After some mayhem these last nine months — two weddings, two moves, a home purchase, a career switch and just general life stressors — my mom, sister and I decided to turn our cousin’s Austin wedding into a weekend just for the girls.
I came in pretty blind (what else is new?) but knew I wanted to hit the ground running and cram in as much as possible. Luckily, my more responsible younger sister had a hit list for us and we were all game for some aimless wandering. Here’s what we tackled in 4 nights and 3 days in Austin.
We stayed at Kimpton’s Hotel Van Zandt in the bustling Rainey Street nightlife district.
The rooftop pool deck is primo and worth a stop even if you’re not staying overnight. The hotel’s poolside restaurant, Geraldine’s, is open to the public.
We kicked off our first morning with a quick pre-kayak smoothie at a casual counter-service cafe overlooking the Colorado River.
Directly below Alta’s Cafe you’ll find super budget kayak rentals for just $10/hour. (This is way cheaper than anything I’ve ever done in Charlotte.)
Our lunch stop was a gorgeous modern Mexican eatery a couple blocks off the river. It’s pricey ($11 – $14 for two tacos) but so good. I went with the vegetarian Nabos al Pastor — turnips, crushed avocado, pasilla chile and pineapple salpicon.
After lunch, we hoofed it all the way north (about a mile) to the Texas Capitol (pictured at the top of this post).
S. Congress Shopping
From the Capitol, we took a Lyft 2 miles south to a stretch of S. Congress that’s packed with cute little boutiques, boot shops and restaurants.
This is where you’ll find Allen’s Boots (a famous Western wear shop), Uncommon Objects (an immaculate antique shop with creepy taxidermy animals) and the iconic “i love you so much” graffiti photo op on the side of Jo’s. (There was literally a line of people waiting to stand in front of this to get a photo.)
For my lone souvenir from the trip, I decided on a succulent from a street vendor. It traveled surprisingly well.
Congress Street Bridge Bats
Honestly, what we all came here for.
Austin’s Congress Street Bridge is home to some 1.5 million bats that sleep in crevices under the bridge and come out at sunset to feed.
To kill time before the bats made their grand exit, we grabbed a drink and some house salt & vinegar chips at Unbarlievable, a new circus-themed bar on Rainey Street near the hotel. That whole street is full of adorable little houses that have been turned into bars and you could definitely spend the entire night there. But there were bats.
Rather than stand on the bridge as most people do, we returned to the pier where we’d launched our kayaks earlier. We were told the view was actually better from down there and it did not disappoint.
The bats stream out of the tree line like a never-ending black ribbon in the sky. I loved watching so many humans stop everything to watch animals just do what they do. It’s really beautiful.
Rainey Street Food Trucks
Austin is loaded with food trucks, but, unlike Charlotte where they’re mobile, most of them seem to have semi-permanent set ups.
I got the Aphrodite pita (vegan without tzatziki and feta). So good.
Morning #2 led us to Voodoo Doughnuts on 6th Street, another nightlife district lined with bars and music venues. Voodoo is open 24 hours a day and usually has a line out the door — in part because it’s popular but also in part because the ordering process is just slow as hell thanks to indecisive patrons and a lack of visual menu guidance.
We went with the limited-edition Gay Bar (for Pride month), the No Name (chocolate frosting, Rice Krispies and peanut butter), original glazed, vegan peanut butter chocolate and Portland Cream. They have tons of vegan options and everything’s cheap, too — like $2 – $3 each for the specialty doughnuts.
After doughnuts, we met up with our uncle and his girlfriend for second brunch at 24 Diner, a rec from a local. The place was absolutely slammed, which is a good sign.
I got the vegan hash with house-made veggie sausage, avocado, charred fennel and roasted brussels sprouts. I hate fennel so I subbed in the veggie of the day instead.
The small order is more than enough for one person. Definitely get the biscuit.
A quick walk from 24 Diner is Hope Outdoor Gallery, a tiered graffiti park where local artists come to paint. It’s awesome.
One of Austin’s main attractions is Barton Springs, a natural 3-acre spring-fed pool that stays around 68-70 degrees. It was exactly what we were looking for after wandering around on a 110-degree day.
It’s $8 for adults (cash or card).
To kill time before my cousin’s wedding on Saturday, we hung out at Easy Tiger, a bakery and beer garden overlooking Waller Creek (which happens to be my mom’s maiden name).
Upstairs is a grab-and-go bakery set up with windows overlooking the bread production in the kitchen. Downstairs has more of a basement bar feel with a big patio out back and a ping pong table. Down there you can order sit-down food like sandwiches, pretzels and German-style sausage platters.
It’s tough to walk by this place and not stop in. It’s got a huge patio shaded by giant trees wrapped in twinkle lights and an enticing seaside nautical vibe on a strip of stifling hot asphalt.
In the end, it was an extremely vegetarian-unfriendly oyster bar so there wasn’t much for me but everyone else absolutely loved it. I still like it for cocktails and a bowl of fries.
Here’s a little video of our trip…
I know we’ll treasure this weekend for a long time so I made sure to snag little video snippets along the way to preserve it. I’m always worried our generation won’t have true family videos (a Levans family obsession) so I try to always package my iPhone videos into something that will last.