As they say in Texas, “Howdy”! This edition of Wednesday Wanderings is all about Austin, Texas! My nephew got married there recently, and my mother-in-law asked me to fly in a few days early and play “Tour Guide Barbie” for her and a friend. They wanted to visit some tourist sights in Austin, and left it completely up to me to plan the itinerary.
Austin has so many amazing activities, it was really hard to narrow down my list, but I tried to think of what my mother-in-law and Sister Fran would enjoy the most. I also threw in a few things I wasn’t sure they would like, but which to me are quintessential Austin experiences (food trucks, tacos and street art). Luckily for me, they enjoyed every adventure I threw their way!
Here’s what we ended up doing…
Austin Ducks – I wanted to start with a Duck tour to give Mom and Sister Fran a good overview of the city, and see if they were intrigued by anything special that I could then add into the itinerary. We got distracted by Shipley Donuts on our drive down from Dallas, so missed the tour time I had targeted for Thursday afternoon. Rearranging on the fly, we decided to tour the Texas State Capitol instead, and made a reservation for the Duck tour on Friday morning. Duck tours use amphibious vehicles left over from World War II; we drove through historic old Austin, down Sixth Street, past the Texas State Capitol building, then splashed down into Lake Austin for a different view of the city. Our driver was hilarious, told tons of cheesy jokes, and even played some 50’s music during the tour (Mom was jamming to “Splish Splash” as we splashed down into the lake) and we had a great time. Some of those waterfront houses along Lake Austin are SPIFFY!!!
Texas State Capitol – We did a couple of laps around the Capitol before finding the parking garage, so we saw it from several different angles as we approached (it used to be the tallest building in Austin, but is now surrounded by skyscrapers). Once we parked, we walked a block over to the Capitol and waited about ten minutes to join the free 30-minute guided tour (they do have a self-guided tour pamphlet if you don’t want to do a Guided Tour, but our guide pointed out a few things I missed on my own, so I recommend the guided version).
I particularly enjoyed the chandeliers in the Senate and House chambers (the lightbulbs spell out TEXAS) and the 130 year old elaborate door hinges. In the floor of the Rotunda, there is a huge mosaic depicting the seals of the six flags under which Texas has flown, which is beautiful. Portraits of every Texas governor hang in the Rotunda (each time a new governor is elected, they shuffle EVERY PORTRAIT to keep them in chronological order with the newly elected Governor’s portrait in the right spot!
After the tour, we walked over to the Capitol Visitors Center, which has a gift shop and exhibits about the history of the Capitol, the XIT Ranch (Texas ingenuity at work…instead of paying for the Capitol building themselves, the Texas state government sold thousands of acres in West Texas to a group of businessmen from Chicago and used that money to build the Capitol), and a little bit of Texas history. Sister Fran was excited to see a small exhibit about O. Henry, as she is a big fan of his writing. We wandered the Capitol grounds, which are open to the public as a free city park, and enjoyed watching some big black birds put on a mating show for the females hanging about.
For dinner that night, I took Sister Fran and Mom to a food truck area on Burnet Road, where several food trucks are parked, so they’d have lots of choices. It was their first time experiencing food trucks, and I wasn’t sure they’d enjoy the food truck scene, but they both LOVED the adventure! We ordered from three different food trucks and shared everything so we could taste a variety of foods. For dessert, we ate doughnuts from Gourdough’s -they were HUGE and so good! We tried the Dirty Berry and the Son of a Peach – both were delicious and we rolled back to our car when finished.
Friday morning, we started with the Duck tour, then stood in a long line at Torchy’s Tacos for lunch. Torchy’s is a local chain which started as a food truck, and they have TONS of different kinds of tacos. The owner experimented a lot when he first opened, and whenever he heard a customer say “Those are da** good tacos”, he would add that experiment to the menu! Torchy’s now has locations in Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma, so if you get the chance, do go enjoy!
After lunch, we headed to the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. There is an IMAX theater, an interactive film about the early days of Texas and tons of exhibits. My favorites were “The Texas Cowboy in Hollywood”, the clips of musicians who have played at Austin City Limits (from the beginning all the way to current times), and the replica of the facade of the Alamo after the famous 1836 battle. A particularly evocative touch were the artifacts embedded into the floor in front of the facade in the exact spots in which the originals were found after the battle in March 1836. They also have the original statue from the Capitol Dome.
After the museum closed, we made a beeline to the HOPE Outdoor Art Gallery. It’s the only paint park of its kind in the entire USA, which over the last seven years has become a popular space for Street Artists and Muralists to showcase their large scale art. Unbeknownst to me, Sister Fran is a big fan of street art, so she took loads of photos! We were lucky to see several artists at work while we were there and had fun picking out our favorites from the layers of art.
**If you want to see the HOPE Outdoor Gallery in it’s original location at 11th and Baylor Streets, visit before June 2018, when it will be demolished. The gallery moves at the end of 2018 to a new location at Carson Creek Ranch, 30 minutes east of the city, where it will occupy a six acre site and offer art classes.**
Once we‘d had our fill of street art, we ran by the airport to grab some other family members, then headed to Hopdoddy Burger Bar for dinner, where we had amazing burgers and were impressed by the servers’ ability to layer multiple plates upon their arms and wind through the crowd without spilling! (If you’re getting the impression that we mostly ate our way through Austin, you’d be absolutely correct – the food there is SO GOOD!)
That’s how we spent our 48 hours in Austin – we had a blast! Mom and Sister Fran kept saying they felt like they were on vacation…I reminded them that they WERE on vacation. Personally, I am still waiting to see the world’s largest urban bat colony at Congress Avenue Bridge. It wasn’t the right time of year for the bats, so I’ll just have to go back – my brother and my godson both live in Austin so I have plenty of reasons to visit!
What are your favorite things to do in Austin?? I’ll add them to my list for my next visit!