What We’re Looking Forward to in Austin in 2021
Things are looking up already.
What is there to say about 2020 that hasn’t already been said? It was certainly a year that taught us, among other things, the importance of quality time with loved ones, new experiences, and, of course, toilet paper. However, the time has come for all of us to hit the refresh button on our mental browsers—to lead the charge in taking full advantage of every opportunity after undergoing a period with so few. Enough with the quasi-inspirational Brene Brown motivational statements though, let’s get to the list below where we’ve collected a few of the best things for you to add to your 2021 bucket list. So drop all the excuses and get out there!
Supporting local businesses
It goes to say that, now more than ever, it is important to throw those hard-earned dollars toward those creative entrepreneurs within our own community. Luckily, considering all the innovative, well-made, and substantially awesome products made within Austin, this is a fairly easy task to take on. For those looking for a way to take on Dry January, Sweet Crude CBD Cocktails are the perfect way to give up the booze without sacrificing a buzz. Each can of this Austin-based, woman-owned business contains 20mg dose of CBD and comes in two flavors, OG Tonic and Mellow Mule, inspired by the taste of your usual bar go-tos. If you have a sweet tooth, you should be warned—one bite of Cookie Rich, and you will have a new addiction. This local cookie company creates bite-sized treats of chewy, flavorful dough sandwiched between a layer of frosting. You can order a full medley of their flavors, like Toasted Coconut + Salted Carmel or Funfetti + Sprinkle Cream Cheese, to be delivered right to your door. Finally, there’s Divided Sky Candles—a local business started by a former music industry employee after COVID changed the live concert scene forever. Get one hit of their fragrant, comforting smells, like Egyptian Amber, from across a room, and any lingering worries of 2020 will feel like they are melting away.
Eat some Italian-inspired cuisine
Ask any New York transplant in Austin (and there’s certainly enough of them) about the best place to grab some of the Boot’s culinary delights, and you are likely to receive an exasperated sign. While it’s true that, in the past, Texas may not have been a hot-bed for the best pizza and pasta you can find, a slew of recent restaurants in the area are looking to change that—and you clearly owe it to your cheese-and-carbohydrate-loving self to get your manga on at all of them. First up is Shortie’s, which turns out New England Greek-Style pizza (that means made in a skillet) and deli-style grinders served on the famous hoagie rolls from Leidenheimer Bakery in New Orleans. A stand-out is their Twig & Branch pie which, with Texas goat cheese, prosciutto, sour cherry preserve, and house-made umami chili oil, hits up you with the one-two punch of sweet and savory. Indulge in all of what homemade pasta should be at Artipasta—where it is cooked to a perfect, chewy al dente, and then topped with traditional sauces so delicious you can feel the care that went into them emulating off the plate. Hit up their South Austin truck for a plate of spaghetti alla carbonara that will put all your quarantine attempts of the dish to shame. Enough great things can’t be said about Le Cowboy, a 2020 addition to the city’s food scene from a former chef of Olamaie. While Mondays are usually the least favorite day of the week, Le Cowboy has provided a silver lining by offering their takeout on that one weeknight only—when you dig into their “Le Parm” chicken parmigiana dinner for two, you’ll never fear the Sunday Scaries again.
Expand your borders outside the city limits
At this point, you’re probably missing the ability to travel so much that you’d even willingly wait in a TSA line if it meant escaping the same everyday scenery. While we cannot grant you a COVID-free world, we can point out that, for when Austin feels repetitive, they are other great places to check out—ones which are such easy drives you won’t even burn through a whole podcast before getting there. In Cedar Park (30 minutes away) is La Joie Creole Oyster Bar, a new restaurant that is guaranteed to deliver on the classic flavors of Louisiana. Celebrate your own, local version of Mardi Gras by chowing down on some classics, like Boudin Balls, or get adventurous with a Gator Po’Boy (yes, that means it's made with fried gator). Set to open this month in Dripping Springs (a 45-minute drive) is Abby Jane Bakeshop. After you order, you can watch them create their exquisite pastries, breads, and pizza, all made with local heritage grains, through their open kitchen. If you ever wanted to take out your frustration on inanimate objects, a la the printer in Office Space, Uncharted Adventures in Kyle (a 39-minute drive) has an opportunity for you. Their Smash Room will let you break all the objects you wish (while donning protective gear cause safety first) to a soundtrack of your choosing.
Get cultured at a museum
It could be argued that some of the best, and most underutilized, attractions in Austin are its incredible museums. Whether you’re into art, or history, or art history, there is a niche for you to dive into, learn more, and expand your mind. For an outdoor art experience, head to The Contemporary at Laguna Gloria. Located alongside Lake Austin, this fourteen-acre campus of sculptures and installations is sure to both awe and provide the perfect backdrop for your Instagram photos. As if you need further incentive, they are currently offering free admission to explore their offerings every Thursday from 9 am - 3 pm. Located around the corner from UT is the Neill-Cochran House Museum, a historic home from the 1800s with a history as interesting as its architecture. Take a tour to learn more about the history of Austin and, especially, to pay witness to the early experiences and tribulations of black people in the city—the museum has the only intact slave quarters in the area. As well, their Sunday Funday events, in which they host experts in everything from embroidery to button-making, are a great opportunity to pick up a new skill or hobby.
Hang out on a heated patio
Don’t let your friends from the Northeast mock you—40 degrees is chilly in Texas and no one can tell you otherwise. At least the bars in Austin get it, and have provided the type of heating and blanket accoutrements to allow you to get toasty while being toasty. At East Austin favorite Justine’s, you can not only warm up with a bowl of their French onion soup, but do so in the elegance and privacy of your own individually heated bungalow. We’re talking all the details of a French Chateau—velvet curtains, chandeliers, and buttery escargot that smells and tastes like it’s straight out of Paris. For one of the best views of Downtown, head seven stories up to the rooftop terrace at Zanzibar. There, you can sip on a classic tiki cocktail while relaxing amongst their vast decorations of greenery—all while being warm enough to forget that you’re not in a tropical destination to begin with. Salty Sow still has one of the best happy hours in all of Austin, so it makes sense they have one of the best heated patios as well. There, you’ll find more than enough heat lamps and string lights to make you feel comfy and cozy while chowing down on their truffled deviled eggs and ordering your second (or third) maple glazed Old Fashioned.
Dig in at a burger pop-up
There must be something in the water in Austin that is causing a full-out meat-and-cheese renaissance within the city limits. Whatever the inspiration is, all we know is we are happy to dig into the cheeseburger pop-ups that are sprouting around the area like bluebells in spring. There’s Bad Larry Burger Club, founded by Matthew Bolick of Little Brother and Better Half fame. Follow their Instagram to figure out where you can get one of their griddled slices of heaven delivered to you via their burger chute (yes, that’s a thing)—as a heads-up, they will be having a weekly residency at natural wine bar LoLo for the time being, and are even in plans to extend their pop-up dominion with events in San Antonio and Houston. If you can’t get enough of the cheesy goodness, you can further feed your craving by checking out Golden Castle. Taking a cue from White Castle sliders, Stephen Kaste, the owner of food truck Golden Tiger, so hits the oniony, greasy flavors the originals evoke that even Harold and Kumar would be converted. For now, you can catch a Golden Castle burger on Thursdays through Saturdays, from 4 - 10 pm, in the space of legendary Austin restaurant Hoffbrau.
Give back to the community
Even if you’ve spent the past few months as a quarantine hermit, it is impossible to ignore the challenges 2020 has presented for a great majority of our fellow Austinites. This fact is incredibly evident when it comes to the struggle many individuals and families have had to put food on the table. Dually affected by the pandemic has been the restaurant industry, which makes the local restaurants stepping up to provide meal help during these trying times even more inspirational. Beloved local spots, like L’Oca d’Oro and Suerte, have been working hard behind the scenes to provide meals to affected food insecure communities, as well as providing resources and support to small businesses and their staff. You can find out more about how you can help out at Good Work Austin. Another way to help is through the ATX Free Fridge Project. Head to HEB and grab some groceries to drop off at one of their locations—each fridge is open 24/7 for people in need of food and meals.
Connect with the beauty of the natural world
Take advantage of the brisk, yet (mostly) sunny, weather of the next few months by adventuring to some of the most scenic landscapes Texas has to offer. Make a reservation for Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, where you can hike up the giant, pink granite dome from which the park gets its name for unbeatable, and unobscured, views of Hill Country. A two-hour drive away, Enchanted Rock also offers options for rock climbing and, even, camping—which guarantees a golden opportunity for the kind of stargazing that will be hard to beat. Even though a dip in its waters is currently off limits, a visit to Hamilton Pool Preserve is no less magical. It only takes an hour to get there but, when hiking underneath the waterfall which fills the pool’s mesmerizing, clear blue waters, you’ll feel like you’ve ventured to a world far away. Again, reservations are required—although that just means you will have ample time to plan a picnic lunch to take with you and enjoy on the banks of the water.
Experience old favorites in a new way
While you may have spent a significant portion of the past year pouring through the offerings of every streaming service, many of your Austin go-to restaurants and bars have been busy crafting and creating new ways to drag you back out from your Hulu hovel. Take, for instance, nationally-renowned Japanese/Tex-Mex fusion culinary destination, Kemuri Tatsu-ya. After their closure for several months due to COVID, they’ve returned on a high-note with Omakase Club, a special, set-menu dining adventure. Make a reservation to choose from one of three set menus (vegetarians and pescatarians, they’ve got you covered), which are constantly updated to feature the freshest, local, in-season ingredients they can find. Easy Tiger, the never-disappointing destination to grab a beer with friends, also has a new offering on the plate for their loyal band of devotees. Their most recently opened location, on the ever-popular drag of South Lamar in South Austin, allows you to enjoy their trademark soft pretzels amidst a spacious location decked to the nines with string lights and draped with the presence of large oak trees.