It had been a long winter already and there was a lot of work catch-up to do in January after the holiday. We were craving some warmth by the end of the month and started racking our brains on where we could catch some sunshine and fun in February. The weather (and plane tickets) in California were not that great and we didn’t have enough time to travel further to Mexico or maybe Hawaii. We were browsing flight options on Alaska Airlines and there just so happened to be direct flights to Austin that were the same price as going to CA. I had never been and DZ hadn’t been there in 20+ years. The flight times worked out perfect for our Thursday- Monday timeframe so it was decided. I was really excited to experience this city after hearing people rave about it for years. I was ready for some great food, music, drinks and exploring someplace new… all of my favorite things, with my favorite person.
I’m not sure how long Alaska had been doing direct flights to Austin but the early morning option that was available made it really doable to have full days on both ends of our trip. We were able to fly out at 7:45am both days and had no hiccups in either flight. Our Uber driver from Africa was friendly and appropriately chatty. We breezed through security, though we were directed to use the line near the international terminal so we got to use all of the shuttles available to get to the D gates on the complete opposite side of the airport. On the plane I had a window seat and was able to appreciate the landscape below. Seeing the variety of mountains as you move across the country from above always makes me awestruck. I was able to polish off another book during the flight and before I knew we were landing. We used to get to our hotel
Where we stayed….
Since D was familiar with the layout of the city and we didn’t have a car, he found a great condo that was in downtown Austin but in a newer region in the east part of the city. Natiivo Austin was a great stay, being new, super close to the trails by the river, and walkable to Rainey Street and 6th Ave. It was quiet but lively still. We were able to watch a beautiful sunset on the rooftop pool area our first night, but the weather didn’t cooperate enough to allow for any other enjoyment of the pool. Other amenities that were available that we did not use were a gym, a bar/lounge area and apparently dog friendly everything. Our main focus was to be out of the hotel, that was exactly what we did. Natiivo was a lovely homebase though, despite its rather strong “signature” scent that greeted you every time you entered the lobby area.
What we ate….
Food in Austin was AMAZING! There were endless options- from food trucks, southern BBQ to upscale dining and fancy tapas bars. Our main goal when it came to food was to find some authentic Tex Mex and Texas BBQ. It just so happened that a good friend was visiting her family in Austin the same weekend we were there and she hooked us up with perfect suggestions for both.
We visited Habanero Cafe (http://www.habanerocafe.com/) and it was legit. It was casual dining and had a friendly vibe for both locals and tourists. As my friend said, you haven’t had authentic tex mex unless you’ve eaten it in uncomfortable chairs with bars on the windows. Haha! I had a chili relleno that reminded me of the ones I used to get as a kid in Bakersfield and a huge unsweetened ice tea. The other delicious platters that were sampled were mole chicken, fish tacos, and chips and salsa. Portions were huge and the prices were good. It was a great way to experience some local food and catch up with a friend I rarely get to spend face to face time with.
Terry Black’s BBQ was our destination for the “Real” Texas BBQ experience. This place was nothing like I have ever been before. The building was old looking and wooden with tons of patio and indoor seating. There is a separate smoking house next door with smoke pluming out the chimney to really set the scene. We arrived around noon and the line was already out the door. Apparently this is the norm for this well known BBQ institution, so they had their serving systems down. Once in line, there was a window to get cold drinks while you waited. You then wound your way into the building and were served up cafeteria style your sides then over to the meat carving station. There was a chalk board with the meats available and the smiling employee wielding a huge carving knife served you up the meats of your choice, directly onto your paper covered tray. This heaping serving was then weighed and you then paid by the pound at the neighboring cash register. It’s an eye wide open experience when you know that you are about to take down 2+ pounds of meat once you sit down. We shared ribs, brisket, coleslaw and beer. It was the BEST meat I have ever tasted. Seasoned, sauced and smoked to perfection. We hit up this place on our day of long walking and thank god for that. It was totally worth the stuffed belly. Home | Terry Black’s BBQ (terryblacksbbq.com)
Other noteworthy restaurants we hit up were:
Salvation Pizza Kitchen- this place was around the corner from our condo and we spent a bit of time here upon arriving to pass the time before check in. I had my first Shiner Bock here along with a good salad and some BBQ sliders. We ended up here again to watch some football later in the weekend too. It was a chill place with lots of TVs with a large selection of beers on tap, full bar and Italian/ bar food offerings. https://salvationpizzaatx.com/
Emmer & Rye- This place was next door to Salvation Pizza, so also a quick walk from the condo. We sat at the bar for late dinner here and enjoyed sharing several selections from their tapas style menu. It had a cool vibe with an open concept dining-kitchen area, low lighting and nice ambient music. The food was creative and artistic. It was a fun date night kind of place. https://emmerandrye.com/
Eddie V’s- This was an upscale steak house with a live band, swanky bar and waiters with white tuxedos on. The whole shabang for a fancy night out. It was a great energy with good service. https://www.eddiev.com/home
Geraldine’s- Another upscale restaurant with live music on the top floor of Hotel Van Zandt. Great food and wine again. The menu was creative and had sharing plates and main dishes of meats and fish. The hostess was a drag and there was annoyingness about rushing to make you cash out at the bar before you get sat at your table, but overall it was a great experience. https://www.geraldinesaustin.com/
What we did….
Despite the less than ideal weather, we spent a ton of time outdoors exploring the city and the trails along the river (or is it lake??). We checked out the 3 bridges and went substantial distances on both sides of the river. It was busy with walkers, joggers and bikers everyday. We checked out some of the larger parks and botanical gardens as well as Barton Springs. There are many varieties of birds, turtles, and plant life with informational signs around to tell you what was unique to the area. I will mention that there were quite a few homeless people in Austin, around the parks and downtown and it wasn’t very clean. However, I never felt unsafe during the day or night and it was by no means worse than Seattle.
On our big walk day, we went by the Capitol building, appreciated the historic buildings, churches and statues and got to see the tail end of an Anti-abortion rally (bonus!)
Outside of the food, our other main objective was to experience some live music. I was amazed by the number of places that had live music or DJs every night we were there. The streets were packed with people and the atmosphere was lively and fun. Rainey street was packed with different bars and clubs to sample. 6th Street is its own entity in the city and has every flavor of music, food and drink you could want. It actually closes down to car traffic at night and the city allows people to just take over the street. https://6street.com/
Some of our favorite places we hit up with music
– San Jac Saloon: Fantastic country bar where we drank beers and listened to the Tyler Brandon Duo… I actually was singing out loud with the crowd much to my partner’s surprise 🙂 https://www.sanjacsaloon.com/
– Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden- Huge patio with live music. So many beers on tap at 2 different bars. I had a delicious pretzel to complement the local hazy IPA I decided on https://www.bangersaustin.com/
– Icenhauer’s- Great craft cocktails and a cozy lounge feel. We enjoyed a fantastic blues type band featuring a trumpet and a saxophone player.. https://www.icenhauers.com/
Austin was such a fun and lively experience that lived up to the hype. The weather was not as great as we had hoped for, but it didn’t dampen the experience at all. I really appreciated the walkability of the city and variety of both indoor and outdoor things to do. I left wanting to come back in the spring or fall to feel some of that Texas sunshine while sitting on a patio listening to music with a drink or to be able to take a boat or kayak out on the river. We had a blast and made it home a little hungover from food and drink but with smiles on our faces. I’m looking forward to our next visit to Austin.