Austin is a city unlike any other in Texas.With its West Coast vibe, music scene, and hipster culture, there’s a lot of different travel choices you won’t find in Houston or Dallas.
New spaces keep popping up as older properties are repurposed, remodeled, or rebranded to fit with the city’s growth. I had an opportunity to check out three great hotels this week while I was in town. They were all unique and offered completely different experiences catering to Austin visitors.
My first stop was the Four Seasons Hotel. It's not for the budget traveler, but perfect for those who demand superb hotel service. Whether you're here for business or would just like to celebrate a special occasion in style, it's hard to find a higher standard. The hotel has an amazing location along the Colorado River right in the heart of downtown. You can walk along the water and rent a kayak or paddleboard. There’s also a guitar concierge in the hotel. You know you’re in Austin when you can have a guitar sent to your room.
I rarely play mine at home, but the thought of someone bringing me a loaner guitar to strum while I watched river-rats kayak from my balcony was too tempting to pass up. However, the rock star treatment doesn’t end there. Feel like a margarita but too lazy to go downstairs to the bar? For a few hours each day, you can have a bartender roll his cart to your room and prepare fresh margaritas for you, too.
To cater to the locals and those who wish to sample a little Four Season’s hospitality, the hotel's newly rebranded restaurant Ciclo has an extremely popular happy hour with free valet parking and discounted drinks. It’s one of the coolest places in town to listen to live music and have a great cocktail. They also have ceviche-making lessons on Saturday for guests.
There’s a very creative dinner menu as well. The Parker House rolls are better than the original ones invented in Boston—buttery, delicious pieces of baked perfection, served with honey and a generous slab of butter. I would make a trip to Austin again just to have Ciclo's Texas bonbon dessert, a mysterious blend of sorbets and chocolate served over a bowl of smoking dry ice. These bonbons literally exploded in my mouth with each bite, and even more amazing? The little bridge they're served on is edible, a surprise chocolate treat.
My next stop was the Hotel ZaZa. The hotel is about two months from being finished, but I met up with a couple of the brand’s ambassadors to do a hard hat tour and check out what we can look forward to. The new construction, built to fit in with the older structures surrounding it, is located next to Republic Park and plenty of little bars and restaurants. If you’re not a guest of the ZaZa, you’ll still be welcome to hang with the locals at the impressive seventh-floor bar, appropriately named Group Therapy, and to rub elbows at the first-floor restaurant Perfect Strangers. This is the hotel's fourth location and still maintains its signature quirky style, a perfect match for Austin.
Finally, I stayed a night at the East Austin Hotel, which was recently constructed on a former vacant lot that had been the headquarters for a hot dog truck—East Austin definitely has personality, and it's also having the most obvious transformation of any of the other areas in the city. The hotel has a mid-century modern theme and relaxed vibe that's a little urban mixed with vintage-motel. There’s lots of cool spots around, like the opium den themed eatery Ah Sing Den and the retro bar Shangri-La. The East Austin Hotel turned out to have more going for it than one might notice at first. Its restaurant, Sixth and Waller, dishes up some great chicken-fried chicken and Turkish kebab. There was a cute pool bar too, but the real action was at the bar on the second floor.
It was a Monday night and The Upside was rocking. It was mostly a local crowd, and there was a great chill vibe going on. The wrap-around patio on the second floor is a great vantage point to people-watch and catch the sunset. As I drank my Austin stout, I thought about how the hotels I visited were all different from each other but still had something in common.
They all embrace the uniqueness of Austin and have adapted their brands to fit in with the local scene. That’s what “Keep Austin Weird” is all about.