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…