Austin, TX: Southern Hospitality, Quirky Vibes (& Tex-Mex)

As a travel blogger who started this blog in January of 2018, I am always tempted to write about places I’ve been in years past. One such place is Austin, Texas. I first visited in June of 2017 to see a good friend from college (Sophie) who grew up in a suburb of the state capital. I was captivated by all the fun things Austin has to offer, which is why I was so happy to visit again this past weekend – plus I finally get to write about a fun city that I really enjoy!

(On a side note, I generally don’t write about places I’ve visited before 2018 because I want my posts to incorporate fresh memories to paint an honest and detailed snapshot in that moment. I’m sure that many of the countries and cities I’ve been to have changed quite a bit, and I worry that retroactively written blog posts might end up sounding like an outdated, generic laundry list of tourist attractions. If I revisit a place though, like I did with Austin, I will combine my previous knowledge of the destination with my most recent experiences there. Some other places I’d love to revisit someday and write about in my blog include New Orleans, Seoul, and Shanghai.)

I think the reason I like Austin so much is that it reminds me of both of my former homes (Seattle and South Carolina). It’s a perfect mix of Southern hospitality and that quirky vibe that reminds me of the Pacific Northwest. My favorite things about Austin include the delicious Tex-Mex, Rainey Street for bar-hopping, and all of the outdoor activities.

Tex-Mex Heaven

As I’m sure you know, the state capital of Texas is a great place to get some amazing Tex-Mex. I know it’s ironic that I came all the way from Mexico back to the US just to have more Mexican food, but I can now confirm that Mexican and Tex-Mex are pretty distinct flavors.

My favorite place is Chuy’s. There are multiple locations around Austin. Come ready for one of their signature frozen margaritas and a big plate of ridiculously satisfying food!

Another favorite of mine is called Torchy’s Tacos. They also have multiple locations. If you make it to one, you have to try their famous “trailer park” tacos with fried chicken. Ask for them “trashy” if you want extra cheese on top!

It’s not exactly Tex-Mex, but the last time I was here we went to Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q, which was pretty good. They serve the meal in a big plastic crate and at least the location we went to (on Research Boulevard) was attached to a gas station.

Here’s a little secret: both Chuy’s and Torchy’s Tacos have locations far and wide (I’ve been to Torchy’s in Denver, and I saw a Chuy’s in Nashville), so if you’re dying to try either, see if they have a location in a city near you! I wouldn’t be surprised if either chain eventually expanded to the coasts since both are so “damn good!”

Rainey Street

This is my favorite place to drink in Austin, and although the bars are concentrated within a few small blocks, there are quite a few and they are all unique. My favorite is Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden, which has a ridiculously huge selection of beers on tap. Whether you want a sour, a porter, or an IPA, you’ll have multiple options at Banger’s.

The glorious wall behind the bar showing everything they have on tap.

They also have live music!

Another bar we had a fun time at was Unbarlievable, a circus-themed joint that reminded me a little bit of Unicorn in Seattle (for readers from the rainy city). The cocktails were good, but they also had a bunch of fun little extras including hula hoops and a slide.

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Sunday fundayyy 🎉

A post shared by Sophie Goodstein 苏菲 (@sophiegoodie) on

This random guy also brought puppies in a wagon!

Rainey Street has at least a dozen more bars to explore as well as a food truck lot and an Indian restaurant, so there’s a little something for everyone here! I haven’t been to Rainey after dark, but I can definitely say it’s a good place to bar hop on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

Activities

Barton Springs

If you visit Austin during the summer, it’s going to be hot. You’ve basically got two options: you can stay indoors as much as possible, or cool off with some swimming or tubing! The first time I visited a year ago, Sophie and I ended up going to Barton Springs, a unique swimming pool in the centrally-located Zilker Metropolitan Park.

What’s interesting about the pool is the fact that it’s basically built right into Barton Creek, so it’s like a hybrid between a river and an outdoor pool. It’s perfect especially if the temperature is in the upper 90s or over 100 degrees.

Don's Fish Camp

For this visit, we went to Don’s Fish Camp, a place to go tubing on the San Marcos River (it’s about a 45-minute drive south of Austin). What I really liked about Don’s is the fact that they do a lot of the work for you. You’ll tell them how many tubes you want to rent, park your car, and then take old retro-fitted school busses to a drop-off point upstream where you get in the river. That way, by the time you reach the end, you’re right back at the parking lot!

From start to finish, it’s about a four-hour commitment, but floating down the river is so relaxing. Be sure to bring a cooler of beverages and snacks (and ask for a cooler tube at the rental station).

This is the perfect place to try a Lone Star Beer if you haven't already!

I would recommend leaving phones behind unless they’re waterproof, and don’t forget the sunscreen!

Once you see Austin for the first time, you’ll realize that everything I’ve covered in this post is just the tip of the iceberg (if icebergs could exist in Texas heat). Overall, the vibe is laidback, but it’s clear that this city is growing at breakneck pace, so options for recreation and delicious cuisine are endless. Despite having been twice now, I’m eager to come back again soon! Shout-out to Sophie for being an awesome tour guide two years in a row and introducing me to her always-fun hometown!

(And for hanging out with me in New York, Chicago, Shanghai, and hopefully many more cities around the world 🙂 )

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