City of the Violet Crown
I love travel. I yearn for it. I need it and I want it. It is a true passion and joy of mine. And so to ring in my birthday, I wanted to set my feet on new ground. I decided on the growing increasingly popular Austin, Texas; a new destination for me, and a fun place to visit!
My friend Hillary met me in Austin on Friday night and our first stop was dinner at Trudy’s. We went to the original location, which is tucked in a residential area, and a Tex Mex staple since 1977. Before our table was ready, we waited in their outdoor area and drank excellent margaritas. Always an indication of a good Mexican restaurant. Another sign of a good restaurant is to judge their chips and salsa. Trudy’s passed with an A++. So delicious! And I was very happy to find Flautas on their menu, which are my favorite Mexican dish, but not very common. I was having a fabulous birthday dinner! I highly recommend Trudy’s to anyone visiting Austin! http://www.trudys.com/trudys-central.php
We had a lot to fit into 48 hours in Austin, so we were up and at ’em on Saturday. Our first stop of the day was the State Capitol Building in downtown Austin. Standing 14 feet taller than the U.S. Capitol (those Texans gotta do everything bigger!), it is a gorgeous pink granite structure that was completed in 1888. The “sunset red” granite was mined from Marble Falls, Texas, about 45 miles northwest of Austin. The Texas Capitol is the largest capitol at 360,000 square feet of floor space; though the tallest capitol is Louisiana’s, but our tour guide said they cheated because their capitol is a tower instead of the traditional dome haha. In 1993 the four-story, underground Capitol Extension was completed; since the site is protected as a historical landmark the addition had to be constructed underneath the Capitol. From the ground level you can hardly tell there is double the square footage as the original building lurking underneath.
It was a busy day at the Capitol as it was one of the very rare Saturdays that the Senate and House of Representatives were in session. We wandered around on our own for a bit and then we hopped on a tour of the capitol building and had a great and funny tour guide. I didn’t know much about Texas’ history and learned a great deal from the tour. Have you heard the phrase, “the six flags over Texas”? I had (common example is the Six Flags amusement parks), but didn’t know what it meant. The six flags refer to the six nations that have governed Texas: Spain, France, Mexico, Republic of Texas, United States of America, and Confederate States of America. The seals of the Six Flags Over Texas are depicted in the mosaic on the floor of the rotunda. The flags are also shown on the reverse side of the Seal of Texas.
After touring the Capitol, we drove directly south into the funky neighborhood of South Congress. With an unobstructed view of the Capitol down Congress Ave, this street is lined with eclectic and unique shops, restaurants, galleries, vintage boutiques, and a semi-permanent strip of food trucks. Beginning in the 1830s Congress Avenue tried to become a prominent thoroughfare and tourism destination. But it wasn’t until the completion of a reliable bridge over the Colorado River from downtown in 1910, and then the addition of the streetcar down South Congress in 1920, that the area finally grew into its original design as a commercial district filled with restaurants, shops and hotels. South Congress transformed into a cultural mecca during the 1970s when artists and musicians moved into the area and helped create the eclectic and artsy neighborhood it’s famous for today.
Hillary and I bought hand-painted shirts depicting Austin and I also bought a hand-made necklace. We then grabbed lunch at Guero’s Taco Bar which resides in an 1800s feed and seed store. The vibe was rustic and warm, and the food was delicious! We grabbed dessert at the funky and cute Hey Cupcake. Also delicious and a must-stop if you’re in Austin!
To cool off from the afternoon heat, we headed to Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park. Though Barton Springs Pool is man-made, it sits in the channel of Barton Creek and is filled by water from Main Barton Spring (aka Parthenia), which is the fourth largest spring in Texas. The spring’s flow is located near the diving board, and keeps the pool at a near constant temperate range between 68 and 72 degrees.
Before Barton Springs Pool became the recreational hot spot it is today, the Native Americans used the springs in rituals believing them to be sacred and pure. In the 17th century the Spaniards discovered the springs and erected missions at the site. In the 1830s, William Barton (the spring’s namesake) settled the area and, recognizing the value in the springs, promoted the area as a tourist attraction. And today the swimming hole is still a popular destination for tourists and Austinites!
After enjoying the sun and cool water at Barton Springs, Hillary and I’s next stop on our Austin tour was to see the bats! Yes, I said bats. The bats of Austin are Mexican free-tailed bats and are the largest urban bat colony in North America. They reside under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin which goes over Lady Bird Lake of the Colorado River. The bats moved in when the bridge was renovated in 1980, creating narrow but deep gaps between the concrete structures that provide perfect cave-like accommodations for the bats.
Between a range of 750,000 to 1.5 million bats call this bridge home and every night they emerge from underneath the bridge at dusk to spend the night hunting and feeding. The black cloud of bats flying out from the bridge can last about 2 hours, but they all return at various hours through the night. And approximately 1,000 people come to the bridge to watch this nightly emergence. The bats have become an icon of Austin and a huge tourist attraction.
You can watch the bats on the bridge itself or along the river, but the best way is to be under the bridge itself! So Hillary and I booked a boat tour with Lone Star Riverboat, and had prime seats to see the bats emerge! I also would highly recommend taking a boat tour, because we first road down the river along Austin’s skyline and learned about Austin’s history. It was very informative and a great way to enjoy the sun setting over downtown Austin.
Unfortunately I could not capture the bats’ emergence on my camera, but you can see them on some video I took!
After the bats, we grabbed dinner downtown and headed to 6th Street to enjoy the Austin nightlife. 6th Street is the heart of Austin’s entertainment scene and a popular nightly destination for Austinites and tourists. 6th Street, previously known as Pecan Street, is lined with historical buildings and homes dating back to the 1800s. These historic structures now house bars, live music venues, restaurants, art galleries, shops and cafes. Since the 1970s this area has been a major entertainment district, and the street is generally blocked off from cars due to the large amount of pedestrian traffic to the area. 6th Street gave off a Bourbon Street/Venice, CA type of vibe to me. It’s a great place to bar crawl and enjoy live music.
On Sunday, we attempted to eat at Austin’s famous Stubb’s for BBQ but the line was incredibly long (poor planning on our part since we arrived at the height of the lunch crowd), and our tummies were grumbling too much to wait. So we hit the road and started the drive to Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. We grabbed lunch at Whataburger along the way, and although it is fast food, if you are ever in Texas you HAVE to eat a Whataburger hamburger. So good! The first time I ate one was on a spring break trip to Galveston, TX in college, and I hadn’t had once since then! I was long overdue for Whataburger.
We arrived at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in the early afternoon and it was a beautiful day to spend outdoors. The Wildflower Center is a public botanical garden that was established in 1982 by Former first lady Lady Bird Johnson and actress Helen Hayes. Lady Bird’s goal in creating this wildflower center was to protect and preserve North America’s native plants and natural landscape. The gardens feature native plants of the Central Texas Hill Country, South and West Texas, and there are several mild walking trails that display the conservation of these plants and the landscape of Texas. http://www.wildflower.org/
Sunday night I hopped a flight back to LA and I was sad to leave Austin. It was a whirlwind of a weekend and jam-packed with visiting as many Austin sights as possible, and I loved every minute of it. Austin is a fast-growing city, but it still holds the charm of Texas and hospitality of the South. I can’t wait to go back and enjoy a more relaxed vacation in Austin, and hopefully attend one of their famous festivals such as SWSW or Austin City Limits. Keep Austin Weird!