Greetings, Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in Austin! Perhaps there are folks who write odes to the beauty of Downtown Austin, but if there are, I do not know of them. I don’t think anyone would say that you need to visit the CBD in the capital city of Texas for its historical charm and beauty. Nevertheless, while Austin might not have the tallest skyscrapers or the most famous landmarks, it more than makes up for it with amazing food, culture, friendly people, and most importantly FOOD! Come with me and we’ll spend a perfect 24 Hours in Austin eating our way through the best that Texas has to offer.
NB: Some of you might ask me why Austin’s famous bats are not part of this 24 hours in Austin itinerary. The answer is that I visited Austin in December and the bats are all away visiting their off-shore accounts in the Cayman Islands at that time. So no bats for us!
24 Hours in Austin
Where to Stay?
I can’t recommend the exact hotel where I spent my 24 hours in Austin because I was on a tight budget and the hotel was a little sketchy. But I can recommend the area! You’ll want to stay in Downtown Austin. It’s where all the action happens, so if you want to catch a late-night movie at the Alamo Drafthouse or get up early to wait on line at Franklin Barbecue, you’ll be all set!
And if you want more guidance than that, I know where you can find over 800 hotels to explore in Austin, no matter what your budget. Just click here to see them all!
24 Hours in Austin
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. It’s very frequently hot in Texas, though not always, so it’s smart to wear sandals. I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Also, don’t forget the sunscreen! The sun can get scorching! My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. You don’t want to sling a heavy bag all around Austin. It will be too hard to fit on our hipster bike! Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
24 Hours in Austin
Morning: Best of Austin Food Truck Bus Tour
A food truck tour might seem like a weirdly specific way to spend part of your 24 Hours in Austin. How many different food trucks can there be in Austin? Well, Internet Stranger, is that a rhetorical question or would you like a real answer in real numbers? Because I can tell you that there are at least 1,000 active food trucks within the Austin city limits. There are so many food trucks that there is an article on Eater Austin entitled 20 Essential Food Trucks in Austin. If you tried to do one of those in NYC, it would basically just consist of a dirty water dog cart and the Halal Guys.
It is for that reason that I strongly recommend starting your 24 hours in Austin with the Food Truck Bus Tour. You get to toodle all around Austin and sample the wares of six food trucks, from breakfast tacos to key lime cupcakes. Our guide was gregarious and informative, but most importantly, all of the food truck owners were passionate about sharing their goodies with us. Allow me to share…
Approximately top 5: austin food truck edition
1) breakfast tacos!
Our first stop was to sample the obligatory breakfast taco at the uber-popular Tacodeli food truck. Be warned that Tacodeli is so popular that they are sometimes out of certain popular flavors by the time the food tour arrives. So if there is a particular type you want, be prepared to push an old lady in the gutter for one.
I recommend the migas taco with this bright green dona sauce on the side. Migas is Spanish for crumbs. However, in Austin, a migas taco is one stuffed with eggs and jalapeno peppers. The peppers give the whole thing a delicious kick. The dona sauce is apparently a Tacodeli State Secret, so all I can tell you about it is that it is even spicier than the migas. I love spice, so the more the merrier!
2) LA Barbecue
Of course, it isn’t an Austin food truck tour without a stop at a barbecue truck. We were taken to one of the most popular in the city: LA Barbecue. The nice thing about being on a food tour is that we did not have to wait on line for our smoked meats. Our guide picked up the food and took it with us to a craft brewery called Hops & Grain. I applauded this decision because it meant that I got to wash my ‘cue down with a refreshingly hoppy craft-brewed IPA.
As happy as I was with the beer, the barbecue was the star of the show. All BBQ lovers know that good barbecue doesn’t really taste like anything except smoke and freshly-killed beast. At least that is my philosophy. We got to sample three different kinds of LA Barbecue: brisket, white meat, and pulled pork. In general, pulled pork is my favorite type of barbecue, but this being Texas, I have to say that the brisket was the best of the three (excellent) options.
Georgia does the best pulled pork, anyway. COME AT ME, TEXAS!
Our guide told us that LA Barbecue was created as a result of a FAMILY FEUD between the two scions of a legendary Texas barbecue clan: the founder of LA Barbecue, LeAnn Mueller, and her brother John Mueller. I think someone should start a nighttime soap opera about this feud and they should call it Austin.
3) eat my puccia
For most people, a plate of barbecue and spicy breakfast tacos would be enough for lunch. But we are not most people! Our next stop was to meet a voluble Italian named Lucky. He runs a store called Lucky’s Puccias. Though this is an actual store and not a food truck, it is included on the tour because it used to be a food truck.
A puccia is a wood-fired sandwich from Lucky’s hometown of Taranto, a place neither you nor I has ever heard of. But if all the food there is as good as this puccia, everyone should know about it! We had the Lucky’s Puccia, which is made with prosciutto, arugula, tomato, and a little chipotle mayo to give it some kick. This is Texas! Enjoy a kick in your puccia!
The word puccia just sounds really dirty, even though it isn’t at all. Lucky’s slogan is “Eat my puccia!” and I feel depraved just typing that out.
4) monte cristo sandwich
For our next stop, we went to the food truck park The Picnic. This was the place that I had visited earlier on my trip to Austin. But this time we did not stop at The Mighty Cone. We frequented Hey!…You Gonna Eat or What? This aggressively-named food truck is famous for two things: sassy attitude (on their website, it insists that they don’t modify orders because “you’ll have it our way and like it”) and amazing sandwiches, not in that order. We made like a Count and sampled their award winning Shiner Monte Cristo sandwich.
A Monte Cristo is typically a fried ham and cheese sandwich, but this one kicks it up a notch by frying the sandwich in Shiner Bock beer batter, using ham, turkey, Cheddar, and Provolone, and serving it with a side of homemade cherry and fig jelly. I loved every component of this dish, especially how the jelly cut the richness of the sandwich. But if you hate sweet jellies, the sandwich is plenty delicious to stand on its own.
5) hipster cupcake time
Of course, our last stop was dessert, and what food truck tour would be complete without a cupcake stop? We went to Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop which, like Lucky’s, began life as a food truck but was now a brick-and-mortar. Their motto is “Keep Austin Sweet” because of course it is. If you care about this sort of thing, Sugar Mama’s also won Cupcake Wars. I assume that you have to win smaller events like The Battle of Agincupcake or The Battle of the Bulge before winning the Cupcake War.
It’s also good to know that the cupcake menu changes depending on the day of the week. You’ll just have to go to Sugar Mama’s seven times in order to appreciate the full experience! I chose to have one of their most popular flavors, the Hemingway. I expected it would taste like short sentences and alcoholism. Instead it is a vanilla cupcake filled with the most delicious key lime curd I have ever eaten in my life. The actual Hemingway might almost have considered turning down a drink to eat this cupcake. Almost.
24 Hour Tip
Under no circumstances should you eat breakfast before or lunch after attending this tour. We have a big dinner booked this evening and you want to make sure to save room in your belly for that.
24 Hour Treasure
We had one bonus stop on the tour, which was at a stand called Cocoa Puro where we ate chocolate covered cocoa beans. As you know if you have ever met the friendly cocoa bean, it has a rather bitter taste. It’s not at all like the sugary concoction so many of us have come to know and love as chocolate. But there are people who are cocoa bean connoisseurs, just like their are wine aficionados, and I am always glad to learn more about any geeky community. Any geeks making the world a more chocolatey place are A-OK by me.
24 Hours in Austin
Afternoon: Blanton Museum
Now we’ve fed our bellies, so it’s time to feed our minds! Feed your mind and the rest will follow, as the song says. It’s time to head to the Blanton Museum of Art, the museum attached to the University of Texas at Austin. Since it is a university museum, it has an impressive and wide-ranging collection. There’s everything from European Old Dirty Masters to contemporary art installations involving pennies. Basically they have anything a clever little Texan might want to study.
Since the food truck tour only runs on a Saturday, let’s assume that you are also at the Blanton on a Saturday. You are in for a treat, since the Blanton has free docent tours available every Saturday at 3PM. I took one on their special exhibition about The Crusader Bible from the Middle Ages. Our energetic docent had the vibe of your favorite college art history professor. He was met with resounding applause at the end of the tour. I can only hope your docent will be as informative and can share with you more than
THREE FUN FACTS ABOUT THE CRUSADER BIBLE
1) Why was the crusader bible made?
The Crusader Bible was commissioned in the 13th century for the King of France, Louis IX, who also commissioned the gorgeous Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Since it was meant for a king, the Crusader Bible is very concerned with promoting kingship. Certain stories, like the story of Absalom who rebelled against his father King David, were excised altogether. I feel like if I were as powerful as medieval kings generally were, I might have the confidence to deal with a mildly seditious story or a rude anecdote. But many self-esteem issues were rampant amongst medieval monarchs.
2) what does it look like?
The Crusader Bible is not at all accurate when it comes to depicting ancient weapons and clothes, but it is extremely accurate when it comes to depicting medieval weapons and armor. The makers of the Crusader Bible just painted all the Biblical characters in medieval garb even though the Bible is set hundreds and sometimes even thousands of years earlier. So hear that, Internet Geeks Who Obsess About Anachronism! Anachronism actually goes back at least as far as the Middle Ages.
3) How did it get to the blanton?
The Crusader Bible changed hands many times. At one point it was even a gift from the Archbishop of Krakow to the Shah of Persia, and I sure would have liked to be a fly on the wall at that meeting. The CB was eventually purchased by New York Big Shot J.P. Morgan, and is currently at home in NYC in his Morgan Library. (We very nicely loaned it to Austin for this exhibition.)
24 Hour Treasure
As the Blanton is located in Texas, I was most interested in their collection of the art of the American Southwest. I was struck by this painting The Roping, by William Robinson Leigh. Like me, Leigh lived in Manhattan. Unlike me, he preferred the West and would travel out there regularly to sketch. My favorite part of the painting is the way he gets the dust to look so real. I almost want to look away because I’m afraid the dust is going to hit me in the face, which is not a sensation I am used to having when looking at a painting.
24 Hours in Austin
Late Afternoon: Stroll and Explore
If you leave the museum when it closes around 5, you’ll still have a couple of hours to kill before dinner. As usual, I recommend taking some time to explore! You won’t have time to go inside the dusty rose Texas Capital, but don’t miss taking a look at its exterior!
After that, why not head over to 6th Street, which is sometimes called the Bourbon St of Austin? You can shop or take in a movie at the Drafthouse. Just don’t eat much because we have a real treat coming up for dinner! I personally like to walk around and check out the entertainingly named bars.
Here’s one that has a sign of Gerald McRainey wearing muttonchops outside.
And here’s another with the best name for a bar I have ever heard: Volstead! (The Volstead Act is another name for the National Prohibition Act that made alcohol illegal in this country.)
When you’re done exploring, just head down to 2nd street and bring your best dancing boots!
24 Hours in Austin
Evening: Lambert’s Downtown Barbecue
Lambert’s is the world’s most Austin thing: a music venue upstairs and a barbecue restaurant downstairs. The barbecue is a little more upscale than say, LA Barbecue, and accordingly a little more pricey. I thought the quality of the sides made the expense worth it. (Hilariously, the phrase “Fancy Barbecue?” is written on the bottom of Lambert’s menus. The question mark is theirs, not mine.) Plus your whole evening out is right in one building! You can make reservations for dinner and then head right upstairs for a concert. It’s a very Austin way to conclude your 24 hours in Austin.
I was at Lambert’s on New Year’s, so the evening started with a concert by an indie pop duo called Sylvan Esso. I liked the quirky electronic beats in the music and the eerie blue glow in the room that seemed to perfectly compliment the tunes. Even better was the fact that the band didn’t take themselves too seriously. The whole crowd was young-but-not-too-young and everyone seemed relaxed and unpretentious.
Of course, the music was fun, but I was really there for the barbecue! We had a New Year’s BBQ Buffet and I indulged in rich Black Angus brisket, spicy deviled eggs, baked mac and cheese, and creme fraiche buttermilk new potato salad. Just saying creme fraiche buttermilk new potato salad makes me giggle, and I think that sense of amusement is the whole point of Lambert’s. There’s something deliciously quirky about making barbecue and potato salad upscale.
Further Reading: 24 Hours in Austin!
Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Austin? Then let me give you some further reading for your 24 hours in Austin! My favorite travel guide to Austin is by Moon Travel. In fact they make my favorite US travel guides because they are so detailed.
The LBJ Library and Museum is in Austin, so pay tribute to our largest-eared president and read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. The NY Times called it “the most penetrating, fascinating political biography I have ever read”, which surprised me because normally newspapers can’t read. But I’m not going to argue with The Paper of Record.
If you’re more of a fiction girl, get into the Texas spirit with Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. McCarthy is often called the greatest writer about Texas, but you’ll have to read this book to find out if it’s true. I think it’s pretty great, and that’s high praise from me considering I hate horses.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Austin. If you want to spend another 24 hours in Austin exploring Zilker Park, try this itinerary. If you can add 24 hours in San Antonio, add this itinerary. If you want a Texas Hill Country day trip, try this one.