Images: Sean Gasser
When I mention that I lived in Austin for several years I get either “Oh, I love Austin,” or “I’ve always wanted to go.” From the music scene, culinary scene, tech industry, to the lifestyle, it’s safe to say Austin has gained quite the reputation. The Austin Business Journal said that an average of 159 people a day moved to Central Texas last year, making it easily one of the fastest growing areas of the country.
Recently I met up with my girlfriend, who was in San Antonio for a teaching conference, and we spent a few days in Austin. Every time I return, the skyline looks a little more impressive and there’s all kinds of new development, especially on the east side. We went to some of my old haunts and checked out some new places too. Below I detail these and give some other recommendations as well.
Things to do in town:
While my favorite season in Baton Rouge is fall, in Austin it’s summer. Everything slows down, it’s less crowded, and due to the drier climate, you can enjoy all the outdoor activities.
Activity in Austin is very centralized to downtown—everything begins there. The hike and bike trail that goes around Town Lake (or Lady Bird Lake – everything has three names in Austin) at Auditorium Shores is a good place to start. It’s conveniently located off First Street, and you can bring your dog (Austin is very dog friendly). You can rent a kayak or paddleboard to take out onto the lake.
One notable swimming hole, or place to just lay out and catch the local vibe, is Barton Springs pool. It features a large manmade pool with natural spring water. The water stays roughly 68 degrees year round.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, you may have a taste for barbecue.
Texas barbecue is beef-centric, and Texans judge a barbecue joint by its brisket. Using Texas Monthly’s Top 50 as a guide, I found what sounded like a winner in Micklethwait Craft Meats. It’s centrally located near the famous Franklin Barbecue, had the same rating and supposedly a fraction of the wait. We still waited an hour in line, and all the meat had sold out except the brisket and beef short ribs. However the beef was very tender and flavorful. The jalapeño cheese grits and mustard rich potato salad were good complements.
No trip to Austin would be complete without visiting a food truck. They’re scattered around town, usually near nightlife areas. The park on South Congress is a nice starting point.
I’m not really big on Mexican food or Tex Mex so I’m not the best source, but I know Chuy’s Tex-Mex is popular there. Hula Hut on the lake is a fun place to meet for happy hour.
If there’s some daylight left try to see the bats. I always say if it’s your first time visiting any town, then there’s nothing wrong with doing all the touristy stuff. Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in the world. An estimated 1.5 million bats emerge from the Congress Avenue Bridge in search of food around dusk every night.
Then, you can walk down Congress to the popular section of Sixth Street or “Dirty 6th.” It’s the Bourbon Street of Austin. Bright neon lights and clouds of live music can be heard from each passing bar front. Some feature a rooftop section like Maggie Mae’s that allow for scenic views. If you want less touristy and more hipster-y nightlife, go east of I-35 on Sixth Street.
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. You can get real food and all types of beverages. They show new, old and bad movies. There are no theaters like it.
Graffiti Park on Lamar. For decades, walls with graffiti and murals have served as backdrops for photo sessions in the city, but this park is new. Wide concrete canvasses for spray paint artists adorned with an actual castle on top. A mural that’s up today could be gone tomorrow. It’s a perfect metaphor for Austin.
Day Trip ideas:
Krause Springs. I actually had Hamilton Pool atop my list this time (a quick Google image search and you’ll see why), but you have to make reservations far in advance now, and it was already booked up. We settled on Krause Springs. Once arriving you’re greeted with a colorful butterfly garden offering bench swings and hammocks for relaxing. You traverse the stone steps down to a manmade spring-fed pool then down more steps to the natural pool and lazy river-type setting complete with a waterfall. It’s about as idyllic a setting as it gets.
From there we drove up to Marble Falls, which I had seen listed as one of the best little towns in Texas. We stopped at the famous Bluebonnet Cafe and had pie.
Enchanted Rock. Hike the big pink granite mound then onto the original Cooper’s BBQ in nearby Llano. I still attest the tastiest brisket I’ve ever put in my mouth.
I spend an inordinate amount of time in coffee shops. I need a fix in the morning and afternoon. Austin offers plenty of unique places to get yours—several that even serve beer. We visited four during our trip. One was my old spot, which used to be Dominican Joe’s but is now a Bennu on Riverside and Congress. It seems to have undertaken a smooth transition and still serves the popular honey cream latte.
Other recommendations: My favorite iced coffee ever at Bookpeople, coffee with alcohol drinks at Halcyon, nitrogen infused coffee at Radio, the decor at Buzzmill, the views at Mozart’s and the eclectic courtyard at Spiderhouse.
Places to stay:
I’ve never spent a night in a hotel in Austin, but if I did and had money to spend I’d stay at The Driskill that’s located on Sixth near Congress. The Austin Motel with its slogan “So close yet so far out” on South Congress looks like a fun and cheaper option.
Along the way:
Buc-ee’s: We stopped at the one in Bastrop about a half hour from Austin on our way out and picked up some little gifts for our parents who watched our pets while we were away. Buc-ee’s has so much to offer, it’s a definite stop.