Passing through Austin, TX

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I have only been to Texas one other time – to San Antonio – so when my family was invited to a wedding smack in the middle of Austin and San Antonio, I lobbied for Austin.  Austin it was!

Austin has been on my list of top cities to visit for a couple of years now.  And I so fell in love!  Austin is awesome…better than I ever could have imagined.  So awesome that I had a terribly hard time leaving.  I was heading to Thailand (post to come soon) from Austin with two of my sisters, but all I wanted was to stay and savor this city.

It was a quick trip.  We flew in bright and early Sunday morning (the time change definitely worked in our favor…more hours on the ground) and flew out Tuesday evening.  (Yep, the wedding was on Monday.)  Considering our very limited timeframe, I was very pleased with the amount of the city we covered.  We definitely hit all the places on my list and then some (but of course, there were a million other places I would have loved to stop and visit).  My top places to visit were:  Spartan shop, Stag, and Flat Track Coffee.  Check, check, and check.  So, here is a run down of the places we visited and the things we did that I would recommend.  (In no certain order…)

But first, may I just preface that for all things Austin – eating, shopping, drinking, etc – Manor Street was by far our favorite area of the city.  This is where I would head first for sure.

What to Do in Austin:

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Capitol Building:  As Austin is the capital of Texas, we felt swinging by the capitol building to take a look was a sensible thing to do.  We hit it in the evening as the sun was setting – turned out to be a gorgeous time to visit.  We strolled the grounds, read the plaques, and took pictures.  It was leisurely.  Simple.  Relaxed.  Just like our whole time in Austin.  And there was a fabulous statue commemorating Tennessee’s (I am warming up to being a Tennessean) involvement in a battle.  Can’t remember which one.  I am not a historian.

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The Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum:  This was the one and only thing my father mentioned as wanting to do.  Now, in a house full of women, we realize that he spends the majority of his time doing things he would not choose.  So to the library we went.  However, what we did not realize was that you cannot just stroll through the library as we imagined.  It is actually an archive and you have to make an appointment and such.  Much more complicated than we were prepared for.  As for the museum, I am a museum kind of girl thanks to all the years traveling with my grandmamma.  But with a very limited amount of time, I, along with my family, wasn’t really feeling spending a large chunk of it in a museum.  I wanted to walk the streets (even in the heat) and see as much as possible.  My father did not seem so keen on visiting the museum, so off we went.  However, I am glad we swung by.  I am totally feeling architecture from the 50’s-70’s right now and thought it really a beautiful building. Stunning really.  A vast wall of travertine.  Reminiscent of abbeys in Italy where I first fell for travertine.  The simple, minimal lines made the scale of the building seem even more grandiose.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church:  If you are there on a Sunday, my sisters visited this church and LOVED it.  They flew in Saturday night and picked my parents and me up at the airport Sunday morning after the early service.  Sad to have missed it because it sounded really good.

Next time:  road trip to Marta, stroll through lavender fields at Hill Country Lavender (it was not the season apparently – so sad), Barton Springs to go swimming, take advantage of the amazing festivals that frequent Austin like SXSW and the Food & Wine

Where to Eat in Austin:

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El Chile Café and Cantina:  Tacos were on the list of things to eat and we wanted some good Tex-Mex.  Originally we planned just doing a taco truck, but taking pity on my father who prefers to dine and not just eat, we opted for an actual restaurant.  And may I say, my father was awesome.  Eating outside, especially when it is hot, is not his thing, but he ate outside practically the entire trip to please his women.  So back to El Chile…loved the aesthetic.  So perfect.  The drinks were huge.  The salsas hot, delicious, and plentiful.  The meals hit the spot.  I ordered the fish tacos.  Gosh.  So filling.  I could not finish my plate.  And I must say, usually I ignore the beans and rice as they always seem like an after.  Not so here.  We thoroughly enjoyed spending a good part of the morning/afternoon on the porch drinking, eating, and talking.  A great start to the day.

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In.gredients:  We originally stopped by just browsing earlier in the day and fell in love (seriously…this was probably my favorite place in Austin).  Sunday night, as we found that the day had completely escaped us and it was quite late and we had not yet had dinner, we returned to get some light snacks and more drinks and eat under the stars.  A neighborhood grocery – not the typical restaurant choice, but it was the perfect one.  We ordered a hodge podge assortment of food from their prepared foods including cheese, pizza, empanadas, kale salad, and a sandwich for mi padre. Definite recommendation:  the kale salad.  So fresh and good and perfect to end the day.  If I lived in Austin, this would be my go to shopping spot.  They offer fresh local produce, artisan foods, bulk items…pretty much the necessities and more, but the kind of necessities it is a pleasure to survive on.  They are committed to eliminating food-related waste while supporting local businesses and farmers.  Check it out.  Totally inspiring.  My dream kind of place.

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Lick:  Talk about delicious, amazing, fabulous ice cream.  I would have to say, some of the best I have had outside of gelato in Italy.  No joke.  It was that good.  The kind of ice cream that leaves cream in your mouth.  That is ice cream.  And so rare to find.  We loved Lick so much, that we had to go back again. And I am not an ice cream girl.  But when it is good, I am a fan, and a big one at that.  Super long line, but so worth the wait.  I mean with flavors like Goat Cheese Thyme + Honey, Roasted Beets + Fresh Mint, Cilantro Lime, and Sweet Pea + Sorrell (all of which I tried and were definite recommendations), I was swooning before even trying.  After…goodness.  Ice cream lovers…take a pilgrimage.  Seriously.

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Flat Track Coffee:  Seriously the only coffee I had in Austin I loved.  Loved.  Hands down the only recommendation.  We stopped by their 12th street location in At No Comply.  So wanted to go back for another one but we never did.  We tried a whole bunch of other places, which were all disappointments.

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 Blue Dahlia Bistro:  So this might have ended up being my favorite.  Not at all what we were planning on going for.  Not Tex-Mex or barbecue.  It was very European…French or Belgium or a mix of the two really.  But oh so delightful.  We actually were headed for Franklin Barbecue but saw the line and decided to keep looking.  We passed this and decided to stop and take a look.  So glad we did.  Definite recommendation:  Black Bean Salad and Poached Pears for dessert.  But honestly, we liked everything we tried here.  I don’t think you can go wrong really.

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Picnik:  The cutest thing ever…not really, but pretty close.  I am totally not a paleo, gluten-free foodie, but if you are, this is the place for you.  We stopped here to pick up some food for the airport.  Good pick.  Just wished that we were not taking it to go so that we could have sat on the hill of grass to enjoy our meal.

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Green Mesquite:  We finally got our bbq!  A hole in the wall kind of establishment, this was definitely a locals only kind of place.  Not the trendy bbq scene.  It was classic bbq.  Totally old school.  I mean I gave in and got a Dr. Pepper with my meal.  Hit the spot and satisfied our craving.  Definite recommendation:  brisket

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Next time:  Luke’s Inside Out, Gibson Bar, Odd Duck, Barley Swine …these places looked cute but I know nothing about them.  And they were all on South Lamar.  Probably a good place to head if you are looking for food.  We also heard all sorts of things about Franklin’s Barbecue, but the line was insane and we did not feel it worth waiting for.  Maybe it was.  Also for barbecue, we were told to head out of town to Lockhart, as apparently that is the capital of barbecue.  Sisters Coffee.  Maybe the cutest little coffee truck ever.  Too bad they were closed on the day we hit them.  But we would not have had time to thoroughly enjoy it anyway.  And one last one, Home Slice Pizza on South Congress.  Looked cute and smelled delicious.

Honestly, we were pleased with all of our food stops.  We came prepared with only a couple of recommendations and actually did not go to any of them.  Everything was just driving the streets and stopping at cute places.

Where to Shop in Austin:

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Spartan:  Spartan has been on my radar for years.  It is the initial reason that I even put Austin on my “must visit” list.  And it did not disappoint.  Beautifully curated as was expected.  It is the kind of place I would travel back to Texas to shop at when I finally have a home of my own.  Totally could outfit my dream home from their collection.

Stag:  This is the kind of store that makes me swoon.  Crazy right, since it is a men’s store?  I think growing up in a very feminine household, there is something so attractive about total maleness and masculinity.  Love just feeling the textures of the material and browsing.

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Toms:  I’ll be honest I am not big into Toms, but stopping by their store was definitely worth it.  Such a cute little house and so well done.  They have a huge yard for hanging out that is beautifully landscaped.  A gorgeous mid-century style back porch for working while enjoying their coffee bar drinks.  Plus, the expected selection of shoes and glasses to shop.  We got drinks and sat on the massive porch swings and just chilled.  (I will be honest that I did not care for the drink, but the atmosphere made up for it.)

Olive:  We were on our way to the airport and did not have time to linger.  Too bad because this shop was seriously cute.  A great mix of vintage and new pieces.  Really well curated.  The kind of shop that is dangerous.

Raven and Lily:  Gorgeous.  Seriously, this space was the best of all the shops in Austin.  I mean this is a place you would take notes for decorating your own home.  Had a Moroccan, meets India vibe going on.

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Take Heart:  Modern. Handmade. Vintage. Perfect.  Such a good place to shop for gifts.

Where to Stay in Austin:

Unfortunately, I cannot give any advice or tips here.  We waited until the last-minute to reserve a hotel and the city was booked!  We did not realize that it just so happened that both graduation and the Food & Wine Festival were taking place while we were there.  Oops.  My mom ended up finding a great space for our needs, but it was not in the heart of the city.  So I guess that is my advice…book a reservation as soon as possible.  Just in case.

Austin Neighborhoods:

There are great things in each section of Austin.  I had favorites from each one, so I don’t think I could pick a top neighborhood (except for Manor Street).   I would drive around them all honestly.  South Lamar for good food.  South Congress, although it has some awesome stuff on it, was a bit too much – too touristy, busy, and loud.  We liked the quieter neighborhoods better.

What I loved most about Austin: 

The southern hospitality.  Even though it is the capital and a fairly large city, everyone is so nice.  And I mean everyone!  We gave a homeless man a banana, his response “thank ya’ darling”.  I mean, how can you not love a city where everyone is nice and welcoming.

The architecture.  So many super cute bungalows and mid-century modern homes.  Every neighborhood seemed to be just as sweet and cute as the next.

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The native plants.  I fell hard for all the cacti.  Seriously amazing.  Too bad Tennessee does not have the right climate.  Gorgeous.

The food.  Everywhere we went, there were so many options.  Definitely a foodie city.

The independent businesses and start-ups.  There were so many!  I was impressed with the amount of local makers being represented and how the businesses seemed to all support them.  It lived up to its reputation of being a creative city.  A city of entrepreneurs.  Impressive.

Grackles.  They were everywhere.

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Urban farms.  There were pockets all over the city of neighborhood gardens and urban farming.  Love.

Bicycles.  Everyone seemed to bike everywhere.  Awesome.

Hmmm…not so sure about:

Trash cans.  They just did not seem to have trash cans on the street.  Hard to find surprisingly.  But I was very impressed with their level of recycling.  Maybe that is why.  They don’t have much waste.  Which would be awesome.

The heat.  Life is slower because of it.  Which has a beauty to it.  It just takes a bit to adjust.  But it was amazing how cool it was under the cover of the trees.  Austin has done a great job making sure the city has a lot of trees and parks, which do help break the sun’s rays.

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Final note:  we flew Southwest Airlines.  Have not flown with them in ages, but I was sold.  Such southern hospitality on an airline.  A rare thing these days.  Definitely will book with them in the future when possible.  Also, I bought the Wildsam Field Guide but never got around to reading it before the trip.  Wish I had, but we did bring it with us as a resource.  Definitely worth picking up.

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