When playing tour guide, do right by your trusting visitors. Do they want to see 6th Street? Yes. Do they want to see the "I Love You So Much" sign? Yes. So enjoy exploring Austin with fresh eyes, and take them to these iconic hot spots.
A bit of a drive is required to get there, but here in Texas, we believe that some things (like tender, melt-in-your-mouth brisket) are worth the extraneous diesel fuel.
Back in the day (by which I mean, the late '70s), Antone's was the place to listen to the blues: B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker all played here. It's still an Austin institution, having birthed the career of several new school blues guys -- think Black Joe Lewis and Gary Clark Jr. -- alongside rock guys like Bob Schneider.
According to the natural laws of the universe, one must never depart from Texas without first acquiring cowboy boots. Allen's Boots are made for walking, and walk you will up and down SoCo with your shiny new pair.
Maybe it's the photo-obligatory "I love you so much" graffiti art. Maybe it's the primo people-watching seats outside. Maybe it really is the coffee. Whatever it is, Jo's has been Ground Zero for SoCo since its inception, a welcome center for tourists and a hitching post for locals. Their food is great -- the BBQ Pulled Pork sandwich will give you new respect for texturized soy protein -- but it's the vibe that I love most.
An Austin hippie original, Magnolia Cafe, like its 24-hour doppelganger Kerbey Lane, should be a required stop. The pancakes are the best on the menu, but the food isn't really the reason you visit. I think it's the atmosphere, what with the slipshod decor and charm of Texas' funkiest city.
No matter the season, it's eternal Summer of Love at Barton Springs, Austin's most beloved swimming hole. Though it's been officially servicing locals for the better part of a century, archeologists have found 10,000 year-old human remains here -- a solid track record of enjoyment, I'd say.
It's become a popular spot for fitness boot camps and music festivals, but on an otherwise unoccupied day, Auditorium Shores is one of the best stretches of local natural utopia, surrounded on all sides by urban buzz. Not just dog-friendly, but practically dog-required, and in 2011, the Internet nearly crashed when Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara hit up Fun Fun Fun Fest here to film a yet-unnamed Terence Malick flick.
I know, I know. But guys -- you have to. Visitors want to experience this much-maligned avenue of revelry, Austin's very own version of Bourbon Street. Plus, there is true fun and even class to be had on Sixth Street, like the Drafthouse Ritz, Shawn Cirkiel's delicious parkside, and the new reservation-only craft cocktail bar, Midnight Cowboy.
Bats! That should be all I have to say here. But in case you didn't know, Austin possesses a local population of Mexican free-tailed bats that take flight every evening when the sun goes down, around 7pm. A huge crowd congregates to watch most nights, and it's one of those true-blue Austin experiences that make you feel giddy and awestruck (SO MANY BATS!) all at once.
There's a reason folks stand in line for hours to get a sliver of this stuff. Line up early at this east side BBQ shack, and see what all the fuss is about. In a nutshell: BBQ that's been prepared in a smoker with special, magical wood, with BBQ sauce that's almost OCD in its extremely delicate, highly delicious ingredient combination.
It wouldn't be a proper trip to Austin if your guest left without a tattoo. My one and only tattoo didn't come from Affinity, but I've been inside their lovely space, which also has a killer selection of piercing jewelry. And, it's on Sixth Street! This is surely the locale where your guest will make his or her most impulsive decisions, so might as well pick a tattoo shop in walking distance.