That time we went to Austin and didn't rent scooters
For those who haven’t already heard the spiel from me, I have always said that the time I spent studying abroad in college changed the way I travel. Before you assume that this took .02 seconds to turn into a “I remember when I lived abroad” stories, relax. What I learned from living outside of America was, in fact, just how little of it I knew. How can I compare life abroad to the U.S. when I hadn’t even been west of Ohio? There I was searching across the Atlantic for examples of new environments and cultures, which of course it provides in spades, but ignoring the amazing landscapes that the mountains and oceans paint across my own home country. And really, East Coast cities were made with Europe in mind anyways, seeing as who was settling and building them. So, ever since, I have made it my goal to see a new American city each year.
What fascinates me about cities west of the east coast is their infancy— they’ve had time to observe what succeeds and what fails in cramped cities built without time to adapt to our new technological age. But that does not mean they aren’t rich with history. Between the indigenous history and the early settlers, there’s a rich culture that serves as a solid foundation to build upon. Cities are a living organism, and it is amazing to me how they can develop new identities through their landmarks and the people who inhabit them. That’s why I was so eager to visit Austin.
Amazingly, this was my first ever trip to the Lone Star State. Texas culture precedes itself— it braced me for ten gallon hats, spurs, and belt buckles the size of my head—a comical misrepresentation of what actually turned out to be a very progressive, young metropolis. Austin proved to be a very walkable city, thanks in part to Zilker Park, where they’ve dedicated the strip of land around the river that bisects the city to being a lush trail park where folks can run, walk their dogs, and spend time outdoors with friends or family. This park is also home to very successful music festivals like Austin City Limits and South by Southwest. This was a great way to get us from our Airbnb just off of South Congress and heading north across the river towards the city center. All in all, in our one full day of exploring, we checked out some of the neighborhoods we hoped to see, and covered 12 miles on foot. I’ll review some of my observations about the city below.
1. Zilker Park is like a main artery of the city. accessible to most, utilized by many, loved by all. You can do anything here. This part of the city showed us how realistic it could be to raise a family in a city with small-scale access to the outdoors like this. And they have comfortable nap trees.
2. People are just, so nice. Our hats, backpacks, and cameras, as it would seem, were dead tourist giveaways. Every time we would stop to get a quick coffee (LOL… you know us. It happened a lot.) the people working would go out of their way to engage with us and see what interests us in their city. The general friendliness and relaxed demeanor was so nice, and ended up leading us on our favorite leg of our entire trip.
3. It was thanks to a nice guy at Merit Coffee that we learned of Austin’s new public Library. He handed us our iced coffee and suggested we pop around the corner to check it out. So we did, and wow we were not disappointed. Exposed staircases wind up several stories to reveal floor after floor of books, entertainment, and architectural delight. You could spend an entire day in this place and not touch on boredom by a long shot. In between sections of literature there are gift shops, cafes, restaurants, and yes, even bars tucked in. The third floor has a whole wing dedicated to board games, which you can check out for the afternoon and take upstairs to the rooftop and play with friends while sipping on a cocktail of your choice. We 10/10 recommend anyone visiting Austin to just pop through and take in all of its architectural splendor.
4. I wouldn’t call Austin all that ‘weird’. But then again I do live in Philly. It seemed interesting to me just how new and under construction the city was. Pair that with what seems to be their new tourism marketing angle—”keep Austin weird” and you have a general state of confusion. What exists in Austin so far isn’t necessarily an odd offering. The existing bar strips and shopping areas are for all intents and purposes, nice. Hopefully as the city continues to rapidly grow it will continue to develop its voice, and if weird is their angle, really go for it. Being as under development as it is, it was interesting how hard at times it was to get a real sense of where I was. By where I was, I don’t mean ‘did we head east at 6th or west?’ but rather how hard it was for me to get that feeling when I travel of being somewhere truly new and unique. I had that moment in Nashville, climbing up the stairs in kitschy restaurants to see live act after live act. I had it in Denver, going over the Millennium bridge in LoDo. But there was only one place in Austin that had me bursting with excitement, that filled me with that “I’m really here” kind of feeling.
5. Rainey Street. Now this is a cool place. Paired against a skyscraper backdrop, Rainey Street is made up of a collection of cute old American Craftsmen style homes that have been repurposed in the most unusual way. Through the picture windows in the Parlor Room you can see neon lights against bold wallpaper, and the flash of club lights as people dance in the living room. You hear the roar of voices and the distant boom of a base. This isn’t just true of the Parlor Room but of all buildings on the street, as what was presumably an adorable residential area has now been fully converted to the homiest bar crawl you’ll ever have. In this area of town a bonafide house party bar crawl awaits, and it’s full of all the tricks you could possibly want in a night out. Dancing and bars inside, outdoor seating in the back yard, and TVs and games all around. Each house offers a different attitude, one even having a circus-like appeal. This street truly didn’t disappoint, and offered more character than everything else I saw in the city combined. One bar even had a slide out back.
6. These smoked chili cheese dogs deserve their own honorable mention. After our 12 mile exhausting jaunt around the city, we ended up back at Rainey Street for the second night in a row to stop at the German-Beer-hall-themed Bangers for sustenance. Sausage seems an obvious move at a place like this, but when I saw smoked hot dogs on the menu, it seemed like the most appropriate Texas spin on a German go-to. And it had the option to make it chili cheese. When in Texas, supersize me. So we did it. And I don’t exaggerate when I saw we ate every. last. bite of those smoked hot dogs. So thank you, Bangers chili cheese dogs for giving us life after a long day’s walk. We couldn’t have done it without you.
7. Our Airbnb. Our bed to crash in, our cozy casita. This one doesn’t reflect directly on the city itself, but our adorable guest house Airbnb deserves a major shoutout. A converted tiny-home shed in a lush backyard in the adorable Travis Heights neighborhood, she offered the perfect quiet retreat to end an exhausting day at. Check out this spot if you ever visit Austin, we would absolutely return!
8. The weather. I should mention that our trip was over the first weekend in December. Days averaged 75 and sunny, the kind of weather where you could leave the house in shorts, jeans, sweaters, or t-shirts and be comfortable no matter what. That has to be some kind of nirvana.