A while ago, I made the decision that the trips I take need to have purpose and meaning and because of this, I’ve set my sights on visiting “the most walk able” cities in the country. Austin, Texas is the first on my list.
Fifty miles of scenic paths connect all areas of the city, including a 10-mile hike-and-bike trail that loops through the heart of the city next to the Colorado River. The state capital of Texas is not a typical state capital defined by proper protocol and old fashioned manners. It is a city that defies stereotypes and is filled with a creative spirit. Austin uniquely combines laid-back with high-tech, Whole Foods with start-up rock stars like Janice Joplin, and is surrounded by the beauty of crystal blue lakes and hilly terrain.
My home base while visiting Austin was the Radisson Hotel and Suites next to Congress Bridge. The back door of the hotel opens up directly to the 10-mile-hike-and-bike trail and is located in the middle of the downtown action! The hotel had everything I needed, including incredible views of Town Lake and the downtown skyline. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting between mid-March to November, the back deck of the Radisson is the perfect vantage point for witnessing one of the most spectacular events that happens in Austin. I will briefly explain what all the excitement is about. 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats live underneath The Congress Avenue Bridge and at dusk they all emerge and blanket the sky as they head out to forage for food. This single event has created all kinds of bat-watching tours, including kayak and Seaway Bat Watching Tours.
Austin squeezes lots of action into a small downtown area. Austin’s music scene is legendary, with nearly 1,900 bands and a reputation that rivals Bourbon Street. Music, including country, blues or rock and folk can be found in clubs throughout town, including The Broken Spoke where Kitty Wells, Willie Nelson and George Strait often played. I was curious and decided to stop by The Broken Spoke on a week day night. The place was packed and super charged with fabulous music, great people and an electric atmosphere. As I was leaving, I asked about the broken down bus in the parking lot with the headlights on. I was told it served as a dressing room for the bands. I laughed out loud and thought to myself — this could only happen in Austin. No wonder so many people want to move here!
When visiting a city for a short time, I have come to find that taking a city tour is essential. A city tour gives tourists a quick thumbnail sketch of the history, culture and significant points of interest in a few hours time. There is a good chance it will help you determine how to spend your time on the rest of your trip. Austin Overtures specializes in a 90-minute narrated trip and sets up personalized, creative trips as well. Our driver and narrator, Christopher Gibson was entertaining, funny, knowledgeable, and he took us to places that only a “local” would know about. Christopher drove us to a park filled with peacocks and we ventured to out-of-the-way vantage points to snap the perfect photograph.
Austin is well known for its chic, sophisticated bars and restaurants such as La Condesa that serves up Passion Fruit & Spiced Mango Margaritas and Watermelon-Elderflower Martinis designed by mixologist Junior Merino. Junior has created signature cocktails for dozens of world-wide restaurants including New York’s Rayuela, Cafe Frida and the Modern; Oprah Winfrey’s The Color.
Austin is also well known for serving up some fine “trailer food”. I’m not kidding and didn’t even know what this was until I experience it firsthand. The expansion from traditional taco carts has virtually exploded into parking lots filled with trailers selling food. You can enjoy an entire feast from “Fine Cuisine out of an Airstream”, or stop by “The Mighty Cone” that serves up Hot & Crunchy Avocado Cones, Hot & Crunchy Shrimp Cones along with Beef Cone Sliders. I did have lunch at The Mighty Cone and have to confess that it was mighty good!
After a full day of exploring the city, hiking in the hills and stopping at The County Line BBQ for lunch, my friend Matthew and I decided to go wine tasting in downtown Austin via the back seat of a Pedi-cab. When you think about it, it’s the perfect mode of transportation for a wine tasting!
We started at Peggi House, an historic 1840’s landmark for champagne tasting and continued on to Trio to sample flights of white wines and creative appetizers. We ended our evening at Cru’, sampling red wines paired with pizza. Urban Wine Tasting Tour offers pick-up and drop-off from any downtown destination. Delicious and fun!! I felt like a kid flying through the streets in the back seat of the Pedi-cab!
The next morning we made the decision to drive 30 minutes outside of the city and treat ourselves to a luxurious wilderness adventure at The Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa. My friend and I spoiled ourselves with spa treatments at Spa django and afterwards hiked on the 18 miles of nature trails that adjoin the 1,100-acre McKinney Roughs Nature Park. The Hyatt teams up with McKinney Roughs Outdoor Adventure Programs to offer adventure trips including kayaking on the Colorado River, eco-tours with a naturalist and star gazing with a park astronomer. I have found that hiking with a naturalist is by far the best way to quickly learn about the local natural environment.
Since Austin is a true outdoor paradise with plenty of adventure, I knew this trip would not be complete without a zip-lining tour. Cypress Valley Canopy Tours has put together a spectacular package with three sky bridges and six zip-lines. Soaring 40 feet above the ground and over 350 feet through the trees is breathtaking and exhilarating. You can even spend the night in a “tree-tent” and zip-line to your tent. If that isn’t a unique idea for a trip, I don’t know what is.
Austin is known to be one of the nation’s top travel destinations. Forbes.com names Austin among America’s Best Cities for the Outdoors due to the mix of mild weather, plentiful park land and assortment of outdoor activities; Outside Magazine names Austin the fourth best city to live in among the top 20 places in the U.S. and Mother Nature Network recognizes Austin as one of the 10 greenest cities in the country.
Radisson Austin Hotel & Suites, www.radisson.com/austintx, or call (800) 395-7046.
Cypress Valley Canopy Tours, www.cypressvalleycanopytours.com , or call (512) 264-8880.
Austin Overtures Tours, www.austinovertures.com, or call (512) 659-9478.
Urban Wine Tasting Tour, www.urbantastetours.com , or call (512) 650-1123.
Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort & Spa, www.visitlostpines.com, or call (512) 308-1234.
Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau, www.austintexas.org, or call (800)926-2282.
Ann Nelson is a freelance writer residing in San Diego, CA.