Before I get ahead of myself and post about our Eurotrip, wedding and buddymoon – I want to do a quick ‘concluding Austin’ post. I haven’t had much time to reflect on our year in Texas, but the other day Dave said he had friends visiting Austin and they wanted to know where to go. He pointed them to my blog (like the nice hubby he is) and I realised I don’t have a concise ‘top 10 list of things to do in Austin’. So, if you’re heading to that part of the world (and you really, really should) here is 10 things I think you must do. (In no particular order.)
1. Buy a pair of country boots at Allen’s Boots and go dancing!
There are many boots shops in Austin, but Allen’s is the most iconic. If you go in and find them too expensive – you can always buy elsewhere, but you have to go in and have a snoop around. The boots are beautiful; you can buy anything from black to green, to red, to pink with rhinestones, to UT Longhorn boots or brown leather with cacti on them.
Then, naturally, once you have your new boots – you have to go and show them off. The day we got ours (you may remember my post Allen’s Boots and The Broken Spoke) we went two-stepping at The Broken Spoke. The Broken Spoke is an Austin institution and one of the best places to go for a beginners class with live music and general dancing after the class. There is also the Continental Club on SoCo (Host to some various famous bands over the years). Sometimes they have country bands with two-stepping dancing. Oh and there is Gruene Hall (to check out the venue, see my post Two Ton Tuesday, Gruene Hall), a genuine Texas dance hall.
2. Go stand-up paddle-boarding on Lady Bird Lake
There are a few places you can go to hire kayaks, canoes for 2 or stand-up paddle-boards, but we chose to park at Zilker Park and hire a paddle-board each. We paddled down Barton Creek and out to Lady Bird Lake (you can see more photos in my post The last of Austin Summer Fun).
It’s a great way to get a new perspective on Austin – from the water! There are lots of swampy type plants on the edge of the river, and despite the fact that Austin is a major city, the banks aren’t as dirty as I’d expected. In fact, we even saw little turtles.
3. Take a drive in the Hill Country to see Bluebonnets in Spring
As I learned, Bluebonnets flower all over the city so you hardly have to leave Austin to see some. I was really excited to see a whole field of them though, so insisted we go to a farm and frollick. We went to Wildseed Farms in the Texas Hill Country and if you click my post on Texas Bluebonnets, you can read about the day (and see more photos).
4. Go tubing on the 4th July weekend
Why 4th July weekend? To soak up the atmosphere of course; it’s quite a cultural experience!
Sure, tubing on a regular weekend in summer probably gets very busy and you get to see lots of different types of people, but there’s something about 4th July weekend; people are on holiday, out in their ‘Texas the lone star state’ finery (with flags included), drinking beer and really getting into the spirit. If you go in summer, be sure to take lots of water and sunscreen!
5. Eat some barbecue!
The more you can shove into your mouth in Austin – the better! Texas Barbecue is mind-blowingly good. We tried The Salt Lick, Rudy’s Barbecue, Franklin’s Barbecue, Ruby’s Barbecue and the Green Mesquite (off the top of my head). Some of the best barbecue I had all year was at our friends wedding, at our local supermarket and also at a Texas Longhorns football game. Sometimes you find delicious barbecue in unlikely places, so be open to it!
6. Eat Tex-Mex or Mexican food
One of my favourite food experiences in Austin was going to Fonda San Miguel for dinner (and again for Happy Hour – they make good cocktails!). They serve interior Mexican food, which (I have only recently discovered) is one of my all time favourite foods. I love the freshness of the veges and the use of beans and also this amazing deliciousness called mole poblano (which is a savoury chocolate sauce).
I think there’s a lot to be said for Austin Tex-Mex too! Breakfast tacos are pretty much the best thing ever and something I miss daily. Oh and pulled pork tacos are delicious too. If you want good Tex-Mex in Austin I’d recommend another Austin institution Chuy’s, or maybe Torchy’s tacos or Taco Deli for breakfast tacos.
7. Try Swing Dancing
Very early in our year in Austin, our friend Jamin introduced us to the joy of swing dancing (so this one’s for you Jamin!). He took us to a beginners class at the beautiful Austin Women’s Federation Hall, and it felt like we’d been blasted out of the 21 Century right into vintage swing heaven. A lot of swing dancers even dressed the part. It is awesome.
What I love about swing dancing in Austin is it’s resurgence in popularity; all these hip young folk come out with their friends to dance. They really get into dressing up and the crowd is really friendly and inclusive.
Jamin (aka swing dance guru) also took us to Gruene Hall and a community center in East Austin for more dancing.
8. Go to a Longhorns game
American college football was totally new to me before I moved to Texas. Thanks to our Texan friends and their patience, now it is not. I did a blog post on the game we went to – Krause Springs and college football. It was a home game for the Longhorns, Dave’s University of Texas team. My post from the day sums it up…
We went to a shop on campus and bought all this UT merchandise and got all hyped up about it. It was ah-freakin-mazing. Imagine 100,000 people in a stadium, the vast majority supporting one team, listening to the Texas Longhorn marching band, eating Texas bbq (well I was, and frankly everyone should have been). WOW.
9. Find a good summer waterhole
We didn’t make it to the most famous waterhole near Austin, Hamilton Pool. The day we prepared and drove there with friends, the National Park Ranger told us that they limit the number of people who can enter the site at any time and because it was a hot summer day, we were in for a 2 hour wait in the car. If you go – go early, so you don’t have to wait in your car in the Texas summer sun.
The Park Ranger suggested to us another (less busy) spot nearby called Krause Springs, so we went there instead.
10. Go for a dip at Barton Springs
Barton Springs are an iconic Austin location. The natural-bottomed pool is fed from a spring system which orginates from the limestone aquifer system. As a result, the water is incredibly clear and at a constant temperature, year round (20C). Imagine jumping into the crystal clear waters on a stinking hot summer’s night!
We lived in Austin a whole year and I was never actually fully submerged in the springs. Dave laughs at me about this since we went a few times and I chickened out each time, but they are deceptively cold!
* Honourable mention: another thing I suggest if you have a while in Austin is to do a roadie outside of the city. Austin is a good base for some great day trips; Gruene, Fredericksburg, Enchanted Rock, San Antonio all come to mind and aren’t more than 1.5 or 2 hours away.
* I didn’t mention the live music scene in Austin, but it’s definitely something you should explore during your trip. Try Blues on the Green in Zilker Park, or if you’re there during ACL or SXSW give them a crack (we were away during both this past year – bummer!).
* SoCo (short for South Congress) is a very popular neighbourhood centred around South Congress Avenue. The street has some really interesting shops (i.e. Allen’s Boots), great restaurants (mexican, tex-mex, pizza, burgers, etc), great live music (check out The Continental Club), a food trailer park and Amy’s Ice Cream. Definitely worth a visit.