I went for my first visit to Austin this past week. Austin’s known as an up-and-coming city, a top destination-of-choice for waves of remote workers. A week isn’t long enough to get know the culture or the people but here are my brief impressions:
At the end of March, it’s warm during the day but cool at night and chilly before the sun hits the zenith. The mornings remind me of waking up early on camping trips and feeling the crisp air. Like San Francisco, the weather changes quickly throughout the day and I never know how many layers to wear. There’s an ever present wind that cools when it’s hot but freezes when it’s cold.
Austin is split down the middle by the Colorado River. Austin is known as an outdoor city and the river shows why. It’s not only a great place to run and walk, but combined with the hot Texas sun, the water inspires kayaking, paddle boarding, and a host of other outdoor activities. I love being on the water, it’s not only calming but you get to see the city from a new perspective.
There’s plenty of Austin to explore on land as well. The parks that dot Austin are a nice respite from the concrete and make the traveler forget they’re only in an oasis. I loved Waterloo Park’s winding paths and Butler Metro Park’s sculptures.
Congress Avenue Bridge is known for hosting up to a million bats during the summer. Austin is a stop in their migration. Every night, right before sunset, the bats emerge and swarm from the bridge, flying miles to clear Austin of mosquitos. I was able to watch this nightly show from a kayak.
“Everything’s bigger in Texas.” The availability of land plus functional modern design resulted in my two favorite buildings in Austin, the Austin Central Library and Austin Bouldering Project.
The Austin Central Library is six floors with an amazing roofdeck where you can read or work while enjoying the great weather (I’m writing this essay there!). There’s a whole floor devoted to kids with a giant chessboard. The library is surrounded by park quality landscaping, including a brook running along one side. If every city had a library like this, no one would have invested in WeWork.
Austin Bouldering Project is an amazing climbing gym. It has every terrain imaginable (slab, overhangs, caves, shorter walls you can top out on, etc) and an abundance of problems [“problems” are climbing slang for bouldering routes]. There’s also a great area to cowork (with a hammock?!?!), plus a gym, sauna, yoga room.
I was definitely looking forward to the food as soon as I knew I was going to Austin. I asked everyone I knew who had lived in or visited Austin for recommendations. I asked every Uber driver there for suggestions. There’s two (or three) types of food that Austin is known for: BBQ and Mexican (and Tex-Mex). I had all three in spades. I’m as big a BBQ connoisseur as they come in the northeast (so a neophyte by Texas standards).
This was some of the best BBQ I’ve ever had. Each piece was well marbled, with the fat rendered, making each bite melt in my mouth. The creamed corn was so sweet it tasted like ice cream. Five stars, must go.
Leroy & Lewis
I was told to get the beef cheek. Literally right before we stepped up to order, they slapped a “Sold Out” magnet covering beef cheeks on the menu. We had to make do with the barbacoa (a type of BBQ beef). The frito pie was delicious but the star of the show was the Loaded Pork Hash. The food was complemented by the large picnic area, there’s nothing like basking in the sun while eating great BBQ. And there’s a climbing gym next door!
Rosita’s food truck
OMG the tacos! The Al Pastors were dripping with flavor and the barbacoa were amazing. Unfortunately, I was really disappointed by the lengua (beef tongue), this was the first time I’ve ever had bland lengua.
Tasty! We had the Tacos Encebollados (coffee-marinated steak tacos) and Cochinita Pibil (Yucatan BBQ pork). We also tried their Avocado Margarita which was surprisingly good.
Velvet Taco has fusion tacos ranging from Tandoori to Chicken & Waffles to Cuban. I generally hate places that identify as fusion, but at Velvet Taco, It’s more than a stunt, the flavors in each taco meld and nothing feels forced.
While I don’t think Austin is known for fried chicken, I had fried chicken three times in six days.
Both Gus’ World Famous Fried Chicken and Spicy Boys had really flavorful and juicy chicken with unbelievably crispy skin and hints of spiciness. So good that I started eating before I remembered to take a picture.
Last, but not least, are the people. Everyone in Austin, both long-time residents and new arrivals, reinforced the stereotype of the friendliness of Texans. Austin is probably one of the most inviting cities I've visited.
Questions, suggestions, complaints? Email me me at [email protected]. Feedback welcome.
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Leaving you in peace,