When a friend asked me if I’d like to accompany her on a weekend trip to Austin, I didn’t have to think twice about my answer: yes please and thank you! Following are observations/tips/reviews of our activities there, offered here in the hopes that it will help anyone planning a trip to this fun city.
We used Airbnb, a first for us both (However, I have previously used other sites for vacation rentals). I highly recommend Airbnb for its ease of booking, the myriad of options, and the price ranges. If you only want to spend $20 a night, you’ll find a bed in a safe place to crash. If you want a room, apartment, or home to yourself, those options are there as well. The best aspect to Airbnb is that you can search by location (I know that other booking engines have this feature, but just in comparing, Airbnb’s has a friendlier interface with locals detailing what each neighborhood/location offers visitors), and stay in an area that would normally be cost prohibitive. For example, we stayed in a trendy, upscale neighborhood that was only blocks from South Congress and within minutes of everything else, for a fraction of what the hotels were charging. With privacy, free wifi, a host to answer all our questions and give specific recommendations and advice, and the desirable location, we really scored using Airbnb.
Austin has public transportation, but it doesn’t seem to be very good. I rented a car to drive there so that we would have a car to use, but we ended up using Uber more than my car. This was our first time using the app, and it was fantastic. Whenever we were ready to be picked up there was always a car right around the corner, reducing any wait time you would normally expect. You can also track the car to see where it is and pay through the app, eliminating any need to have cash.
Austin on Bicycles
Austin is a pedestrian/cyclists dream town. You won’t find a safer place to be a cyclist, and the city is easily walked and biked. Since everyone (so it seems) cycles Austin, we decided to join the crowds and see the city on two wheels.
We used the public bicycle rental, B-cycle, as it seemed straightforward and accessible. Wow, were we ever wrong. What we thought was an $8 ride turned into a $20+ ride, and ended up with us ending our leisurely ride around Austin in order to get the bikes back on time. Here is the problem with B-cycle: when you swipe your credit card, it only gives one option, a 24 hour pass for $8. It does not tell you that after 30 minutes, you will begin to be charged an additional $4 for each following half hour, that you must check back into a station, or you will get a phone call after 3 hours wondering where the bike you thought you rented for 24 hours is. We would gladly have followed whatever rule regarding the rental, had we known what it was. The fact that there is NO information provided to the consumer, and some very misleading information at their rental sites and online (look at their website! No information whatsoever!) leaves one wondering how this company can get away with such sloppy service. The next time I’m looking tp rent a bicycle, I’ll go with Mellow Johnny’s, which gets great reviews, offers straightforward rental terms, and includes a helmet and water bottle with the rental.
Eating in Austin
The question is not where to eat, because food abounds in this city! Rather, the question is, how in the world am I supposed to narrow down my choices?? Here is what we tried on this trip, but believe me, a future trip will be necessary to try all the places we didn’t make it to this time.
East Side Showroom – we went here late on a Friday night and were pleasantly surprised by the quiet, candlelit ambience. My friend chose mussels and I had the dumplings. The dumplings, while a small plate, were so filling that I couldn’t eat (or even order an after-dinner espresso later). For a late Friday evening, the restaurant was just crowded enough to be interesting but not so crowded that we had to wait a long time. Afterwards we strolled down Sixth Street (don’t believe what anyone tells you, this street was highly uninteresting) and somehow found ourselves at Royal Blue Grocery, where my friend bought a latte and I had hot tea.
Whole Foods – we went here for breakfast on our way to Book People, and while I’ve often visited the salad bar at my local Whole Foods, I’d never tried their breakfast. I was glad to find an abundance of healthful, protein packed options for a reasonable price. The best thing about their pricing is that you pay by weight, so if you want to save money, just pile your box with lighter foods.
Guerro’s Taco Bar – after walking and shopping South Congress, we opted for this less-busy (but still busy) taco place. While a little bigger nad more conventional than I’d normally prefer (I love small, authentic spaces), the offerings were fresh and delicious, and my friend and I both consumed our taco lunch with enjoyment. I recommend the Al Pastor tacos for a not-so-traditional-but-not-too-crazy item.
Moonshine – it was Valentine’s Day and my friend and I went back to our rental after a long day shopping/exploring, rested, then got dressed up with no idea of what we were actually going to do, except use Uber to get someplace and walk around until we hit on a restaurant that struck our fancy. We headed downtown, but the restaurants there were too busy and too conventional for us. We wanted something unique, and after hopping onto a pedicab, we let our driver pedal us to his recommended place. He didn’t let us down, and we had a delicious and satisfying meal at Moonshine. (note to self: always trust pedicab drivers from now on!) I chose the Green Chile Macaroni, which was a comforting and savory comfort dish. My friend wasn’t very impressed with her two side dishes of mac&cheese and green beans, but she is admittedly a pickier eater than I am. If we were to visit again, I think that I would try going for brunch, as this seems to be what they are best known for.
Halcyon – after Moonshine, we hit the streets again, which were getting more crowded the later it got. We were looking for a coffee bar that was still open (it was after 9:00) and we found Halcyon, a walkable distance from Moonshine. I grabbed a table while my friend got in line to order our drinks, and she ended up getting an order of table-side s’mores also. It was a gorgeous evening, the place was packed, and we enjoyed resting and people-watching while toasting marshmallows and sipping our coffee drinks.
Gourdough’s Donuts – We woke up the next morning and decided to amble down the street to the coffee shop to get our morning joe. As we neared Seventh Flag Coffee, we noticed a buzz of activity across the street at a food truck. We decided to check it out, and once we saw the menu, we knew we had to try it. This might have been the best decision of our entire trip (okay not really, but still…). The doughnuts were large (two people can easily share one), flavorful, and melted in our mouths. It was unlike any doughnut I’ve ever had (and believe me, I’ve had enough to know!). We had the Miss Shortcake and the Cinnabomb. If you are into doughnuts, this place is not to be missed!
Tacodeli – After visiting a church (where we got incredibly sleepy after stuffing ourselves with donuts and lattes that morning), we went to Tacodeli for lunch. I had a combination of Frontero Fundido Chicken and the Pollo en Mole. The restaurant looked like typical chain fare from the outside, but once inside and after ordering, we were surprised at how tasty the food was. A great option for a quick lunch before hitting more of Austin.
Lucky Robot Japanese Kitchen
Lucky Robot Japanese Kitchen – This may have been my favorite place to eat. It was refreshingly eclectic, with fun colors and purposely-nerdy servers. The sushi was delicious, as was our edamame appetizer, and we were able to eat outdoors and people-watch while sitting at a picnic table on SoCo sidewalk.
Amy’s Ice Cream
Amy’s Ice Cream – We tried this ice cream place on South Congress as it was a very warm afternoon and we needed a mid-shopping snack. The menu offered appealing options, but I was disappointed in the ice cream itself. I ordered the Mocha Peppermint Bark, and not only was this just plain chocolate ice cream, but the so-called peppermint bark tasted like large chunks of Andes Mint. Save yourself the calories and skip this one.
Hey Cupcake! may now be ubiqiutos for the Austin scene, but it’s still a must-visit, as I feel that this particular cupcake trailer helped to give food trucks the respect they now have.
Next Time: Austin coffeehouses! Until then my friends…