Last week my husband flew to a conference in Austin, Texas and I tagged along. I’d never been to Texas, and since I am a California-weather-weenie, I felt very concerned about the heat I’d be facing. So I came prepared. I brought Nuun Electrolyte tablets, a 16 oz water bottle, and a sun umbrella. Am I glad I did! The heat got over 100 every day. I made sure to do most of my activities in the morning and got out of the worst of the heat in the afternoon.
Now Texans will tell you they have dry heat, that compared to the deep south, the humidity is nothing. But speaking as a California-weather-weenie, I can tell you that’s nonsense. They have a lot more humidity than we do. I’ve never felt heat where it feels like you are walking through an invisible force–your body parting the solidity of heat. At first it made me grumpy! Which is perhaps why I wasn’t too impressed with downtown Austin.
Downtown Austin is about one-square-mile, intersected by Congress Avenue and 6th Street. I read in the Moon Texas Travel Book that South Congress had been “revitalized with cafes, galleries, and trendy clothing stores.” So I expected to see a cute street with many colorful stores and shady areas. Instead the street had an old 1950’s-era vibe, with tan buildings, muted colors, and not much shade. But take my opinion with a grain of salt, I was hot and grumpy that first afternoon of walking around. We did see a couple of fun only-in-Texas stores.
And we had delicious tacos at Trudy’s Del Mar. By the way, I can’t complain about the restaurants in Austin; there are many to choose from and the food we had was terrific.
South Congress Avenue is also known for the millions of Mexican Free-Tailed bats that live under the Congress Avenue Bridge. I read about how they emerge around sunset – millions of them filling up the night sky. I was so excited to see these bats! Unfortunately, during the month of June the bats are busy giving birth to their pups. They don’t fly out much to feed. So we didn’t see any. July and August is best for bat viewing. People line up on the bridge and in the park below the bridge to view them. I like how Austin has adopted these bats, protects them, and made them into a tourist attraction.
Lady Bird Lake
We did enjoy walking along the Colorado River that flows through Austin. Once it reaches the city they call it Lady Bird Lake. The walking/running/biking trail is ten miles long. We only walked a small portion of it because the city doesn’t get much cooler even after the sun goes down!
One afternoon when we walked along the river we looked down and saw a bunch of turtles, including a Common Snapping Turtle. It was huge!
We also saw a nesting colony of Monk Parakeets. Hundreds of them were imported from South America in the 1950’s and 60’s for the pet trade. Since then, many escaped and they are now known for building stick nests all along power-line poles in Texas.
We ate at a few different restaurants in Austin. Like I said before, they are all good. However, one night my husband picked a fancy restaurant near W Cesar Chavez St. We went in and looked around. To me, it seemed dark, elite, and expensive, but we were dressed very casually. A host seated us and I looked at the menu. Everything was a-la-carte and hella expensive. I started to feel really down. After sending the waiter away twice (mumbling an excuse about needing more time), I told Bill that he would just be wasting his money on me if we ate here. So we left, and found a wonderful pizza place called The Taverna at 258 West 2nd Street. The outdoor seating was empty (too hot!), but inside it was bright and cool and lively. I immediately felt better, and we both enjoyed amazing pasta and pizza.
We did eat at an expensive restaurant while we were in Austin. This time we dressed up for the occasion, however we had no plan in mind. So we wandered around the city and ended up on a street called Rainey Street. It was filled with indoor/outdoor pubs and bars, lots of scooters zipping around, loud music, and tons of college kids. We enjoyed walking down the street but it didn’t have what we were looking for. Then I saw a Fairmont Hotel. Knowing it would be cool inside, I lead my husband there and we went inside. Ahhhh – light, cool, huge, fun, and high class. If you’re going to spend money on an expensive dinner, I say do it in a place with atmosphere! We ate at the Garrison, and even though everything was expensive and a-la-carte, we felt we got our money’s worth.
By the way, twice in Austin we saw bachelorette parties where all the gals dressed like brides in little cocktail dresses. This seems to be a “thing” in Austin, and it really looks fun!
Another night we ate at a Tex-Mex restaurant called The Iron Cactus at the corner of 6th Street and Trinity. We had terrific margaritas, chips and salsa, followed by combination steak and chicken sizzling fajitas. This was delicious food that didn’t break the bank. Plus, we had a good view of 6th street. I heard they have a good roof bar as well.
They call it the “dirty 6th.” Known for it’s bars, live bands, and party atmosphere, the 6th is an interesting street. We walked along it early in the evening and enjoyed the experience. It was not something we wanted to explore late at night however. For us older people it was too much noise and too many people livin’ it up! (Here I have to interject that despite the many signs in Austin proclaiming it to be “The Music Capital of the World,” it is not. We walked by many bands on multiple nights, and all they played was discord: loud guitars and banging drums–no tunes, no rhythm, no style–just loud screaming dissonance. Sorry, but if that’s the best they can do, it’s a shit show.)
Back to 6th street: while we ate at the Iron Cactus, we couldn’t help but see and hear many motorcycles roaring up the street. After dinner we went outside and saw a ton of motorcycles parked on both sides of the street. Many of them were showing off their fine stereos by blasting music.
A Motorcycle Rally
I walked up to a cool looking woman who had just got off her bike. She was holding a cigar. I asked her why there were so many motorcycles here and she said it was a club. There were 3000 people and she came from Dallas. I looked it up later and found that it was the Republic of Texas Motorcycle Rally that attracts “bike riders and enthusiasts from all 50 states and international locations to Austin, Texas for the largest “turnstile” (paid ticketed attendees) motorcycle bike rally in the United States.” Phew!
I also asked the lady about her cigar, because I had noticed another woman in Austin smoking a stogie and I wondered if that was a “thing.” She laughed and said a lot of women in the club did smoke cigars. I asked her if I could take her picture and she kindly said yes. I wish I’d thought to share it with her and her husband but I was afraid to take up too much of her time. Too bad on me.
The Capital of Texas
Leaving the chaos of 6th Street, we got back on Congress Avenue and walked a few blocks to the Capital. It seemed amazing to me that we could walk there from downtown Austin. It was beautifully lit up with only a rope and a sign telling people to keep out (closed for the night).
I’ve heard the Capital is worth touring, but I didn’t bother this trip. Another time maybe, because I discovered that despite the heat, Austin is pretty cool.
I will leave you with a little video of the motorcycles on 6th street. Be sure to turn on the audio! And stay tuned for the next blog where I will write about my fantastic day trip to Georgetown, Texas, including a cave tour, swimming hole, and local history.