North, South, East, West | SOUTH

Come On In—Austinites in every direction share their secret spots and stories of the ‘hoods they love most.

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Mike + Joe’s Travis Heights

by Mike Hondorp

The funny thing about Austin (we’ve heard this is not an uncommon experience) is that when we both arrived here, we immediately felt that this city was home. Quickly after falling for Austin, we coincidentally fell for each other, and deliberately set out to find the perfect place to settle down. Sometimes, the cards just fall into place, and that’s how we ended up in Travis Heights.

We came from New Urbanist dream cities, Portland, Oregon, and New York, and were looking to keep that happy urbanist dream alive when hunting for neighborhoods. It had to be walkable to the essentials of daily life (coffee, bars, restaurants and grocery stores), commutable to downtown via foot or bike and an established neighborhood with the eclecticism and personality we had fallen so hard for in our previous homes. Our first (rented) house together in Austin, with our best pup, Baxter, was a charming cottage in Clarksville. It was just about right, but it wasn’t ours, per se.

When the purchasing conversation began, our list of neighborhoods quickly dwindled to two, and Travis Heights was at the top of the list. In fact, it was the neighborhood we always dreamed of living in, back to our first visits to Austin years ago; we just didn’t think it was possible, or at least it was a few years down the road. Then, when Joe was casually telling his boss that he was maybe-kind–of-looking for a house, said boss pointed us in the direction of a half-finished foreclosure just up the hill from Big Stacy Park. We walked into a 1930s bungalow comfortably settled into an overgrown patch of weeds that was ripped down to the studs and filled with random building materials.

Joe, who works in construction and design, easily saw the potential. I took a brave leap of faith. Eight months into ownership and slow-but-steady restoration, (not to mention some time spent at the City of Austin permits office), we’re still not physically moved in, but we’ve considered this “home” since the day we first glanced at that charming hot mess that just needed a little love.

What we love about Travis Heights is that it’s everything a neighborhood ought to be—a walk to the grocery, a walk to our friends’ houses, a walk to the coffee shop. We’ve quickly found during our construction project that it’s also about a highly effective, yet informal neighborhood watch program, as well as a frequent friendly handshake or wave for the newcomers (that would be us) from those lovely neighbors.

Joe’s inner urban design nerd loves learning about the history of the ’hood: the fact that the Congress Avenue Bridge helped establish the development, that the nearby pool was a WPA project and that South Congress Avenue was a 120-foot-wide gift intentionally established to maintain a grand view of downtown for the public. I love the houses built into the tree-covered rolling hills, a just-big-enough backyard, the diversity of architectural styles, and the general and serious charm of the place. And, trained well to live efficiently in New York, I love that the house is the perfect size—every last square foot has a purpose. Being close to running trails, fitness, a creek and a green belt was an added bonus for both of us.

Speaking of fitness, Baxter has deemed the backyard his personal jogging heaven since he first discovered it, and we envision morning jaunts to Jo’s to grab coffee, walks to Perla’s for tasty bites on the deck, and nightly post-dinner strolls around the hilly blocks surrounding our house to discover a new bird, tree, or maybe just an architectural detail. If only Baxter were allowed to swim in Big Stacy Pool. . .

Add all of this to the charm of our soon-to-be-finished old-meets-new home, and we couldn’t be happier at the idea of the decades to come in one of Austin’s quintessential neighborhoods.

Joe Holm is a project manager and designer for McGuire Moorman Hospitality, and Mike Hondorp works in marketing at Facebook. Baxter, their rescue mutt, is an avid social media enthusiast who also enjoys food, walks, runs and his dog friends. And treats. And toys.

Mike + Joe's Top 10

  • Tarbouch (534 E. Oltorf St.)—An undiscovered gem, serving the city’s best Lebanese and Mediterannean food.
  • Perla’s (1400 S. Congress Ave.)—Oysters. Deck. Leave our damn cell phones at home and escape.
  • Big Stacy Pool (700 E. Live Oak St.)—We’re both swimmers, and it’s the city’s warmest lap pool.
  • Blunn Creek Greenbelt—What’s better than pull-up bars at the base of your street for two fitness enthusiasts?
  • Elizabeth Street Café (1501 S. 1st St.)—Brunch, and always coffee.
  • Polvo’s (2004 S. 1st St.)—Because duh.
  • STAG (1423 S. Congress Ave.)—Best men’s store in town—if not the country.
  • Hotel San Josè (1316 S. Congress Ave.)—Can we have that pool, please? They also make a killer shandy.
  • Whip In (1950 South IH 35)—Good food, totally out of the ordinary (meaning great) beer and wine selection.
  • JM Drygoods and Spartan (215 S. Lamar Blvd.)—Because modern brick and mortar shopping is about finding something you’ll never find on the Internet.
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The Haley Family’s Garden Villa

by My-Cherie Haley

The first time I visited Austin, Anthony was living in the cutest little bungalow in Bouldin Creek. It was a magical place, where we hung out on the front porch and back deck, sharing good times with neighbors. We walked to Butler Park, biked to Barton Springs and enjoyed walks around the lake. At the time I was living in Las Vegas. Anthony and I dated via Southwest Airlines for about a year and a half. I fell in love with him and sleepy little Austin. I officially moved here in 2006. That was one of the best decisions of my life.

We were married. Later our son, McIntosh (Tosh), was born, and we realized that our cozy cottage was not enough space to start a family. I had turned our guest room into a fashion studio, leaving no space for guests, much less babies.

The 78704 zip code is our habitat. Following a stint in Travis Heights, we moved to Garden Villa, off South 1st Street. This is a diverse community of people, with nearby vintage stores, folk art, great food, music and entertainment. We love the “Keep Austin Weird” vibe it strives to maintain, while growing every day with new restaurants and people. It is a historic neighborhood whose ethnic roots are visible everywhere. The neighborhood includes long-time African American and Mexican American families, churches and cemeteries that predate the southward march of condos and food trucks.

We fell in love with our Garden Villa neighborhood because of its location, distinct character and the privacy it offers.

Although we live right off South 1st, you’d never know it once you turn onto our street. Quite honestly, we are in-town people who like quiet neighborhood living. Our house is in town, but tucked away just enough to make us feel like we are in our own little world. It’s one of Austin’s best-kept secrets. We’re minutes away from the Capitol, where Anthony works as a public affairs consultant. We are a bus hop or bike ride away from downtown.

Our neighborhood blends into Bouldin, South Congress, Travis Heights and South Lamar, and we take pride in having the convenience of hanging out in any of these ’hoods whenever we want. St. Edward’s University is a bike ride away, and we have quick access to Ben White, 360, Mopac and 35.

Our favorite part of our neighborhood is the outside beauty. We have a 100+-year-old oak tree in our front yard. Our back deck is luscious and green, and we have a clear view of the stars and moon. We are so lucky and blessed to be living and raising our family in Austin’s wonderful Garden Villa neighborhood.

My-Cherie is a professional model, actress, artist, stylist and creator of and Anthony is a lobster (aka lobbyist) and founder of HRWK. Tosh is a music enthusiast who loves to play his guitar and drums, visit constructions sites, run in the park and eat animal crackers.

My-Cherie's Top 10

  • Mercury Hall (615 Cardinal Ln.)—Lots of our friends got married here. I also filmed a yoga dance video here with my best friends. The stained-glass windows are unique and the grounds are beautiful.
  • Dawson Elementary School Playground (3001 S. 1st St.)—Our neighborhood park and playground for Tosh.
  • Athena Montessori School (1503 Morgan Ln.)—Excellent Montessori program for pre-K to kindergarten.
  • Gemma Love Food Truck (116 Coleman St.)—The best authentic Jamaican food in town. I should know—I’m part Jamaican. Yeah ‘mon!
  • Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse (1900 S. 1st St.)—A staple establishment of South Austin. Anthony has been going here since it was across the street and one of Leslie’s old haunts.
  • Sway (1417 S. 1st St.)—Amazing gourmet Thai. Dine at the bar in front of the chefs.
  • Lenoir (1807 S. 1st St.)—This neat find is a renovated South Austin bungalow that was turned into a beautiful intimate restaurant with delicious cuisine and great customer service.
  • Juice Box & Soup Peddler (501 W. Mary St.)—Scrumptious juices and homemade soup in a bag.
  • El Gallo Restaurant (2910 S. Congress Ave.)—Great mariachi nights.
  • Capitol Cleaners & Tailors (1408 S. 1st St.)—Ashley Ledesma and fam are ardent supporters of the Star of Texas Rodeo.
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The Brown Family’s Travis Heights

by Hobson Brown

In 2009, we came to Austin with a plan—start a business, make some babies and find a home. Our entire life was in start-up mode. With cranes in the sky and restaurants popping up on a weekly basis, Austin quickly proved to be a welcoming place for this kind of “go-for-it!” enthusiasm.

The first baby arrived sooner than the house. A colicky baby in a loft has a way of adding incentive to finding the right house quickly. So, after looking at a few other “projects,” we found the perfect bungalow. Though it was moldy and ensconced in a wall-to-wall carpet that seemed to have a life of its own, you could see charm in its bones, which were built in 1937.

With the help of my oldest friend, business partner and talented designer Billy Nachman, we built a home that we absolutely love. Billy understood the needs of our growing family and designed a house that makes the most of every square foot in an aesthetically pleasing and functional way. It’s now got less mold and more exposed hardwoods, but is still in keeping with the historic bungalow feel of our neighborhood.

So, that brings me to Travis Heights. Having moved from Berkeley, California, where our favorite parks, restaurants, bars, and shops were practically on our doorstep, we sought a neighborhood that was also walkable and diverse. We immediately targeted Travis Heights for its live oaks, its great mix of people, and its walkability. We have found that walking to South Congress or down to the Whip In with the boys is not only good physical exercise and culturally satisfying, but is also a good exercise in parental negotiation.

“Hugh, do you want a milk shake at Hop-Doddy? Then stay in the stroller and stop hitting your brother, please.” We spend weekends and late afternoons exploring Stacy Park. We especially like the moontower, the Buddha and the hidden sand pit. We spend even more time bonding with other tired moms and dads in Little Stacy Park.

And we really love our block. Evenings are spent in the front yard watching the boys watch their older next-door neighbors play kickball or chase each other in a massive Nerf war (not Blake’s favorite). Seriously, we could not have asked for a nicer group of people to be around, and that makes all the difference.

Truth be told, I’m actually not that much of a planner, but so far so good in Austin.

Hobson is the co-founder of Criquet Shirts. In Blake’s previous life, she was the pastry chef at Camino in Oakland, California. Hugh (3) and Hayward (10 months) both have serious potential in crisis negotiations.

Blake's Top 10

  • Hotel St. Cecilia (112 Academy Dr.)—Perfect for a much-needed night away.
  • Eco-wise (110 Elizabeth St.)—Our boys’ favorite store. An excellent selection of toys for children and great supplies for your home.
  • Elizabeth Street Café (1501 S. First St.)—The pastries and iced coffee here for breakfast are a real treat.
  • The Herb Bar (200 W. Mary St.)—This funky little house has a great selection of loose-leaf teas and tinctures.
  • The Whip In (1950 Hwy 35 S)—Go for the beer and food and stay for the music. Our boys love it.
  • Burro (1603 S. Congress Ave.)—The grilled cheeses are worth the walk. Go before it moves.
  • Hudson’s Sausage Company (1800 S. Congress Ave.)—The original venison and pork sausage at this classic meat market are delicious on the grill.
  • Sway (1417 S. 1st St.)–Spicy food and a convivial atmosphere for dinner and drinks.
  • Tesoro’s Trading Co. (209 Congress Ave.)—One of our favorite shops to bring out-of-towners for all their curious and wonderful imports.
  • The Gallery at the Continental Club (1313-A S. Congress)—Upstairs at the Continental Club is an intimate spot to see some of Austin’s best musicians.


Photography by Paige Newton

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