Whenever I have friends or family visiting from out of town, I usually ask around for suggestions of places to visit or activities that are characteristically Austin. The responses I receive are usually overwhelmingly food-related. And though there are plenty of sites to see and things to do in the lone star state capital besides eat, it's not a bad starting point.
There are a few ways to make the most important meal of the day (aka breakfast for all you night owls) a memorable one. If you like to start your day on a sweet note, I'd suggest cinnamon rolls and coffee at Upper Crust Bakery. Though they have an array of freshly-baked breads and pastries to appease any breakfast bread craving, the cinnamon rolls hit the spot every time for me. For a quick and filling Tex-Mex-inspired meal that could easily fit the breakfast/brunch/lunch bill, pick up a few tacos at Torchy's Tacos. My favorite is the Dirty Sanchez. And no, I'm not being vulgar; it's really on the menu. If you find yourself hitting the snooze button too many times to make it to breakfast, enjoy a mix of salads, sandwiches, and comfort food at Blue Star Cafeteria. I usually split some fried artichoke hearts with a friend and order a strawberry salad for myself.
To polish off any good meal, Austin provides a wide variety of ways to help you get your sweet tooth fix. Two of my favorites are local mainstay chains that have managed to preserve a unique Austin vibe through their years of growth. The first of these is Hey Cupcake! Though the cupcakery (cupcake + bakery) has one permanent hq, most of the locations are housed out of silver airstream trailers. You can't go wrong with any of the cakes topped with cream cheese icing, but the Sweetberry is the best of the best. Hands down, the most well known Austin-y sweet shop is Amy's Ice Cream. The shop's paint job and employees are as weird as the ice cream is delicious. Though the flavors and crush'ns (toppings) combinations are on rotation, I'd recommend trying the most outrageous mix available. My most memorable Amy's cup was called "Kindergarten Cop" and consisted of Mexican Vanilla ice cream, bits of Heath Bar, and *brace yourself* doughnut pieces. Seriously, I can't make this stuff up.
Whether you're taking a breather from the SXSW festivities or getting a case of the shopping bug, you'll eventually make the rounds of Austin shops. If the idea of adorning yourself in pistols and skulls appeals to you, be sure to stop by Atomic Cherry Boutique. This upscale punk rock/rockabilly boutique neighbors one of Austin's favorite tattoo parlors, Atomic Tattoo, and sells adorably dangerous pieces to fit any budget. To feed your brain and inner nerd (or outer for some), Austin Books & Comics is the place to go. Supposedly, the space it's housed in was a part of a former roller rink. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the store boasts the largest and best comic book collection in town.
Should you find yourself overdressed for the big week or the unlucky person whose baggage was lost in transit, a shopping trip to Blue Elephant will have you dressed head to toe in a style reflective of and appropriate for the festival. The spacious boutique sells women's clothing, shoes, accessories, makeup, and gifts, widely ranging in price and style. Added bonus- the shop always has a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies out for customers to enjoy while they shop! Though it goes without saying, South by (that's what us locals call it) attracts an immense amount of creative talent. Being in the midst of it can definitely inspire you to tap into your own creativity. The Art Pad, a mosaic project studio, is a short walk from the Upper Crust Bakery. The shop provides the tools, tiles, and the mosaic "canvas" of your choice. Because the studio encourages customers to bring in personal pottery and jewelry to incorporate into pieces, a finished mosaic creation would make the perfect handmade SXSW memento.
While in town, enjoy the festival, be safe, and be sure to check out all the awesome Austin has to offer.
Action Jackson out.