Some of Austin’s oldest hotels give a peek into the city’s fascinating history. Stay at a luxe Waller Creek estate, a Greek Revival-style boutique hotel or a South Congress motor court turned modernist oasis that all have intriguing stories to tell.
Credit Nick Simonite.
You may recognize South Congress Avenue's iconic Austin Motel from its cheery mod decor and iconic neon sign. The Austin Motel was opened in 1938 by the Stewart family, attracting visitors from across the country caught up in the boom of automobile travel (fun fact: Jennie Eck Stewart inherited the land the motel was built on from her father Leonard Eck, an early Austin businessman and German immigrant). The Stewarts also erected the Austin Motel’s glowing red, 25-foot-tall sign, which has towered over South Congress Avenue for nearly 80 years. Today, the motel’s 41 rooms and suites are decorated in bright shades of candy apple red and sunny yellow. Be sure to check out the retro kidney-shaped swimming pool and popular Joann’s Fine Foods, serving up modern Tex-Mex fare all day long.
Commodore Perry Estate. Credit Douglas Friedman.
Austin's sprawling Commodore Perry Estate has been transformed into a luxury destination resort by the Auberge Resorts Collection. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Commodore Perry Estate was built in 1928 at the height of the Roaring Twenties, inspired by the owners’ travels through Europe. The 10-acre estate on Waller Creek includes an opulent Italian Renaissance Revival mansion and manicured formal gardens dotted with fountains and sculptures, including one of Shakespeare’s mischievous Puck. The mansion and an on-site chapel (built in 1948) have both been painstakingly renovated, and join the brand-new Inn, which offers 42 guest rooms and seven suites. The mansion’s five spectacular suites are named for members of the Perry family, such as the safari-inspired Mr. Perry Suite and the romantic, floral LaVerne Suite. The plant-filled Lutie’s Garden Restaurant (named after Mrs. Perry) features Texan and New American fare using ingredients from the resort’s organic gardens, as well as area producers. Vogue named the Commodore Perry Estate to its worldwide list of the 18 Most Anticipated Hotel Openings of 2020.
Courtesy of the Driskill Hotel.
The Driskill hotel was built at a cost of $400,000 in 1886 (roughly $92 million today) by wealthy cattle baron Colonel Jesse Driskill. The Romanesque-style Driskill was meant to be a frontier showplace rivaling luxurious hotels of the time in New York City, Chicago, St. Louis and San Francisco. The Driskill was a favorite date spot for President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird (who had their first date at The Driskill for breakfast), and the hotel has hosted election night parties for many Texas politicians over the years. Today, The Driskill is the oldest operating hotel in Austin and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Driskill Grill, opened in 1929, still serves sizzling, Texas-size steaks. Check into one of the 189 guest rooms in the grand columned lobby featuring marble floors and an ornate stained glass dome. And don’t miss the live music in The Driskill Bar, named the Best Bar in Texas by Southern Living.
Courtesy of Hotel Ella.
The Hotel Ella is a stylish boutique hotel nestled within the historic Goodall Wooten House, one of Austin’s original landmark estates. In 1878, Thomas Dudley Wooten, one of the founders of the University of Texas, purchased the land on which Hotel Ella now sits. Wooten’s son, Goodall, moved into the home on the property in 1900 with his new wife, Ella, who oversaw its transformation into an extravagant, Greek Revival-style manse. Some of the home’s unique touches include intricate woodwork done by a Swiss carver and an impressive collection of Texas Modernist artworks that still grace the grounds today. Goodall, an avid pistol collector, had one of the finest firearms collections in the country. Hotel guests can still see his blunderbuss, displayed in the Ella Parlor Bar. Stay in one of the 47 guest rooms, flanked by a cabana-lined pool and wrap-around porch, within walking distance of the University of Texas at Austin campus.
Credit Nick Simonite.
The historic Hotel Saint Cecilia, located in the historic Travis Heights neighborhood, was originally built in 1888 as the Miller-Crockett house. The home was occupied by Leslie Crockett, a descendant of legendary frontiersman and politician Davy Crockett, for more than 60 years. Today, Hotel Saint Cecilia (named for the patron saint of music and poetry) has a mellow, late ‘60s vibe that recalls the revolutionary era of rock and roll and beat poetry, with influences ranging from The Rolling Stones to William S. Burroughs. All 14 rooms feature Rega turntables, and guests are invited to borrow from the hotel’s lending library of vintage LPs, as well as a collection of rock biographies and poetry anthologies. The secluded property and lush grounds are located just one block away from trendy South Congress Avenue. Stay overnight in a poolside bungalow, suite or studio.
Credit Nick Simonite.
Legend has it that Hotel San José, built in 1936 as an “ultramodern” motor court, served as both a bible school and a brothel through the years. But in the mid-1990s, hotelier Liz Lambert (founder of the hip Bunkhouse Group) purchased the rundown property and ran it as a residential hotel until she could secure the funding for a complete renovation. Today, Hotel San José is a sleek, modernist oasis situated right in the middle of South Congress Avenue’s hottest shops and restaurants. The hotel features a landscaped inner courtyard and swimming pool, where it’s de rigueur to linger over a pretty pink Frosé while enjoying some of the best people watching in the city. All 40 bungalow-style rooms feature Texas touches like bed platforms made of reclaimed native hardwood and custom saddle leather chairs.
Credit Paul Bardagjy.
Opened in 1924 as one of the first high-rise luxury hotels in Austin, the Stephen F Austin Royal Sonesta Hotel was built during the city’s economic rise. The 10-story hotel was named for the “Father of Texas,” Stephen F. Austin, who successfully colonized the Lone Star State by bringing more than 300 families to the area in the early 1800s. A stunning marble double staircase adorns the lobby, which is decorated with elegant gold accents and plush furnishings. The Stephen F. Austin was also the first building in Austin to feature a lighted roofline. A notable spot for celebrities and public figures, Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush all used the Stephen F. Austin as their campaign headquarters. InterContinental Hotels purchased the property in the 1990s with a mission to restore it to its former glory. Today, guests enjoy the balance of historic ambience with modern amenities in the 190-room hotel. A painting of the hotel’s namesake hangs in the lobby as a tip of the hat to the Stephen F.’s illustrious past.