After Landing: Austin
After Landing is a travel guide series dedicated to bringing you insider tips and local recommendations on what to see and do in some of our favorite cities. Check back often for new destinations.
For the second year in a row, Austin, Texas, was named the best place to live in the US, and it's easy to see why. While not everyone can live here, everyone can certainly visit. And when you do visit, you should reference this insider guide full of tips and recommendations from our employees aka our own travel experts who have explored Austin and know the city well.
Get to know the Live Music Capital of the World
Chosen as the state's capital in 1839, Austin was originally called Waterloo. Shortly afterward, the city was named Austin after the father of Texas, Stephen F. Austin, the republic's first secretary of state. Now a growing city with a small-town vibe, Austin combines some of America's most laid-back bars and music venues with incredible street art, Tex-Mex cuisine and outdoor beauty.
You'll fly into Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, eight miles south-west of downtown. Jump on the 100 bus and be downtown in 25 minutes. They run every 30 minutes, priced $1.25 one way.
Where to stay
To get your bearings, think of Austin as a city of two halves, divided by Lady Bird Lake. The Lake is a reservoir not a lake but it feels more like a river, dividing Austin into North and South.
To the north is downtown, home to the financial district, museums, upscale bars and restaurants, but also the iconic Dirty Sixth, a stretch of dive bars and gloriously grungy gig venues.
South of the Lake is South Congress Avenue, or what the locals call SoCo. This side of town boasts a mellower, laid-back vibe and an excellent mix of independent boutiques, restaurants, music and art venues, hip coffee houses and an ever-growing number of food trucks. While traffic and driving can present problems in Austin, both halves are easy to explore on foot.
While it's possible to find excellent hotel options to suit all budgets south of the river, you'll generally have more choices downtown.
What to see & do
"The locals always say, 'keep Austin weird,' and that's exactly what it is. So diverse and weird, from bats under the bridge on South Congress to fabulous Americana music by Dale Watson, to bingo at Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon to Lala's, a bar decorated like Christmas all year long," — Miriam S. San Francisco base supervisor.
Plan to spend a lot of time outdoors: Austin is home to more than 300 parks and more than 30 miles of urban trails, and they're full of healthy looking Austinites. When the sun's shining, a stroll through Zilker Park is hard to beat. But give it a try by hopping aboard the miniature retro train that winds along the river and through some of the park's 350 acres. It's also home to Barton Springs Pool, an outdoor pool with crystal-clear water with supposed healing properties.
Head to Lady Bird Lake, and you can ride bikes, kayak, paddleboard or just stroll. The Ann & Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail & Boardwalk is a beautifully scenic 10-mile trail that loops around the Lake and can be shortened via several bridges. For a more elevated view, head to nearby Mount Bonnell. It's only 775ft, but it offers sweet views of Austin and beyond.
For history, head to the Texas Capitol and take a free tour or watch government in action – the visitors' balconies overlook the House of Representatives and Senate chamber galleries, open to the public when state legislature is in session.
"Austin has a special place in my heart. It was the place my husband and I moved in together and later got married. It is such a cool, hip and laid back area. One of my favorite things is Rainy street: it's where they have taken homes and turned them into bars and backyard hotspots. Very fun and trendy," says Denver based flight attendant, Jera B.
Austin's indie art scene is unmissable. Graffiti and murals adorn buildings throughout the city, from Bob Dylan and Bob Marley to friendly frogs and sausage dogs, you're essentially strolling through the city's open-air art gallery. Head for Hope Outdoor Gallery for the most remarkable collection. If you prefer a more 'conventional' set-up — i.e. a roof on your gallery – Austin Art Garage and Art On 5th are two of many worth visiting.
If you only visit one Austin store, make sure it's Uncommon Objects, a vast collection of curious oddities that has to be seen to be believed.
And don't leave town without watching Austin's bats. At dusk, between mid-March and early November, some 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats nest under Congress Avenue Bridge and emerge to feed on insects at dusk. Watch from the banks of the Colorado or hop aboard a bat boat.
What to eat & drink
While there's much more to Austin's food scene than tacos and BBQ, you'd be a fool to skip town without sampling both. For tacos, kick-start the day with breakfast tacos at the legendary Torchy's Tacos, Güero's or Juan In A Million, standouts in a city spoiled for choice. For drool-worthy BBQ, head to the legendary Franklin Barbeque (lunchtime only) and stand in line.
Brittany G. pictured with a friend outside of Salt Lick | Photo credit: Brittany G.
Whatever you eat, wash it down with craft beer. Few cities have embraced the craft beer movement more than Austin, with Easy Tiger, Craft Pride or Batch Craft Beer & Kolaches at the forefront.
"I went to Austin with a group of friends and had the ultimate day — we bought cowboy boots at Allen's Boots and then wore them to the Salt Lick. We bought local beer because the wait at Salt Lick is so long but were able to sit under the trees, eat amazing food and have a great time. I highly recommend for trips with friends as it provides good fun," says advertising manager, Brittany G.
Alternatively, for killer cocktails and the kudos that comes from finding a hip-but-hard-to-locate bar, head to Garage on Colorado. It's hidden inside a multi-story car park and though it has no sign, you'll know you're near when you see the My Name Is Joe coffee trailer parked out front.
"And for breakfast anytime head to Magnolia Café," says Miriam S. "Magnolia Café has an amazing and eclectic menu and is just up the hill (on South Congress) from the Continental Club which you should also add to your list for live music."
Austin focus: Live music
Thanks to the annual SXSW festival and a world famous live music scene, Austin proudly proclaims itself to be the Live Music Capital of the World'. Head to Geraldine's, Antone's or Paramount Theatre and you'll quickly see why. Check the Austin Chronicle, available everywhere, for live listings.
Best time to visit
Unless you enjoy sweat and almost unbearable humidity, avoid Austin in the summer — the temperature climbs into the mid and high-90s from June through August. September-November and March-May are more bearable (70s and 80s), while the winter months (December-February) stay mild and dry. But be aware that if you visit in March, the city is swamped with SXSW festival goers.
United Airlines offers flights to Austin from many cities throughout the U.S. For more information and to book your Austin adventure, go to United.com or download our convenient United app. And while you're there, share your adventures on social media with the hashtag #UnitedJourney.
Discover more destinations in the After Landing series:
Canada's largest city spreads out along the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, and it's a dynamic, multicultural and inclusive experience like almost no other place on earth. Not only is Toronto a thriving living city,it's also become one of the world's truly must-visit destinations. Regularly ranked as one of the greatest places to live, Toronto is the cultural center of the country and home to the biggest events, the most pro sports and the greatest concentration of theaters and restaurants.
Recent decades have seen regular multi-million-dollar upgrades to the city's public spaces, with a slew of great museums, iconic architecture and the redevelopment of the now glittering lakefront adding to the city's appeal.
Add in an ever-growing number of world-class hotels, upbeat nightlife that runs from dusk until dawn and a vibrant and diverse culinary scene influenced by the eclectic makeup of the city's people. Bright and bustling, cosmopolitan and cultured, unpredictable and energetic, Toronto has become one of the greatest cities on earth.
What you see and where you go will depend on the length of your stay. A week is good, longer is better. But even a long weekend will give you a taste of 'The Six' — one of the city's many nicknames, reworked recently as 'The 6ix' by one of its most famous sons, Drake.
However long you stay, you can't hope to see it all. So, consider what follows a starting point for your first visit…
City Hall, Toronto
The checklist sites
No visit to The Six can be considered complete without ticking off several of Toronto's true heavyweight sights. All of the following are in or within easy reach of the city's compact, walk-able and very vibrant center.
The CN Tower is unmissable in every sense, a vast freestanding spire that looks down upon the city and takes its place as one of the 'Seven Wonders of the Modern World'. Head up for the city's best 360-degree views, or get your heart racing on the EdgeWalk — a journey around the circumference of the tower's main pod, 116 stories high and tethered by a harness.
Back on solid ground, Ripley's Aquarium is almost right next door to the CN Tower and is home to 16,000 aquatic animals and the Dangerous Lagoon. A moving sidewalk that whisks you through a long tunnel surrounded by sharks and stingrays is guaranteed to make your heart race all over again.
Also close to the CN Tower is the Rogers Center, home to Canada's only baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Visit on game day for the full experience, or take the stadium tour to go behind the scenes and through closed doors.
In a city of so many museums and galleries, the Royal Ontario Museum stands out. Not just because it's home to a world-class collection of 13 million artworks, cultural objects and natural history specimens, but as much because it hosts exciting Friday night events that include dance, drink and top DJs.
Two other must ticks include the Art Gallery of Ontario, which houses 95,000 works of art and is free for visitors under 25, and the Hockey Hall of Fame, which taps into Canada's national obsession in stunning depth.
Art Gallery of Ontario
Casa Loma is a must-visit Gothic castle in the heart of the city. North America's only castle is filled with artworks and treasures from Canada and beyond, but its big pull is the network of hidden tunnels to explore as they stretch out beneath the city.
Toronto's multi-cultural makeup is visible all across the city but reflected best in its remarkable culinary scene (see Where to eat and drink). The city's 'fresh and local' mantra is perfectly showcased at St. Lawrence Market, one of the world's greatest food experiences. Pay it a visit and grab a peameal bacon sandwich — a Canadian staple invented in Toronto and now considered the city's signature dish.
St. Lawrence Market
Afterwards, walk off the calories by wandering the historic cobblestone and car-free Distillery District. Once a vast whiskey distillery and an important spot during prohibition, historians mention that even Al Capone would visit the Distillery to load alcohol destined for the States . This iconic landmark now distils creativity within the 19th century buildings now home to hip restaurants, bars, independent boutique stores, galleries and theaters. Visit in December for the Toronto Christmas Market.
Finally, don't even think about returning home without having had a picture taken with your head poking through an 'O' of the multicolored, 3D Toronto sign at City Hall — the most Insta-worthy location in a city of so many. You'll need to head there early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
If you stay long enough, take a ferry and hop across to Toronto Islands, a chain of 15 small islands in Lake Ontario just south of the mainland. They're home to beaches, a theme park and a breathtaking view of the city's skyline and will very happily fill a full day of your stay.
The bucket list
You absolutely cannot leave Toronto without having witnessed the power of the Niagara Falls and its hypnotic mist up close. Trying to visit the Falls from the States is a trip on its own, but it's almost non-optional when you're less than two hours away in Toronto. Take the trip, buy the T-shirt and tick off one of the world's must-see sights.
Explore like a local
Away from the sleek, gleaming towers of downtown lie many of Toronto's less obvious but no less essential attractions. West Queen West is Toronto's hippest neighborhood and artistic heart, a one-mile strip of very chic galleries, stores, restaurants and boutique hotels. Kensington Market is a fantastically chaotic neighborhood and perhaps the best example of the city's famous multiculturalism. It's not a market as the name implies, but a collection of independent shops, vintage boutiques, art spaces, cafés, bars and restaurants from every corner of the globe.
The Bata Shoe Museum is one of the city's quirkiest collections, an unexpectedly fascinating exhibit that retraces the 4,500-year history of footwear. And as you wander the city, you can't fail to notice that Toronto's walls are alive with graffiti. Take a free 90-minute walking tour through the back alleys of Queen Street West and down Graffiti Alley to gain a better understanding of the city's street art scene. If you visit during the sunnier months, escape the hustle by heading just east of the center to High Park, the green heart of the city where forests, walking trails, picnic spots and even a zoo await you. Ideal to unwind after a long day of urban adventures.
When to go With the sun shining, May through October is a great time to visit, but the city is alive through all four seasons. The Spring and Autumn months are ideal as the humidity and visitor numbers are lighter, while Toronto comes alive through the colder months through a wide array of winter celebrations. One of the most spectacular is the Aurora Winter Festival, a six-week celebration that sees the Ontario Place, West Island transformed into four mystical worlds. Whichever season you choose, plan to stay for at least five nights to get a true flavor of the city.
Toronto skyline view
Where to stay To be at the heart of most of the attractions you'll want to see, aim for downtown. One of the best options is the Marriott City Center, not only because it's located right next to the CN Tower but also because it's attached to the iconic Rogers Center where the Toronto Blue Jays play and countless concerts and popular events are held.
Toronto Blue Jay stadium
Opt for a Stadium room and you'll look out onto the field. If you want to experience Toronto's non-stop nightlife, the Entertainment District is the place to be. If you're looking for a luxury experience, discover Canada's first St. Regis hotel in the heart of downtown.
Where to eat and drink Nowhere is Toronto's incredible diversity more evident than in its food scene — taste Toronto and you're tasting the world. The city is brimming with restaurants and cafés serving everything from high-end fine dining to comfort food from an informal neighborhood joint — plus every option imaginable in between.
For fine dining, consider Alo, Canis and Edulis. Book a table at Canoe, Lavelle, The One Eighty or 360 at the CN Tower and you're guaranteeing a view as spectacular as the food. Or experience the city's remarkable fusion food at DaiLo (French-Cantonese), El Catrin (Mexican-French) and the unexpected mashup of Rasta Pasta (Jamaican-Italian).
The above suggestions don't even scratch the surface of a food scene to rival any city on earth, with options to suit every taste and any budget.
How to get around Toronto is perfect to explore on foot or via a growing network of cycle routes. For a quicker journey, buy a Presto card to use the TTC, Toronto's subway, streetcar and bus system.
How to get there Fly into Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) with United and you're around 15 miles west of the city center. The most comfortable route in is via the Union Pearson Express, which runs every 15 minutes and gets you downtown in 25 minutes ($13).The TTC is a cheaper option at under $5, but it can take an hour and a half and involves a number of transfers, while a taxi will take around 30 minutes and cost $45.
United flies to Toronto from numerous U.S. cities including our Hub city locations. Book your trip via united.com or by downloading the United app.
Around the web
Following the devastating wildfires in Australia and powerful earthquakes that shook Puerto Rico last week, we're taking action to make a global impact through our international partnerships as well as nonprofit organizations Afya Foundation and ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency).
Helping Puerto Rico recover from earthquakes
Last week, Puerto Rico was hit with a 5.2 magnitude earthquake, following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake it experienced just days before. The island has been experiencing hundreds of smaller quakes during the past few weeks.
These earthquakes destroyed crucial infrastructure and left 4,000 people sleeping outside or in shelters after losing their homes. We've donated $50,000 to our partner charity organization Airlink and through them, we've helped transport disaster relief experts and medical supplies for residents, as well as tents and blankets for those who have lost their homes. Funding will go towards organizations within Airlink's partner network, which includes Habitat for Humanity, Mercy Corps and Americares, to help with relief efforts and long-term recovery.
Australian wildfire relief efforts
Our efforts to help Australia have inspired others to make their own positive impact. In addition to teaming up with Ellen DeGeneres to donate $250,000 and launching a fundraising campaign with GlobalGiving to benefit those impacted by the devastating wildfires in the country known for its open spaces and wildlife, our cargo team is helping to send more than 600 pounds of medical supplies to treat injured animals in the region.
Helping us send these supplies is the Afya Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to improve global health by collecting surplus medical supplies and delivering them to parts of the world where they are most needed. Through Airlink, the Afya Foundation will send more than $18,000 worth of materials that will be used to treat animals injured in the Australian fires.
These medical supplies will fly to Melbourne (MEL) and delivered to The Rescue Collective. This Australian organization is currently focused on treating the massive population of wildlife, such as koalas, kangaroos, and birds, that have had their habitats destroyed by the recent wildfires. The supplies being sent include wound dressings, gloves, catheters, syringes and other items that are unused but would otherwise be disposed of.
By working together, we can continue to make a global impact and help those affected by natural disasters to rebuild and restore their lives
Australia needs our help as wildfires continue to devastate the continent that's beloved by locals and travelers alike. In times like these, the world gets a little smaller and we all have a responsibility to do what we can.
On Monday, The Ellen DeGeneres Show announced a campaign to raise $5 million to aid in relief efforts. When we heard about Ellen's effort, we immediately reached out to see how we could help.
Today, we're committing $250,000 toward Ellen's campaign so we can offer support now and help with rebuilding. For more on The Ellen DeGeneres Show efforts and to donate yourself, you can visit www.gofundme.com/f/ellenaustraliafund
We're also matching donations made to the Australian Wildfire Relief Fund, created by GlobalGiving's Disaster Recovery Network. This fund will support immediate relief efforts for people impacted by the fires in the form of emergency supplies like food, water and medicine. Funds will also go toward long-term recovery assistance, helping residents recover and rebuild. United will match up to $50,000 USD in donations, and MileagePlus® members who donate $50 or more will receive up to 1,000 award miles from United. Donate to GlobalGiving.
Please note: Donations made toward GlobalGiving's fund are only eligible for the MileagePlus miles match.
In addition to helping with fundraising, we're staying in touch with our employees and customers in Australia. Together, we'll help keep Australia a beautiful place to live and visit in the years to come.