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Architecture & Lodging

Best Bathroom Graffiti
The Liberty's Women's Room

Since the dawn of the printed scroll, reading in the loo has been a sacred tradition, and the bathroom stalls at the Liberty take this self-indulgence to a whole new level. No matter your sobriety or squatting preference, this latrine graffiti will hit you harder than a shot of well whiskey. From saucy and sassy to political and brassy, these stalls offer a better collection of life lessons, good-time phone numbers, heartbreak, and gender performance than a self-help book on a Chicken Soup bender – okay, maybe it is the well whiskey …. No matter. Go and have yourself a sit and sift through the brain trust of this think tank. Though frequently repainted, drunken proverbs are always on tap here.

The Liberty, 1618½ E. Sixth, 512/600-4791,

Best Boat House
Shore Vista Boat Dock

Boat down the waters of Lake Austin to catch a view of this gorgeous residential boathouse and waterfall. Designed by Bercy Chen Studio, the two-story cylindrical boathouse has a waterfall that recycles lake water cascading from the balcony on the second floor. A spiral staircase wraps around the house, accessible from the shore via a set of stepping stones. The first level includes a dock with space to cover a boat or small yacht. The second floor looks out onto the Canyonland Nature Preserve. It's so charming that it's enough to make you wish it was more than just a boathouse.

Bercy Chen Studio, 1111 E. 11th #200, 512/481-0092,

Best Dalí- or Gaudí-Inspired Bus Stop
Bus Stop at Manor & Rogge

Let's face it: Bus stops are generally hard, sleek, modern, and utilitarian. They may reflect a certain industrial aesthetic, but they are hardly media for artistic expression. A project of Green Doors, Stanley Studio architects, and JQ + Tsen structural engineers, the stop at the northeastern corner of Manor at Rogge bears a beautiful exception, surrealistic with a Southwestern touch. Picture some madman taking the same basic design as many of the more recent Capital Metro stops, such as the one in front of the Central Library branch Downtown, putting Silly Putty on it as if it were a Sunday comic strip, doing the requisite bending/warping/reshaping … then planting a cactus garden on the roof. Subversive, yet functional – this is great.

Best Eco Bar
Container Bar

Owned by Rainey Street bar maven Bridget Dunlap and designed by North Arrow Studio and Hendley Knowles Studio, Container Bar is one of the best examples of an eco bar in Austin. Driven by the movement of affordable and scalable reuse of shipping containers started by New York architect Adam Kalkin, they took seven shipping containers, stacked them at different heights, and spread them out to make a central courtyard. No easy task, it took the city of Austin four years to permit containers as a structure, but it was well worth the wait.

Container Bar, 90 Rainey, 512/320-0820,

Best Green Building Standards
Modern Live Oak Residences

Sett Studio’s modern residences at 900 and 902 West Live Oak, off of South Congress, were constructed to prove that green design should be the standard. The eco homes were built to be LEED certified, with airtight structural insulated panels and Sett's own charred wood, Shou-Sugi-Ban, from sustainably sourced pinewood timbers that are weather-, rot-, and bug-resistant. Sett proves that energy-efficient can be hip modern design, with open floor plans and natural light pouring through the windows.

Sett Studio, 501 N. I-35 Ste. 209-A, 512/200-2755,

Best Homey Porch
Donn's Bar-B-Que on 969

There are plenty of reasons to go to Donn's: The generous plates of smoky Texas ’cue with many sides to choose from and the most extensive breakfast menu you'll find at a barbecue joint. And we love the location on FM 969 for its friendly staff and long planks of communal seating. Our favorite feature, however, is a sweet little porch, where you can sup or wolf down that breakfast taco in the fresh air, away from the crowds. Don't expect some trendy, deliberately distressed lanai – it's just your basic screened-in patio hearkening back to a time when you had time to appreciate such simple things. Go with an open mind and the urge to hang out in abuela's backyard.

Donn's Bar-B-Q, 10003 FM 969, 512/928-0229,

Best House Rules
Rosewood Co-op

Painting, coloring, or creating murals on any wall; house battles with Nerf guns and samurai swords after Wednesday community dinners; and all of this can be done with or without clothes (except in the kitchen): These are the house rules at Rosewood Co-op. Founded in East Austin in 2011, Rosewood allows members to be their creative, diverse, and sustainable selves.

Rosewood Co-op, 1165 San Bernard,

Best Modest Monument
House of Elegance

The building and business at 1191 Navasota offers two legacies of Central East Austin in one. From 1952 through 1966, it was the headquarters of Teachers State Association of Texas, organized in 1884 to see to it that black students got quality educations and black educators good working conditions in segregated times. It’s entered into the National Register of Historic Places as a “contemporary style” building, but it boasts some still-attractive Fifties-mod flair. It’s a style that befits its current occupant, House of Elegance, which was opened by Ella Mae Pease in the Sixties and has served as a full-service salon and de facto neighborhood center for going on six decades now. It’s a living monument, active and present at a personal scale that’s becoming more and more scarce in the neighborhood. Which, come to think of it, makes it a trifecta of modest monumentality.

House of Elegance, 1191 Navasota, 512/476-9428

Best Moveable Beasts
Vintage Innovations

You'd probably be exiled from Austin if you didn't adore – like so many of us do – retro RVs, buses, and trailers. Seriously. Just turn in your hipster card now, detractors, and walk away. Local party people Vintage Innovations have a unique biz model that makes getting closer to your midcentury mobile-home-away-from-home easy – at least for a day or so at a time. VI specializes in finding these gems, buffing them up, and offering them as rentable party palaces. Throw a bash and have one of these renovated roadshows be the focal point. Highlights of their fleet include the on-the-road-again ex-tour-bus homes of John Denver and Willie Nelson, as well as a whopping 13,000-square-foot indoor event space of their own, colorfully decked out with gigantic works from local graffiti artists. So start making your Eventbrite list and gather up your party favors. You decide: You go to the party, or they bring the party to you.

Vintage Innovations, 1409 W. Third, 512/524-1390,

Best New B&B
The Fairview

The Ballards bought the property on Newning, four blocks from Congress Avenue, in 2000. Jimi was an executive for Oracle, Vivian a lawyer. They raised their kids while their mothers lived respectively in the carriage houses behind the main house. Last fall they had the brilliant idea to convert their home into an elegant bed & breakfast. The Fairview embodies the essence of historic mansion elegance on a hill. The beautiful gardens are becoming a favorite for weddings. The Fairview even offers dog-friendly rooms.

The Fairview, 1304 Newning, 512/402-6214,

Best New Crane in the Austin Skyline
Crane #2 at 15th & Red River

Best Place to Feel Like Mad Men Never Ended
Sawyer & Co.

Even though the series finale of our favorite period drama aired in May, it doesn't mean we can't reminisce about the swingin' Sixties in our own backyard. Designer Mickie Spencer (East Side Show Room, Swan Dive, Hillside Farmacy) spared no details when creating the stunning midcentury mod Sawyer & Co. that resides in the renovated Arkie's Grill space. The future-retro diner features an atomic barkcloth-inspired mural hand-painted by Spencer, and restored bright turquoise Arkie's booths that sit atop a blanket of AstroTurf on the patio. If sipping on an Old Fashioned at the counter bar doesn't make you feel like you made partner at Sterling Cooper, we don't know what will.

Sawyer & Co., 4827 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/531-9033,

Best Serious Moonlight
Moonlight Towers

The ladies are ubiquitous, almost to the point of being taken for granted – but this town would be doomed forever if their lights grew dim. Only 17 of the original 31 built in the 1890s remain. We hate to start heartfelt kudos on such a negative note, but let's face it, Austin, we do have a way of losing the stuff we love best. Fortunately, Slater knew better. Yes, Slater, the lovable stoner from Dazed and Confused who climbed to the top of a moonlight tower to utter these prophetic words: "Imagine how many people out there right now are … just goin' at it." He knew what was important – that moonlight brings out the beast. So do the folks at the essential moon tower info site, Austin Moonlight. They maintain one of the best and most easily accessible resources out there to shine a light on these treasures.

Austin PARD, 200 S. Lamar, 512/974-6700,

Moonlight Tower,

Best Squirrel Spa Vacation
Berdoll Pecan's Ms. Pearl

We promise no jokes about big nuts or beaver-bashing (sorry, Buc-ee!), especially since this gargantuan bushy-tailed rodent is, bless her heart, a dainty lady. But road warriors who regularly pass her landmark spot on Highway 71 may have been shocked this past spring to see the ol' squirrel – originally made in 2011 by the nutty geniuses at Blue Genie Art Industries – missing from her pedestal. But hold on, the kind folks at her home turf Berdoll Pecans told us. She just went on a spa vacation to get a new paint job and came back to a bigger, better stump.

Berdoll Pecan Candy & Gift Company, 2626 Hwy. 71 W., Cedar Creek, 800/518-3870,

Best What's Next in Austin Architecture
The NexusHaus

A group of University of Texas architecture students together with Germany's Technische Universitaet Muenchen came up with a plan to address the ever-growing Austin population and affordability issues with the development of the NexusHaus. Crowdfunded at $21,422, the NexusHaus is a one-story, 850-square-foot integration of solar and energy-efficient technology. Built with renewable and reusable materials, the house features solar panels on the flat roof providing enough electricity for AC, lighting, and appliances, and to charge an electric car. After heading to the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon in October, the NexusHaus will become an accessory dwelling unit in East Austin.

The Nexus Haus, 512/471-1922,

Most Dapper Do-Gooder Architect
Jack Sanders, Design Build Adventure

Jack Sanders was mentored by Samuel Mockbee at Auburn University's Rural Studio, which Sanders eventually ran. Sanders later co-produced Citizen Architect, a film about his mentor. Here are a few other accomplishments: He started Design Build Adventure in 2005, has taught architecture at UT, is representing District 9 in the city of Austin's Drawing Lines Project, and heads up the sandlot baseball team of architects, writers, chefs, and musicians, the Texas Playboys. His credits include the manifestation of Liz Lambert's El Cosmico, and projects with Robert Plant, Rick Linklater, Tito's Vodka, and New Orleans' Voodoo Music Experience. On top of all this, proceeds from his metal workshops go to HAAM. While he's known for his hat and smile, his love of collaboration and team brainstorming, and his "no panic" attitude, we'd like to recognize his do-good nature.


Best Building Under 10 Stories
Texas State Capitol

There's no need to tell you how breathtakingly monumental the Texas State Capitol is because you already know that. What you might not know, is that on top of the dome stands a 15-foot, 7-1/2-inch tall woman called the Goddess of Liberty. Perhaps you know her by her street name, Old Lady? Besides the fact that the original 3,000-pound zinc version of her was placed atop the dome in 1888, she's nothing like an old lady. In fact, if you see her face up-close (at the Bullock Texas State History Museum a few blocks to the north), she bears an odd resemblance to a stone-faced Christopher Walken. With a sword in her right hand and a star in her left, the Goddess is basically the baddest aluminum bitch on this side of the Mississippi. Not to mention that thanks to her, the Texas Capitol stands taller than the U.S. Capitol, and that's just one more reason to love it.

Texas State Capitol, 1100 Congress, 512/305-8400,

Best Downtown View
The Long Center

When you want to see, truly see, what makes our city so special, this is the definitive place to go. Our ever-changing Downtown skyline frames the Auditorium Shores landscape, and the brightest mirror of the city, Lady Bird Lake, shines gloriously in the middle of it all. Perch on the city terrace, soak it all in, and thank the bright Texas stars above that you call this place home.

Long Center for the Performing Arts, 701 W. Riverside, 512/474-5664,

Best Historic Site
Texas State Capitol

There's no need to tell you how breathtakingly monumental the Texas State Capitol is because you already know that. What you might not know, is that on top of the dome stands a 15-foot, 7-1/2-inch tall woman called the Goddess of Liberty. Perhaps you know her by her street name, Old Lady? Besides the fact that the original 3,000-pound zinc version of her was placed atop the dome in 1888, she's nothing like an old lady. In fact, if you see her face up-close (at the Bullock Texas State History Museum a few blocks to the north), she bears an odd resemblance to a stone-faced Christopher Walken. With a sword in her right hand and a star in her left, the Goddess is basically the baddest aluminum bitch on this side of the Mississippi. Not to mention that thanks to her, the Texas Capitol stands taller than the U.S. Capitol, and that's just one more reason to love it.

Texas State Capitol, 1100 Congress, 512/305-8400,

Best Hotel
Hotel San José

Austin's epoch of maximum minimalism, the Hotel San José continues to set the bar in local lodging. People forget how unaccommodating the landscape was before Liz Lambert put her pomo boho SoCo paws all up in it. The Lambie empire now stretches to Marfa, San Antonio, and back (fame and fortune is a magnet, after all). But no matter the number of little chunky red pieces on the game board, the noble San José remains the flagship in her hotelopoly. Each room here is gloriously spartan, with feet-deep mattresses wrapped like tight little sushis in plain, luxurious white cotton and accented in Jaipuri playfulness. Reclaimed wood, simple accent chairs, and modest desk lamps round out an aesthetic that's as calming as it's been influential. Here it is, Austin, your moment of Zen.

Hotel San Jose, 1316 S. Congress, 512/852-2350,

Best Hotel/Motel Room Decor
Hotel San José

Austin's epoch of maximum minimalism, the Hotel San José continues to set the bar in local lodging. People forget how unaccommodating the landscape was before Liz Lambert put her pomo boho SoCo paws all up in it. The Lambie empire now stretches to Marfa, San Antonio, and back (fame and fortune is a magnet, after all). But no matter the number of little chunky red pieces on the game board, the noble San José remains the flagship in her hotelopoly. Each room here is gloriously spartan, with feet-deep mattresses wrapped like tight little sushis in plain, luxurious white cotton and accented in Jaipuri playfulness. Reclaimed wood, simple accent chairs, and modest desk lamps round out an aesthetic that's as calming as it's been influential. Here it is, Austin, your moment of Zen.

Hotel San Jose, 1316 S. Congress, 512/852-2350,

Best Motel
Austin Motel

Austin Motel’s delightfully suggestive sign may serve as the unofficial gateway to South Congress, but it has so much more to offer visitors. An institution since 1938, it showcases the perfect mix of historic charm and local quirk, making it the go-to place for visitors who want an authentic taste of the city. Glimpses of classic Austin are fading fast, but Austin Motel – which rightly calls itself “modernized but not commercialized” – remains true to its roots.

Austin Motel, 1220 S. Congress, 512/441-1157,

Best Patio Deck
The Oasis

They’ve seen fire, and they’ve seen rain. They’ve seen the kind of drought we thought would never end. But Austinites know we’ll always see Oasis sunsets again. Since 1979, folks have headed to the cliffside spot to glimpse the beautiful orb as it tucks behind the lake for the night. It’s the biggest outdoor restaurant in Texas, so there’s room for you, too.

The Oasis, 6550 Comanche Trl., 512/266-2442,

Best Restroom
TIE: Driskill Hotel; The W

The bathrooms at the W and the Driskill Hotel couldn't be more different, but they share the fact that they are the best, according to the crossed legs of our readers. The W bathrooms are modern, chic, and geometric, and, unlike the johns in their hotel rooms, do have doors. The bathrooms at the Driskill are luxurious, rustic, classical, and popular for their spacious separate stall rooms. Thanks to these palatial potty places, Austinites get to pee not only in style but in peace.

The Driskill Hotel, 604 Brazos, 512/439-1234,

W Hotel, 200 Lavaca, 512/542-3600,

Best Sign
El Arroyo

"Cat Puns Freak Meowt," "World Cup Austin, Free Enchiladas for FIFA Executives," and "Frankly, Autocorrect, I'm Getting Tired of Your Shirt," are just a few of the dispatches issued from El Arroyo (Spanish for The Arroyo) out toward passing traffic on West Fifth. Think Mark Twain with a margarita, and you, like so many bumper-to-bumper vehicles, are mostly there.

El Arroyo, 1624 W. Fifth, 512/474-1222,

Best Skyscraper
Frost Bank Tower

It's the bauble of Austin's skyline that puts Gotham's Wayne Tower to shame. At 33 floors and 245,000 square feet of glass, Frost Bank looms as beautiful as it is brutal. The crown's folded panes recall a blooming lotus flower, and the exterior lighting has won industry awards. It's also home for businesses, a coffee shop, restaurants, a dry cleaner, and a 30-foot cedar tree on the top.

Frost Bank Tower, 401 Congress, 512/473-4343,

Best Small Lodging (Under 11 Rooms)
Heywood Hotel

Who is Zelda? She's the neighborhood hen that sometimes pops by the Heywood Hotel, but don't let that eggcentricity lead you to think that this bundle of boudoirs (seven total) is one of those anything-goes/roast-a-goat-in-your-room pleasure palaces. Sure, there's pleasure to be had, but it comes from the concerted efforts of the folks at the Heywood who foster a sense of calm and quietude in the midst of a churning East Cesar Chavez. A feat. A dream.

Heywood Hotel, 1609 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/271-5522,

Best Statue
Stevie Ray Vaughan

Arguably one of the city's most revered figures, SRV has reclaimed his reigning title set in stone (bronze, actually) for two years in a row. Sorry, Willie, there's always next year. And we have this statue to thank for one of the rare moments of levity during this year's floods – seeing el Vaughan with his No. 1 walk on water in a number of viral photographs was only confirmation of his glory (and how high the waters had risen).

Stevie Ray Vaughan Statue,

Best Window Display

For the goth kid who grew into a stylish, black-on-black wearing adult, Blackmail’s window displays can make the heart stop. Once bitten, twice in love, the boutique’s noir style evokes something both brooding and beautiful. Like the Paris of Anne Rice, or the rumbling rhythm behind a Siouxsie & the Banshees song, Blackmail’s storefront simultaneously frightens and invites SoCo shoppers to fall into the dark side.

Blackmail, 1202 S. Congress, 512/804-5881,

Best "Whoever Holds the Conch"
21st Street Co-op

This student housing cooperative offers a glimpse into what might have happened if the grown-up lads from Lord of the Flies had made a second go of it – but with a much, much happier ending, of course. Residents, as mutual owners, have a say in the decision-making (and cleaning and cooking) – very egalitarian, indeed. There are other co-ops managed by College Houses, but the tree-house-style 21st Street Co-op (located off of its namesake), is touted as the "first building in North America designed from the ground up to be a co-op." It's also the only clothing-optional co-op managed by College Houses. Just sayin'.

21st Street Co-op, 707 W. 21st, 512/476-5678,

Best (Allegedly) Haunted House
Pike House

So, here's the story: There was this one time when a group of frat guys decided to haze their pledges. Things got a little out of hand, to say the least, and one pledge died. Instead of picking up the rotary phone to call the police, they told the remaining pledges to write down the events of the night in their pledge books. Sworn to secrecy, the pledges were told to burn their pledge books and nail them to the wall of the room where their "brother" died. No one could, like, know what happened that night. Ever. Their biggest mistake (besides committing manslaughter) may have been in not researching the history of the frat house. If they'd have known that, according to lore, it was once the site of a hospital where patients still wander the halls, then they might have splurged on a place with some Corinthian columns and a sand volleyball court. But we'll never know, because in 2007 some douche bag set the place on fire. What's left of the site is privately owned.

Pike House, 1132 Belvin, San Marcos

Best Austin Gone-by Mosaic
Hatgil & Frary's Panorama, KTBC Fox 7 Building

See how the beacon of blue emanates from atop the lean red-and-white broadcast tower. Note the notes of blue and red along one odd, random line along the UT Tower, or the strange, askew triangle that caps the Capitol entrance, or how the Capitol dome looks more like the Florence Cathedral than the home of the Texas Lege. It's jazzy. It's angular. It reeks of its era – capital-M Modernist – in the best way possible. It's so Saul Bass, we almost expect it to spring to life in a credit sequence of a Sixties Austin spy film. It's Panorama, a lovely li'l jewel almost hidden from sight in the outdoor part of the entrance to Fox 7's lobby. (Yes, you can go see it at any time.) Artists Michael Frary and Paul Hatgil were commissioned to create the 8'x10' mosaic on behalf of Lady Bird Johnson, then-owner of KTBC and the building in 1955. The box lights, the planters … We swear, if someone tears it down, we are going to just scream. It's a gift from an Austin of days gone by. When Austin was a very Gay Place. God bless Lady Bird. God bless Texas.

Fox 7, 119 E. 10th, 512/476-7777,

Best Brutalist Architecture
Perry-Castañeda Library

For too long has the PCL been one of the most underrated architectural works in town. Perhaps it's because the primary visitor base (students) only know it as the book-prison made for cramming. Perhaps because some people just can't appreciate architecture unless it's made of glass and has Shakira curves. But this library is a prime example of the oft-forsaken school of Brutalism, the midcentury concrete architecture commonly seen in government offices, institutions, and project housing. Though it's been long out of style, surely the hipster epicycles of cool make it due for a comeback? The PCL was opened in 1977 – near the very end of Brutalism's reign – but the outside edifice displays all the fundamentals: an imposing fortress-like appearance, sharp angles, a complex form out of simple geometry, rough macro-texture of repetitive windows, and those awesome walls of concrete that threaten to smash your ignorant meatbrain into a state of education. On a side note: Contrary to popular belief, the outline of the PCL does not look like the state of Texas. It's officially called a "rhomboid shape."

Perry-Castaneda Library, 101 E. 21st, 512/495-4250,

Best Fourth Time's a Charm
Hays County Courthouse

Now recognized by both the Texas Historical Commission and National Register of Historic Places, the Hays County Courthouse saw a lot less pomp and circumstance back when it was first established in 1848; the small log building that housed its courthouse also served as a church and school, among other public uses. It wasn't until 1861 when county officials employed C.F. Millett that Lady Justice got to stand in style atop the dome. The initial two-story pine building eventually burned, but the hopes and dreams of the people prevailed. Like a phoenix from the ashes, the county courthouse (now constructed out of limestone) rose again, thanks in part to architect F.E. Ruffini, who designed other county courthouses as well as buildings on the UT-Austin campus. And then there was another fire. This time it only destroyed the courthouse's top story. Another Austin architecture company, C.H. Page & Brother, swooped in to design the eclectic courthouse that can still be seen today (with restorations made in 1972) in the middle of the San Marcos Square.

Hays County Historic Courthouse, 111 E. San Antonio St., San Marcos, 512/393-7779,

Best Historic Emergency Response
3805 Red River

Our intimate affairs with chosen landmarks are often all passion with no responsibility. If you've ever caught yourself lusting after the vertical fins and cantilevered overhang, or felt embraced by the brown banding of this 1947 International Modern house in the Hancock neighborhood, you are not alone. The ardor shared by locals won't come to an end this year if citizens and preservation leaders prevail over a life-changing bulldozer. Due to a crack team of speakers from Mid Tex Mod, Preservation Austin, the Texas Historical Commission, and Preservation Texas, a unanimous vote by the Texas Historic Landmark Commission has so far forestalled tragedy, but saving this lover from the railroad tracks remains an uphill battle.

Mid Tex Mod,

Preservation Austin, 500 Chicon, 512/474-5198,

Texas Historical Commission, 512/463-6100,

2 more locations

Best Hotel Restaurant & Pool Redo
Chavez and the Radisson Pool

Where once clunky chain-restaurant formula sat, a glorious expanse of grace and efficiency now resides. Austin architectural legend Michael Hsu and design branders FÖDA Studio have given Shawn Cirkiel's chavez – located at the corner of Congress & Lady Bird Lake in the old TGI Friday's – a modern and casual flow worthy of the real estate. Chavez beams with warm woods, hieroglyphic letters, bright tile, and floor-to-ceiling windows offering guests an appreciation of the landmark spot – home of Austin's nightly bat exodus. Outside, four single-stream fountains create perfect arcs to accentuate the surroundings and highlight what is now, clearly, way more than some after-thought chain hotel pool. This is a gentle relaxation station delivered with vision in the bustling heart of a vibrant city.

chavez, 111 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/478-2991,

Radisson, 111 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/478-9611,

Best Lone Pickle
Pickle Parkway Signs

There he goes, riding high in the Texas sky! The lone pickle! Commuters and rootin' tooters who take the toll road, aka SH 130, peep this bright briny greeny on signs along Pickle Parkway, named for J.J. "Jake" Pickle, U.S. Rep from the 10th congressional district of Texas, 1963-95, champion of Social Security and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The green-and-white signs are a keen reminder of this cool guy who repped Texas in the U.S. House. If you're on that stretch of highway, headed south past Mustang Ridge, you are, according to Wikipedia, zooming along the "highest posted speed limit in the United States." That's one fast pickle!

Best Mall Overhaul
Highland Mall Becomes ACC

A college campus in a mall sounds like some grotesque joke in a dystopian movie about the gradual reduction of everything into a shopping experience. But, that's not what this is. In fact, it's the opposite: Austin Community College has bought what was Austin's first indoor shopping mall (1971) and is turning it into a modern education center, saving the building from probable demolition after years of decline. At 6,000 students in its first phase, this will be one of ACC's largest campuses. Oh! And if you wanted to shop at any of Highland Mall's remaining stores – business is expected to continue for the rest of the current tenant's leases. Everyone wins.

Austin Community College Highland Campus, 6101 Airport, 512/223-7300,

Best Overnight Deer Cafeteria

This sweet retreat on sylvan Cypress Creek in Wimberley is abundant, indeed. Fresh air: Fill those lungs. Long stretches of silence: Lounge near water's edge and dare to not feel content. Gentle friends: Check the bin for deer chow. The nice women who run the place keep it well-stocked. There's a routine: Ladle piles of the crunchy feed out along the stone wall between the lovely main house and cozy cabin. Then go back inside, stake out a window, and wait. Here they come! Bambi and dozens of doe-eyed buddies mosey up to enjoy the abundance of your generosity.

Abundance, 330 Mill Race, Wimberley, 512/517-0742,

Best Place to Nuzzle in the Bosom of Austin
Roof of the Contemporary Austin Jones Center

It's not until we find ourselves atop the Contemporary's Jones Center – to enjoy an arcane movie, a band, some party or another – that we remember. The sun is setting; even at the end of the hottest day, a breeze is blowing, and the sky is turning deep blue (ringed with violet if you're lucky). You look up toward the Johnson (that Johnson) family penthouse; you glance back toward the Capitol; you gaze down Congress. It's not the widest city view, but it has a comfortable familiarity you feel in your bones, and it's the one that inevitably makes us appreciate being in Austin, right here, right now.

Moody Rooftop at the Jones Center, 700 Congress, 512/453-5312,

Best Southern Gothic Manse
The Charles Johnson House/American Legion Hall

The burly columns of the historic two-story Charles Johnson House frame a perfect party loggia from which to enjoy the sprawling lawn that tumbles down to Veterans Drive, just west of MoPac, along the banks of Lady Bird Lake. Built in the mid 19th century by Swedish immigrant Johnson, the stately mansion has housed American Legion Travis Post 76 since the group purchased the property in the Twenties. Keenly aware of the architectural jewel in their possession, Post 76 hosts all of the social and military honor events you'd associate with a veterans' group. Not only do they produce their own music series fundraisers to keep the old gal in tip-top shape and to support veterans' charities, they also offer this gorgeous piece of Austin history for rent for your next fiesta.

American Legion Travis Post 76, 404 Atlanta St., 512/767-0788,

Best Surprise Date Deck
Tuscany Market

While zipping along Austin's ever-developing 360, blink and you might miss a little hidden gem. Bring your date to Tuscany Market, and you might get a shoulder punch when you pull in: It's a gas station. A Wag-a-Bag to be precise, part of their migration south from dominating Austin's northern ring (Round Rock, Taylor, Hutto, Georgetown) but only recently plopping in ATX proper. But as cute as that W-a-B dachsie mascot might be, that's not even the thrill of this find. Go inside, and to the left, you'll encounter a small takeout counter of a mini-Austin Java, offering grab-and-gos (sandwiches, pastries, tacos) and their full coffee menu. Pretty great, right? Add to all of this, the real treat: an intimate and cozy deck with see-through railing to soak in all that Hill Country view. What a great little hideaway to enjoy a cuppa joe and a hand-hold, gazing out at the green. While Austin Java closes at an insane 6pm on weekdays (sunsets, people!), the Wag-a-Bag stays open 'til 11pm every eve (except Sunday, 10pm) for you late-night wooers. Grab some Hot Cheetos and your hot cheeto and take in that warm, sunset glow.

Austin Java 360, 3310 N. Capital of Texas Hwy., 512/732-2166,

Tuscany Market Wag-a-Bag, 3310 N. Capital of Texas Hwy. #100, 512/306-1302,

Best Sweeping Vista
St. Edward's University Main

No matter which way one turns, a climb on the stairs of the majestic St. Edward's Main Building affords a splendid view. The first "Main" was built on one of the highest points of Travis County back in 1888, the same year as the Texas State Capitol. Her limestone walls have withstood much, and this year marks a great restoration effort. At the end of the project, and for the first time in over two decades, students and neighbors of the campus will hear the peals of the original bell, set in the tower back in 1904. Once the scaffolding is cleared away, sit on the steps, and take in the view to the north. Across the track field and beyond the puff of treetops, Austin's Downtown seems full of promise and hope.

St. Edward's University, 3001 S. Congress, 512/448-8400,

Best Way to Rest in Peace
Save Austin Cemeteries

We dream that, after death, we at least will leave a trace of our passing in stone and soil. But like the flesh, even the most imposing tombstone will crumble. The volunteers of nonprofit Save Austin Cemeteries seek to preserve not just the stones themselves, but the meaning of funeral rites. Since 2004, they have not only helped preserve graveyards and built a photo archive of tombs monumental and meager, but have also educated Austinites on how and why we say goodbye.

Save Austin Cemetaries, 512/917-1666,

Best Alternative Lodging
Firehouse Hostel

Just to the right of the check-in desk is Firehouse Hostel's famous sliding bookcase, which opens into a bar that riffs off of its speakeasy-style entrance. Dapper gents and fancy ladies sip the sweet nectar (no snake-oil here, boys), and then scurry up to their affordable lodgings to … continue the night's festivities.

Firehouse Hostel, 605 Brazos, 512/201-2522,

Best Bed & Breakfast
TIE: Adams House; Star of Texas Inn/Austin Folk House

It might be the heyday of the sharing economy and boutique hotels, but true B&Bs still rule when it comes to homey friendliness. A lovingly restored Colonial Revival tucked into the heart of Hyde Park, Adams House offers the luxurious, roomy digs of a country home in a walkable, central urban neighborhood; Duval’s restaurant row, groceries, and the flag store are all steps away, and it’s conveniently located for car and bus travel, too. Your other, practically perennial fave – Austin Folk House, so named for the rich display of outsider art in its hallway – is joined by its two-building sister space, Star of Texas Inn, this year. All three are located in the slightly more bustling West Campus area/central city, but they carve out calm and beautiful spaces of warmth and respite within.

Adams House Bed & Breakfast, 4300 Ave. G, 512/453-7696,

Austin Folk House, 506 W. 22nd, 512/472-6700,

Best Building Under 10 Stories
Driskill Hotel

Colonel Jesse Driskill may have been a wee bit overambitious building a four-star hotel in Austin, which, despite having been the state's capital for 47 years, was still a backwater cattle town in 1886. Nevertheless, we owe him a debt today, having praised the building's architecture, its food, its cocktails, and even its ghosts ever since. It's not surprising, then, that this magnificent edifice's no-holds-barred luxury water loo, too, should still come out on top. Rich wood, stained glass, chandeliers, and modern fixtures lend a certain splendor when popping one's squat.

The Driskill Hotel, 604 Brazos, 512/439-1234,

Best Downtown View
The Long Center

Austin is the fastest growing city in the U.S., so having any view of the Live Music Capital of the World® from your home will cost you a pretty penny (and probably your firstborn). But thanks to the civic-mindedness and grand, aesthetic foresight of this mesmerizing performance venue, we have one spectacular view of the city at our feet. The only decision to make here is whether to see Austin's ravishing skyline during the day or at night.

Best Historic Site
Texas State Capitol

She's the poster child for Big and Beautiful (and pink!), sure, but our beloved state Capitol's real draw is the 130 years of history scattered inside. It's the fortress where school kids and Texas newbies go to gape at the grand painting of the Battle of San Jacinto, and where they return years later as adults to lobby for causes or air their own grievances.

Texas State Capitol, 1100 Congress, 512/305-8400,

Best Hotel
Hotel San José

The 1936 heritage and contemporary minimalist decor of this boutique hotel give it a unique aura of low-key luxury and prim comfort. Located smack in the middle of the hip South Congress shopping district, this spot is known locally as much for its large parking lot parties – usually fundraisers for charity and disaster relief – as it is for its upscale service and amenities.

Hotel San Jose, 1316 S. Congress, 512/852-2350,

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