We’ve been in Austin for nearly a week and half, and while we’re still enjoying ourselves, I think the love affair may be cooling off a bit. Don’t get me wrong…we still think Austin’s pretty cool, but like all places, is has some downsides. The biggest being the traffic issue. Oh, man is the traffic terrible around here. If you’re not sitting in an endless line of cars, than you’re fearing for your life because the majority of drivers appear to have their heads stuck up their you know whats.
The other downside is that…well, for a lack of better way to say it, Austin is not the prettiest city I’ve even seen. Sure there are a few cool buildings downtown, and the riverside parks are nice, but it lacks the awe and beauty that so many others cities have. To be fair, Austin is a rapidly growing and changing city (100 people a day are moving here), so who knows what it will look like 10 years from now.
Despite my complaints, Austin is definitely a fun place to visit. One that we’re happy to have two weeks to explore, and one that will go on the list for a return visit one day. Since I last posted, we’ve been busy trying to fit in as much as we can in the short time we have. We’re still working our way through the hundreds of food recommendations we received, while attempting to balance all that eating out with some exercise. Here’s a quick run down of where we’ve been and what we’ve eaten.
Austin is almost as famous for their tacos as their BBQ, and Torchy’s Tacos was recommend by nearly everyone. Like so much of the popular Austin food scene, Torchy’s is served out of a food truck. Or rather several food trucks spread around the city. We hit up the First Street location at the Trailer Park Eatery where you can find Torchy’s along with two other food trucks.
We ordered three different tacos — the Brushfire, Trailer Trash, and the Republican. They were all good, but the unanimous opinion was that the Brushfire with spicy Jamaican Jerk chicken, grilled jalapeños & mango won hands down. The single picture I took of our tacos before we devoured them really doesn’t do these tasty tacos justice, so you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you how amazing they were.
We also visited another food truck trailer court called The Picnic. Much like the Trailer Park Eatery, they have parking, a dedicated sitting area, and a selection of food trucks.
The Picnic has seven permanent trucks, and all except one was open on the day of our visit. We tried both The Mighty Cone and Hey You Gonna Eat or What? The intention was to share the Hot & Crunchy Chicken & Avocado Cone (fried chicken & avocado served with a mango-jalapeño slaw wrapped in a flour tortilla and tucked into a paper cone) along with one of the delicious sandwich specials from Hey You Gonna Eat or What? I don’t remember what was in the sandwich besides fried green tomatoes because Tim was so into it that I ended up with the cone while he chowed down the sandwich. So much for sharing :)
While at The Picnic we also picked up a cupcake to bring home from Hey Cupcake! I mean, it’s an Airstream cupcake food truck, how could we resist? We might have already sampled the cupcakes earlier in the week. Which means we might have tried three different cupcakes — the Sweetberry, the Pumpkinator, and the Carrot Cake. Not that I am admitting anything, but if we did eat all those then I would say the pumpkin was the best. No pics of our cupcake gluttony.
BBQ at The Salt Lick
Finally, we got around to sampling some famous Texas BBQ. There are soooo many BBQ options here in Austin, and everyone told us to go somewhere different, which made the decision nearly impossible. To be completely honest, I am not a BBQ fanatic. I don’t often eat beef, pork or sausage, which rules out most BBQ. But we’re in Texas, and Tim is a big BBQ fan, so it was a must. In the end we chose The Salt Lick, which is not actually in Austin, but rather about 30 minutes south in the town of Driftwood.
The general consensus about The Salt Lick it’s considered good BBQ, but not the best. For us (okay, mainly me), the decision to here was based almost solely on the fact that I wasn’t willing to stand in line for BBQ. Some of the most popular places in town require a four, five or six hour wait, and even then you’re not guaranteed BBQ because they might have run out by the time it’s your turn. Nothing about this process appeals to me. I just don’t like BBQ enough to stand around for hours waiting for a piece of meat. So The Salt Lick it was.
We went on a Saturday afternoon, and even though the parking lot was jammed full of cars we waited less than 15 minutes for a table, and a few minutes after that were chowing down on our plates of food. As predicted, Tim enjoyed it more than I did. I got the Turkey plate, and while I did enjoy the turkey and the tasty sauce, I didn’t like the beans or potato salad, but the coleslaw was good. Tim had a combo plate with brisket and ribs. I tried some of his and we both agreed that the ribs blew the brisket away. Overall it was a fun experience, and a good meal, and for now at least we’ve checked Texas BBQ off the list.
Bull Creek Greenbelt
To balance out all this eating we’ve been seeking out as many places to exercise as possible. There are lots of parks and greenbelts with walking trials, but as I mentioned last time, the scenery is somewhat lacking. According to all the online reviews I’ve read about these trails, I’m the only one who feels this way. I guess I have high standards. Or maybe I am just not used to the Texas version of natural beauty.
The least impressive place we visited was the Bull Creek Greenbelt. It wasn’t ugly, but it wasn’t pretty either. We intended to hike a 3.5 mile loop, but went the wrong way and ended up following a shorter path along the river instead. By the time we made it back to the correct trail neither of us were inspired to go any farther.
Lady Bird Lake Trail & Boardwalk
Another day we biked the entire length of the Lady Bird Lake Trail. This may be the most scenic trail in all of Austin. Running alongside the river (that they insist on calling a lake) for 5 miles in both directions, the trail meanders through parks and over a recently completed section of boardwalk.
The trail was really crowded at the start, and we dodged hordes of joggers for the first few miles. It thinned out pretty quickly though, and by the time we reached the far side of the lake there was hardly anyone else on the trail. It’s easy to understand why this trail is so popular. Not only is it super convenient for anyone who lives downtown with numerous access points, but it’s also scenic and well maintained. I wish we had time to go back and walk some of the trail so I could take more pictures. I never get many on bike rides because it’s kind of a hassle to stop and get out the camera.
One afternoon we spent a few hours walking around downtown Austin, including a visit to the capital building. We tried to to check out the Capitol Visitor Center, but it was closed during the time of our visit.
We ended up walking a loop from 12th Street, where the capital building is located, down to 3rd Street where we found some relief from the humidity at a tasty juice bar. Our tour of downtown included a walk up and down the infamous section of 6th Street referred to as “Dirty 6th”. This several block section is basically a row of bars that cater heavily to the college age crowd — or anyone else who is enticed by $3 shots and $2 beers. It was only 7pm in the middle of the week, but the night was already in full swing when we walked through with scantily clad girls and obviously drunk patrons staggering in the streets. Not my scene at all, but I can see how it would appeal some.
Zilker Botanical Gardens
I had a birthday during our time in Austin, and on my wish list of things to do for my special day was a visit to the Zilker Botanical Gardens. The end of October is not the ideal time to visit a botanical garden, as most of the flowers are past their prime this late in the season, but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.
For a mere $3 per person we got the pleasure of wandering through 26 acres of themed gardens, including a Japanese garden, a cacti & succulent garden, and a green garden filled with native plants.
They even had a prehistoric garden filled with giant leaved shrubs, soft mossy trees, and one solitary dinosaur statue. While is was not the largest or showiest botanical garden I’ve ever been to, I always love a nice walk in the garden and this trip was no exception.
Umlauf Sculpture Garden
Not far from the Botanical Gardens is a sculpture garden that shows up on many of the “best things to do in Austin” lists. I probably should have done a bit more research prior to our visit, because it was not what we expected. Based on the reviews alone I thought we were going to walk through a lush garden filled with sculptures intertwined with the shrubs and trees. Instead what we found was a small garden-like area with sculptures on pedestals sprinkled around. If you are a fan of classic art, or if you have a thing for this Umlauf guy than I would recommend a visit. If not, don’t bother.
Most of the sculptures were either biblical or classical in nature (lots of women posing with babies in their arms), but there was a small section of animal sculptures. Those were our favorites. This smirking hippo was clearly the best of the bunch.
We still have a few more days in Austin, and I still have more to share with you, but that will have to wait until next time. This past weekend we moved over to a huge site at McKinney Falls State Park, and yesterday some of our Airstream friends from the Balloon Fiesta joined us. We already have a gathering and a night out planned which I’ll tell you about next time. More to come…
I know what you mean about not the prettiest place…we get spoiled going to the truly amazingly beautiful places and others do tend to fall short! I am currently feeling that way about Desert Hot Springs…I knew going in that it would be less lovely than what we’d been through in the past six months or more, but it still is a bit of a let down!
Yup, we’re totally spoiled by all the gorgeous places we’ve been. We felt the same way about Desert Hot Springs. The pools at Sam’s are nice, but the scenery outside of the park is a bit dull.
I was disappointed the first time I came to Austin. Everyone told me how wonderful it was and it just didn’t meet my expectations as a city. But as we get to spend a few weeks here this time I’ll see if I can get more of a feel for it and what makes it special.
Overall I think the city has a good vibe – the people are friendly and the food scene is awesome, but it doesn’t make my top list as far as cities go. I’ll be interested to hear your opinion after a few weeks.
Austin traffic is the absolute WORST. I lived in Dallas for the last 7 years, and with my family being near San Antonio I have made many, many trips down i35 – always dreading the commute through Austin. Thank goodness for the toll road they finished up recently which let’s you bypass the downtown madness. :)
I can’t imagine having to drive through here on a regular basis! We’ve heard a lot of talk this week about a proposed rail project. Not sure if that will ease the congestion, but something definitely needs to be done.
For those of us who enjoy the west, I think that many places further east can be a bit of a disappointment. I have only been to Austin once many years ago, and for a brief time, but am interested in going back to explore further. I think the food trucks alone would bring me back. :)
Happy belated birthday Amanda!
Yes, the west has certainly captured our hearts like the east never did. I would definitely return to Austin for another visit, but this time around I would be more mentally prepared. As you said, the food trucks alone are a great reason to visit.
I think we had a bit different experience in Austin because we stayed in town at Pecan Grove. Zilker Park was a short walk away, with beautiful trails along the river in addition to the botanical garden. And because we enjoy music so much, Austin was great for night life — we loved the cozy vibe at The Continental Club — not the downstairs bar (crazy scene!) but the upstairs mellow lounge and amazing musicians. We need to follow your lead with the food trucks — the only one we found open one night was Hey Cupcake. (Yummy!) Thanks for all of the great tips on Austin!
I think you’re right. Staying right downtown and avoiding the traffic is the best way to visit this city. I would have loved to be near Zilker Park as well. Just not sure how to get into Pecan Grove!
Oh, and happy (belated) birthday, Amanda! May this year be filled with many more wonderful adventures as you continue in your travels!
Thanks for the birthday wishes!
I went to school at UT, so I lived in Austin from ’72 to ’79. Although I agree with your assessment of the city per se, I still love the city for all it was back then. As a lover of music, I am so fortunate to have lived in a place where you could walk into Armadillo World Headquarters and hear artists like Stevie Ray Vaughn jam, or stop in to the longest running music program on TV, Austin City Limits. It’s tough to look past the shiny veneer of the city now and find those treasured memories, as Austin is being “bled dry” of most of its beauty, just as Lake Travis is being drained of the clear, emerald green water and serene swimming spots. But I agree, Pecan Grove gets the RVer closest to what makes Austin really cool. You just have to call far ahead, or luck into a cancellation….