January 11, 2023
Tablet is your source for discovering the world’s most exciting boutique hotels — places where you’ll find a memorable experience, not just a room for the night. For over twenty years we’ve scoured the earth, evaluating hotels for every taste and budget, creating a hand-picked selection that’s proven and unforgettable. Now, we’re the official hotel selection of the legendary MICHELIN Guide.
Austin may no longer be quite as weird as it once was, but don’t throw in the towel just yet. Not all change is change for the worse: enter South Congress Hotel. In realizing its scope and purpose in the established “SoCo” neighborhood, Michael Hsu (architect) and MAI Studio (interior design) set out to accentuate, rather than quash, the character of their surroundings.
The building goes wide and relatively low-slung at just three stories, a conversation piece, to be sure, though not in the obnoxious-façade mode; muted colors and natural materials reign supreme inside and out. One negotiates the public spaces in series, passing through cool and inviting rooms in a tranquil succession of blued steel, rusticated bronze, white bricks, terra-cotta, and cedar accents — we expect it will age rather well.
It’s an exaggeration to say Bunkhouse owns this corner of Austin, but with the opening of their fourth hotel in the neighborhood, it’s not far off — the Hotel Magdalena joins the Saint Cecilia, the San José, and the Austin Motel as part of a growing mini-empire along South Congress Avenue. Hotel Magdalena is the only one of the four that was designed from a blank page and built from the ground up, in a style that gently recalls the 1970s, when Willie Nelson owned this plot of land, and opened the Austin Opry House on this very site.
The construction is mass timber, using wooden panels and beams in place of concrete or steel, a method that’s prized not just for aesthetics but for sustainability as well. The hotel’s elevated walkways and courtyards lend it a treehouse atmosphere, and the décor is also partially an homage to Barton Springs and the region’s rural lakeside getaways.
Once is happenstance; twice is coincidence; three times is brand identity. The Sydell Group’s third LINE Hotel once again transforms a faded mid-century chain hotel into a hip and contemporary boutique hotel, this time in Austin, Texas, on the shores of Lady Bird Lake. To be fair, the old Crest Inn’s exterior has more than a little bit of retro appeal — but it’s thanks to architect Michael Hsu and designer Sean Knibb that the LINE Austin is as stylish as it is today, mixing classic modernism and industrial-chic textures with some subtle nods to the geography and geology of Austin and the surrounding Hill Country.
The rooms all look out over either the lake or downtown Austin through full-length windows, and while they’re sparse and simple, they’re by no means uncomfortable. Equally important are the public spaces, like Arlo Grey, where Top Chef winner Kristen Kish applies a bit of French and Italian influence to American comfort food, and Alfred, a café with roots in Los Angeles. Coming soon is a rooftop bar with a view of the lake — and the LINE’s location, just on the north side of the Congress Bridge, places it within easy reach of an almost unimaginable amount of nightlife.
Amidst the hustle and bustle of South Congress Avenue, an oasis of therapeutic efficiency awaits even the most harried traveler at the Kimber Modern. Proprietor Kimber Cavendish strikes a balance between local and global, commissioning Austin-based architects to design the Zen-like structure and local artists to adorn its walls, finishing with understated international touches like Arne Jacobsen Egg chairs and Euroluce light fixtures.
The space is thoughtfully planned, incorporating aesthetically pleasant yet environmentally friendly elements into its scheme. Natural landscape and man-made geometrics were factored into the equation of Kimber Modern’s multi-level layout, while careful and purposeful placement of the window extrusions, coupled with the rain screen façade, keep out the Texas heat.
There’s no sense in denying that Austin has changed a lot in recent years, and while the advent of the Austin Proper Hotel will likely be an occasion for some grumbling about Californian imports, it’s a fine example of a city embracing change with open arms. While many Austin boutique hotels emphasize their down-home roots, the Proper Hotel is unapologetically urban, and architecturally, it’s as contemporary as they come. The design is by the same Kelly Wearstler who’s responsible for the mini-chain’s California installments, and the vibe, for all its style, isn’t shy about tending a bit upscale.
At the same time, the Austin Proper does reflect its setting, in its own way. Wearstler’s interiors are sensitive to the local context, and adapt to the colors, the patterns, and the materials of Texas, and make use of the work of local artists and artisans. There’s not a chance you’ll forget where you are — even without the views of Shoal Creek, Lady Bird Lake, and the Austin cityscape.
Many of the best Austin boutique hotels are family friendly. Especially the ones below. Please contact our Travel Specialists for information on specific amenities and activities.
The Heywood Hotel
If you want your Austin boutique hotel experience to include an on-site bar, we’d recommend the below. Remember to check in with our Travel Specialists for information on hours and availability.
Austin Proper Hotel
South Congress Hotel
If you want your Austin boutique hotel experience to include an on-site restaurant, we’d recommend the below. Remember to check in with our Travel Specialists for information on hours and availability.
The Carpenter Hotel
Austin Proper Hotel