48 Hours in Austin

Favorites from a Former Resident

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Austin is a combination of quirky characters, politicians, UT students, social activists, musicians, and just regular folks that come together to create this city’s million plus population

Austin is unique and like no place else in Texas. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you’ve only visited the capital city, then you really haven’t been to Texas. With that, I do adore Austin and all that goes with it {even the Longhorns, dare I say}.

 

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Austin is a combination of quirky characters, politicians, UT students, social activists, musicians, and just regular folks that come together to create this city’s million plus population. I lived in Austin for four years and still have family and friends living in the area. Having been in Houston since 2002, I’ve noticed how much Austin has developed and changed. The city isn’t the same, but my old haunts still remain. For my recent birthday, I spent 48 hours in Austin and got a chance to revisit some my favorite places and also discover some new ones.

Stay

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Since I have a number of places to rest my head while in Austin, I rarely get a hotel room. However, on the rare occasion that I do, I choose the Four Seasons. The heart of what’s happening in Austin is downtown, and the Four Seasons is perfectly positioned.

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Located on the shore of Lady Bird Lake, hotel visitors enjoy outstanding water or cityscape views. It’s hard to go wrong with either, but I particularly enjoy seeing the colors of the lake and surrounding trees change with the position of the sun, thus I request a water view room.

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With its classic Texas touches like rich leathers, wrought iron, cowhides, and dark woods, the lobby at the Four Seasons is like walking into a comfortable living room. A wall of windows reveal views of Lady Bird Lake, while the Lobby Bar is eager to serve up one of their signature cocktails or bring you an Austin hippie salad, prime beef sliders, or anything else from their Light Fare menu. The Lobby Lounge attracts not only hotel guests, but also Austinites for its relaxed and sophisticated atmosphere, as well as live music Wednesday through Saturday.

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Austin is blessed with lots of sunshine, which makes the pool at the Four Seasons a popular spot. Overlooking Lady Bird Lake, this heated, saltwater pool is enjoyed throughout the year by guests. If you’re not much of a pool person, but still want to enjoy the great outdoors, there are hammocks, comfortable outdoor seating, and park benches scattered about. Relax under a tree with a book, a cold beverage, and watch active Austinites pass by on the walking/running trail that hugs the bank of the lake.

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If you’re looking for a further urban escape, then the spa is where you want to be. Inspired by the surrounding nature of the Texas Hill Country, the treatment areas and relaxation lounge are the perfect backdrop for bit of pampering. My spa treatment of choice is always a massage, and the Relaxation Therapy lived up to its name. Incorporating lavender, lemongrass, patchouli, Sandalwood, and tangerine aromatherapy, I was looser than creamed corn at the end of my fifty minutes. Make sure to enjoy the infused water {always a favorite of mine at hotel spas} and the homemade energy bars in the relaxation room. With the provided sustenance and the inviting atmosphere, I could have stayed in the spa indefinitely.

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Eat & Drink

Tex-Mex

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Make no mistake, I love Tex-Mex, and some of my very favorite restaurants are in Austin. Although there are locations throughout the United States, including several in Houston, I still can’t get enough of the original Chuy’s on Barton Springs Road. In fact, I’ve dedicated an entire post to my obsession with Chuy’s and their creamy jalapeno dip.

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Next door to Chuy’s is Baby Acapulco, which started out as my alternative when the Chuy’s line was too long. What keeps me going back to Baby A’s is the purple rita. I don’t know what’s in it, but one glass puts me in a really happy place. Matt’s Famous El Rancho bills itself as the “Best Mexican Food in the World.” It’s been in Austin since 1952, and I’ve been eating there since 1997. Enough said.

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The newest kid on my Austin block is Torchy’s Tacos. With locations throughout Texas {and even a few in Houston}, I gave the place a shot recently. Popular is an understatement. If a restaurant were judged on the line alone, Torchy’s would be the #1 place in the world. Although I abhor lines, I decided to take the 15-minute hit. The democrat taco with its shredded barbacoa, avocado, and tomatillo sauce did me right. I’ll be back.

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Bar-B-Que

If you’re looking for the best bar-b-que in Texas, then you’ll have to escape the city limits of Austin. This, of course, is my opinion, which can be read about here. Since I’m talking strictly Austin, I’m leaving my beloved Cooper’s and the ever-popular Salt Lick out. Fortunately, Austin does have its fair share of great bar-b-que joints. Let me just say this: I HAVE NOT TRIED FRANKLIN BARBECUE YET. This place has a cult-like following and lines down the street. I’ve mentioned how I hate lines in Chicago’s Great Doughnut Con, and I just haven’t mustered the desire to spend 2-3 hours of my morning waiting for a Big Red and pound of brisket, no matter how good. One day I’ll try Franklin, just because I’m curious as to what all the fuss is about.

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So with that being said, my bar-b-que go-to pick come as a surprise. I genuinely like Rudy’s. In addition to some of the best jalapeno sausage, spicy sauce, and breakfast tacos, you can also get a car wash, a tank of gas, and a pack of gum at Rudy’s. That’s what I’m talking about.

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I always forget about the County Line, as it’s tucked away on the curvy 2222. I haven’t eaten there in a few years, but the location on Bull Creek and the ribs make this a great stop for visitors and locals alike. Sit on the deck if the weather’s nice. Green Mesquite on Barton Springs is quintessentially Austin and serves up some damn fine fatty brisket and fried okra. And with the tag line, “Horrifying Vegetarians Since 1988,” how can one not like this place? The building that houses Iron Works BBQ downtown isn’t much to look at, but ambiance isn’t my priority when biting down on some beef. What is important is the taste, and Iron Works fits the bill. I’m a big fan of their sausage and ribs.

Etcetera

I love a great steak probably as much as I do Tex-Mex. Both, I would argue, are difficult to do well. After years of searching Austin to no avail, I finally found a great steak. Trio, the restaurant in the Four Seasons, serves the best steak I’ve ever tasted in Austin, and quite frankly, the best I remember eating in quite some time.

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What was this scrumptious steak? It was the ten-ounce Akaushi strip. This Japanese breed of cattle has rich, marbled fat, and is sourced by Trio from Harwood, Texas. Add to this brilliant breed of beef some mac and cheese, sautéed spinach {it comes with brie!}, and rosemary steak fries, and you have a veritable feast. Be sure to enlist the help of Trio’s sommelier; his pairings are outstanding.

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Although Café Josie has been around since 1997, I just discovered it this summer. Executive Chef and Owner, Brandon Fuller strives to use locally sourced ingredients for the ultimate in farm to table dining. The atmosphere is true to Austin with its refined, yet casual environment. Pick a couple of small plates for the table to share and then a large plate for the entre. I’m a big fan of the pork belly.

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Austin has been on the forefront of the nation’s food truck trend. South Congress was once home to an enclave of these, but has since relocated to make room for a forthcoming hotel and retail space. Trucks serving everything from crepes to Cuban food to shave ice to tacos can be found throughout Austin. Check out Austin Food Carts for a heap of information and locations on these roaming restaurants.

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Experience

Known as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin has deep musical roots. Musicians have used the city to launch their careers, while legendary venues such as Threadgill’s, The Broken Spoke, The Continental Club, and Antone’s, are still alive with music. Popular yearly music festivals like South by Southwest and Austin City Limits attract thousands of visitors and top bands from every genre of music.

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Beginning in 1974 with a performance by Willie Nelson, PBS’s Austin City Limits is the longest running musical program in history. No matter if you’re walking on the famous 6th Street, Rainey Street, Warehouse District, 2nd Street District, or even Whole Foods, you’ll feel the thump of music reverberating from the countless bars, restaurants, and music venues. There are plenty of opportunities to hear live music every night of the week in Austin.

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Austinites are a very active bunch, and there’s always folks out running, walking, cycling {thanks a lot, Lance Armstrong}, or on the water. If visiting the capital city doesn’t inspire you to do something active then you’re a lost cause. Some of the best places to enjoy the great outdoors, experience some of Austin’s beautiful vistas, and hang with locals include the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail, Barton Creek Greenbelt, Shoal Creek Hike and Bike Trail, McKinney Falls State Park, and Mt. Bonnell, for the best view in town.

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As early as March and late as October, Austin and the Congress Avenue Bridge are home to a million+ Mexican free-tail bats. Around 8 pm, the bats leave the confines of the bridge for their nightly feeding. In August when the pups feed with their mothers, it can take nearly 45 minutes for all the bats to exit. The blanket of black bats swarming into the sky is certainly a site to behold.

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In Texas, football is king and in Austin, the University of Texas is a burnt orange deity. On Saturdays in the fall, the city centers on the Longhorns. If there happens to be a game at Darryl K. Royal Memorial Stadium, the city is electric that weekend. Hundreds of thousands of people descend upon the UT campus for a day of revelry, food, booze, and football. Even if you’re not a Longhorn or football fan, it’s still an amazing experience. You’ve got to see it to believe it; this is what the religion of football in Texas looks like.

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A trip to Austin would be incomplete without a stop at the Texas capitol. Standing watch over the city, the building is the largest in gross square footage of ALL state capitols and is second in total size only to the National Capitol in Washington, D.C. The Texas capitol is almost 15 feet taller than its Washington counterpart. The beautiful exterior walls are sunset red granite and quarried in Marble Falls, just 50 miles from the site. At the very least, take a walk around the grounds, but keep in mind that the interior is just as impressive as the exterior.

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Oh, how I love Austin. Had a job not taken me to Houston, I’d still be sitting in traffic on MoPac, trying to decide between brunch at Kirbey Lane or Moonshine, and cussing the Californians for driving up the cost of living. Needless to say, I have plans to move back to Austin in the near future. I’ve been gone far too long.

 

I was a guest of the Four Seasons. In no way was I swayed to write a positive review based on the Texas-themed cocktails, Southern hospitality shown, or the birthday truffles delivered to my room. As always, opinions are my own.

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