Deep in the Heart: How to explore Austin in 3 Days as a Solo Traveler

Oh shit…I just did that…am I really doing this?

This was my thought process after I received my emails from Southwest in the middle of last month late on a Thursday night, confirming my flight to Austin, Texas, for the end of August.

It wasn’t my initial plan for a vacation between my first and second quarters of grad school…but I didn’t want to just stay stagnant in Chicago for three weeks. Two of my close girlfriends from college and I had discussed going to New Orleans for an extended weekend during this break, but I had just gotten word that they were unable to afford a trip (not that I am necessarily #rollingwiththehomies myself). So, I searched Southwest’s website, and found cheap flights to Austin.

I was going to fly into Austin, hang out there for a day and a half, then take a Greyhound to Houston for a Sylvan Esso concert, and then returning to Chicago after another two days. It was an ambitious plan, for sure, but it was also something I felt I needed to do. I’m 24 now, goddammit, and I love love love to travel. Why not set out on my own, instead of being disappointed by another potential travel partner?

Now, I am back in Chicago after completing my first “real” solo trip — 3-and-a-half days of exploring, sweating, and overall good times in Austin. Below are just a few of the places I visited that I can strongly recommend for you to explore the next time you’re in the Texas Capitol. Enjoy!

For Coffee Drinks and Other Options

Mañana Coffee | 1603 S. Congress Ave., 7 AM to 7 PM Daily

Mañana Coffee is possibly the one coffee shop on this list that most reminds me of California: it is an utterly nu-age establishment, with a set-up and pricing that reminds you of a chic Hollywood hot-spot that someone like Lauren Conrad would frequent.

Not sure if that’s a good enough reason for you to visit…but here are two: their iced coffee and their location.

Hit this spot up first before heading out to explore South Congress; you can even come back for some delicious pastries at the end of the day, created by executive pastry chef Amanda Rockman.

Cenote Coffee | 1010 E. Caesar Chavez St., 7 AM to 10 PM M — F, 8 AM to 10 PM Saturday, 8 AM-4 PM Sunday

I stopped by this coffee shop just for one reason: I was on the search for a banana. After indulging in some of their delicious oatmeal, I made a point to come back the next day for coffee. And — after a 2.8 mile walk from my hostel—their iced coffee reallyyyy hit the spot.

Even if you’re not a huge coffee person like yours truly, check out this restaurant and coffeehouse; it was converted from a historic 1887 home into a neighborhood gathering space, where visitors and locals alike can enjoy their delicious menu and homey digs.

Thunderbird Coffee | 2200 Manor Rd., 6:30 AM to 10 PM M — F, 7:30 AM to 10 PM S/S

In spending almost four hours at this location with one of my girlfriends from college who now lives in Austin, I tried a few items from their menu…but sadly, I did not try the coffee itself. From my visit, I can recommend the following: the Honey-Nut Latte, the Gluten-Free Zucchini Bread, and the Topo Chico, which is apparently an Austin staple (it’s basically fizzy water, but it is delightful).

The location is very soothing and enjoyable, the staff are sweet and helpful, and the coffeehouse is all-around a solid 9/10 in my book. Would likely make it a 10 the next time I checked it out…as long as I enjoyed the coffee as well!

Coco’s Cafe | 1910 Guadalupe St., 11 AM to 11 PM Daily

When you’re not in the mood for coffee, but want something a little more than just water, why not jump on the bubble tea craze?

Coco’s Cafe near UT Austin was recommended to me by my seatmate on plane to Austin; while I was initially a bit skeptical of visiting any business near a college campus (teenagers, gross!), the almond and coconut mixed boba tea made my morning.

Depending on how long your trip is, Coco’s could be your daily spot, with eight menus of different boba tea options; try a smoothie as well if you’re really burning up.

Where to Stay

Drifter Jack’s Hostel | 2602 Guadalupe St., from $31

Because my trip had to be a bit rearranged due to Hurricane Harvey, I was searching for a quick and affordable place to stay for my final night in the city. In some rapid Google searching, I discovered Drifter Jack’s — and boy, am I glad I did.

Starting at $31, you get a comfy bed in a very colorful and friendly hostel, with people from all over the world. Even though I only spent a little time there (needed to see friends from college and explore the city, obvi), the times I did get to interact with the other guests and workers were delightful. I was even able to see the sunrise with a few of the drifters at Baylor Street Art Wall, which definitely was an amazing way to complete the vacation.

While the location across from UT may give you pause, I highly recommend visiting and staying at Drifter Jack’s — just remember to bring earplugs for sleeping!

Airbnbs in East Austin

The place I initially stayed in Austin was not the greatest, if I’m being honest, but the location was. In staying in Austin, an ideal area to stay in is East Austin, along Cesar Chavez Street.

Every morning, I was able to walk to a workout class within 20–30 minutes in Downtown Austin, South Congress is only about a mile and a half away, and East Austin itself has a great deal of amazing spots to check out (including Cenote, Juan in a Million, Cuvee Coffee, etc.).

Prices range from $38 to $80 in this area (and can be substantially higher during concert/event seasons), so definitely check out all options to find what best works for you.

Native Hostel | 807 E 4th St., from $49

One of the main reasons I went to Austin was to network with different publications and get some informational interviews done (I’m a boss-ass bitch, what can I say). In my informational interview with Austin Monthly, their executive editor recommended that I check out Native Hostel as a place to stay.

While I was not able to check out this new hip-and-happening hostel, it has now been recommended to me by five different Austinites — not all of whom worked at Austin Monthly.

Opened May 10, Native Hostel is located conveniently downtown, with a 24-hour restaurant and cocktail lounge, an in-house DJ, and a variety of fun activities to get to know your fellow guests. The pricing is a bit more than an average hostel, but, hell, you’re on vacation — treat yo’ self!

Food Fun

Vegan Restaurants — Bouldin Creek Cafe, Counter Culture

Although I’m not vegan myself, I do like to eat fairly healthy, and thus wanted to see exactly how I could to that in a city known for BBQ, queso, and food trucks as far as the eye can see.

In doing a bit of research on places to visit, I ended up finding a huge list of vegan restaurants to check out during my trip — woo-hoo!

On my first night, I visited Bouldin Creek Cafe, and had their Inner Sun Omelette (with eggs and cheese instead of tofu) and Blueberry-Lavender Vegan Pie with Thai Fresh vegan vanilla ice cream for dessert. Honestly, this was perhaps one of the best meals I’ve ever had…and it was all vegan (ish) and healthy (ish)!

The next day, I meandered to Counter Culture on East Cesar Chavez for lunch, and ordered a “Meltdown,” which is a garbanzo “tuna” sandwich with cashew cheese on organic wheat bread, with some sweet potatoes and beets roasted in coconut oil on the side. Truly, as much as I love, love, love tuna sandwiches, this one may replace that hankering. So delicious, and fairly reasonable pricing in a very mom-and-pop type location.

Check out a full list of vegan restaurants to visit in Austin here. Enjoy!

Amy’s Ice Cream | 12 locations in Austin

As much as I love sweets, I often am not one to search for ice cream specifically. So, when I received the recommendation to check out Amy’s Ice Cream, I was a bit skeptical to say the least — but holy shit, what a godsend after walking around in the hot hot heat of Austin.

Established in 1984, the ice-cream chain has over 350 flavors — almost enough for you to have one every day of the year. I tried the most popular flavor — Mexican vanilla — and peach, although I would have definitely tried more if I could have afforded it (Dirty Chai! Key Lime! Alcohol-flavored ones!).

If you’re in the mood for a sweet treat after walking every which where around the city, make sure to look for an Amy’s. How knows? Maybe you’ll be able to try all of the flavors under the rainbow during your trip!

Cherished Local Eats — Kerby Lane Cafe, Juan in a Million, Chuy’s

Aside from all of the fairly specialized restaurants I hit up, I also did my best to visit some of the more local hang-outs (what is this slang I’m using, geez Louise). The ones I enjoyed most were as follows, with my recommendations for what to eat:

Honestly, if you want to find good eats in Austin without a hefty price tag, look for where the locals are going! A good rule of thumb for all travel.

Eclectic (and Free!) Exercise Opportunities

RIDE Austin | 4 locations in Austin

I love to workout, and going on vacation does not change that. Because I’m a #brokegradstudent, I wanted to find affordable options for workouts — and lucked out with RIDE Austin.

The cycling studio operates much like other spin studios, with a lot of ass-kicking work, fancy facilities, and loyal followers. Unlike some of the other studios I checked, RIDE Austin offers a free first cycling class — exactly what I needed!

If you are a true believer in the spin lifestyle, make an effort to visit this downtown location for a good 45 minute workout. After your first free trial class, you can continue to book other classes starting at $22. Best to test it out before going full throttle (yes, that’s a cycling pun, haha).

Black Swan Yoga | 3 Locations in Austin

In my attempt to find other free/cheap options for workouts that were also somewhat close to where I was staying, I discovered Black Swan Yoga (huge thanks to Kristen and Marcus for the individual recommendations).

BSY is a donation-based yoga studio, where you can give what you can afford, and are in return given an hour of good ol’ yoga. My instructor Cassandra was one of the sweetest yogis and humans I have ever met, and made me feel a lot more welcome than other yoga studios I have visited (and visited on this trip).

Definitely stop by one of the BSY locations for an enjoyable, albeit soothing, workout, and treat yourself to some stretchy yoga pants to go along with that yoga body, heyyyyy.

Your Own Two Feet

That’s right — bring your friggin’ walking shoes. I walked more than 20,000 steps per day for the three days I was in Austin — which is kind of bonkers. Along with getting some free and helpful exercise, you can also find a ton of amazing things you may not have found otherwise, like the lovely street art (such as the wired “Stay Young” next to the South Congress firehouse) throughout the city. Get them calves in gear!

Touristy Necessities

Off-Kilter Shops — Tesoros Trading Company, Uncommon Objects (South Congress)

As the motto goes, “Keep Austin Weird.” What better way to do that than to visit some “weird” off-kilter stores?

Luckily for you, there are two in particular along South Congress that are definitely worth a visit (or more): Tesoros Trading Company and Uncommon Objects.

Tesoros Trading Company specializes in distributing and displaying folk arts and crafts from around the world. I was able to see artwork, housewares, and clothing from India, Peru, Mexico, and Venezuela…and that was only in the first few seconds of me being in the store. If you love travel, this store will give you ideas of what to look for on your next trip, and provide you with new ideas of places to visit and explore.

Uncommon Objects is a little bit different from Tesoros, in the fact that it is more like a hoarder’s tchotchkes on display in a beautifully crafted way. As you can see from the photo above, the store is fairly meticulously crafted to follow a color palette, and you can find some of the most amazing things just by stooping down. I found a photo from Milan taken in the 1940s…and that was only one of the few beautiful things I found, all for under $10 (but there were definitely larger items costing more).

Explore these and other weird stores around Austin, and contribute to the “weirdness” that the city so loves and appreciates.

Late Night — Rainey Street, Sixth Street

If you are a wild and hip 20-something like myself…that was a joke…but regardless, if you are into a good night-life scene, go visit Rainey Street and/or Sixth Street.

Rainey Street has been viewed as a more “upscale” night out, with lots of great restaurants, food trucks, and bars to visit. The street is pretty much filled with establishments created inside of old houses, which just adds to the charming aesthetic.

Sixth Street — lovingly called “Dirty Street” by locals — is much more well-known as the street you see in SXSW and Austin City Limits photos. The street is closed down for bar-hoppers on the weekends, so that everyone is safe to visit bars like The Jackalope, Parkside, and Easy Tiger. You can also indulge in some Voodoo if the mood strikes!

Art — Blanton Art Museum, Baylor Street Art Wall, Music Scene

This primary reason for this trip was largely because of a Sylvan Esso concert (because, let’s be honest, why the hell not). I’ve traveled further for concerts before, so why not take a 2-hour plane ride and make a vacation out of this?

As you and your mother well know, Austin is a great city for music, and this concert at Stubb’s BBQ was no exception. If you are planning a trip to Austin, why not plan to hit up a concert or two during your stay? With venues like Stubb’s, Antone’s Nightclub, and The Parish to name a few, it’s almost difficult not to go to a concert.

Alongside the art of music, Austin also has some pretty amazing art-art. For a mere $5, you can visit the Blanton Art Museum’s art from around the world. Currently, the museum has four special showcases, including “Epic Tales from India” and “Dancing with Death.” If you’re worried you won’t be able to enjoy the entire museum during their usual hours, come by on Thursdays, when the museum is open until 8 PM — plus, admission is free.

For some art outside of the norm of a museum, the Baylor Street Art Wall is the place for you. The installation is an open concept graffitied area, open to locals and visitors alike to contribute to the color that makes this area pop. According to one of the guides at my hostel, the best time to visit this exhibit is at sunrise — and, while I’m not a morning bird, I can’t say that he was wrong. Plus, you get your art for free!

Things to Remember

  1. It is really hot. Like, holy fricking hell: Austin is an amazing city, but it is also a very hot city. I thought I was prepared for this fact when I arrived Tuesday evening…little did I know, I would soon be sweating almost each and every time I walked outside of a restaurant or coffee shop. It probably didn’t help that I wanted to walk everywhere — but it would have been more manageable if I had brought wet wipes or a handkerchief or even a mini fan with me. Keep this experience with you, and save yourself from some very gross and sticky situations.
  2. Bring some good walking shoes: Although I took a great deal of Lyfts during my time in Austin, I also made a point to do a great deal of walking (which often led to even more sweating). Depending on where you are in the city and where you want to visit, it is more than possible to walk everywhere you want to. Hence, bring some good (albeit fashionable) walking shoes that you can match with anything/everything you want to wear during your trip. For me, it was a pair of H&M boots the majority of the day, and my tennis shoes to my gym classes and back. And I only got one blister — hooray!
  3. Be open to meeting all types of new people: I have never traveled by myself completely before, and was a bit hesitant to go on a three-day vacation all by my lonesome. However, I made an effort to meet and befriend everyone I possibly could. I had great conversations with Lyft drivers, couchsurfing buddies, Airbnb and hostel dwellers, my coffee #kweens, and more, just by being as nice and bubbly as possible. A lesson to you that I should continue to attempt to follow: Don’t be scared of chatting with people! People are usually very kind!
  4. Always question local government policies: One of the things I immediately noticed in Austin was a fairly prominent homeless population, especially in East Austin. In talking with my variety of new connections over the duration of my stay, it was apparent that the gentrification of the city was contributing to this issue. While you may not be able to do much to contribute to solving these problems during your trip, questioning local policies could lead to greater conversations in the areas in which you travel…which could help long-term for the community.

Overall, my first officially solo trip was as great, if not better, than I could have ever imagined. I can not wait to hit the road again, and I certainly hope that my recounting of this trip will inspire you. Enjoy!