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Sunday 3 May 2020

Four Days in Austin, Texas


Don't they feel like such a long time away now that we've been sheltering at home for almost two months? Instead of pining for the missed vacations that we were supposed to take during this time (a family trip to Chicago, weekend trips around Colorado, and a school trip to Washington DC for Ava) I've decided to take a look back at some of our past vacations and share them here on the blog. As inspiration for when we can start travelling again - and also because I've been meaning to share them for such a long time!

Today I'm starting with a trip that was exactly one year ago. This time last year we were on vacation in Austin, Texas. It was our first visit to Texas and we had a blast. Austin is a great city to visit with or without kids. There are sprawling parks, stunning architecture, plenty of interesting wildlife, lots of great shops and restaurants, interesting historical sites, natural wonders, and my favorite, lots of street art. You know I'm a sucker for a good mural! Sure, it was hot, humid and there were bugs and pollen everywhere, but Austin's charm and quirkiness made up for that. Well, for four days. I'm not sure I could handle the weather much longer than that!

I'll be sharing some more detailed posts about the places we visited, but for now, here's a look at our four days in Austin...

Last April I attended the Mom 2.0 conference in Austin. Seeing as it was a city (and state) we were yet to visit we decided to tack a family vacation onto the end of the conference. Kim and the girls flew to join me on the Friday evening and we made an extra long weekend out of it, flying home the following Tuesday evening.

For the first few days, we stayed at the JW Marriott in Downtown. I had been staying there for the conference and it was a centrally located hotel so it was a handy spot. It's a gorgeous hotel but unfortunately, after the conference rates expired (at the end of the weekend) it became a little out of our price range, so we moved a little further away to the Hyatt House which was much more affordable. Luckily Austin is a pretty easy city to get around, so being a little further away from the heart of the city wasn't an issue.

Our first full day in Austin (not including my time at the conference) we headed out for a little walk around the neighborhood. The hotel overlooked one of the most amazing murals I've ever seen, so we had to go check it out up close. Seriously, isn't this stunning?

Our neighborhood walk took us along the river front where we saw plenty of people in kayaks, turtles sunning themselves, and more amazing public art. This bicycle sculpture is pretty cool, but also a little eye hurting in the sun. It constantly looks out of focus to my eyes!


We then hopped in our rental car and headed across the Congress Avenue Bridge to make our way to
Zilker Park. On the way we took a little detour to check out another well known Austin mural.

From there we spent the rest of the day hanging around Zilker Park. The highlight was going kayaking in Barton Creek and out into the Colorado River. Ava and I shared a kayak, while Lola and Mathilde teamed up with Kim - who I'm pretty sure did all the work! Both the creek and river were abuzz with activity. There were people in kayaks, people on SUPs, people fishing, and lots of people swimming. The kids weren't too keen on that last one given how many turtles there were in the water. Ava was convinced they were snapping turtles (which they may have been) and was not going near them. The snake that swam past our kayak was enough to keep me from swimming in the creek!

It was a really hot day, and while the kids weren't keen to swim in the turtle and snake fill creek, they were keen to take a dip in the Barton Springs Pool. Technically, this outdoor pool is actually a part of the creek, but it's dammed off from the rest of the water and is shallower. With large lawns on either side it's a great place to hang out on a hot day, but unfortunately for us, it's also an incredibly popular place on a hot day. The line to get in went around the changing room building and down the road. With no shade we weren't keen to stand in line too long so we skipped the pool in favor for a ride on the Zilker Zephyr Miniature Train around the park.

We then stopped for empanadas from the cutest food truck around and other tasty treats before saying goodbye to Zilker Park. Look at Mathilde - she's living her best life with her favorite sweet treats! 

We may have missed out on a swim at Barton Springs Pool earlier in the day, but luckily our hotel had a great pool so we cooled off there for a while before heading out in the evening to try and watch the famous Austin bats fly out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge. I say "try" because we didn't have much luck. The bats did fly out, but not until after dark, and they were so teeny tiny that we couldn't spot them.

Our second day in Austin we decided to head out of town for something difference. After tasty smoothies from Juiceland (where we stopped pretty much every day) and a little walk around the neighborhood we hopped in the car and headed out of town toward Inner Space Cavern, a vast cave filled with amazing stalactites, stalagmites, crystals and fossils. With a stop at In-N-Out Burger along the way! We always stop at In-N-Out on road trips.

The caves at Inner Space Cavern are truly amazing. There is such a huge variety of rock formations growing in there including fine straw stalactites, thicker icicle like stalactites, columns, flow stones, cave drapery, and my favorite, cave bacon! I don't even like bacon but I was impressed by those. The cavern varies from narrow tunnels to wide open cathedral like spaces and features a giant sink hole. Many fossils have been found down here over the years including those of 44 different species (11 of which are now extinct) including mammoths, sabre tooth tigers, giant sloths, and a giant armadillo. It was quite pleasant down in the cavern. I was a little worried that we'd be cold given that we were dressed for the hot weather above ground, but the cave stays at a constant 72F. With the humidity it feels more like 80F, so I'm glad we didn't put on jackets! 

Back in Austin we moved to our new hotel, the Hyatt House before heading out to a BBQ joint for an early dinner. The girls and I don't really eat much meat, but we couldn't visit Austin and not go out for BBQ. We went to Stubbs Bar-B-Q, which was a short walk from our new hotel. We ate brisket, coleslaw, mashed potatoes, cornbread, and tried fried green tomatoes for the first time. Definitely not food I would eat at home, but when we're on vacation it's always nice to try something local.

We then ventured over to the Congress Avenue Bridge to try and see the bats again. This time we had more success. While we didn't see millions of bats flying in formation like a swarm of swallows, we did spot lots of them flying out from under the bridge. I wasn't able to capture any in a photo though as they move so incredibly fast and they're much tinier than you would imagine. The crowds that gather to watch the bats each night are huge, and those alone were worth going to the bridge for. Hundreds of people line the bridge as well as congregating on the banks of either side of the river. Kayakers join tour boats on the water underneath the bridge too.

Day three in Austin we decided to take in a little history with a visit to the Texas Capitol building. We'd been past this beautiful building several times but were yet to go check it out up close. The kids played on the canons dotted around the building, ran around among the shady trees and played with the sculptures.

We entered the building to have a look inside and were met with the sounds of live music. It just so happened that our visit coincided with a performance by a local high school mariachi band. We stopped to watch them perform for a while before making our way upstairs. Mathilde pretended to be the governor and Lola was excited to find a pattern on an upper floor that looked like a butt. It's the little things, right?

This was Kim's last day in Austin as he was flying on to Denver that evening to start his new job in Colorado. So while the girls and I continued exploring, he went back to the hotel to get packed up. The girls and I made our way to East 6th Street to check out lots of street art and to fill up on sweet treats at Voodoo Doughnut. 

We then headed to West 2nd Street to go toy shopping at Toy Joy, a super cool, and rather quirky, toy store that reminded us of our favorite Berkeley store Mr Mopps. Along the way we found even more murals and a Willy Nelson statue just calling out for pics. 

We hopped in an electric cab and headed back to the hotel to say goodbye to Kim before his flight to Denver. We visited a local food truck for vegan frito pie for dinner (so good!) and settled in for a quiet night at the hotel. 

Our last day in Austin was spent walking around town checking out murals, eating and shopping. We spent much of the day in the South Congress neighborhood just south of the Colorado River. This neighborhood is full of popular restaurants, lots of quirky shops, and more murals than you can poke a stick at! We checked out a famous boot store and the kids were keen to get a pair of cowboy boots each, but I knew they'd never actually wear them at home. Somewhere along the way Mathilde bought a plush armadillo which you can see appears in almost all the photos from now on.

As it was a pleasant day, not as hot as it had been, we decided to walk back to Downtown and across the Congress Avenue Bridge. Along the way we came across LOTS of scooters. Austin is full of them and they tend to get dumped all over the place. Lola didn't knock them over here, but it sure looks like she did! 

And then we were of to the airport and flying back to the Bay Area. 

We only had four days in Austin, but it feels like we managed to fit a lot in that time - as you can probably tell from all the photos! There's still a lot we didn't get a chance to see or do, so I'd love to go back and visit again.

Have you been to Austin before? 

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