Healthy City Guide: Austin, Texas
October 04, 2018
Travel can be stressful for anyone with dietary restrictions or simply trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The excitement over seeing new places is dampened when you’re stressed over what you’re going to eat or where you can exercise. Maybe your travel partner(s) is planning out their gourmet burger tour, while you’re quietly feeling like a total stick in the mud and worrying how you’re going to get home without reversing your hard-won health.
I’ve decided to tackle the problem one city at a time with healthy city guides! They’re just like other travel guides, but the focus is on what’s healthy in the area. Which restaurants are delicious and healthy? Where are the best juices and smoothies?Where are the best exercise classes? What are the best outdoor activities?
The maxim “write what you know” has a lot of truth to it, so I’ve decided to begin with Austin, Texas. It’s my hometown and I spend a good chunk of the year there visiting family. Because of its hippy roots, it has been health forward for at least fifty years. As a result, the options for healthy dining and activities are plentiful. Here’s the insider take on what’s good and good for you.
Do you have any healthy Austin spots you’d like to share? Please chime in!
True Food Kitchen – In my opinion, this is the diamond in Austin’s healthy restaurant ring. That’s why it’s going at the tippy top of the list. It’s a chain with 23 locations in thirteen states, but Austin’s West Ave. location feels like hip, downtown dining. The best way to describe it is healthy comfort food. True Food offers vegan, vegetarian, and gluten friendly options. I have never had a dish I didn’t like and neither has my not-particularly-health-conscious family. Standouts are the Ancient Grains Bowl, the Moroccan Chicken, the Turkey Burger and the Summer Tacos. This is the perfect place to go if you’re looking for somewhere everyone will enjoy. Did I mention they serve delicious cocktails? Definitely put it on your list.
Picnik – If you’re into grass-fed butter coffee, bone broth, gluten-free pastries, and delicious foods that cater to your specific needs, Picnik is going to win your heart. Their philosophy is based on inclusion. They want to accommodate the whole spectrum of dietary restrictions, allergies and sensitivities. Their “Special Diet Menu” items are free of maple, honey, grains, dairy, soy, legumes, corn and peanuts. On this extensive menu, you’ll find rarities like sugar-free bacon, cassava tortillas, almond flour tortilla chips, and vegan queso. The regular menu is equally extensive and 100% peanut, gluten, soy and corn free. Best of all, Picnik is delicious! I don’t have any food restrictions and I love to eat here. There are three locations. The restaurant on Burnet Road offers the full butter coffee menu, bone broth, breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktails, wine and cider. They do not accept reservations and they are POPULAR, so call for wait times. Their trailer locations (S. Lamar and S. Congress) serve grab-and-go breakfast and lunch items, butter coffee, bone broth, and gluten-free pastries.
Galaxy Cafe – Galaxy Cafe is a favorite of mine. The menu includes things like grilled salmon, salads, Buddha bowls and wraps. The produce and bread are brought in fresh daily. The eggs, chicken and beef are all hormone and antibiotic free. What pushes it over the healthy top is the gluten-free menu. To those with sensitivities, they offer gluten-free breakfast wraps, sandwich wraps, burger buns, and sandwich breads. The kids menu serves gluten-free pasta and quesadillas.
Magnolia Cafe – Their slogan is “Everybody knows, everybody goes.” This is ground zero for the funky, casual, come-one-come-all atmosphere that made Austin famous. The story behind their decision to be open “24/8” is that one day someone lost the keys, so they just stopped closing. I put them on the healthy list because whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, gluten sensitive, paleo, carb conscious or all of the above, there is something for you. All of their menu items are either naturally gluten-free or can easily be modified. They offer dishes like the Love Veggies, Black Bean Entree, Magnolia Stir Fry and Veggie Tacos. If health isn’t your thing, burgers abound and the banana pancakes are a-maz-ing.
Fresas – This is a great option if you’re wanting to experience the Tex-Mex Austin is famous for without suffering the lard laden consequences. They accommodate gluten-free and vegetarian eaters. “Select guilty pleasures” are available to those who what to indulge. In other words, they serve queso, chips and alcohol. Take the kids to the South First location to take advantage of the playground. Note that the 9th & Lamar location is to-go only.
Forthright Cafe – Think low-end of high-end, gourmet cafe serving breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. It makes the healthy list because there are things like gluten-free toast, grass-fed butter coffee, cashew milk (chocolate or vanilla), matcha lattes, locally sourced produce, free range chicken, as well as vegetarian and vegan menu options. There are also less health conscious items like Mexican Coke, a Turkey BLT with something heavenly on it called “bacon jam,” a smoked bacon burger on challah, a swoon worthy list of mixed drinks, wines and beers. Strawberry Margarita or Dublin Iced Coffee, anyone?
Curcuma Ayurvedic Food Truck – The food at Curcuma is vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free and friendly to Whole 30 and Paleo diets. Zagat listed the kitchari bowl in its 15 Dishes to Try in Austin (April 2017). Devotees love the “golden milk,” which is a mixture of turmeric and house-made coconut milk. Adventurous types can try the CBD Hemp Mint Cacao Popsicle, CBD Matcha Latte, or the detoxifying Charcoal Lemonade.
Flower Child – The counter culture symbols of yesteryear have been fine tuned and franchised in this healthy food chain. This is an Austin favorite for those looking for tasty vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and paleo fare. Open from 11am-9pm. Pricing is totally doable.
Mother’s Cafe and Garden – This landmark of the early Austin hippy scene has been serving vegan and vegetarian food since 1980. In other words, they were country when country wasn’t cool. I’m partial to their Monterey Jack Enchiladas with verde sauce. Other popular dishes include the Vegetables Rancheros, Southwestern Stuffed Pepper and Vegan Tofu Lasagna. Part of what’s great about Mother’s is that there is cheese, egg pasta, and egg for those who practice relaxed versions of vegetarianism and veganism alongside more “purist” dishes. Four out of five stars on Yelp after 841 reviews isn’t too bad, either.
Bouldin Creek Cafe – This funky, friendly cafe on S. First serves tasty vegetarian food with vegan options. They offer organic, fair trade, locally roasted coffee and 25 different hot teas. They also serve beer, wine, Sake Screwdrivers, Sake Lemonade, and a hangover cure called “The Leveler” (Guiness, expresso and chocolate).
Cafe No Se – Definitely take note of Cafe No Se, mainly because it’s beautifully decorated and there are fancy, healthy options. This is another place that has something for both the healthy and the unrestricted. It’s located on South Congress in the South Congress Hotel, which is probably somewhere you’re going to visit if you aren’t already staying there. South Congress is super hip and where everyone wants to hang out when they come to town. Beware of the prices. It’s not the best on a budget.
Sway Thai – For great Thai food with lots of gluten-free and vegan options, look no further. The neon lotus sign outside has become somewhat of a landmark. It’s located in the super cool Bouldin Creek district. This is a great spot for a healthy night on the town.
Smoothies and Juices
Juiceland – My favorite! The smoothies and juices at Daily Juice and The Soup Peddler are totally on par with Juiceland, but they don’t have as many options and the atmosphere isn’t as cool. Even their strip mall locations have an outpouring of personality. My hands-down favorite location is the Deep Eddy on Lake Austin Blvd. You haven’t lived until you’ve gone for a jog/bike/walk around town lake and then popped in for a reward smoothie. There are so many locations in Austin. You’re bound to be near one at any given moment.
Daily Juice – Just because Juiceland is my favorite, doesn’t mean I don’t love Daily Juice and go there often. Their smoothies and juices are superb and they offer plenty of healthy, grab-and-go food options: açaí bowls, garden toasts, hot soups, and salads.
The Soup Peddler – David Ansel began his business selling soup from his bicycle in South Austin, hence the name “Soup Peddler.” In 2010 he opened a brick and mortar that sold his famous soups along with juices, smoothies, grab-and-go, sandwiches and desserts. Everything on the menu is extremely high quality and well curated. If you go to Castle Hill Fitness, stop by the location next door after class.
Breath and Body Yoga – Breath and Body is my sister-in-law’s favorite yoga studio. The focus here is on form and breath in their Power Vinyasa classes, which are gently heated to around 80-90 degrees. 55+ Yoga (for ages 55 and up), Next Generation (for ages 8 to 16), and Prenatal classes are also offered. Single drop-ins are $25. Cheaper rates are available to students, kids and yoga teachers.
Castle Hill Fitness – Castle Hill Fitness is my go-to workout when I’m in town. The pace is intense, but it never ceases to be welcoming and positive. If you like to work hard and have fun, this is the place for you. They have two locations: one in the downtown area and one in the 360 area. Single visit passes for $20 are available, as well as community classes for $11. Sign up for yoga, pilates, cardio dance, HIIT, water classes, and cycling classes. Check out the schedule. If you are into it, they most likely offer it!
CorePower Yoga – This nationwide chain can’t be beat for variety and convenience. The Austin Monarch location is on 5th Street, which is ideal for anyone staying downtown. There’s something for everyone with a long list of classes that includes CorePower Yogas 1, 1.5, 2, and 3; CoreCardio Circuit, Hot Power Fusion, Yoga Sculpt and Core Restore. Single classes are $28.
Crush Fitness – Crush Fitness is another favorite of mine. These are 45-55 minute HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) classes with equal length intervals of cardio (treadmill) and strength training (weight bench). These classes are intense and definitely not for anyone looking for a light workout. They dim the red lights and turn up the music. It feels kind of like a hip hop workout cave.
Love Cycling – Love Cycling Studio offers a 45 minute “rhythmic ride” called the Higher Love class. The music moves you as you tapback, push up, and crunch yourself to elation and exhaustion. An arm workout with weights can also be expected. If 45 minutes isn’t enough, sign up for the 60 minute Extra Love class. Single classes are offered for $22.
SoulCycle – It’s hard to believe anyone would need an introduction to SoulCycle. If you haven’t been, you’ve heard of it. These 45 minute classes, where attendees “ride together as a pack in candlelit studios to the rhythm of one-of-a-kind playlists,” inspire something akin to religious devotion. There are two locations in Austin. One in the Domain Northside and one downtown on Congress. Single classes are available for $30.
Dane’s Body Shop – Dane’s offers a free Community Style class on the first and third Sundays of every month from 9:30am-10:30am. The first Sunday is at the Hyde Park location and the third is at the Manor location. Click here for further details.
Outdoor Voices – This amazing line of fitness apparel started in Austin. Their flagship store offers “doing things” classes, which are free to the public. The schedule changes, so visit here to see what’s currently being offered.
Whole Foods “Fitness on the Plaza” – The Whole Foods Lamar location has a rooftop plaza, where they offer free fitness classes every single day of the week. The workouts vary. Sometimes it’s yoga, bootcamp, or pilates. Sometimes it’s a Fit4Mom stroller strides class. To see what’s on the schedule, visit here.
Hike-and-Bike Trail – If there is an aspect of Austin I miss the most, it’s the hike-and-bike trail. It’s the perfect place to get outside and run, walk, bike or push a stroller. Meet up with friends, take the kids, or get some alone time. It’s perfect for all of those things. It’s a ten mile loop that can easily be broken up into smaller distances. There is a 3-mile, 4-mile, 5-mile, and 7-mile loop. It’s mostly flat and the ground is soft. Here is a great map. If you’d like to rent a bike, I highly recommend Barton Springs Bike Rental and Tours. The prices are great, the staff is friendly and it’s super easy to jump on the trail from where they’re located.
Barton Springs Pool – I’ll be honest, I can’t swim here. I like my pool to feel like a bathtub and Barton Springs is oh so very, very cold. They say it has an “average temperature of 68-70 degrees, ideal for year round swimming.” I’ve been there in all kinds of weather and I’ve never once found it to be “ideal.” Still, I have to mention it because lots of people do like to swim there… especially kids and hairy, old men. It’s unique. The whole three acre pool is fed from underground springs. The grassy banks are perfect for sunbathing. There is shade. The people watching is some of the best on the planet. It would have been sacrilege not to mention it here.
Stand-up paddle boarding, canoeing and kayaking around town lake is always a good time. Take the kids, spend the afternoon with your sweetie, laugh with your BFF, or just chill alone. I always rent from the Rowing Dock. The prices are fair, the equipment is in good shape and it’s easy to park. Make sure you pack sunscreen and water. Leave yourself enough time to take it slow, spot turtles, and explore. SupATX is another paddle board rental location, which can be accessed from the hike-and-bike trail.
The Barton Creek Greenbelt – The Barton Creek Greenbelt, referred to as simply “The Greenbelt” by locals, is 12 miles of wilderness trails. Locals use the trails for hiking, mountain biking, swimming, rock climbing and bird watching. For a detailed run-down of entry points and directions to swimming holes, bike paths, rock climbing walls and hikes click here.
Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve Trail – Here is another wilderness trail great for hiking and running. It’s less known than The Greenbelt or the Hike-and-Bike, so it’s good if you are wanting a quieter spot. AllTrails describes it as a “1.8 mile lightly trafficked loop trail located near Austin that features a waterfall and is rated as moderate.” Bikes, pets, picnics, and smoking are prohibited.
Milk and Honey Spa – Milk and Honey is continually voted “Best Spa” by Austin Chronicle and Austin Monthly readers. It’s no wonder why. The facilities are clean and beautiful. The staff is friendly and professional. They use natural and organic ingredients. Treatments include nails, massage, facials, waxing; body steams, polishes and wraps; as well as salon services. It costs what you would expect at a high-end, top rated spa.
Golden Fortune Spa – If you’re looking for something a little more under the radar and cheaper than Milk and Honey, Golden Fortune Spa is a great option with super clean facilities and a professional staff. Their specialty is massage and they offer different combinations of “chair relax,” “table relax” and “foot joy.” Prices range from $38 to $86.
Sole Foot Spa – Here is another top notch, clean massage spot. Don’t let the name fool you. Their professional masseuses offer back, hand and foot massages. Pricing ranges between $38-$56.