Like most vacations, my recent trip to Austin, Texas left me feeling lifted and rejuvenated. It was exactly what I needed after a pretty grueling start to 2019. My boyfriend and I flew down to the Lone Star State for a quick weekend getaway - Friday through Monday - and stayed with his cousin slash my friend who ironically introduced us to one another a few years back. Needless to say, we all had a great time catching up and bouncing around the city together.
We jammed a lot into our short time in Texas, but by no means was it exhausting or overwhelming. It was the perfect balance of adventure, exploration, relaxation, indoor and outdoor fun. It is hard to pinpoint a favorite moment, so I’m sharing a few highlights below.
Lady Bird Lake
This gorgeous lake was situated across the street from my friend’s apartment building. On our last day, we grabbed coffee and went for a leisurely walk along the lake under a crystal blue sky, breezy palm trees and pleasant 70 degree weather. We spotted probably 20 sunbathing turtles along our walk which was not exactly the most exciting sight to see since they barely moved an inch, but hey seeing any kind of wildlife is always cool! I wish I could start every morning this way.
Barton Creek Greenbelt
On our first afternoon in Austin, we took a quick drive to Barton Creek Greenbelt. I guess I would call it a hiking experience? You’re not really going up in any kind of elevation but you’re in a woodsy setting that runs adjacent to Barton Creek, a waterway that has a beautiful light green/aquamarine hue to it (earning it its color-themed name). I could see how this place would be an awesome escape in the summer, as the trails were mostly shaded from tree coverage but there were also numerous swimming holes and waterfalls to check out. A real natural beauty this place is, and ironically it’s located pretty close to a major highway. You’d never know! Another added bonus is that you will see tons of adorable dogs and puppies on your adventure. That made our time there extra fun.
Rainey Street was our Sunday afternoon activity. I was excited to check it out because when I hear about Austin, I feel like Rainey Street is one of the first things people talk about. It definitely lived up to the hype and made me understand why so many bachelor/ette parties travel here. When you hear the term, “bar hop”, think Rainey Street because that’s exactly what goes on. It’s a strip of really fun bars, some with live music, some with interesting themes (visit the circus at Unbarlivable), and all with some sort of outdoor element that allows you to enjoy that Texas heat! We saw a live folk band perform at Craft Pride, went to Lustre Pearl a few times, and ended at Unbarlievable and Lucille. For visiting that many bars in one day, I surprisingly wasn’t too intoxicated and it was hopping for a Sunday in January! I was impressed. Oh yeah, and a bird pooped on my face. I guess that’s all part of the Rainey Street “experience”, right?
La Barbecue is a super popular, authentic BBQ joint located in Austin’s East Side neighborhood. My boyfriend’s #1 request coming to Austin was to try Texas Barbecue, so we came here to see what all the talk was about. We attempted to go on Saturday afternoon and that was a mistake because there was an hour long line to place an order! I guess that’s how you know that La Barbecue is legit though. One of the employees told us to come back the next day at 10:30am to avoid the lines, so that’s what we did. BBQ for breakfast, I dubbed it. I definitely was off any kind of diet plan I was previously trying to maintain. The shop actually opens at 11am and not surprisingly, there was a decent line already formed when we got there (keeping in mind this is still before open). Damn, this stuff better be good, right? Well, it was, thank god. We got pulled pork, brisket, sausage, baked beans and pickles and it was all delicious. The brisket was our favorite and my boyfriend impulsively orderd a pound of it after sampling a taste test. So yeah, we gorged ourselves with brisket at 11am. It was fun even though our stomachs rumbled a bit later.
Emmer & Rye
Emmer & Rye was our finale meal on Sunday night after our long day on Rainey Street, and boy it did not disappoint. I booked a reservation here because the head chef supports the nonprofit that I work for at my full time job. It is an upscale farm to table restaurant that offers dim sum cart service, how cool? The dim sum carts carried various bite sized appetizers to add onto your meal. It was so fun to constantly be surprised with new rounds of exotic yet refined bites. We ordered dozens of things, but some I recall off the top of my head were the beef crudo, cabbage and trout roe, cacio e pepe, short rib, and hands down the best bread and butter I’ve ever had. They gave us a delicious sorbet dessert on the house too, making us feel super special at the end of our decadent meal. I couldn’t recommend this restaurant enough if you are visiting Austin or have a special occasion to celebrate.
Torchy’s was our b-plan after getting shut out at La Barbecue on Saturday afternoon, and I’m so glad it was because it was bomb. We had to wait in another line (what’s with the lines, Austin?!) which as we learned at LB, meant good food awaits. Torchy’s has a lot of locations throughout Texas and some in Denver, Arizona and Oklahoma too, where tacos mean business to locals. Between the three of us, we got brisket, carnitas, barbacoa and fried chicken tacos and a side of queso because, why not. We left satisfied, very satisfied, with our choices at Torchy’s.
Parts and Labour
Between our many delicious meals, we perused different parts of town to check out Austin’s very impressive boutique scene - obviously, this was one of my favorite parts of the trip. First up was Parts and Labour, a boutique that specializes in supporting Texas-based artists. Umm, can I say how much I love that?! I went kind of crazy in there and bought two shirts, a cactus koozie and a cactus magnet for my house. I’m a sucker for anything with a succulent on it and this store had a lot of that so I went a little overboard. Not sorry though. The vibe there was very artsy, hipster, yogi, boho; all things that are 100% up my alley.
I have trouble even describing East Co. because it is so beautiful and you really just need to see it for yourself. If you are into Vestige or Moon and Arrow here in Philadelphia, then you will have similar feelings of admiration about East Co. The shop is literally a work of art in itself the way it is perfectly merchandised. It features beautiful handmade pottery, textiles, plants, locally made prints, jewelry, books and more that all compliment one another so well. I bought a piece of pottery that now makes me smile every time I see it because it makes me think of this amazing store. The owner said she finds a lot of the artists that she features in her store through Instagram, which I thought was cool. If you like to shop in boutiques and are visiting Austin, DO NOT MISS THIS PLACE! (Yes, all caps were necessary there). It’s located in the East Side hood, hence its name.
Allen’s Boots is pretty iconic and really screams “TEXAS” as soon as you walk in. You will smell an intense aroma of leather because the massive store is filled head to toe with leather goods including cowboy hats, belts, and some of the craziest boots you will ever see. I saw a pair of croc ones that were on sale for $3K. That’s right, on SALE at that price! They do not mess around in there. Now that I’m reflecting on Allen’s, I kind of wish I got myself a hat. Sigh, maybe next time.
East Side / Congress Street
I don’t have a ton to elaborate on here but to sum up, these were my two favorite neighborhoods for shopping. East Side kind of reminds me of the Brooklyn of Austin, a little hipster-ish, young, artsy, creative and up and coming. Congress Street feels a little more traveled, maybe equivalent to New York’s Soho neighborhood? Everyone already knows the good shops are on Congress Street. It’s not to be missed. I only got a small taste of both neighborhoods too and I am positive that there is so much more to explore. When I got home, I did some research on Instagram and started following a bunch of shops in these areas and all I can say is wow, Austin’s boutique scene is pretty dope.
On the last day of our trip, the inevitable panic of going back to my routine life started to sink in so I asked my friend, “What made you move to Austin again in the first place? I can’t remember.” She has been living there for a little over 2 years now and seems utterly happy, so I wanted to know what her process was like. Her response: “I was unhappy when I was previously living in New York. I had traveled to Austin before and loved it, and I’m a pretty adventurous person so I just went for it. I found my first job fairly easily, took a leap of faith and here I am now”. Wow, that really struck a chord with me. My transition from New York City back to Philadelphia hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park. I’ve had many moments of doubt leaving my career in fashion in Manhattan, along with the glitz and glamour of living in one of the biggest cities in the world. Life in Philadelphia is most certainly more well rounded and I am so happy to be with my boyfriend and closer to my family, but I definitely don’t have it all figured out yet. To be candid, I have been thinking about making some big life changes for quite some time now but have been paralyzed due to the fear of failure and the unknown. I’m not ready to share what those changes are because I’m still trying to map them out myself, but what I can say is that this brief trip to Austin taught me that sometimes taking risks do pay off and maybe it’s time for me to take a similar leap of faith that my friend did.
Isn’t it funny how traveling does this to you? The thrill of discovering a new place is so amazing but comes to an abrupt halt as soon as you set foot onto the plane back home. And then you’re back to where you started and reflect on your current situation. Instead of sulking about vacation being over (which I kind of am since the weather isn’t going to break 20 degrees for a few days), I have decided that I am going to try and ride off of this travel-momentum and implement some positive changes into my day to day. No, I’m not going to pick up and move across the country tomorrow. But yes, I am going to put time and energy into my dreams and aspirations. It’s worth it and I am confident things will work out one way or another!
On that note, until next time, Austin! Stay weird.