Austin has long been known for its live music and its restaurants, which now rival those in foodie hubs such as Charleston and Los Angeles. The industry that once lagged behind was retail, but the scene is now exploding: Drawn by the creative, laid-back vibe, artists, artisans and fashion entrepreneurs have flocked to Austin in recent years. As a result, neighborhoods are filled with independent designers and boutiques that sell American-made—if not Texas- and Austin-made—items, from custom guitars and hand-tooled leather goods to modern ceramics and embroidered boots. Texas summers are notoriously hot, but during the off-season, from December through February, the weather is beautifully mild and dry with temperatures in the mid-60s. Now’s the time to head on down with an extra suitcase in tow.
Scouting on South Lamar
Boutiques are popping up along this up-and-coming central boulevard, home to high-end lofts and trendy restaurants. Goods by Austin-based designers are on display under the chandeliers at Kiki Nass, including recycled-leather purses and band bracelets studded with geodes by Stephanie Montes of S.t.e.f. Clothing. There’s also chunky jewelry by Electric Feather and delicate necklaces by local artist Farrah B—one of her popular pendants reads “Hey Y’all.” Farther south, born-and-raised Austinite Noah Marion cuts and stitches vegetable-tanned cowhide on-site at Noah Marion Quality Goods. His backpacks and weekender bags are customer favorites, as are his raw-edged passport carriers.
It feels like you’re stepping into a Scandinavian showroom at Nannie Inez, where sleek furnishings from Europe—including modern chairs by the Denmark-based brand Hay—are complemented by souvenirs small enough for your suitcase: The shop’s line of essential oils and sugar scrubs are made in Austin, as are hand towels and placemats by local designer Alyson Fox.
For stylish, affordable clothing, visit Dylan Wylde. Owner Jessica Conaway brings a bit of beach culture to this landlocked city (Dylan means born of the sea; Wylde is a reminder to push boundaries). U.S. designers hanging on the racks include Groceries Apparel, known for its organic-cotton tanks and tees, and Jac Vanek, who makes tops sporting sassy phrases.
You can recharge at Patika Wine and Coffee, where regulars sip cappuccinos while enjoying freshly baked citrus muffins on the plant-lined patio. The café serves craft beers and hosts live music in the evenings. If you’re after a heartier meal, Ramen Tatsu-Ya ladles out steaming bowls of pork broth and noodles topped with a soft-boiled egg, shiitake mushrooms and menma (marinated bamboo). Also on the menu: Austin Beerworks’ Pearl Snap German-style pilsner, a brew exclusively made and sold in the Texas capital. Next door, stop into Backbeat—open-air tables on the second floor have downtown views—to savor a seasonal cocktail. For dessert, walk a block north to Lick Ice Creams, where flavors like thyme or dark chocolate with sea salt are made with milk sourced from area dairy farms.
South Congress Sleuthing
Thanks to its funky storefronts and collection of only-in-Austin shops, South Congress Avenue is one of the city’s busiest pedestrian thoroughfares. You can get ranch-ready at Allens Boots, which has occupied the stone and stucco building at the corner of South Congress and Monroe Street since 1977. More than 10,000 pairs of cowboy boots line the shelves, from ostrich or oiled calfskin Lucchese (made in Texas since 1883) to Old Gringo boots, known for their colorful embroidery and bright studding. There’s also Uncommon Objects, where a carefully curated group of vendors sells antiques, such as vintage Dr. Pepper bottles and 1970s rock-and-roll posters. ByGeorge, an Austin clothing staple since 1979, carries upscale womens- and menswear, avant-garde travel books and ceramics by local designer Keith Kreeger, whose dishes grace restaurant tables across the country.
Independent shops and restaurants line a central courtyard at South Congress Hotel, and bands play free concerts on the first Thursday of every month. Here you’ll find Revival Cycles, the retail arm of an East Austin warehouse where founders Alan Stulberg and Stefan Hertel refurbish vintage motorcycles. Inside the handsome steel-and-glass store, shoppers exchange road-trip tales while browsing American-made goods, including North Carolina’s Craft Socks and Grifter riding gloves, hand-sewn in Gloversville, New York.
If Austin’s music scene inspires you, head south to the Moniker Guitars showroom. You can design your own custom instrument—from the body and neck to the tuners and pickups—with founders Dave Barry and Kevin Tully. One avenue over, Métier Cook’s Supply is a must-stop shop for food lovers. Opened by husband-and-wife team Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher of the neighboring Lenoir restaurant, this bungalow with a whitewashed interior offers cooking supplies, such as refurbished cast-iron cookware and knives with mesquite-wood or ebony handles. A back room holds vintage recipe books and cooking tomes.
East Side Finds
The city’s East Side, an artistic enclave with Mexican and African-American roots, has seen tremendous growth over the past half decade. Some of Austin’s most creative businesses are housed in the area’s historic bungalows, contemporary buildings and industrial warehouses. In one of the latter sits Bearded Lady, a beloved gallery and studio that makes and sells posters, T-shirts and hats emblazoned with original prints by Austin artists. Two miles west, Helm Boots sells footwear designed in Austin and cobbled in Maine, as well as men’s belts and leather salve. A 10-minute walk away, Take Heart’s blond-wood shelves are lined with one-of-a-kind items, including minimalist saltcellars, flower-filled paperweights and dolls hand-sewn by Austin designer Kathryn Davis.
Some of the city’s most exciting restaurants are also blossoming here. Be sure to make dinner reservations if you want to score a table at relative newcomer Juniper. Up-and-coming chef Nicholas Yanes’s Italian-influenced plates—such as pappardelle in oxtail ragù with squash and horseradish—are served amid peacock blue banquettes and serene woodland wallpaper. Launderette, housed in, well, a former launderette, has earned serious accolades from the James Beard Foundation and Food & Wine for its small plates. Start with the crunchy crab-topped toast and end with one of the nostalgic desserts: birthday-cake ice cream sandwiches or a grown-up version of Samoa® Girl Scout cookies, made with a hint of butterscotch and savory miso.
Downtown and North Austin Essentials
In the city’s central business district, Austinites descend from high-rises to shop for baubles at Eliza Paige. Look out for contemporary gold earrings and necklaces by Shaesby, a jewelry designer who got his start in Austin and now has pieces at Neiman Marcus. Katie Kime, off of North Lamar Boulevard, is a modern Lilly Pulitzer: When the designer couldn’t source fabrics that she liked, she created her own, and now everything from throw pillows and cocktail dresses to wall art is suited up in her bold and colorful prints. Airport souvenir shops might want to take a cue from Atown (north of downtown), home to affordable made-in-Austin goodies such as votive candles and Texas State onesies. And The Corner Shoppe is an Austin classic for cowhide rugs, mounted horns and unusual taxidermy.
As you wrap up, consider snagging a table at Barley Swine. The menu changes nightly, but be sure to order the shiitake-mushroom ravioli and crab topped with shaved zucchini when they appear on the page. Wood-paneled walls and shelves lined with preserved goods make the restaurant’s interior feel like a modern kitchen cellar. It’s a cozy spot to put up your feet after another day spent loading up on keepsakes from Texas’s stylish, quirky capital.
Shop San Antonio
Even Austinites have reason to make the 80-mile detour to San Antonio. The city has real imported and homegrown talent, and many of its artisans work to preserve San Antonio’s Mexican-American roots.
Dos Carolinas (303 Pearl Pkwy., Suite 102; 210-224-7000) has a lovely storefront in the city’s Pearl Brewery District. Keep your eyes peeled for handmade guayaberas, the “Mexican tuxedo shirt.”
A large silver trailer parked on Broadway Street serves as the base for Outland Provision Co. (2202 Broadway St.). On offer: durable leather travel gear, including dopp kits and satchels made by local company Bexar Goods.
You may be tempted to dress up your door when you see the wreaths adorned with Mexican ornaments at Fiesta on Main (2025 N. Main Ave., Honesdale). The shop is named for San Antonio’s annual Fiesta, the city’s answer to Mardi Gras.
1522 S. Congress Ave.; 512-447-1413; allensboots.com
5502 Burnet Rd.; 512-323-2533; shopatown.tumblr.com
3504 E. 4th St.; 512-389-0180; beardedlady.net
1400 S. Congress Ave.; 512-441-8600; bygeorgeaustin.com
The Corner Shoppe
8425 Burnet Rd.; 512-451-7633; taxidermyking.com
2324 S. Lamar Blvd.; 512-840-0900; dylanwylde.com
229 W. 2nd St.; 512-474-6500; elizapage.com
900 E. 6th St., Suite 101; 512-609-8150; helmboots.com
500 N. Lamar Blvd., Suite 150; 512-358-4478; katiekime.com
1100 S. Lamar Blvd., Suite 1130; 512-362-8909; kikinass.com
Métier Cook’s Supply
1805 S. 1st St.; 512-276-2605; metieraustin.com
4917 S. Congress Ave.; 512-843-2991; monikerguitars.com
701 S. Lamar Blvd.; 512-428-6639; nannieinez.com
Noah Marion Quality Goods
2053 S. Lamar Blvd.; 512-917-4628; noahmarion.com
1603 S. Congress Ave.; 512-524-2206; revivalcycles.com
1111 E. 11th St.; 512-520-9664; takeheartshop.com
1512 S. Congress Ave.; 512-442-4000; uncommonobjects.com
1300 S. Lamar Blvd.; 512-551-9980; backbeat-atx.com; drinks for two, $25
6555 Burnet Rd.; 512-394-8150; barleyswine.com; dinner for two, $100*
2400 E. Cesar Chavez St., Suite 304; 512-220-9421; juniperaustin.com; dinner for two, $130
2115 Holly St.; 512-382-1599; launderetteaustin.com; dinner for two, $120
Lick Ice Creams
1100 S. Lamar Blvd., Suite 1135; 512-363-5622; ilikelick.com; ice cream for two, $8
Patika Wine and Coffee
2159 S. Lamar Blvd.; 512-535-3955; patikacoffee.com; coffee for two, $8
1234 S. Lamar Blvd.; 512-893-5561; ramen-tatsuya.com; lunch for two, $40
RCI® affiliated resorts in and near Austin include:
A great getaway for families, this resort offers activities from waterskiing and sailing to shuffleboard and billiards. 1917 American Dr., Lago Vista
Member Review: “Exceptional staff and abundant wildlife.”
Tree-house-style units set on a hill overlooking Schooner Cove are equipped with cozy wood-burning fireplaces. 100 Star St., Austin
Member Review: “We loved the proximity to hiking.”
Close enough to Austin for big-city activities but removed enough to be a quiet refuge. 17545 FM 306, Canyon Lake
Member Review: “Great for families.”
For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
Non-RCI affiliated resorts in Austin include:
South Congress Hotel
Floor-to-ceiling windows and exposed-concrete ceilings mark local architect Michael Hsu’s refined industrial hotel design. Custom wood-and-leather furniture dresses up the 83 rooms. 1603 S. Congress Ave.; 512-920-6405; southcongresshotel.com; doubles from $280 a night
Hotel Van Zandt
Austin-based design shop Four Hands crafted some of the lobby furniture for this recently opened 319-room Kimpton property. 605 Davis St.; 512-542-5300; hotelvanzandt.com; doubles from $250 a night
This 1886 hotel embraces its Lone Star State roots with a star-studded stained-glass dome. Recently remodeled rooms now include hand-painted crown moldings and Victorian-era trunks. 604 Brazos St.; 512-439-1234; driskillhotel.com; doubles from $280 a night
- *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: Winter 2016