Austin Guide for Quiltcon, Part 1: Essential Austin Experiences

Austin Skyline - Morning Sun

{ Austin Skyline from Lady Bird Lake, by jrandallc on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 }

I’m so excited to have everyone coming to MY town for Quiltcon! I don’t get to be an ambassador very often so I thought I’d do a little series of posts with recommendations on where to eat and drink and what to do. My experience with Quilt Markets tells me you attendees will be too busy to stray far from the convention center, but for those of you who have find themselves with some spare time, or have other people traveling with you, you might want to get out and experience the town. So this first post will be devoted to Essential Austin Experiences.

A note on getting around: Downtown is very walkable but most places listed above are a short taxicab or bus ride away (Go here and plug in where you are and where and when you’re going, and it will show you the best public transportation route.) We do have a limited light rail system but it’s not very useful for visitors — it goes from downtown, a little east, then up toward the northeast suburbs — i.e., no airport or major tourist attractions. Here is a list of ways to get from the airport into town. Also check to see if your hotel has a free shuttle service to and from the airport (and around town too).

Torchy's Trailer Park

{ Torchy’s Trailer, by pellesten on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 }

Tex-Mex: We have great interior Mexican and our own spin on Mexican food, the more cheese-laden Tex-Mex. You may have great Mexican food where you’re from, but you might not have breakfast tacos. They are a staple around here and you should get some every morning. There are a zillion places to get them, many arguably better and/or more authentic, but Torchy’s is one of my favorites just for the creative ingredients. They have carts and brick & mortar locations all over Austin. I’ll leave it at FRIED AVOCADO TACO.

Most restaurants serve Migas, which are corn tortilla chips scrambled with eggs, cheese, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and maybe some other stuff too. Migas are for the most part a breakfast dish. At other meals, get some queso for the table. That’s liquid cheese with salsa and chips for dipping. Most regions have this, I guess, but when I moved here I had never heard it called “queso.”

I’ll have more extensive restaurant recommendations in the next post.

The Broken Spoke, Austin

{ The Broken Spoke by Heather On Her Travels on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 }

Honky Tonk: Austin is the home of Willie Nelson and many other classic country legends. At the very least you can visit the new Willie bronze statue at the W hotel (and new location of the Austin City Limits venue) at 200 Lavaca. But I highly recommend going dancing at a bona fide old-school honky-tonk, and nothing fits the bill better than The Broken Spoke (3201 S. Lamar). They have dance lessons nightly at 8-9pm before the bands go on so you can learn your two-step. Dale Watson plays on Saturday night (the 23rd), and he is delightful. Ginny’s Little Longhorn is a bit further out, smaller than the Broken Spoke, but just as much fun. Dancing, Shiner Bock, Lone Star, pickled eggs, and Chicken S*** Bingo on Sunday if you’re still around and can handle more activity!

You don’t have to dress in cowboy boots and western wear for these places, but if you want to gear up, Allen’s Boots (1522 South Congress) is the place to go.

By the way, Austin is supposedly the Live Music Capital of the World, so I suppose seeing ANY live music would fall under Essential Austin Experience. Pick up a Chronicle to see what’s happening on Quiltcon weekend. Most venues are downtown on 6th Street, Red River, Rainey Street, or on the eastside just east of I-35 from downtown.

Uncommon Objects

{ Uncommon Objects, by Numinosity (Gary J Wood) on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 }

South Congress: Just a hop south from downtown (a long but not-unwalkable distance), South Congress is filled with restaurants, shopping (including lots of vintage), boutique hotels, and people-watching. Homeslice has great pizza, there’s a couple food cart courts, and the Snack Bar and Perla’s are supposed to be good and great, respectively. Guero’s is a popular spot for margaritas and Mexican food. Shopping highlights include a shop that sells old-school candy, costume shop Lucy in Disguise, Yard Dog Folk Art Gallery, and a major yarn store, Hill Country Weavers.

Alamo Drafthouse: The ever-expanding chain started here in Austin. They have new release movies and tons of special events like Master Pancake Theatre (a live version of Mystery Science Theatre, where a group of dudes ridicules all kinds of films), sporting events, sing-alongs, quote-alongs, festivals, and series. Go early for the trailers and shorts they play before the main event, and to order some food and drink, which you get to consume at your seat.

Lady Bird Lake: What we call Town Lake, recently renamed Lady Bird Lake, is actually the Colorado River. It’s just south of the Convention Center, you can’t miss it. Everyone goes to the surrounding Hike & Bike Trail to run, stroll, bike, and walk their dogs. You can also rent all sorts of devices to paddle around the lake. Auditorium Shores is where you’ll find the famous Stevie Ray Vaughan statue. The Hike & Bike Trail adjoins Zilker Park, home of the magical Barton Springs Pool (closed through mid-March, unfortunately), the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, and acres of green space.

The Bats. You may have heard about our bats. Austin has the world’s largest urban bat colony under the Congress Avenue bridge over Lady Bird Lake, and when they emerge at dusk it’s really beautiful. However, they are a March-November phenomenon, so you’ll just have to come back to see them.

University of Texas. UT-Austin is the 5th largest public 4-year university in the U.S. You can take a guided or self-guided tour of the campus, or a separate tour of the famous U.T. Tower. The Blanton Museum of Art and Harry Ransom Center are worth a visit, as is the LBJ Library and Museum (for the animatronic LBJ alone!), and the Texas Memorial Museum is a great place to take kids. While you’re up by UT, you might as well go to Toy Joy.

What Essential Austin Experiences have I left out? Share your favorite places in the comments.


  1. Heather says:

    Great write up Kim! Yay!

    We have a special rate on shuttles for QuiltCon attendees from the airport to area hotels here:

    As for honky tonk, what about the White Horse? It’s on the East Side and walking distance (although long and not recommended at dark) from the convention center…fun times!

  2. sandi smith says:

    On Saturdays at 3:00 Redd Volkert plays Texas Swing at the Continental Club. There is a group of people that go ther that are really good dancers. They are soooo fun to watch. I think it’s a group on facebook and they get together at different places to dance. A very Texas treat for out-of-towners.

  3. Kim says:

    @Heather – I have been under a rock! I’ve never heard of the White Horse.

    @Sandi – Yes! The Continental Club! How could I leave that off? It’s on South Congress. Redd Volkert is a guitarist who has backed Merle Haggard and a long list of country and rockabilly stars.

  4. Susan says:

    Amy’s Ice Cream. Black Sheep Lodge for beers and burgers. Jo’s Coffee for iced turbos and people-watching. Uchi, if people are feeling fancy and East Side Kings, if they aren’t. Sugar Mama’s Cupcakes. Maudie’s for tex-mex and margaritas.

  5. Tamie says:

    Thanks so much for this post (and the upcoming ones). I was hoping someone would do this.

  6. Thanks for this, this is awesome to have! Can’t wait for QuiltCon!!

  7. Jessica says:

    This post makes me super jealous of everybody heading to Austin for QuiltCon. Austin seems like such a fun city to visit!

  8. Hollie says:

    Thank you for this feature. This is amazing! I can’t wait for QuiltCon and to explore Austin. It’s my first time in the city.

  9. Michele Pain says:

    Kim, thanks for a great Austin Round Up. I work for Sew Much More, Austin’s BERNINA and Baby Lock dealer. We are so excited about QuiltCon. We’ll be represented at both the Baby Lock and BERNINA booths but we hope some folks will come by the store as well. We’re located on Anderson Lane at Shoal Creek.
    If we dont see you sooner, we hope you’ll stop by either of the booths and say hello. See you soon. Can’t wait!

  10. Dorie says:

    Thank you! This is awesome. I’m going to be fighting with myself between eating all the things and going to sessions.