Denny and I were a little stumped after a wedding invitation to Dallas landed in our mailbox. The only associations we had with it were thanks to the television show, their football team, and the Dallas BBQ in the East Village in New York City.
Admittedly, Dallas isn’t high on many people’s bucket lists–but as is the case with any other big city, we figured we could find a cool neighborhood or two that make it worthwhile. Our hypothesis was right.
Our quest for cool began on Airbnb, where we found a great little cabin connected to an art gallery. One of the things we love about Airbnb is that you’re not just connecting with a place; but also, a person. Chances are, if you’re into their aesthetic and personal style, they’ll be able to point you in the direction of similar local gems instead of the generic (or paid) recommendations you get at a hotel.
Once we’d finalized Dallas, it was then time to plan the second leg of our trip. Both having never been to Austin, we figured we’d take the short, three-hour roadtrip down there, again using Airbnb as our main travel resource. Click through to see our take on the Lone Star State–and check out our previous roadtrip from West Texas to New Mexico, too!
Where to Stay in Dallas, TX: A Cabin Connected to an Art Gallery
During our three days and nights in Dallas, we stayed at the “Cozy Cabin Behind Art Gallery,” an Airbnb property. Anyone who knows us knows that this property is right up our alley–just say the word cabin and we’re in. As the listing implies, it was cozy, and indeed behind an art gallery called Re: Gallery + Studio. The cherry on top of this listing is the great neighborhood–called Cedars– which we found to be the coolest part of Dallas. Untouched by strip malls and chain stores, Cedars still maintains a little bit of Texas grit, making us feel right at home. Across the street, an amazing dive bar backs up to a mom and pop BBQ shack whose website plays slow jams. The local coffee roaster, Full City Rooster, was just a couple blocks away, too.
Where to Eat and Drink in Dallas: Breakfast Tacos, Ridiculous Donuts, Dive Bars and BBQ Shacks
If you’re staying anywhere near Cedars (where the Airbnb we recommend is located), head over to Full City Rooster for a great cup of coffee. Though they don’t serve breakfast, they’re on the way to Emilio’s Cafe, which is totally authentic Mexican food, great for breakfast tacos and people watching. Free chips and salsa are served with every meal here–even breakfast–a novelty we couldn’t pass up. Another morning, we treated ourselves to Glazed Donut Works, with a ridiculous lineup of donuts including crazy flavored donuts like key lime pie, maple bacon, s’more, and pb&j. We indulged in a half-dozen, our favorite of which was the vegan raspberry.
Last, our Airbnb host recommended us to Fuel City, a taco stand serving food out of a window at a gas station. The tacos were solid, but what made it most memorable was the outdoor seating that looked over a field of Texas Longhorn cattle. It was such an incredible experience getting so close to these majestic animals–definitely not something you’d expect at a roadside gas station!
For lunch, you can’t go wrong in the Bishop Arts District, where we found ourselves in a sea of restaurants and boutiques. We finally landed at Oddfellows, whose lunch menu included the usual-suspect sandwiches and salads– but also included frito pies and chicken & waffles. As previously mentioned, the Airbnb is directly across from a BBQ joint called Baby Back Shak, which we didn’t get to try because we’re vegetarians–but our carnivorous friends were happy with their meal there. Another lunch, dinner, or just day-drinking option is the Truck Yard, where rotating food trucks encircle a huge outdoor space filled with tables, a treehouse bar, and even a few truck-beds-turned-picnic-tables.
Speaking of drinking, we discovered what is perhaps the dive best bar in all of Dallas, Lee Harvey’s–right across the street from our Airbnb. There’s nothing ironic about the dated dive-bar decor here, which is dimly lit with neon signs and Christmas lights. The owners bought it as-is in 2003 and kept everything the way they found it–but the previous owners hadn’t changed anything since the late 1970’s. A big back yard, often with live music, makes Lee Harvey’s an especially great place to enjoy a cold one in the hot Dallas air.
Shopping in Dallas, TX: Our Must-Sees
We’re all about souvenirs–old ones. Dallas is full of great antique shops, and you can do an antique “tour” to find some real gems from the Southwest. While you’re in town, check out Lula B’s (both locations!), Lost Antiques, and Uncommon Market. The highlight of the antique shopping was Dolly Python (pictured above), whose booths were all thoughtfully designed, and had just the right amount of creepy taxidermy.
Once you’re antiqued out, check out Bishop Arts District, named the “most independent neighborhood in Dallas” for its 60+ boutiques. Most inspiring was floral shop Dirt, where the walls and fixtures are literally alive with stunning floral arrangements and succulents covering every inch of the place. We also picked up souvenirs at Society, a candle shop that carried earthy scents like tobacco-sandalwood and fresh basil.
The Actual Roadtrip: From Dallas to Austin!
Our little Subaru Legacy took us from Dallas to Austin in just over three hours. The car had modern gadgets I didn’t know existed–like an alert when an object was in my blind spot and a camera on the back that helped me parallel park. Pretty cool, and quite a change from our nearly-vintage car in New York! The ride was quiet and smooth, and went quickly, which was nice because there’s absolutely no scenery on the drive to Austin. But what the 3-hour drive lacks in scenery, it makes up for in bakeries–that is, Little Czech Bakery. Fill up a couple bags worth of their signature kolache, sure to help you make friends in Austin.
Where to Stay in Austin: A Tiny House, Stylish Cabin, or Refurbished Trailer
Our first Airbnb in Austin was the “Hip East Side Tiny Pad Retreat.” We’d never stayed–let alone, been to–a tiny house, and that made the whole experience worthwhile. The name is no joke–it is indeed tiny–but we had absolutely everything we needed in this condensed version of a cabin. Somehow the owner stocked the tiny home with everything we could’ve needed–like miniature bars of deodorant and razors in the pocketed shower curtain–without the space feeling cluttered. Outside the cabin, a yard with reclining lawn chairs and a fire pit make it especially homey.
Another great spot to stay is the “Comal Cabin,” again in East Austin. The property featured a lovely back yard (with a parked Airstream–jealous!), a beautiful modern kitchen, and a cozy living room. Our bedroom, which had blackout curtains, also had it’s own private bathroom with a claw-foot bathtub, making it reallllll easy to relax here. Once again, the location in East Austin was ideal, within walking distance to lots of bars and restaurants.
Our third and final Airbnb, “Cute Travel Trailer in East Austin,” was probably the most memorable. Though the trailer doesn’t have a bathroom, you can use theirs in their gorgeous home, just a couple steps away. Outside, an open-air clawfoot bathtub is used for showers, which was amazing both in the mornings and at night. The duo who owns the home are famers, and their DIY spirit shows throughout the house–they built much of it themselves. The backyard, which had a fire pit for guest use and a large shared patio, was also home to a chicken coop with egg-laying hens and a single duck named Lil’ Duck.
Where to Eat and Drink in Austin: The Tacos and Beer–Everywhere.
First, let’s talk about tacos. They’re everywhere, in every variety. And we’d like to think that we’ve tried them all! Our very favorite was Bouldin Cafe, whose vegetarian-friendly menu made Denny and I feel like kids in a candy shop. Another great spot was Polvos, whom according to a friend had the “best chips and salsa in Austin.” Our friend was right–Polvo’s was a dream come true, with a salsa bar that had us filled us up before we got a chance to get into our entrees. We didn’t imbibe, but we hear their giant margaritas are amazing, too! We also gave Taco Deli a shot, where we’d missed breakfast tacos by 10 minutes–instead, lunch tacos were pretty solid–and the Space Cowboy taco was sensational.
All three of our Airbnb stays in Austin were on its east side, so that’s where most of our barhopping took place. Sixth Street has the greatest concentration of bars and breweries, a few of which are notable: The Liberty, Yellow Jacket Social Club, and Wisler’s. But our favorite bar was White Horse a real two-steppin’, honky tonk bar where we were lucky enough to catch the end of a show. The crowd was a mix of young and old folks who were there to dance–ladies, be prepared to be asked to dance by sweet old men! (Also, they have a taco truck in the back yard, aptly named Bomb Tacos.)
Once you’re sick of tacos, there’s some pretty stellar other food in Austin, too. First up, Hillside Pharmacy is a really beautiful space in East Austin serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. (And yes, brunch.) If you’re planning a meal here, choose breakfast, when you’re most likely to be able to grab a table, because it can get crowded on nights and weekends! Another fantastic option is Easy Tiger for lunch or dinner. At street level, it’s a bakery–downstairs, a beer garden and restaurant space, with a huge back yard. Their menu has countless sandwiches, sausages, pretzels and snacks.
What to Do in Austin: Take a Dip in a Natural Spring, Visit a Farm Inside City Limits, Shop, See a Show
You probably shouldn’t leave Austin without trying out landmark Barton Springs, a three-acre swimming pool fed by underground springs. The water is icy cold and perfectly clear, year-round. If you plan on visiting, go in the morning or on a weekday to avoid the masses. Another great place for a dip is Hamilton Pool Preserve, which is a short 30-something mile jaunt from Austin. Before visiting the actual pool, you can work up a sweat on one of the trail systems in the same park.
To enjoy a bit of nature without leaving city limits, arrange a visit to Boggy Creek Farm, an urban farm in East Austin. It’s a bit shocking (and very inspiring) to see a farm growing flowers, fruits, vegetables in the middle of a city, just a few blocks from from coffee shops and bars. One of our Airbnb hosts worked there, so we met up for a tour of the grounds and to meet the owners. To visit, schedule a tour or stop by their market/farm stand Wednesdays through Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
In Austin proper, there are two neighborhoods you need to know–South Congress, and East Austin. South Congress is the more developed of the two, with boutiques, cafes, and restaurants lining the streets. The best shopping here is hands down Uncommon Objects, an antique shop that’s organized almost unbelievably, both by color and period, creating the most unique, gallery-like collection we’ve ever seen. Also in the area worth popping into are popped into Stag, a menswear shop; Feathers, a vintage apparel collection for women; Corner Shoppe, a crazy taxidermy shop; and Farewell Books, progressive new and used bookshop/art gallery.
Austin is known for its music scene, and pretty much any day of the week promises a great show going on somewhere. We caught country music legend Dale Watson (an Austin native) at The Continental Club, the perfect lowbrow location for the show. Denny was a bit starstruck when Mr. Watson introduced himself to us–presumably, he thought we were the press! (Lesson here: bring your camera to shows for better spots!) Dale’s performance was beyond amazing–his sponsorship by Lone Star Beer means hilarious live Lone Star “jingles” between songs. The night after, we also caught one of our favorite bands, Thee Oh Sees at Hotel Vegas, an indoor/outdoor venue and bar. There’s countless venues in Austin, so check out Showlist Austin for a definitive list.
While you’re in Austin, or pretty much anywhere, here’s our best advice: just talk to people. For starters, they’re much nicer than New Yorkers, but it’s also really nice to connect with locals. One afternoon, as we were wandering around, we noticed a cool-looking guy unpacking his pickup truck with massive rusty metal signs, and packing up an Airstream–presumably about to have the best weekend ever. After watching him for a couple minutes, curiosity got the best of us and we struck up a conversation with him. His name was Evan Voyles, the man behind The Neon Jungle, who creates some of the coolest signs from Marfa to New York City. We ended up getting a tour of his studio, taking his number, and meeting some of his friends later in the trip. It’s a small world out there, full of lovely and creative people.
Last, we didn’t get any photos of it, but we did get to witness one of the strangest things in all of Texas: bats. 1.5 million (!) of them, to be exact. Every night, the bats emerge from underneath the South Congress bridge for a little over an hour, taking flight over Austin. Keep an eye on the far away skyline, where you can see their flocks creating black clouds into the sunset. It’s beautiful, fascinating, and wonderfully weird–just like Austin.