Words and Photos by Kristen Olson
One of the first things you learn about Austin is that there are a million new things to do every single day. All the new foods, new music, and new events can feel overwhelming after a while. This city is always innovating, upgrading, and experimenting, but sometimes you just want to be old-fashioned and relive a simpler time. Fortunately, Austin has held on to its old-school side and is home to a handful of retro gems. When the nostalgic bug bites, here’s where to eat, stay, see, and shop.
Nau’s Enfield Drug
1115 W Lynn St
This soda fountain pharmacy opened more than 65 years ago, and today it serves as a time machine from the present day to the fifties. The front half of Nau’s Enfield Drug is stocked with retro candy and toys, while the back half features a classic soda fountain and simple, all-American menu. The milkshake glasses and old-school hamburgers will have you daydreaming of Danny Zuko singing “Greased Lightning,” and you’ll soon wish you’d worn your best poodle skirt. Order a cheeseburger—made the same way since 1951—and a root beer float, served with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry.
Top Notch Burgers
7525 Burnet Road
Do you like curbside service, onion rings and Matthew McConaughey? It’d be a lot cooler if you did. Featured in the cult classic film Dazed and Confused, Top Notch Burgers has been serving up food with vintage flair since 1971. Fried chicken, onion rings, fries, and pie are just some of the options you can savor alongside a tried-and-true burger, so come with an appetite and prepare to feel alright, alright, alright.
Hotel San Jose
1316 S Congress Ave
Hotel San Jose is set in a former 1930s motor lodge on Austin’s most vintage-loving street, South Congress. Sweet green doors open up to sunshine-filled rooms with concrete floors, patterned pillows, and Bob Dylan posters hanging on the walls. Handmade leather furniture and kimono robes are delectable extras that you’ll want to take back home with you. To truly take you back in time, this hotel lets you borrow typewriters and Polaroid cameras during your stay. Is it a hotel, or is it a nostalgic paradise?
1220 S Congress Ave
The iconic red marquee sign will draw you in, but quirky Austin vibes will keep you at the Austin Motel on South Congress. Grab a burger and fries at the food trailer out back, make a call from the bright red lips-shaped phone on your bedside table, and take a dip in the Palm Springs-esque pool to truly reminisce on the glory of the Austin Motel. This hotel has been in operation since 1938, and every detail works to honor that retro history. Newly renovated just this past spring, the Austin Motel remains so close, yet so far out.
See & Do
Big Top Candy Shop
1706 S Congress Ave
An explosion of candy and dazzling color, Big Top Candy Shop adds an extra layer of Technicolor joy to Austin’s South Congress Avenue. Find rare candies nestled between foreign sweets and your childhood favorites, and stock up on the massive selection of bulk candies. The in-store soda fountain serves up banana splits and egg cream sodas, so go ahead and give yourself permission to go wild. Just don’t tell your dentist.
Zilker Park and other various locations
Austin is home to the only surviving moonlight towers in the world. Built in 1894 to illuminate the city, they were named as Texas State Landmarks in 1970. These 165-foot towers represent the “old” Austin that seems to slip away with each new tech company and construction project that appears in the growing metropolis, and they’re also responsible for a handful of urban legends and rumors. The moon tower was another Austin attraction featured in Dazed and Confused, so gather your friends at the park and crank up the Aerosmith for a nostalgic experience from the safety of the ground.
Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-in
12419 Lowden Lane
Enjoy the Texas sunset, a bucket of popcorn, and a retro flick at the Blue Starlite Drive-in, where movies like Pulp Fiction and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off are the norm. The smaller size of this drive-in means less room for cars, so arrive early enough to claim your spot. Vintage movie theater ads featuring dancing hot dogs play before every show, setting the scene for the ultimate blast-from-the-past night. Go here for an old-fashioned date night, and maybe one day you’ll be telling your grandkids about your first date at the drive-in.
Friends & Neighbors
2614 E Cesar Chavez St
Stroll around hipster-laden East Austin and stop into Friends & Neighbors for a delightful vintage experience. Operating out of a refurbished home, this shop offers goods for every room of your house. Explore the living room full of vintage clothing and accessories, peruse the bathroom for soaps and linens, hang out in the kitchen for a selection of coffee, beer, and wine, or invite some friends to enjoy the backyard bungalow with you. In short, pretend that this vintage haven is your own personal home for a while.
906 E 5th St
From humble beginnings on Etsy to a storefront location on East Fifth, Passport Vintage specializes in vintage denim and hard-to-find vintage t-shirts. Stock up on high-waisted Levi’s and 1980s NBA championship t’s for unique throwback looks, or rummage through old Metallica t-shirts with your parents to remind them of the good old days. A true supporter of the vintage community, Passport Vintage helped host Austin’s first bi-annual vintage market in May 2017, giving local vendors a chance to connect with buyers.