Welcome to Out of Office, Who What Wear UK's chic travel guide that provides you with the most stylish take on any destination by tapping creatives who know where to stay, what to eat, and importantly, which items to pack. This month, Who What Wear UK's insights manager Sophie Cookson shares all her favourite places from a trip of a lifetime to Southern America, documenting where to eat, stay and much more. Keep scrolling to read her Out of Office guide to Nashville, New Orleans and Austin.
For three weeks this summer, I went on my dream holiday with my boyfriend to Southern America. We planned to drive between three states, experiencing the culture and that famous Southern hospitality. For as long as I can remember I've been obsessed with Nashville for its country music (namely, Dolly Parton, Shania Twain and Taylor Swift), so it seemed like a natural place to start. We knew that we wanted music and food to be the focal points of the trip, searching high and low for authentic spots to eat and enjoy the music. This is what led us to New Orleans and Austin after Nashville. Each spot was so unique in its own way, and we found the best little gems in each state.
Below, I've listed the best places we found to stay and eat along with what to wear and how to spend your time, so that you can enjoy a trip to the South as much as I did.
So, Nashville was the first stop, and boy, it did not disappoint. It had all the characteristics you’d expect from Tennessee: the most incredible cowboy boots (more on that later), country music that can be heard from every bar and friendly locals. There are a couple of areas within Nashville to visit, and Broadway is a must. Here you'll find honky-tonks; venues with live music, cheap drinks and dancing. Nestled in between are boot shops where the cowboy boots were extraordinary, but expensive. I'd recommend bringing your own with you if you already have them, but if not, the options are incredible.
Where to Stay in Nashville:
Photo:WESTIN HOTEL/WHO WHAT WEAR UK
I stayed in two hotels during my time in Nashville, which helped me explore the city more thoroughly. Even though they're relatively close to one another, staying in two places provided a different experience in Music City.
Westin Hotel: Based in The Gulch, a trendy, upscale area on the other side of Broadway, the Westin Hotel is so close to great restaurants, shops and bars. The rooftop lounge, L27, is the perfect escape if you want to relax by the pool with an amazing view, and the hotel hosts a bi-monthly event called L27 Lives over the summer, with the best country stars on the roof. I found that the spa and fitness studio were perfect for unwinding after a long day, and I practically melted into our heavenly bed every night.
Photo:BOBBY HOTEL/WHO WHAT WEAR UK
Bobby Hotel: Based in Downtown, Bobby Hotel is a stone's throw from the hustle and bustle of historic Printer’s Alley and Broadway, but on a quiet street that allows you to feel separated from the music when you want a breather. The rooms were spacious and the boutique vibe of the hotel made me feel right at home. I loved the rotation of artwork around the hotel that provides a platform to both local and national artists. Best of all, the hotel has a dog! Zoe is the new Dog-in-Residence ambassador from Bobby's pet adoption programme, which trains puppies to become companions for a U.S. veteran who will eventually adopt them.
The Bobby is also a destination in its own right; the Rooftop Lounge has a pool with amazing views overlooking Downtown, and in the summer there are intimate live music events as part of its Backyard Sessions Series. This shouldn’t be missed!
Where to Eat in Nashville:
Nashville is known for its food, and we were on a mission to find the best hot chicken spots and barbecue joints. Here's a list of the top places overall that you shouldn’t skip on your trip:
Audrey: The flagship restaurant of American chef Sean Brock. Located in East Nashville, it has a focus on sustainable and organic produce and provides delicious small plates to a high standard. We were sat in view of the chefs working in the kitchen, which added to the buzzy feel. I still think about the cultured butter that came with the Appalachian bread—it came as a ball, which once cut open, oozed sweet-potato jam. The dress code is smart casual, so I’d recommend fun trousers and a plain top.
Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint: It's not just barbecue here; this is a whole night in itself, with live country music playing whilst you eat and darts and other games for when you've finished. I’d recommend getting a tray, which comes with two sides. I shared spare ribs and sliced beef brisket and it was beyond delicious. Full disclaimer: The green beans are insanely good, but they're cooked in fat and served with bacon, so if you're veggie, I'd give Martin's a miss.
Bolton's Famous Hot Chicken: If it’s good enough for Anthony Bourdain, it's certainly good enough for me. This was the best hot chicken that I had in Nashville. Located in East Nashville, you either have to get a taxi or drive there yourself, but it's more than worth the trip. However, when they say it's hot, they mean it. I got medium chicken tenders and they set my mouth on fire, but in the best way possible.
Peg Leg Porker BBQ: Based in The Gulch, this casual resturant is popular with all the locals for obvious reasons—the meat is smoked daily and has won numerous awards. Stop off for a quick bite at any time of day.
Taco Trucks: Our favourite taco truck was in East Nashville, called M&M Taqueria and found along Gallatin Pike. But honestly, they're all great. Every taco we ate was so fresh and came with delicious salsa.
What to Pack for Nashville:
I was so glad that I packed two pairs of cowboy boots for this part of my trip. I wore them almost exclusively every day and night, just switching out my clothes depending on where I was headed. I wanted to emulate the country-girl style with a modern twist, and without buying too much beforehand. You want to be comfortable as it's so hot during the day at this time of year, so just wear your favourite summer bits. I was living in jorts, tank tops and T-shirts and my trusty Uniqlo bag. For the evenings, my inspiration was coastal cowgirl (think floaty white dresses and skirts). Do not bring heels to Nashville—they will stay in your suitcase for the duration of your trip.
Shop My Nashville Packing Essentials:
What to Do & See in Nashville:
Rudys Jazz Bar - If you want a change from country music, head to Rudy’s Jazz Bar. It's $20 a head for a night for live jazz with cocktails in a prohibition style. Try to get a seat near the front for a good view.
Go to East Nashville - I made the mistake of deciding to walk, but you definitely need a car or to take a taxi. Either side of the road sporadically you’ll see dive bars and vintage shops. Expect higher prices for more limited edition pieces. Stop off at Black Shag Vintage for vintage band tees and then head over to Five Points to Rosemary and the Beauty Queen for a cocktail in a historic home full of locals.
Boot Barn: If you are in the mood for some new cowboy boots, it’s got to be Boot Barn on Broadway, their selection is extensive and they usually have deals on.
2. New Orleans
Our next destination was New Orleans, which had a completely different vibe to Nashville. It felt like it had a deliberately slower pace—a complete contrast to Downtown Nashville. This could have been because it was the middle of July and it was around 40ºC, so all the locals are inside and most tourists know better than to visit. For us, it meant we spent our time slowly exploring the city, indulging in the delicacies and residing by the pool to cool off. In my opinion, unless it's Mardi Gras I would avoid the French Quarter—it wasn’t what I was expecting. For cool bars, jazz venues and great restaurants, I'd stay in the Lower Garden District instead.
Where to Stay in New Orleans:
Photo:HOTEL SAINT VINCENT/WHO WHAT WEAR UK
Based in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans on vibey Magazine Street, Hotel Saint Vincent is an interiors-lover's dream. The property has 20th-century Italian design elements combined with opulent mid-century finishes such as '70s Murano glass chandeliers and custom designed furniture. We stayed in the Mary Suite, which had the most beautiful wallpaper in the rooms, as well as a deep, standalone bath; however all the rooms are unique in their design. The pool was very calm and the perfect respite after exploring the city. The hotel also has two restaurants: San Lorenzo, which features a coastal Italian menu, and Elizabeth Street Café, which is more casual and serves a Vietnamese-style menu along with French baked goods. For the evening, Chapel Club is a guest-only bar where the hotel also hosts events like comedy nights and live singers.
Where to Eat in New Orleans:
New Orleans’ food culture is heavily influenced by Creole, Cajun and soul food, so we spent much of our time exploring different places and everything on offer. Be on the lookout for po-boys (a meat sandwhich), gumbo, grits (a creamy, corn-based dish), and all types of oysters and beignets (deep-fried pastry). These were my favourite places:
Gris-Gris: Around the corner from Hotel Saint Vincent, this restaurant was named New Orleans’ best new neighbourhood restaurant, and it didn’t disappoint. One of my favourites was the Oyster BLT, which is not as it sounds; the oysters are fried with smoked pork belly and tomato jam. Also high on the list was the brown-butter seared scallop, which shouldn’t be missed.
Galatoire's: Steeped in history, Galatoire's was established in 1905 and is based in the middle of the French Quarter. This was the smartest restaurant we ate at during our trip, with jackets required for men during dinner service. The servers wore white blazers and were very attentive, and the menu was extensive. Highlights for me were the rockefeller oysters, turtle soup and the duck crepe.
Turkey and the Wolf: I originally found this place through its mouthwatering-looking Instagram, and it's a must if you're in the area. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but I can personally recommend the smoked ham and the fried bologna.
Stein's Market and Deli: Another sandwich shop (there's a theme here) also based in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans. It's a Jewish and Italian deli with an extensive selection of meats and cheeses. Be prepared to wait for your order, but it's worth it!
Clesi’s: Initially we planned on trying the shrimp boil here, but it was actually the wrong season for shrimp. Instead we opted for crab, prawns, sausage and corn. It's more filling you think, so you'll leave full but happy. The team there is lovely will show you exactly how to break the shells if you're a beginner.
St Roch Market: This used to be a market for fresh produce, butchered items and fish, but now it's a food hall hosting a mix of local foods and drinks. Stop off here for a selection of oysters and other treats.
What to Pack for New Orleans:
New Orleans is another place I'd advise ditching the heels, unless you're going out to a nice restaurant in the evening. During the day, I was in sandals, shorts and a casual top for walking around the city and exploring the sites, and in the evenings I opted for linen dresses, trousers or shorts with a smarter top. The bars and restaurants I visited were more casual except for Galatoire's, so I went for an elevated dress.
Shop My New Orleans Packing Essentials:
What to Do & See in New Orleans:
One of our highlights was renting bikes and cycling to City Park—biking is a great way to get around the city and explore areas without having to get a taxi. As a little treat, once you get to City Park, stop off at Cafe Du Monde where you can get the famous beignets. Whilst you' re in New Orleans, you have to do a swamp tour for a guided experience in the swamps to see some alligators. We went on a Jean Lafitte swamp tour, where you explore the swamps for two hours in a pontoon boat, and it's only 40 minutes from the city.
Magazine Street (where Hotel Saint Vincent is located) is six miles long and has some of the best shops and restaurants in New Orleans. It has vintage stores, bakeries, bars and fine-dining restaurants, and runs through Uptown, Lower Garden District and then into Downtown. Don’t miss the record shops to snap up some vintage Blues and Jazz records.
If you fancy a stroll and explore the amazing old houses, then walk down to The Garden District and Lower Garden District. Alternatively, take the New Orleans historic streetcars which still travel up St. Charles Avenue.
Our last stop was Austin. It was my favourite city that we visited, as it was really relaxed and had a vibe reminiscent of L.A. I was back in my element, surrounded by locals in their cowboy boots and all the food you could want. Austin is a huge city, and we were situated around SoCo (South Congress) and by Barton Springs. We walked around most places, but the city is loaded with rental bikes or Ubers if you need transportation.
Where to Stay in Austin:
Photo:CARPENTER HOTEL/WHO WHAT WEAR UK
In our final week in America, we split our stay in Austin between three different hotels, all operated by hospitality group Bunkhouse, which provided us with unique experiences each time. They were based around SoCo and the Zilker neighbourhood of South Austin, where the main street had a vibrant mix of shops, restaurants and cool bars.
Carpenter Hotel: Carpenter Hotel is located in the Zilker neighbourhood, right next to Barton Springs and close to Downtown Austin. Originally built in 1948, the structure has mainly remained the same, whilst Bunkhouse has revealed a handful of light renovations to the space. Within the hotel you'll find the Carpenter Coffee Bar and its onsite restaurant Carpenters Hall, where executive chef Thomas Malz has launched a new menu that showcases the seasonality and multicultural nature of central Texas in an authentic way. During the week the space felt like a hub for young creatives to meet and work, and part of the Carpenter Hotel’s ethos is creating community-driven experiences by hosting workshops, live music, film screenings, vinyl nights and local partnerships. The hotel had a very calming atmosphere, and was the perfect end to the holiday. The pool was also really relaxing, and you could borrow bikes to get around the city.
Photo:AUSTIN MOTEL/WHO WHAT WEAR UK
Austin Motel: On arrival, I knew my stay at Austin Motel would be a special one. Once a 1930s motel, it was updated in 2017 by hotelier Liz Lambert, and is an icon in SoCo for its neon (phallic) sign. It's a modern motel but has stayed true to its original design, and in the centre of the property is a kidney-shaped pool, perfect for taking a quiet dip or dropping into one of the events that the hotel holds throughout the year. I was there during the Float Films series, where you could watch a iconic film whilst lying in an inflatable ring and sipping a drink. And if you're looking to shop whilst in Austin, you'll be near Hermès, Reformation, Frame, ByGeorge, Ganni and lululemon).
Photo:HOTEL SAN JOSE/WHO WHAT WEAR UK
Hotel San Jose: Less than 500 feet from the Austin Motel, we didn’t move far for our next stop. Despite the close proximity, we had a completely different experience here. It was originally built in the 1930s as a roadside hotel and renovated (again, by Liz Lambert), but whilst keeping the history. Each room is different but all of them have minimalist interiors and Malin & Goetz beauty products in the bathrooms. The hotel offers so many extras, including bike rentals, a lending library which includes CDs and DVDs, a typewriter and polaroid cameras. My favourite touches were the nightly incense sticks in our room and the QR codes to listen to a curated Spotify playlist for different moods. Despite being located on a busy street, the hotel felt very secluded, and the pool was an oasis of calm.
Where to Eat in Austin:
There were three main food groups that I ended up eating whilst in Austin. The city is known for its tacos and quesadillas, which you can find on almost every street corner, each with their own spin on the fillings. I also had even more BBQ and spicy chicken in Austin, which was amazing every time. Suffice to say, I was desperate for some vegetables by the end of the trip.
Terry Black's: Located near Barton Springs, Terry Black’s is renowned for its BBQ in Austin. The canteen style is a casual stop for pit-smoked meats and sides, and it's the perfect place to visit after swimming in the Barton Springs. It was the most expensive BBQ joint that we visited but it was definitely worth it.
Homeslice: Not to be confused with the chain of the same name in the UK, but the pizza here was just as delicious. You can sit at the countertop and enjoy a 20” pizza in style. Don’t skip the desserts either; they were the perfect end to the meal.
Joann’s Fine Foods: Based right next to Austin Motel, this is a lively, diner-style cafe and cantina with a tex-mex menu. I went for brunch but I would recommend going at any time of day. The food is refreshing and there are many options on the menu to choose from.
Jo’s Coffee: Sandwiched in between Austin Motel and Hotel San Jose, you shouldn’t miss coming here for a coffee and a breakfast taco. It's the perfect start to the day, however if you go later, I'd recommend getting a frosé (frozen rosé). Just to help you cool down in the summer heat, of course.
Veracruz All Natural: There are multiple locations in Austin of taco stop-off that you should make time to visit. Set up by two sisters, the flavours are mouthwateringly good. There's a hole-in-the-wall branch at the Line Hotel, which is just off the Congress Bridge and around the corner from 6th Street. The shrimp taco was my favourite.
Torchy’s: Another chain with amazing, uncomplicated tacos. I actually came here twice for a quick bite, and you really can’t go wrong. For me, the best were the baja shrimp, green chile pork and Trailer Park tacos.
Tommy Want Wingy: Located outside the Carpenter Hotel, Tommy Want Wingy is a spicy chicken truck. I went for chicken tenders with a spicy pineapple sauce, and be warned: they don’t joke around with their spice levels!
Amy’s Ice Creams: Opposite Austin Motel and Hotel San Jose, Amy’s Ice Creams has a queue outside round the clock. The flavour list is extensive and the toppings are out of this world.
What to Pack for Austin:
Austin style is very relaxed, probably because it's just so hot. I spent the majority of my time during the day in a swimming costume, either relaxing by the hotels' pools or in Barton Springs Creek. Otherwise, I had on denim shorts, a logo tee or a simple, floaty dress, and I made sure to protect my face from the strong sun with a cap or sunhat. In the evenings, I'd still be in shorts, but paired with an understated evening top, fisherman sandals and a shoulder bag. Again, there wasn’t any need for heels in Austin, but you might want to bring some if you're planning on going to an upmarket restaurant.
Shop My Austin Packing Essentials:
What to Do & See in Austin:
Ask anyone who lives in or has been to Austin, and they'll tell you to go to Barton Springs Pool. The pool is fed from underground springs and is the perfect location to relax in the sun and swim. But instead of going to the pool, we hired canoes along the bank of the Colorado River and rowed to the mouth of the Springs. This was such a magical experience, because as we went down the river, we were surrounded by turtles swimming alongside us as well as other fish and birds.
Just at the mouth of the river, locals will group together on a sandbed with their paddle boards, canoes and kayaks. Everyone was so friendly, playing music and inviting us to relax in the sun. You can also carry on down the mouth of the river to Barton Creek, where again, you can find more friendly locals. On either side of the river there are ropes that you can swing on, or you can find a little bay to moor up and go for a swim in the fresh water.
At the South Congress Bridge, locals and tourists will come together to watch bat colonies take flight every night—it's beautiful to watch the bats fly out all together and in a synchronised dance. Most people watch from the bridge, but I watched it from below, where you get front-row seats.
If you're into vintage, and especially if you're in the market for authentic leather cowboy boots and hats, here are some of my top picks across SoCo and East Austin for vintage shops: Feathers, Prototype, Noah Marion, Charm School Vintage, Prisma and Pavement.
One of the best nightlife spots we discovered was Continental Club—a must-visit whilst you're in Austin. This place has been around since 1955 and you can see a range of live music from rock, traditional country and blues to rockabilly. Whisler's is on 6th Street, where you can get all kinds of handcrafted cocktails. If you want to go to a honky-tonk in Austin, you should visit The White Horse, which has live country music every night, where you can watch or join in with some country dancing.
If you want to explore the city in a slightly different way, use the famous graffiti as your guide. Based in SoCo is the famous “I love you so much” mural, on the side of Jo’s Coffee. It's usually busy, but as it's so close to the Austin Motel and Hotel San Jose, you’ll definitely manage to find a photo opportunity.
Shop My Holiday Beauty Essentials:
My Final Thoughts, Highlights and Top Tips
This trip felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Every person we met was super friendly and helpful if we needed help. It was amazing to experience a different side to America that I hadn’t seen before. If you want to follow in my footsteps, the drives are long in each state but the views are breathtaking along the Mississippi river. These cities will kept a special place in my heart, and the memories will last a lifetime. I had one suitcase that lasted me three weeks, and I felt like the clothes I bought suited each place perfectly. As mentioned, I'd recommend dressing for comfort, and the only heels you should be wearing should be on cowboy boots!