Austin Trip: What We Did, Part 1
Our trip to Austin in August can be summed up in one word: hot. After going to Vegas last August (isn't being a teacher great so you can take your vacations in the hottest months of the year?) we weren't worried but this humid sticky heat of Austin was way worse. Now I'm not being totally fair, there's more to Austin than just hot. There was a little bit of culture, a little bit of country, a whole lot of good food and drinks, and, well, all of it was baking in late August sun. Austin was everything I thought it would be and nothing like I thought it would be. In many ways I'm still processing the whole trip but I'll give you a brief rundown of what we did and then you'll just have to wait for what we ate because that's how I do it around here.
I've traveled down South many times before; Georgia officially has my heart. Austin and Texas for that matter are nothing like the South. Sure, we were treated to some Southern hospitality and there was great bbq and friendly people. Texas just had a different flavor from the other Southern states and was tough for me to get used to. First of all I didn't notice a ton of diversity, not just in race but in age. Most of the people we encountered in Austin were just like us: white 20-something professionals. Of course I'm generalizing because we did see families and the elderly but at times we felt like we were surrounded by people in their 20s and 30s. It may just have been because of the places we visited in the city limits but I also feel like there's a very large young professional population. It was pretty cool but I liked meeting some authentic diversity when we traveled outside of the city limits. Second it wasn't the "cuddliest" of cities. I'm used to chatting people up in different places; Nick always jokes that I always attract talkers despite my best attempts to look busy. The only "Austin-ite" who talked to us was a guy who moved to Austin from Pittsburgh two years before. When I'm travelling I don't mind talking to a few people to hear about their favorite places in their hometown. Maybe it's just that people are so attached to their tech in this city and have their heads down. Either way I wish I had gotten to talk to more people to hear about all the cool places in Austin.
That was definitely what makes me want to go back: the hidden places. I felt like there was always some little nook to discover with something good, be it food, drinks, music, or art. The weather was fabulously sunny (even though it was hot) and it made it easy to explore. There were so many different neighborhoods and sights to see. There was something see everywhere we went and I feel like Nick and I just scratched the surface when it comes to knowing Austin.
Our first stop was arguably my favorite stop on the trip: the Dillon Panthers' fieldhouse and football field. For any other Friday Night Lights fan: it was sketchy but totally worth it. Located almost adjacent to the airport it was down a super sketchy road next to a gas station, Nick was more than a little apprehensive about heading down there. Basically the sketchiness was due to the fact that the show filmed at an abandoned school near the airport and it's now just abandoned. But if you love Friday Night Lights like I do then head to Del Valle and Flow Avenue.
Since we couldn't check into our hotel until later we spent a little time wandering around Austin in our rental car. We originally thought we wouldn't rent a car until we'd been there a day or two but it's a good thing we picked it up at the airport on day one. Getting around Austin by public transportation is fairly difficult and getting a taxi anywhere is worse. Having the car made getting around the small city fast and efficient.One of the places I couldn't wait to visit is the original Whole Foods Market. My enthusiasm is a mystery, even to me, as I normally hate visiting a grocery store. Maybe it was because visiting Whole Foods is more like a trip into healthy living and unique foods, both things Ilove. We wandered through all the aisles and marveled at all the different stations. Before leaving we grabbed a smoothie at their juice bar. Mine was pink and perfect, a blend of strawberry, banana, agave, and some other super healthy things.
Our second stop not far from Whole Foods was the graffiti park at Castle Hills. I saw pictures on another blog and added it to my list. Her pictures looked pretty cool but I was blown away by the actual thing. If I hadn't been wearing sandals I would have loved to climb it and see all of it close up. Even from the ground it is an amazing work of art contributed to by Austin's graffiti artists.
Now as we were searching for a hotel we knew we wanted to be where there was some action. We knew that this was going to be a little hard considering we were going to Austin during the week but we did the best we could by staying on South Congress Avenue at the Austin Motel. The Austin Motel was opened in 1938 and this funky spot on one of Austin's most funky streets offers some pretty old school but comfortable rooms. It also allowed us to check out and stroll up and down SoCo, even in the hot, hot heat.
While it was quiet around South Congress (and pretty much everywhere we went in Austin) Nick and I had a lot of fun ducking in and out of the stores and restaurants along the street. One of my favorites was Uncommon Objects which is a well-curated but still highly funky antique shop. Sections of the store were organized by color and I could have bought a million things. Fortunately for Nick I only bought a necklace made from antique objects by a local Austin artist. Another highlight was having breakfast at Jo's Coffee every single morning. It was a hop, skip, and a jump from our hotel room and I think I tried every pastry in their display. Diets don't count on vacation, just so you know. Nick found his new drink: an iced turbo. Let's just say I wouldn't turn down a Jo's Ice Turbo either.
On Tuesday we ventured outside the city because I wanted to see a little more of Texas. Our first stop was out in Round Rock which was just a few minutes north of Austin. Why Round Rock? Round Rock Donuts of course! I'll admit that I saw it on either the Food Network or the Travel Channel courtesy of Guy Fieri or Adam Richman. But it definitely lived up to the hype. When the counter lady handed us a bag of four hot out of the oven donuts glazed to perfection I wished I had ordered a whole dozen. For myself, because these donuts should not be shared.
Basically my idea to see more of Texas included lots of eating and drinking. If you know me, food and drink are the way to my heart. Using Google maps and getting lost only a few times, we avoided major roadways and cruised through Hill Country. Our lunch stop was the venerable Salt Lick BBQ. I'd never seen anything like their open pit grill and never tasted anything as delicious. Just wait for my "what we ate" post!
Since we didn't plan too much we were able to make the trip out to Fredericksburg, TX, which is about an hour and a half west of Austin. I'd been intrigued when I read about it in our guide book as they described it as a quaint little German town in Texas. On our way out there we happened across the new location of Twisted X Brewing Company in Dripping Springs. What a lucky find for two beer lovers! Since they were just starting out in the location, they were doing this really neat thing by having visitors to the brewery decorate planks to cover their ceiling. If you go to Twisted X, look for the plank that says Nick and Kendall! Also watch out for that Jalapeno Pilsner. It was my first spicy beer and definitely was what they called a "Tex Mex" beer.
Fredericksburg turned out to be a pretty quiet and quaint town. I guess I was expecting more German influence other than the few bier gartens and Fredericksburg brewery but it was a nice break from the city environment of Austin. Now if we weren't driving, we probably should have hit up one of the twenty or so wineries located just outside the city limits. Who knew Texas had so many wineries? I think I've found our next trip...
Have you seen enough of Austin and Texas Hill Country? Check back tomorrow for the rest of our trip!