We had planned to spend the weekend in Austin and then head down to San Antonio before flying back to Ottawa for my cousin’s wedding, but when we arrived in this bizarre, awesome, wonderful town, we realized we were going to need a few more days … basically a week (or forever). Every part of Austin is the hip part of Austin. Every corner you turn there is a food truck, patio, or indie coffee shop – often all three. The music scene is pretty unbelievable, rivaling New Orleans, with concert venues everywhere, including in bookstores and supermarkets. Here are only some of the amazing things we did:
Bouldin Creek Café: We ate our first meal in Austin here and it was amazing, so amazing that we decided to eat our last meal here as well. All vegetarian and very vegan-friendly, every dish we tried at this funky/punky restaurant was delicious. Lots of local beer, all-day breakfast, plus a sweet patio. Legit.
Walking along Austin’s rivers and lakes: Our host for our stay was my step-mother’s sister Sharon. Sharon owns a lovely house right on the city’s green-belt. The park runs along Barton Creek down to Lady Bird Lake (very much like a river) upon which the city is located. We were able to walk to downtown from her backyard in an hour without crossing a single street. We walked almost 25 km on two of our more adventurous days and found the experience deeply satisfying. A forest path beside a creek turns into a trail through fields and then a walkway through a park until you get to Lady Bird Lake which has major trails running along both sides. The waterfront is all in pretty great condition, wild with birds, bats, and turtles as well as people canoeing, kayaking, running and biking.
Honky Tonk night at ABGB Pizza: A local brewery, pizzeria, and music venue, Sharon took us here on our first night to experience honky tonk music, and specifically a celebration of Valentine’s Day where all the songs were macabre tunes about dead or dying sweethearts. In a corner someone was tracking the body-count.
Mayfield Park: Located in the west of town, this small park on the river is quite beautiful to walk around. The trails are somewhat adventurous requiring us to scramble up rock-faces and hop from stone to stone to cross rivers. Despite being surrounded by residential developments, we felt quite isolated. While we had heard there were wild peacocks about, we failed to spot them.
BookWoman: This small and amazing shop had an excellent selection of feminist, POC, and queer books – both fiction and non-fiction. Unfortunately, book shops like this are becoming harder and harder to find. Make sure to visit and buy something next time you’re here and support other progressive independent bookstores near you!
James Hand at the Little Longhorn Saloon: On our second night, Sharon took us a to a concert that proved extra-special. We squeezed ourselves into the small and packed Little Longhorn Saloon. Austin is a mix of old and new music venues and this was definitely one of the older ones. The evening started with a small bluegrass country band called High Plains Jamboree playing some great music, including a song dedicated to attacking former President Andrew Jackson (who appears on the $20 bill) and his role in slaughtering thousands of Indigenous peoples. At one point, they paused between songs to invite up a couple of members of the local German singing club who took the opportunity to do some yodeling. Totally cool. The main act of the night and local legend James Hand took the stage. Known in country circles well beyond Austin, James is an old-school master of the trade, echoing other greats like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. His band (a mix of old and young) was spectacular. It was a very special night.
Gospel Brunch at Threadgills: Music in Austin is everywhere, including at brunch. Gospel brunch doesn’t involve choirs so much as it involves the singing of songs inspired by the gospel. It was a bluegrass affair. While the music room was full when we arrived, lucky for us our city guide is a local celebrity and was able to get us seats at the artists’ table. The Sieker Band played that morning.
Walking South Congress: Another cool part of town, we spent an afternoon wandering up and down the street, checking out the various knick-knack shops, eating more vegan tacos, stopping at Hill Country Weavers (a great weaving and knitting shop), ending with some music at The Continental Club for some more music.
Drinks at Easy Tiger: This is a very cool bar downtown. Setup like a beer garden with long tables, it had a very european feel with an indoor area and a patio. The patio was off the street beside a canal, was complimented by ping pong tables, and had a stage for music of course. The beer and liquor selection was ridiculous (in the good way) and the giant pretzels and home made mustard were exactly what we were hoping for.
The Hope Outdoor Gallery: Condos are going up everywhere in Austin, much to the frustration of locals, but one failed development has turned into an immersive collection of street art. The many concrete walls and foundations of the abandoned condo project are now completely covered in graffiti. Unfortunately, the ground is covered in garbage and used spray paint bottles.
Barton Springs Pool: Between Sharon’s house and the downtown core sits the Barton Springs Pool. Built into the riverbed, the pool is massive and a favourite for locals. Fed by a spring, the pool is several olympic pools in length and fairly consistent in temperature. It provides clear, non-chlorinated water in which to swim and is home to some blind salamanders. Many signs remind swimmers to watch their step. It’s really a hard place to describe. The accompanying photos should give you a better idea. Yes, it was warm enough to swim and we had a great time in the pool and reading in the sun.
Gypsy jazz at C-Boys Heart and Soul: Another older club, C-Boys plays host to all kinds of music. On this particular evening, it was some gypsy jazz. It was really quite creative and fun-spirited music with some rarely used instruments (kazoo), scat, and storytelling woven in with French influences.
Counter Culture Café: This place was closed for a holiday the first time we tried, but it was worth coming back. An all-vegan café (with a patio of course), the food was amazing as were the small macaroon doughnut holes we had for desert.
An amazing host: Sharon was our guide to the city and all it had to offer. She was incredible. We new we’d like Austin when we arrived, but she took us places where we would have never thought to go and our experience was so much richer for it – it didn’t hurt that she ran into people she knew everywhere we went, all of whom had really interesting and musical stories to tell. Thank you Sharon!! ❤
Bonus: Patika Coffee Bar, Monkeywrench Books (a small anarchist bookstore and organizing space), The Vegan Nom (delicious taco food truck, but 45 minutes for a taco is just too long to wait), Austin’s moonlight towers (historic landmarks, they were built in the 1800s to light up the streets and make them safer), Waterloo Records (a large independent music store downtown), BookPeople (a massive independent bookstore downtown with a selection rivaling most big box stores), Sazon (delicious Mexican restaurant).