Tag Archives: Austin

Fun Things to Do in Austin

Austin, Texas, in B&W glory.

View of Austin looking northeast from mid-river/lake. (Arty B&W effect thanks to Google+, which edited this photo for me without asking, like the world-dominating AI it is.)

Since crossing off Texas with the Houston Marathon this January, I have no plans to run the Austin Marathon anytime soon, so I can’t recap that here for you (besides repeating the rumor that it’s hilly).  But if you’re curious about things to do in Austin (besides the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail reviewed here), I’ve laid out what I did this week during my four-day visit.

DAY ONE

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Chuy’s on Barton Springs Road.

I arrived Monday afternoon, checked into my hotel (the W Austin downtown), then ate a very huge, very late lunch of beets and pizza at Due Forni, which was not the greatest decision since it was only ok and I had dinner plans about 2 hours after that at Chuy’s, pictured above.  Apparently Chuy’s is a chain but it doesn’t feel like a chain, and I had never seen one before.  They had an amazing happy hour special where they provided a FREE nacho bar with unlimited chips, different salsas, refried beans, nacho cheese, and seasoned ground beef.  I don’t know how they stay in business.  Anyway, it was great, even though I almost died of heatstroke walking there.  Note that about a week ago I was camping in the snow.  Moving on!

DAY TWO

bluebonnet in TX

The bluebonnet is Texas’s state flower, and despite common belief it is not illegal to cut (unless you’re trespassing or some such).

The next morning I took a 90-minute driving tour to get a sense of the city and the surrounding area (which is still technically the city).  My biggest takeaway from the tour was that the highways were covered in wildflowers (some pictured above, but really impossible to capture all the many kinds and colors).  It was very beautiful.  Also the house from Spy Kids is in the hills, and Andy Roddick plays tennis sometimes at a club up there.  Moving on!

Shopping haul from SoCongress

 

After the tour I walked from the Austin Visitor Center (really nice bathrooms there, BTW) to the South Congress shopping and eating district, where I had some great fish tacos at Guero’s Taco Bar and purchased the fun things pictured above at various shops.  I resisted buying any cowboy boots, but I did buy a lot of candy at Big Top Candy Shop, which as far as candy shops go was pretty excellent.

vegetable tasting menu at Qui

The vegetable tasting menu at Qui in April 2015.

I resisted getting a scoop of Amy’s Ice Cream on the walk back to the hotel only because I had 5:30 reservations at Qui, which is probably the best restaurant in Austin (according to people who know these kinds of things).  You might know it as the restaurant from that guy who won Top Chef recently.  I used to watch Top Chef, but I haven’t in several years, so I didn’t know who this guy was, but he put out a tasty menu, pictured above.  At $55 for the full tasting ($65 for meat, $100 or $110 with wine pairings) it was a relative bargain, as a similar meal in NYC would have easily been over $100 without beverages.  I recommend!  After dinner I strolled back along the infamous 6th Street, where I bought a pretzel at Easy Tiger (for my run the next morning) and stopped in at a bar that had some live music going (the Dirty Rooster).  It was still so early it was light outside and the crowds were sparse, so it was a good time to visit 6th Street without having to deal with the crazy drunkies.  I recommend!

DAY THREE

The next morning I did my long slow run around Town Lake, reviewed here.  I was so tired afterwards I barely managed to get a salad at Jo’s Coffee before falling into a deep, spiderweb filled sleep.  That night I had meatballs and brussels sprouts at Malaga Tapas a block from my hotel, which were ok but I think I should have waited for a spot at La Condesa to open up.

DAY FOUR

horse in Driftwood TX

Fastest walking horse I’ve been on, and he’s like 29 years old or something.

On Thursday I drove down MoPac Highway to Driftwood, where I rode a horse with Texas Trail Rides.  We saw three snakes during the ride, including one HUGE rattlesnake.  The guide kept talking about how there were a lot of water moccasins around, and how she hated them so much because they chased you.  Needless to say I never got off my horse until we were back in the parking lot.  I recommend!

bbq at Salt Lick

 

Since I was already down there, after my ride I went to The Salt Lick for their famous BBQ.  The turkey and brisket were my favorite, but overall this meal was only ok.  I preferred Chuy’s and Guero’s, so I think I just like Mexican more than I like BBQ.  I did appreciate that The Salt Lick offered free refills on soda.

 

I drove back into Austin, making a quick stop at The Whole Foods grocery store downtown, because while I’m not a fan of Whole Foods per se, the tour guide had told us it was the “second largest Whole Foods in the world” and that Whole Foods actually started in Austin.  (The internet indicates that the largest Whole Foods in the world is in London, but that the largest grocery store in NYC is in fact the Whole Foods on Bowery.  I’m not 100% sure any of that is correct.)  It was a pretty standard Whole Foods, but I splurged on a cup of mixed berries that I ate that night and they were the best berries I’ve ever had in my life.  So, there ya go.

Inside capital at Austin

Some impressive room at the Texas State Capitol. House of Representatives, I think? I was not a good tour guide for myself.

 

Finally, after dropping off my car at the hotel, I walked down to the capitol building, where I enjoyed the A/C and felt awkward watching the people in business suits going about their work while groups of sweaty, t-shirt wearing tourists gawked around them.  Or, rather, I felt awesome that I was not one of those people in business suits, because I bet a lot of them were lawyers and would rather be on a horse, eating BBQ, or buying berries at Whole Foods than wearing a black poly suit on a beautiful spring day in Austin, Texas.

 

While I was in Austin I really wanted to walk around the UT campus, tour the Bullock Museum, and maybe stop at the Blanton Museum of Art, too, but I was just too wiped out from the heat and the touring and the running on the days before.  So I wandered back to my hotel to swim, except the pool was like ice water, so I just sat next to it reading some John Scalzi.  The next morning I packed up and went home!

 

Have you ever toured Austin?  Did you manage to visit Hula Hut, swim in Barton Springs, eat breakfast tacos, or climb up the stairs to Mount Bonnell?  What do you like to do when you travel?  Share in the comments!

Austin’s Town Lake (aka Lady Bird Lake) Trail

In honor of my friend’s new blog, runningroutesreviewed.wordpress.com/, or rurore.com for short, here’s a brief, illustrated review of Austin, Texas’s Town Lake Trail, also known as Lady Bird Lake Trail, also known as the Roy and Ann Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail (Austin loves multiple names for things). It’s a 10-mile, mostly flat, mostly cinder path that loops around the lake/river that bisects Austin.

 
There are multiple access points to the trail and multiple bridges that cross over the lake, so you can tailor a loop to suit your distance needs, but I went for one full loop, plus I got lost when I headed off on Barton Creek Trail instead of staying on Town Lake trail, so I did a total of 14 miles.
 

Note – if everyone is turning in one direction, and you don’t know where you are exactly, you should probably also go in that direction instead of heading off into the woods. On the plus side, I got to see Barton Springs and added in the extra miles I wanted. On the minus side I ran through more gross spiderwebs/tree worm webs than I could count, and I was also scared I was running through poison ivy (several signs said it’s present along both trails), so it was a bit of tense running experience. But I also got to feel a million miles away from the city, even though I was less than 4 miles from my downtown hotel at that point.
 

Let the photo journey begin! Note that I started downtown on the north side and ran counterclockwise, but runners and bikers were going in both directions and I don’t think there was a right or wrong way.
 

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This is near where I started downtown – one of the many cute bridges you cross on this trail. Notice the construction crane in the background – Austin is booming!

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Most of the path is cinder but there are some concrete sidewalks like this.

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Some pretty landscaping under a footbridge crossing the lake.

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Some super cool bathrooms along the trail. There were multiple bathrooms along the 10 miles but these were by far the coolest.

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Some nice cactus along the cinder trail. This is still on the north side.

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The western “end” of the trail as it loops under MoPac Highway (aka Loop 1). The footbridge connects the north and south sides.

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Looking back at the city from under the highway. It looks so far away but it’s only actually a mile or two from here.

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One of the many water fountains along the trail. In the background is Zilker Park’s huge lawn which hosts the Austin City Limits Festival.

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A cute mini railroad. Don’t mind me…

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This is the point I got lost – I turned right while everyone else turned left.

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If you see this cool spot you are not on the Town Lake Trail.

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Barton Springs! It’s a quarter-mile long natural spring-fed pool that’s 68 degrees year-round. I thought I’d loop back onto Town Lake trail at this point but instead I went further along Barton Spring Trail and into Barton Hills.

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This is not Town Lake Trail.

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Unfortunately neither is this. (BTW the wildflowers are in a riot around Austin right now. Just beautiful.)

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Nor is this. After running through the umpteenth spiderweb I checked my phone for directions and backtracked to Town Lake. Luckily I had already broken through all the webs so the way back wasn’t as panic-making. Also, you’re welcome whoever ran that trail today after me.

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Back on Town Lake Trail! Notice any differences between this and the spider trail above?

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Just south of Congress Street Bridge (the bat bridge) the trail turns into a concrete boardwalk, which is pretty but wasn’t my favorite to run along.

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The eastern “end” of the trail, where you cross the spillway bridge.

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Looking back at the spillway bridge.

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My spirit animals for the day. I was soooo slow even with the helpful overcast day. I barely managed 14 miles and my knees were hurting by the end, so this will have to do for my last long (and longest) training run before Wisconsin. Yipes!
 

Overall, I enjoyed the Town Lake Trail by any name. It reminded me of the loop in Central Park (no cars, no smoking allowed, lots of people and bikers, lots of water fountains and restrooms, customizable distances) but it was totally flat, so if you need to do hill work you have to look elsewhere. The biggest advantage over Central Park? This trail never has snow or ice!
 

Have you ever visited Austin? Have you ever run this trail? Have you subscribed to rurore.com yet? Share in the comments!