Austin's best kept secrets?
February 15, 2009 12:39 PM   Subscribe

What are Austin, TX's best kept secrets? I've been living here for two years, and want to do some exploring/find some unique, but not well know, elements of the city.

I'm looking for things of all variety's, whether it be interesting activities, shady/underground events, beautiful views, small restaurants, or anything else you would consider worth my time.
posted by comwiz to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a fan of UT's Theatre program, especially the free productions put on by MFA playwright or director candidates.
posted by Durin's Bane at 12:54 PM on February 15, 2009

Stallion Grill on Airport Blvd. Some of the best burgers, onion rings, southern fixin's in town. Dirt cheap, never crowded.

Also, you can see many people wearing pants so tight they can barely walk. Poor balance due to asymmetrical hairstyles also contributes to this problem.
posted by Darth Fedor at 12:58 PM on February 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

The official "Keep Austin Weird" site has a pretty good list of stuff, including a weirdness "heat map" here.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:05 PM on February 15, 2009

The metafilter meetups.
posted by Pants! at 1:37 PM on February 15, 2009

Geocaching in Walnut Creek Park or the Barton Creek Greenbelt (or, hell, anywhere for that matter) will take you down some of the less-traveled paths. Definitely try it during wild flower season in a couple months.
posted by Durin's Bane at 1:52 PM on February 15, 2009

Quack's coffeshop, 43rd and Duvall. You will find a seemingly odd group of miscreants West of the front of the coffeeshop. Although appearing disemployed, drifty, and perhaps ahh; bummish, they all have jobs; and have (mostly) down-dressed for the occasion. Well, most. Approach slowly. Do not draw attention to yourself. Be after shift in appearance; merely say "hi/howdy", or utter a pleasant grunt. Walk away slowly. Go to the Fresh plus, or to the Pronto. Return with a bagged or sacked 6 pack (Bear in mind, some 10,000+ beers have met their end where you are; yet *NO* debris is EVER to be left behind. If you see debris; sack it up and take it to a nearby dumpster; there are several 50-100' away). Take a seat (i.e. on the ground gawd forbid); or swipe a chair from the Exterior of Quacks. Please return said chair when you are done.

Sit. Enjoy the city. Enjoy the awe that only ones own horizons can unfold. Should the city bus be rerouted for a day; hold up your beer and wave. Laugh heartily at the wanting glares of the drones inside. Ha ha, pediantric fools! I haz beer and outdoors! You haz nasty bus and nos beers!

Unfortunately; should any of the folk be without employ or fundage; please avoid any excess of gregarity. Although not recognized as such; it is a "No Bum" zone.

The codephrase is "Ave you any news of the iceberg". When you have reached the answer; you are perhaps at a new place in Austin. P.S. Please do not bring a glut of company. This operation has been ignored by the empire for a long time; and it would like to stay that way.

Last but not least; pick up your empties, lest ye be quickly shunned away and exiled. If you have a guitar; it might be a nice tool to have. If you can actually play it, even better.
posted by buzzman at 2:41 PM on February 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

Have you been to the Elisabet Ney museum? It's pretty hidden on the edge of Hyde Park (a block or so from Quack's Bakery) but it's worth visiting.

There are some really cool swimming holes. I especially recommend Hamilton Pool.

My wife and I used to live just a block away from the intersection of 43rd and Duval in Hyde Park, and we really enjoyed that little cluster of restaurants there. We were constantly going to Dolce Vita, Quack's, Hyde Park Grill, and Mother's.

I really like certain parts of South Austin. I spent a weekend poking around the neighborhood next to South First Street and stumbled across some cool M.J. Neal houses on the same street, Twin Peaks and Ramp House.

South First Street is a pretty cool area, one that you could live in Austin for a long time without stumbling across. Here's a list of South Austin art galleries, several of which are on South First.
posted by jayder at 2:50 PM on February 15, 2009

Not very secret, but Casey's New Orleans Snowballs on 51st and Airport is awesome. They're closed from September-early/mid March, though.

Mayfield Park on West 35th is really pretty and has peacocks.

Arandas (there are several around town) has good, cheap Mexican food, and it's usually not crowded. Especially not crowded with gringos.

Saccone's Pizza in far North Austin (620 and Anderson Mill), Leander, and Cedar Park has awesome New York-style pizza. Home Slice on S. Congress has great pizza, but it's always insanely crowded. East Side Pies has awesome slices, too, but there is no indoor seating. You can get their slices at Epoch coffee shop on North Loop, too, though.

The thing with Austin is that it's becoming a lot harder for anything to stay "secret" for long. I start to think of all the places I like to go, some of them places I've been going my entire life (I'm still a townie at this point), and almost all of them range from popular to extremely popular (Kerbey Lane Cafe, Trudy's, Barton Springs, Wild Basin, etc.)
posted by fructose at 2:52 PM on February 15, 2009

Reflector Alley
The Cathedral of Junk
The Museum of Natural and Artificial Ephemerata
East Side Pies is really good, but only if you order a whole pizza fresh. Warmed-over slices aren't nearly as good (one of the measures of truly great pizza is how good the leftovers are. By that measure, ESP is wanting). They make their own sausage, so if you like sausage, big thumbs up.
Casino el Camino has unbelievably good burgers, but the service is unbelievably slow.
posted by adamrice at 4:22 PM on February 15, 2009

Oh yeah:
Stacy Pool
North Austin (Hyde Park) Post Office
Harrel's Hardware on Oltorf
Breed & Co on 29th
And of course, the Enchanted Forest. They're not holding events there currently while they bring it in line with code for large public events, but you can still wander around there.
There used to be a full-moon drum circle that would meet in the tunnels under Mopac around 5th, but I heard that got broken up…I wonder if that's started back up. I hear there's another full-moon drum circle on the Lamar pedestrian bridge.
posted by adamrice at 5:47 PM on February 15, 2009

It's kind of sad, but the only real "secret" I can think of is how to get on the Central Market coupon list. When you first walk in the store (before the produce section) there is a little box attached to the wall with comment cards. Fill out one of those cards with any benign comment ("Great rice!" "I love the bananas!") and print your mailing address and bam, 10 bucks a week in coupons in the mail.

Also, Epoch Coffee shop (open 24 hrs!) serves East Side Pies pizza and check out the sandwiches at Food Heads.
posted by mattbucher at 5:49 PM on February 15, 2009

Pollos Asados al Carbón "El Regio" on Riverside Dr. (it's next to a tall, angularly blue-roofed building in the parking lot of a strip mall on the north side of the street, just west of I-35) is a great, cheap pre-made picnic. About 12 bucks (as of last spring) gets you a whole, deliciously char-grilled chicken, fresh-made salsas, tortillas, rice and beans. Take a six-pack and head to the nearby picnic tables -- almost always empty along the far east side of Town Lake trail (almost to Longhorn Dam).

There's an open bluegrass jam regularly attended by friendly, welcoming and seriously talented musicians at Charlie's in nearby Wimberly every Friday night. Good catfish there too.

Barton Springs is free admission every night from 9-10 pm. Every full moon night they have a community potluck and many swimmers howl at the moon. I learned this by accident mid-lap swim one night -- a pretty memorable experience.
posted by dr. boludo at 7:44 PM on February 15, 2009

Buzzman: Les Barker fans in Austin? Makes me want to come out for another visit!
posted by jeri at 2:02 AM on February 16, 2009

There used to be a full-moon drum circle that would meet in the tunnels under Mopac around 5th

I biked home through that tunnel after a full-moon Barton Springs swim and saw several people in one of the tunnels. It freaked me out at the time but maybe it was that group. That path still creeps me out at nighttime.

Speaking of creepy things what about caving? Check out the UT Grotto club (open to the Austin public). They could show you some unique, but not well known, elements of the city. I've been to Whirlpool Cave and Maple Run Cave. You get a whole new perspective on the city after you've been beneath it.
posted by collocation at 6:51 AM on February 16, 2009

There is a path along Shoal Creek, between 34th and 38th street, behind the Seton Medical Center. Nice place to have a cup or tea, and there is a natural spring fountain with a statue of St. Something or other that I have tossed a dozen dozen dollar coins at (well, that is just gross now that I think about it) for blessing my beer drinking down there. Trash can(s) are across the way. Use them or lose your "blessed by the Saint" drinking privileges. Gideons Oaks are there on the W side of the creek, named after his masacre in the mid 1800's by Native Americans. Ouch!

I have *never* seen any punks, gangsters, etc in the area between 38th and 34th. A security guard would walk by about once a blue moon; but I believe that was a walk to lunch thing. Various medical folk from the hospitals walk by, you know the drill; eye contact, 'hi, i have a job, pay taxes, am just sitting here having a beer etc' and you are fine.

The Randals grocery on the W side of the creek sells beer. And not just the rice brewed Bud/Coors/Miller dreck. Becks, Guiness, Heineken, etc. Ahh, good beer and a nice flowing creek. The I have forgotten the name hamburger joint across from Randals on 34th has great onion rings and good burgers. Yum, beer, cheeseburger, onion rings, and a nice intelligent blissful nothingness of a day. Finest Kind.

Continuing South of 34th and behind the Braker Elementary school, there is a great oak laying on its side. It has never minded me sitting on it drinking beer. It is on the W side of Shoal, behind the Catholic HS/MS which is W of Bailey Park. Trach cans are across Shoal on the E side by the gazebo. There is also a water fountain at the gazebo.

Further to the South, North of 29th street and W of LaMar there is a section of the path where there are some Arkansas/Arkansaw type rock overhangs. Not as neat and tidy as the area by Seton Hospital.

And if you continue S you run into more and more and more people, trash, dog poop, litter; and all the other distinguishing items of Austin's blessed populace. Or 'poopulace' perhaps.

Otherwise; what a day for a daydream. And please, use the trash cans up to the point where when I have been there; I pick up the extra debris that might be there. I can not handle seeing nature trashed. The area is usually nicely kept.
posted by buzzman at 12:19 PM on February 16, 2009

Star Seeds Cafe -- Tacky, fun, okay food (both vegetarian and greazy, sleazy cheeseburgers and fries etc), bottomless coffee, an absolutely great, totally Austin wait staff who choose the remarkably eclectic music (loud thrash/trash to George Jones to Nina Simone to Willie to anyone else you can imagine, it's great and it's usually too loud but there it is), decent internet connection, always open. I like to go there at about one am on Thursday through Saturday night (though it's also fun to see who in the hell might show up on a Sunday or Monday, too, there is a really good late night population here in Austin) and grab a booth (a booth in the dining room is best, the enclosed porch/patio/whatever on the south side is okay but tell them you're wanting a booth when one opens up), open up your laptop or your book or smile at your friend, order your food, watch it all unfold. From 1:30 to maybe 2:30 it's people who've closed down bars, some drunk idiots and some not, they're festive, it's the weekend, etc and etc, and then at about 2:30-3:00 the musicians and crew and bar staff begin to come in, between 3:00 and 3:30 or even later the topless dancers and their people come in from The Crazy Lady, just down the street, and through all of it there are junkies and scenesters and whores and the occasional homeless person staggering through and then tossed out, there are truckers off I35, I have seen what looked to be the better part of two Mexican families taking up two or three large booths, kids through old people, REAL family values, no one left out, it's a great place to watch it all unfold, along about five am the morning regulars start coming in, tip the shit out of the waiter or waitress (let them know you're going to tip the shit out of them so they don't mind you taking a booth all that time), it is one of the best late-night places in Austin to write and/or just to read and sleaze around, to be part of the flow of late-night here.

Eastside Cafe -- On Manor road, maybe a mile east of I35. Again, hardly a secret but a great restaurant, maybe my favorite in town, great for date night or for showing someone visiting you what Austin can be about; my sister never wants to leave Austin without going there at least once, and I don't blame her. Not cheap but not through the roof either, great wait staff, great food, in an old house, I took a date there once who'd been in that house, it was her uncles place or a friends uncle or some such, it's a nice old house, huge gardens in the back where they grow many of their herbs, some greens, whatever. The best iced tea in town (brewed with lemon and orange peel zest, or steeped in it, whatever; it's great). The best cheeseburger in town, which is sortof odd, being as how it's all healthy and thoughtful and whatnot but they've got a cheeseburger that's about as big as my pickup truck, and comes with a truckload of fries, I looked for over a year when moving here and maybe someone else has one as good now but once I found the one at Eastside I quit looking.

Epoch -- another plug for another good night spot, it's open 24/7 but I only know it late, for all I know it's a decent crowd all the time but I can't vouch for that. Good coffee. Good food. Way interesting people. Fast internet connection.

Arandas -- another plug for them, great greazy tex-mex, chances are good you'll be the only table in the place speaking English, get a chicken burrito that's about as big as a Sunday paper for less than four bucks, uncomfortable chairs, not so much good for writing or sleazing around but it's fun anyways and it's cheap and it's cross cultural adventure, the one I like best is on South First just barely south of Oltorf.

Swimming holes -- Don't miss this piece of Austin, hardly a secret but still, don't let it get past you. Hard to get through summer here without them, in my experience. And Town Lake is now clean enough to swim in or at least it seems to me that it is, they have the swimming piece of the triathlon in it, I don't swim in it if it's rained recently but otherwise it's okay, maybe I'm just nuts but if so I'm not the only one.

Bike trails -- If you've got a decent bike, get out onto the trails. Again, no big secret but do it. Just about all skill levels, from the easy trails around Town Lake and others to the Trails of Death out in the greenbelt, rocks and cactus and trees and shit everywhere, no fun at all to go over the handlebars and you will go over the handlebars, or I do anyways, wear a helmet.

Also on your bike, late on a summer night, take a ride through all the newly developed parks and whatnot on the south side of Town Lake, around by the new symphony hall, look at the nicely lighted skyline of downtown from that perspective, it's actually quite pretty, and the colors lay upon the water very nicely also, go to the top of that bitty hill with the Texas map laid out on top of it in the new park, dump your bikes, open your water bottle and kick back, won't be long and you'll have a freight train go over that bridge over the river, you'll hear it long before it gets to you but then it'll come streaming on in and then past, the horn sounding through the night -- what's nicer than the sound of a freight in the night, right? -- the wheels screeching as they make the turn and then head on out to the west. If you go a bit earlier in the night or in the evening, it's really nice to watch the families stroll those walkways, the little kids just have a blast running through the fountain, the parents off to one side watching and smiling the tired out of themselves, the kids finally tire out and off they stumble to their car, maybe the father holding the youngest, sleeping in his arms, momma leaning into him, her other hand out and holding onto one of the other childs hand, they're headed home, another day done.

Yoga -- If you've got some bread and a passion for Ashtanga, Mike Matthews is great. It's difficult to get in, it's a small space, it's expensive, and worth it. The Very Best Deal On Yoga in Austin, dollar for dollar? Castle Hill Gym. They lose money on their yoga program but keep it because it keeps people signing up for the gym. Castle Hill is very expensive as a gym but remarkably inexpensive as a monthly, ongoing yoga studio, and there is none of this 'towel rental' or 'mat rental' jive such as you'll find in other studios, they hire top notch instructors, it's a great deal, much better by far than Yoga Yoga or any other than I've found.

Art -- The Best Kept Secret In The World is that San Antone has two world class art museums. There's so little here in town, the biggest letdown in moving here from Houston was being away from MFAH, but just an hour south is two great collections and each of them set in great places to boot, one in a nice old sprawling estate, the other, and by far larger, is in an old beer distillery but really set up great, it's one of my favorite museums 'places' in the whole dang world. Yeah, they've got the Louvre, well, screw that, we've got great art in an old distillery, top that! It's fun. Make a day of it, go first to the MacNay, maybe get there at 10:30, or 11:00

Jesus, I've had this thing open in a browser window for a week! Aaaack! Here it is, unfinished but lots here...

posted by dancestoblue at 8:09 PM on February 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Harry Ransom Center has a Gutenberg bible on permanent display, if you're into that sort of thing. If I told you anything else, it wouldn't be a secret, any more, now would it?
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:30 PM on March 15, 2009

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