As much as we wish we knocked more things off our Austin to-do list, we did see and do a lot. It just seems to be a theme everywhere we go: There’s never enough time….
Back On Two Wheels
As we did in San Antonio, we rented bikes through the city’s B-Cycle bikeshare program to cruise around downtown. It was the best of times and the worst of times: Best because Austin is incredibly bike friendly and it was 75 degrees and sunny; Worst because we weren’t the only ones with this brilliant idea.
After renting our bikes at one of the kiosks, we made a beeline for the beautiful waterfront parks that are home to miles of walking and biking trails.
Little did we know we were heading into the mental equivalent for me of a wartime battlefield. There’s a dog park next to the trail, and on a pristine Saturday afternoon, there must have been 40 large dogs, all running around the dog park, across the bike path, and jumping into the river to go swimming. These days I have a bit of an issue with big dogs running full speed toward me, so that wasn’t the best way to start.
And once we got through that obstacle course, we encountered hundreds and hundreds of people walking and biking on the paths. Being a relatively inexperienced bike rider (if not for the fact that “once you learn, you never forget,” I would be completely screwed), it was a challenge, to say the least. With the memory of broken bones still fresh in my mind, the last thing I wanted to do was try navigating a bike through hordes of people and kids and dogs on unfamiliar paths. Once we got away from the crowded waterfront, things were easier, but it wasn’t until we got away from the park entirely and onto the city streets, with their omnipresent dedicated bike lanes, that I really felt comfortable. Oddly enough, I quickly concluded that I’d rather dodge cars than people.
Anyway, when not fighting puppy-induced PTSD, we enjoyed the beautiful surroundings and the opportunity to get some exercise. We ended up using the full 24 hour pass, coming back downtown the following morning to ride around some more.
Bats and RV Buddies
We first met Ben & Lanni in Florida when we were having our week of socializing at Grayton Beach. They mentioned that they’d be in Austin at the same time as us, so we planned to get together. First on the itinerary, the “bat bridge.” Austin is home to one of the largest colonies of bats in North America. Every night, hundreds of people congregate on, under, and near the Congress Avenue Bridge at sunset to watch the bats emerge and head out for their night on the town.
We stood on the bridge and, right on schedule, watched thousands of them emerge from underneath. Interestingly, we later learned that the number of bats vastly increases toward the end of the summer when all the baby bats who’ve been born during the season are old enough to fly with the adults. Here’s an article about the bat colony and what to expect when you visit, and here’s a video someone shot that must have been during the latter part of the summer…. While we saw a lot of of them, we definitely didn’t see this many.
After the bat brigade, we headed off to dinner at Odd Duck, which is actually the sister restaurant to Barley Swine where Kevin & I later went for my birthday. Odd Duck is all about small plates and sharing dishes, and the four of us did a good job of trying just about every small plate on the menu.
We had a great time hanging out and chatting with Ben & Lanni and hope our paths cross again in the not-too-distant future.
Given our affinity for BBQ, we decided to trek out to Lockhart, which is known as the home of Texas Barbecue. The town, which is located about 30 minutes from Austin, is pretty picturesque and definitely felt like the quintessential small Texas town:
The photograph at the top of this post is of the Caldwell County courthouse which is located in Lockhart. It was a gorgeous building.
There are four main barbecue restaurants in Lockhart: Smitty’s Market, Kreuz’s Barbecue, Chisholm Trail, and Black’s. Part of what makes them famous is they have rules about how they prepare and how you can eat their barbecue. For example, several of them don’t provide forks, and Kreuz’s provides neither forks nor barbecue sauce, and apparently, if you ask for barbecue sauce, they’ll get mad at you. All of which just seemed silly to us. If someone wants a fork, just give them a freaken fork. Who cares??
In any case, not being the type who enjoy being yelled at for asking for sauce (or for anything, really), we decided to just check out Smitty’s and Black’s. Neither really blew us away. In fact, as I’m sitting here writing this post several weeks after our visit, I’m having a hard time remembering what we even had. I guess that tells you something.
Additionally, when we walked into Smitty’s, we walked down a hallway that was painted black, to a back kitchen area. There was an open fire pit connected to the smokers, and the employees who take your order and prepare the meats were working in that enclosed room.
It was hot, smoky, and hard to breath. And this was all in March. I can’t even imagine what it’s like in July. As we got our food and sat down in the other room, I asked Kevin why they would have the smokers inside such a poorly ventilated room like that. He said “I don’t know. I guess it just looks cool.”
It sorda seemed like a gimmick, like refusing to provide forks. In the meantime, all their employees are gonna end up with cancer. Seems kinda dumb.
At the end of the day, our advice would be: just stay in Austin. There’s plenty of great Barbecue joints there, and no one will get mad at you if you ask for a fork.
BBQ Round Up
Speaking of which, we had some great BBQ with zero drama or pretension right in Austin. To start with, there was Rudy’s. We’d heard that Rudy’s was “located in a gas station,” and assumed it was an old gas station that had been converted to a restaurant. But alas, no, it is actually located in a fully functioning Shell station.
When you approach the counter to order your food, they ask if you’ve been there before. If you say no, the cashier will give you several samples of their various meats and explain all of your options to help you decide what you want. While you are chowing down at the counter, he’ll notify all the other folks working there and they will all sing and chant to welcome the newbies to the restaurant.
We were definitely feeling the love. And the BBQ was excellent. So excellent, in fact, that Rudy’s was one of the few places we made a return trip to.
The other place we visited twice was actually a food truck that I first heard about on Austin Eater (a great resource for finding restaurants in new cities, by the way). Each time we went, there was an enormous line, and for good reason. The food at Valentina’s is unique, delicious, and cheap.
I’ve long believed that everything is better when wrapped in a tortilla, and apparently the folks at Valentina’s agree. All of their smoked meats are offered “Tex style” – served on bread, or “Mex style,” wrapped in a tortilla.
More importantly, they offer breakfast tacos… Life changing, mood lifting, happiness creating breakfast tacos….
The Real Deal Holyfield for me, the potato, egg, and cheese for KG.
Everything we sampled was delicious. If you find yourself in Austin, the truck is about 20 minutes south of the City, and well worth the drive.
And speaking of tacos, the last place we visited was Torchy’s Tacos, which has been a mainstay in Austin for many years. It’s now a chain with locations in several parts of the city, but we went to their original spot on South First Street.
The tacos were solid, unique, and clearly impress a lot of people because there was still a long line at 3:00 in the afternoon.
One person who seemed unimpressed was Jason Segel who was sitting at a table about 10 feet from us while we were eating. We watched as I don’t even know how many people went up to him and asked to take a picture. He graciously obliged every one of them, but we just felt bad for him: The poor guy was clearly trying to go unnoticed and eat his food in peace.
We considered asking for a photo, but really? He’s just the guy who co-starred with Neil Patrick Harris…. If he was ACTUALLY Neil Patrick Harris, I would have stalked him until there was a restraining order in place, but I couldn’t justify ending up with a probation officer over Jason Segel. Anyway, since the person who takes pictures of every damn thing she sees actually didn’t take a picture of this, you’re just gonna have to trust me when I tell you we were within the spitting distance of Marshall.
The last big thing we checked off our Austin to-do list was “hike” Mt. Bonnell. It is one of the highest points in Austin and offers great views, but I put “hike” in quotations because it’s not really a hike. You have to walk up a bunch of stairs and then there you are! Pretty views of Austin and some impressive waterfront real estate….
It was cool, and a worthwhile jaunt. Just realize: it’s not a proper hike.
And that concludes our Austin roundup. Noticeably absent, we did not make it out to Fredericksburg or Luckenbach or any of the other small surrounding towns that everyone and their mother told us were awesome, nor did we make it to any of the great music clubs downtown. Our time in Austin coincided with the time we were finishing up the redesign of this site and we just plain ran out of time. Whenever we make it back, it will likely be for a month or more. There is so much to see and do in Austin, two weeks was not nearly enough.
In real time, we’ve made it to Memphis for a quick stop on our way to a slightly lengthier stay in Nashville, then it’s on to Lexington and Louisville!
Where we stayed: McKinney Falls State Park