American Cities: Austin

We moved into our Dallas apartment in early August and the only trip we’d been on since was to visit my family at Christmas – during yet another Minnesota blizzard. Which meant by February, we were going stir crazy.

Luckily, February happens to be my birthday, so we booked a long weekend in Austin.

I want to visit as many US cities as I can while we spend our two years here – the idea is that, should we ever decide to move back (again), we’d have somewhere new to land. After spending the last 6 months teaching in a US public school I can say with near certainty – that’s not going to happen!

But we went to Austin with an open mind. Chandler hadn’t been in over a decade and it was going to be a first for me. Not a long drive from Dallas, we added some time by detouring to Burnet, TX. Never heard of it? Don’t worry, neither had we. Turns out that’s were you can find the Longhorn Cavern State Park.

Chandler and I love a good outdoor activity, but let’s face it – Texas isn’t exactly beautiful in the month of February. So we looked up some cave options – turns out there are a number of them. We settled on Longhorn, the “National Cave of Texas,” because of its history.

The cave has been used by local Indigenous tribes, Confederate soldiers, and has even functioned as a nightclub. It was once home to Mexican free-tailed bats, but now houses tiny tricolored bats (take my word for it – they’re adorable!).

You can only visit the cave with a guided tour – our group was a bit larger than we’d prefer, but our guide was lovely and extremely knowledgeable. We stuck with the traditional cavern walking tour, but there’s a wild cave tour for those more adventurous than we are. We were more than happy with our 90-minute experience.

After that, we made our way to Austin proper. We can’t help visiting at least one museum in every city we go to. Our top choices in Austin were the Contemporary Austin and the Mexic-Arte Museum. Both happened to be rotating the majority of their exhibits, which can be an unfortunate part of travel – when your dates just don’t line up with events. If we ever find ourselves back in Austin, we’ll try again.

Instead, we found ourselves at the Blanton Museum of Art. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is one of the worst museums I have ever been to. We paid $15 per person and spent less than an hour inside.

We’ve been to museums around the world – they always have a theme. Even if that theme is just “we have one piece of art from every famous artist you’ve ever heard of!” Blanton’s theme seemed to be “we have one piece of art from an artist who was inspired by every famous artist you’ve ever heard of!”

I love a good political/social justice theme as well – but even the pieces at the Blanton that did this seemed disconnected from each other. I did enjoy the pieces below:

The first two are Romance by Thomas Hart Benton and Oil Field Girls by Jerry Bywaters. The last piece is Parade by Mequitta Ahuja – it was easily my favorite art on display. Ahuja’s work explores the construction of identity – recognizing that there is always an element of invention when it comes to depicting oneself.

Our final event of the night was some live music at Saxon Pub. This was a last-minute addition for us, but we decided we couldn’t spend the weekend in Austin without listening to some jams. We lucked out and heard WC Clark and his band play some incredible blues.

Hotels in the US are outrageously expensive, so we typically stay at mediocre places like Springhill Suites or AC Hotels. Occasionally we’ll upgrade to an Autograph Collection or W Hotel. But overseas, we prefer boutiques and Airbnbs. For my birthday, we found something more our speed at Colton House Hotel. Our nights there were absolutely lovely and the small touches really made our stay relaxing.

The next day was quite leisurely. The last time Chandler had been to Austin, South Congress Ave was a great place to see live music and get trashed. In 2023, he nearly didn’t recognize it. Very few of the original businesses had stuck around, but we managed to find the Continental Club not far from an Hermes and Lulu Lemon.

I took some shots of the older signage before we made our way to South First Street for the Greetings from Austin mural.

We’d had such a fabulous time at TrimTab Brewing during our stay in Birmingham that we decided an afternoon at a brewery was just what we needed. I settled on the St. Elmo Brewing Company. We enjoyed their sour beers and hop water, but we did find ourselves rushing out when – to our surprise – it was time to watch the Superbowl.

The next day, we went to BookPeople. Can’t have a birthday celebration with at least a few new books. This year it was two poetry collections – Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead (a favorite) and Andrea Gibson’s Pansy (new to me).

So what was our favorite thing about Austin? The food!

Every restaurant we went to was vegan and we had great meals at each of them. Tacos at Nissi Vegan? Yes, please. Pizza at Li’l Nonna’s? For sure. The best burritos in Austin? Thanks, the Vegan Yacht (buffalo burrito & freeto burrito supreme!). And our healthiest meal – salads and electrified wild blueberry pancakes at ATX Food Co.

And ok, I went to one non-vegan spot for an egg biscuit on the way out of town. What can I say? I’m obsessed with biscuits. And Bird Bird Biscuit did not disappoint.

And that was it – our long weekend in Austin. I got to celebrate my birthday in a new city and getting out on the road finally made us feel like ourselves again.

Travel is definitely something we’re going to start prioritizing again.

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