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Austin: Where to eat, stay and play

Texas' vibrant capital offers a compelling combination of nightlife and nature.
Texas' vibrant capital offers a compelling combination of nightlife and nature.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Capital fare: Barbecue, dogs and the best martini in Texas
  • The Driskill hotel is the pole position for everything Austin
  • Check it out: Swarming hungry bats (they won't hurt you) and two great music festivals

Austin, Texas (CNN) -- "The State I'm In" columnist Brendan Newnam recently spent time in Austin, Texas during the SXSW conference and festival.

Here are his Austin essentials:

Eat

Franks Don't let the font and the word "artisan" distract you. This place is about hot dogs and cold beer.

Barley Swine One of Austin's top food trailers, Odd Duck, has grown up and become a tasty, local gastropub.

Olivia The best non-sushi restaurant in Austin. Everyone tells you so and everyone is right.

Franklin Barbecue Yes, Iron Works is good, Stubb's is more than adequate and, if you have a couple hours, the Salt Lick experience is divine, but none of their BBQ is any better than Franklin's.

Drink

Lala's -- The best dive bar in Austin celebrates Christmas every day. 2207 Justin Lane; (512) 453-2521

Bar Congress Cocktailian Adam Bryant knows more than you about booze. Try to find a better martini in Texas. I did, but failed each time.

Mohawk Bar This is the real place. The spot where visiting cool kids and local kids unite, consume beer and nod to music.

Stay

The Driskill Pole position for everything Austin, with a touch of cowboy glamour.

Hotel San Jose A boutique hotel where I wish I stayed.

Courtyard Marriot, Austin Where I stayed. The people were wonderful and never judged me for my 2 a.m. microwavable chimichanga attacks.

Play

Barton Creek Greenbelt Take a cab to an authentic natural experience. Hike, swim and contemplate life at the geographical bottom of the United States.

View the bats on the Congress Avenue Bridge. To get the latest flight times call the Bat Hotline (!), sponsored by the local paper. Line: 512-416-5700 (Category 3636).

Rent boats or kayaks at Lady Bird Lake

Attend the SXSW or ACL festival

Austin hosts two tremendous music festivals that provide the perfect backdrop for goofing off with friends

Austin City Limits

SXSW