Travel Guide: Austin, Texas, for Design Lovers

A friend asserted that Austin has the maximum number of architects per capita. While I have been unable to verify this statement’s veracity, it definitely feels authentic. This is possibly due to Austin’s being home to the University of Texas, with its highly regarded College of Architecture. Folks get their degrees, drop in love with all the fun city and choose to stay.

Today, just because a city boasts a sizable population of layout professionals doesn’t guarantee great architecture or design, but I would assert that Austin is indeed home to some incredibly innovative residential architecture and, increasingly, notable commercial jobs. Austin also lays claim to the nation’s first residential green building program, which is still going strong after 22 decades. Whether you are a designer or an architect, or just love good design, this city has lots to offer.

Jennifer Ott Design

Having a population of just over 800,000, and almost 2 million living in the larger metropolitan region, Austin is among the fastest growing cities in the USA. It becomes more bloated here through the many popular festivals and events that take place annually, like the music, film and interactive conference South by Southwest; the live music festival, Austin City Limits — that is about to expand from one to two weekends — and, a recent addition, the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix race.

However Austin is a relatively compact city, which means that you can definitely get around quickly and see a lot of great websites during a lifetime. My advice is to ditch the car, stay downtown or at one of those central Austin areas and explore the many interesting landmarks from the foot.


Texas Capitol: Austin is the capital of Texas, which is the granite-clad house to the chambers of the state legislature in Addition to the office of the Senate.
Price: Free
Location: Downtown Austin at 112 E. 11th St.
Noteworthy: The Renaissance revival building was finished in 1888 and is a registered National Historic Landmark. It’s the largest state capitol in the USA and stands taller than the national Capitol. It’s open daily to visitors for both directed and self-guided tours.

More information: Texas Capitol

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“Greetings from Austin” postcard mural: Popular place for a photo op
Location: Exterior wall of Roadhouse Relics gallery at 1720 S. First St.
Noteworthy: made by Billy Brakhage and Rory Skagen at 1997, this 10- by 20-foot mural includes many of Austin’s iconic buildings and websites. Neon artist Todd Sanders’ studio, Roadhouse Relics, can be worth a visit.

More information: Roadhouse Relics

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Agave/969: Housing development featuring row after row of brightly hued, contemporary and sustainably designed homes
Location: East of downtown on Sendero Hills Parkway off Martin Luther King Boulevard/FM 969
Noteworthy: This one you’re going to need a car to reach, but for lovers of contemporary residential architecture, it’s a wonderful neighborhood to check out.

Another must-see: Have a self-guided tour of midcentury modern structure using local architect and educator Riley Triggs’ map.

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John Bremond House: Second Empire–style mansion at the Bremond Block Historic District
Price: Free, but the interior of the House is not open to the public. You can organize a walking tour to look at the exterior in addition to other historic buildings in the area.
Location: 700 Guadalupe St.
Noteworthy: Constructed in 1870 for notable businessman John Bremond, the late-Victorian mansion is purported to be the very first house in Austin to have an indoor bathroom. It’s currently home to the Texas Classroom Teachers Association.

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Chateau Bellevue: French Romanesque mansion and headquarters of the Austin Woman’s Club at the Bremond Block Historic District
Price: Free; however, tours should be reserved beforehand: -LRB-512-RRB- 472-1336
Location: 708-710 San Antonio St.
Noteworthy: Constructed in 1874 by merchant Harvey North along with his wife, Catherine, Chateau Bellevue is among the earliest and best-preserved mansions in Austin.

More information: Chateau Bellevue, Austin Woman’s Club

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Willie Nelson statue: Monument to the country music legend, who has lived in Austin because 1971
Location: Near the entrance to the Moody Theater, the new home of the Austin City Limits Studio, at 301 Willie Nelson Blvd. in downtown Austin
Noteworthy: Get your picture taken with Willie then duck Within the adjoining W Hotel to have a delicious brunch in the beautifully constructed Trace restaurant. Or visit later in the afternoon to get a cocktail or dinner prior to taking in a performance at the Moody Theater.

More information: W Hotel, Moody Theater

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Arthouse at the Jones Center, Austin Museum of Art (AMOA): Contemporary art area
Price: Adults: $5; seniors and students: $3; below 18 and military: free; Tuesdays: Free
Location: 700 Congress Ave.
Noteworthy: Recently renovated by LTL Architects, the building itself is worth checking out, as is taking in a film on the outside rooftop theater.

More information: AMOA Arthouse

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Congress Avenue Bridge bats: Largest urban bat colony in North America
Location: Ann. W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge
Noteworthy: Every evening around sunset from approximately March through November, over a million bats venture out for their evening feeding. It is quite a spectacle to observe the bats shooting out from the bridge, forming thick black clouds from the sky. This is only one of the most popular tourist attractions in Austin, so show up early to snag a fantastic viewing spot along the Lady Bird Lake Trail close to the bridge, or on the bridge itself.

Tip: Among the best ways to see the bats is from a boat cruising the lake. You can book a bat-viewing cruise via Lone Star Riverboat or Capital Cruises.

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Lady Bird Lake hike and bike trail: 10 miles of trails across Lady Bird Lake
Location: Southern edge of downtown Austin
Noteworthy: Visitors and residents alike flock to this scenic trail to walk, jog or bike around the Colorado River reservoir, formerly known as Town Lake. The more adventurous can try their hands at stand-up paddling on the lake.

Furman + Keil Architects

American Institute of Architects (AIA) Austin homes tour: Annual tour arranged by AIA Austin. The house pictured here was designed by Furman + Keil Architects and was showcased on the 2012 tour.
Price: $30 in advance; $35 at the door; $5 each individual house (2012 tour prices)
Location: Throughout Austin
Noteworthy: Watch the most up-to-date and best in residential layout by Austin architects. The tour takes place every year in the fall; the 2013 tour has been planned for the weekend of November 2–3.

More information: AIA Austin

Tom Hurt Architecture

Modern Home Tour Austin: Annual tour founded by Krisstina Wise of this GoodLife Team. The house pictured here was designed by Tom Hurt Architecture in cooperation with Minguell-McQuary Architecture and was showcased on the 2013 tour.
Price: $25 in advance; $30 at the door (2013 tour prices)
Location: Throughout Austin
Noteworthy: If you love modern homes and can time your visit for the tour, which occurs during a weekend in February, this is not to be missed.

More information: Modern Home Tour Austin

Another must-do: Among my favorite annual events is the East Austin Studio Tour (E.A.S.T.), that occurs over two weekends every November. It is your opportunity to see the incredible works of art being created in Austin by the actual artists in their studios, many of which are normally closed to the public or open by appointment only.

Baldridge Architects


Kimber Modern: Boutique hotel
Location: 110 The Circle off South Congress Avenue
Price: From $265 per night
Noteworthy: Winner of the 2012 Texas Society of Architects Design Award, the Kimber Modern is a breathtakingly gorgeous place to call home when visiting Austin.

More information: Kimber Modern

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Austin Motel
Location: 1220 S. Congress Ave.
Price: From $85 per night
Noteworthy: You can’t beat the location of this iconic family-owned property that’s been in business since 1938. A fantastic affordable solution for those who want to be close to the action on South Congress Avenue.

More information: Austin Motel

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Driskill Hotel
Location: 604 Brazos St.
Price: See website for information
Noteworthy: Constructed in 1886 by a wealthy cattle baron, the landmark Driskill Hotel is the oldest operating hotel in Austin. Even in the event that you decide to stay elsewhere, it’s worth checking out because of its old-time Austin allure. Have a drink on the patio and soak up the ambiance.

Additional information: Driskill Hotel

Additional must-stays: Hotel San Jose, Heywood Hotel


Location: 1807 S. First St.
Noteworthy: Popular because of its delicious food, excellent service and the funky interior layout, by McCray & Co., Lenoir is a challenging reservation to get but well worth the effort. Husband-and-wife staff Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher offer advanced locally sourced dishes at fair rates.

Photo by Ryann Ford

More information: Lenoir

Location: 1417 S. First St.
Noteworthy: Taking Austin by storm because opening earlier this year, Sway specializes in contemporary Thai cuisine that is, in a word, sublime. Be prepared to wait for a table during peak dinner occasions, though, as Sway doesn’t take bookings for parties of less than 10.

The handsome area was designed by Michael Hsu’s Office of Architecture, which happens to be the company behind many of my other favorite Austin must-eat selections, like the modern Japanese and sushi restaurants Uchi and Uchiko; La Condesa, that specializes in contemporary Mexican food and serves arguably the best margaritas in town; Icenhauer’s, a favorite house of cocktails on Rainey Street in downtown Austin; and, among my favorite brunch spots in the city, Olivia. These areas attest to the winning combination that is great food, great drinks and decent design.

Photo by Jody Horton

More information: Sway, Uchi, Uchiko, La Condesa, Icenhauer’s, Olivia

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Austin Barbecue

Texans take their barbecue quite seriously, and everyone has their favorite go-to joint. My best picks are Stiles Switch (revealed), Franklin Barbecue and La Barbecue. My guidance regarding the latter two spots is to get in line early, because the food at these areas runs out at the blink of an eye. It is not unheard of to see the lineup in Franklin Barbecue form between 8 and 9 a.m., and La Barbecue’s line generally starts around 10 or 10:30 a.m. Trust me, they’re worth the wait.

Additional information: Stiles Alter, Franklin Barbecue, La Barbecue

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Austin Food Trucks

along with barbecue, Austinites are enormous fans of gourmet meals truck fare. If you’re a budget traveller, this is a terrific way to discover tasty eats in Austin without spending a small fortune. Check out the favorite Torchy’s Tacos truck at the South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery, Hey Cupcake! On South Congress Avenue at Elizabeth Street, the Chicken truck on South Congress Avenue (revealed), East Side King (various locations) along with Turf N Surf Po’ Boys at West Fourth and Lavaca Streets, downtown.

More information: Torchy’s Tacos, Hey Cupcake! , Chicken truck, East Side King, Turf N Surf Po’ Boys

Additional must-eats: Contigo, Hopdoddy Burger Bar, Foreign & Domestic, Eastside Cafe

Great locations for beverages: Lucy’s Fried Chicken, Bar Congress, Perla’s Seafood and Oyster Bar, Pech√©, Gibson, Drink.Well.

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Must-Visit Shops

TreeHouse: Home improvement store touted as the “Green Home Depot”
Location: 4477 S. Lamar Blvd..
Noteworthy: A home-improvement store can appear to be a strange place to send visitors to, but if you just happen to be in the throes of a significant home construction or renovation project, it’s worth stopping in to have inspired by the well-curated choice of finish materials featured at this not-so-big box store. I frequently bring layout customers here to browse the gorgeous kitchen displays and sustainably sourced goods. TreeHouse will operate with out-of-towners to ship anything you prefer.

More information: TreeHouse

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Allen’s Boots: Extensive cowboy boot store
Location: 1522 S. Congress Ave.
Noteworthy: Stop here on your way into town to find your ideal pair of boots, then visit the Broken Spoke dance hall to find out and do the Texas two-step.

More information: Allen’s Boots, Broken Spoke

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Yard Dog: Art gallery
Location: 1510 S. Congress Ave.
Noteworthy: Specializing in modern, folk and outsider art, this is one of my favorite galleries in Austin.

More information: Yard Dog

Chicken Coop Hanging Light

Mockingbird Domestics: Home merchandise boutique
Location: 2151 S. Lamar Blvd..
Noteworthy: Adored by local designers, comparative newcomer Mockingbird Domestics includes unique furnishings for your house, similar to this pendant light made from repurposed chicken coop materials.

Additional information: Mockingbird Domestics

Other must-visit shops: The Burlap Bag, Parts and Labour, Uncommon Objects

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More Picks by Local Experts

Adrienne Breaux:
Noted author, photographer and contributor to Flat Therapy

Breaux recommends checking out Big Moderate gallery, Tiny Park artwork area and Wardenclyffe gallery.
Her shopping selections include Rosewood Collective, Busy-Being, Urbanspace Interiors, Nannie Inez and Remixologie.

One of her favorite areas to get a snack to eat would be the favorite Elizabeth Street Cafe (revealed), Lavaca Teppan, Winflo Osteria and Hillside Farmacy. In terms of places to stay at Austin, she highly recommends the fabulous Heywood Hotel.

Michael Hsu: Principal architect at Michael Hsu Office of Architecture

Hsu is the guy behind the design of a number of Austin’s best restaurants and pubs, including Malverde (revealed). He recommends checking out the artists’ studios and galleries at Canopy. Also worth a visit is the amazing custom and vintage bicycle store and store Revival Cycles. Along with the aforementioned Mockingbird Domestics and Burlap Bag, Hsu recommends purchasing excursions to Olive Vintage and Canoe. His hotel selections include the beautiful Saint Cecilia in addition to local favorite Mansion at Judges’ Hill, which is about to undergo a remodel that Hsu’s office is overseeing.

Jennifer Ott Design

Randall Owen: Architect and spouse at Hatch + Ulland Owen Architects

Owen recommends a visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; spring is the best time to see the Texas bluebonnets in bloom. Another of the favorite spots to take out-of-town guests to is the Sunday Gospel Brunch at Maria’s Taco Xpress (revealed). For design professionals and lovers of layout equally, he recommends checking out the Design Center of Austin.

Jennifer Ott Design

Despite its length, this ideabook is a very abbreviated list of some of the architectural and design-related items to do and see at Austin, so my very best bit of advice to visitors is to offer up a big friendly smile and engage with the natives to get even more recommendations. The people of Austin are proud of the city and are more than happy to share the name of their favorite barbecue joint or hole-in-the-wall pub. Just be forewarned — you may be chatting for some time!

Tell us Hey, Austinites, what exactly did we miss? Share your choices for things to do and see and places to eat drink, and shop at.

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