrimage. I know this is a real one-percenter thing to say, but it even beats the location in London’s Kensington High Street. If you have kids, know that there’s even a playground on the roof.
“Hip East Dowtown Austin Home” via Airbnb – lovely, casual house in an up and coming neighborhood that sleeps up to 8.
Zilker Park – lake, swimming, hike/bike/run, music festivals, theater, sculpture garden, playground — just go.