“This doesn’t seem like Texas.”
That’s all I kept saying during my three days in Austin, Texas. I’d only been to Texas once before. It was to Dallas for work but we were about two hours outside the city. All I saw were huge, oil baron homes on ginormous plots of land. That was the Texas I was expecting to see in Austin.
But the people I was visiting in Austin told me it didn’t look like Texas because, “we weren’t in Texas.” Whatever that meant!
By the end of my three days I realized it’s because Austin has more of a San Francisco vibe due to the huge tech boom currently happening there.
Now why would I go to Texas during the excruciatingly hot month of August? Well, my friend Adam from Semester at Sea is a little flighty and told me if I didn’t visit the last weekend in August, he may not be there when I could visit.
So after finding a round trip flight for less than $300, I booked my trip to Austin!
Disclaimer: The number one question I got when I returned from Austin is, “Who’s the guy with the man bun and are you dating?” so despite what the pictures may look like, Adam is not my boyfriend. Just a great friend from Semester at Sea. You may remember when we visited him in Mykonos in summer 2014.
My first day in Austin was full on tourist day! The week leading up to my arrival consisted of me sending Adam screenshots of places from Google and Instagram that I wanted to visit.
First Stop: I Love You So Much Wall
This wall looks really cute, and HUGE, online but it’s actually a really small piece of graffiti on the side of Jo’s Hot Coffee. Located in the SoCo area of Austin, the words “I love you so much” were spray painted by a local musician for her girlfriend, the owner of the coffee shop.
Second Stop: Greetings from Austin Mural
Also located in the SoCo neighborhood, the Greetings from Austin mural is another popular photo spot. The mural is on the side of Roadhouse Relics, owned by Todd Sanders, the artist who recreated the postcard.
Being a Friday afternoon, it wasn’t too crowded around either of the murals but I’ve read it can get busy with tourists, like myself, wanting to take photos.
Third Stop: McKinney Falls
McKinney Falls State Park is a 726-acre park in Travis County in South Austin. It’s a spot for camping, hiking, picnicking and swimming. Adam and I went there with the intention of cooling down from the incredible 100+ degree heat in Austin.
There is an upper falls and a lower falls where you can swim. First, we checked out the lower falls but when we arrived, we saw that the extreme drought in Texas this summer really affected the area. It was very dry and the water was pretty much stagnant. You could see how low the water was compared to where it had once been. It looked like something out of Jurassic Park. I was definitely NOT getting into it!
We drove back through the park to the upper falls with hopes of being able to swim. We walked the 100 feet or so into the falls and saw a small group of people hanging out in the water. Finally we would be able to beat the Austin heat!
The water was very warm. It was not refreshing whatsoever! Coming from upstate New York, it was weird to swim in a body of water that was basically bath water instead of freezing cold. But while the water was running a little bit more than at the lower falls, it still was nothing like we saw on Google Images. The photos online looked more like Niagara Falls than the trickle that we saw.
Before I left for Austin, my dad said to me, “Why would you want to go swimming in Texas? Their water is filled with snakes and gators.” So I was pretty much terrified to go in any body of water. But attempting to be a nature loving trooper, I waded in cautiously.
In the center of the swimming area, there was a large rock just under the surface that was covered in moss. You could not stand on it without sliding off. Adam and I turned it into a ski race to see who could slide off the rock faster.
While my dad wasn’t completely correct about the snakes in the water, he wasn’t 100% wrong. The fish were not shy. They kept coming up to us and nipping our toes and rubbing against us. I also kept seeing large turtles surfacing throughout the pool. While animals are great, I don’t love to have them touch me so I had a little bit of a girly freak out (pictured below). But overall, it was a fun day and very nice to be in the sun and out of the concrete jungle for a bit!
And to note, entrance to the park is $6.
Fourth Stop: Rainey Street
I was told there are two major spots to go out in Austin. The first is Sixth Street where the University of Texas kids go. The other is Rainey Street, a row of old houses that have been converted into bars.
Rainey Street is definitely more laid back than Sixth Street! There was live music at most of the bars and they all seemed to have a large outdoor area. I love drinking outside so I was happy!
We chose Clive for our Friday night spot. There was a cool mix of college students and young professionals. Austin definitely seems like a young city! I chose to drink Lone Star beer for the night, one of the local Texas beers. When in Texas, drink as the Texans do?
My goal for Austin was to spend as much time outside as possible! It’s rare I get fresh air in New York so nature was the plan.
First Stop: Lake Travis
Day two in Austin was set aside for cliff jumping on Lake Travis in south Austin. I don’t love heights so I’m not entirely sure why I was so gungho for cliff jumping but hey, if not now, when will I conquer my fear?
We picked up supplies for a picnic and headed out for the 45 minute drive out to the lake.
Our first stop was a 20 foot cliff. There were groups of people about our age drinking, eating and jumping off. People were doing back flips and jumping in with floats. I hesitated at first with the jump and screamed the entire way down! But after that first jump, I was a lot more comfortable and was able to do it again several more times. The water was really warm but slightly more refreshing (and clean!) than it was at McKinney Falls.
The first thing I noticed while at Lake Travis was the difference in accents of the people around. I didn’t notice many “Texas” or southern accents in Austin. The people hanging out at Lake Travis had very noticeable accents though and they called me out on mine as well! I kept saying, “I’m from New York! We don’t do this!”
After Adam and his friends got bored of the 20 foot cliff, we went off in search of something bigger. Around the corner we came upon a huge group of people from about ages 15 to 30 jumping off a significantly larger cliff. There were people in kayaks and floats and on boats. People jumping at all angles from where we were standing and from a rock formation in the middle of the water. It looked incredibly dangerous.
There also wasn’t anywhere to easily climb back up once you jumped. Adam guessed that this spot was about 45 feet high. You had to legit scale the cliff to get back to the top.
We watched people jumping for awhile before anyone in our group decided to give it a go. Adam and his friends were much more afraid of scaling the side of the cliff than the actual jump. Eventually they did it and I was in charge of capturing it on the GoPro because there was no way in hell I was jumping off a 45 foot cliff and then scaling it.
After Adam and his friends jumped off, I hung back talking to the Texans. I learned that most of them had been cliff jumping here since they were kids. Most of them were also very drunk – how safe!
When Adam and his friends got back to the top of the cliff a little while later, the crowd had dispersed some. After seeing so many people jump, my confidence was also rising. I could do this! I could conquer my fear of heights and jump off this 45 foot cliff!
I started talking to the people around me. “I don’t do this stuff! I’m going to scream bloody murder!” I kept saying. A group of teen girls told me if they could do it, I could do it. The crowd gathered around me telling me I would be fine and that it was easy. I walked toward the edge and looked down from the highest point. Yup, that was a bad idea. My entire body started to violently shake. The drunk Texans started to chant my name and my eyes started filling with tears. I wanted to jump so badly but I was terrified.
Just when I steadied myself and was preparing to make the jump, I felt a hand shove me from the back. Well, couldn’t turn back now! So I let the hand push me off the cliff while I screamed, like I said, bloody murder the entire way down.
Lucky for me, Adam had the GoPro rolling the whole time and you can watch the video on my Instagram here.
Fortunately, I was fine despite being pushed! I honestly think I just blacked out in mid-air. Adam and his friends jumped in after me to make sure I was OK. They couldn’t believe someone pushed me. They told me that a guy who had been sitting back and wasn’t part of the group cheering me on basically catwalked up to me and “Bye Felicia-ed” me off the cliff. They were a lot more pissed about it than I was! I was just happy to be OK.
But I was not about to scale a 45 foot cliff so we ended up swimming about five minutes to a lower part where we could more easily climb up. When we got back to the group at the top, one of the Texans said to me, “New York, I’m glad you’re OK. I thought I was going to have to jump in after you.” Glad to see Texas has my back!
After a long day in the sun, we headed back into Austin to get ready for Saturday night.
Second Stop: Master Pancake Theater
One activity Adam had planned for when I was in town was Master Pancake Theater. At the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater on Sixth Street, three comedians talk over a movie. They basically make fun of the movie and point our ridiculous things that you would never notice. The theater also serves alcohol and food to your seat which is great!
The movie for us was The Breakfast Club which I’ve never actually seen all the way through. It was hilarious! Probably the most enjoyable movie experience I’ve ever had. We were crying laughing. You can tell these guys watched the movie countless times to time their jokes. If you’re in Austin, this is a MUST do! I believe they do shows several times a week. They’ve done The Notebook, Twilight, Rocky and more. Not going to lie, Adam and I YouTubed them the next day because we needed to see more! So it’s definitely a must.
Third Stop: Sixth Street
We didn’t really mean to go to Sixth Street, the section of bars where all the UT students go out. But when we walked out of Master Pancake, we were on Sixth Street so I had to experience it!
The streets were closed down and FILLED with people. It honestly looked like what I imagine Mardi Gras to look like. All of the bars were playing loud, bumping music and college kids were stumbling around everywhere.
We chose one of the slightly calmer looking bars and headed out into the back courtyard. I ordered a Gin and Tonic and it cost $4.50. FOUR DOLLARS AND FIFTY CENTS!!! Have you ever in your life paid $4.50 for a mixed drink at a bar? I literally said to the bartender, “I could kiss you I’m so happy.”
But at the end of the day, Sixth Street wasn’t really our thing. I am too old to keep up with the college kids! So we finished our drinks and headed back to Adam’s house.
We didn’t do a ton of eating while I was in Austin because we were so busy so my last day was dedicated to food. I wanted tacos, queso and barbecue.
First Stop: Torchy’s Tacos
I had heard a lot from friends about Torchy’s Tacos. Apparently they had the best queso in Austin! One of Adam’s friends told me there was better because Torchy’s was really just a fast food place but I still wanted to try it out.
There are several Torchy’s locations in Austin so Adam and I just chose the one closest to his house. It is an order and sit or takeout type of place but this particular location also had service at the bar so we chose to sit there.
We ordered two coffees and some queso while we looked over the menu. The queso was AMAZING! It really was as great as people had said. It was pretty spicy though as I imagined it would be so pairing it with hot coffee wasn’t the brightest idea Adam and I ever had. We went through about four cups of water after each bite.
For my tacos, I chose the Trailer Park which is fried chicken, green chiles, lettuce, pico de gallo and cheese. One of Torchy’s “things” if you will is to get your tacos “trashy” which means remove the lettuce and add queso so I chose to do this option. My other choice was the Mr. Pink which is ahi tuna, cabbage, cilantro and queso. As a lover of fish tacos, this one was definitely my favorite!
Second Stop: Barton Springs
I couldn’t leave Austin without visiting Barton Springs. Like the Greetings from Austin mural, this is pretty much a city staple.
Inside Austin’s Zilker Park, Barton Springs is a three acre pool made from natural, underground springs. The average temperature is about 70 degrees so it was MUCH more refreshing than McKinney Falls and Lake Travis. It looks just like a pool with cement sides, metal ladders, lifeguards and even a diving board. But once you’re in, you realize you really are in a natural spring. There’s tons of seaweed on the bottom!
You’re allowed to bring floats to part of the pool area so Adam and I brought one to share. There is also a separate area of the pool gated off for dogs. There’s tons of space on the lawn on either side of the pool to lay down a blanket but there isn’t a ton of shade. Entrance to the Springs is $3. Don’t plan on picnicking there because you can’t bring in any food!
Around 3 p.m., Adam and I decided we had too much sun for one weekend so we headed back to his house to rest up while I packed for my flight back to New York.
Third Stop: Black’s BBQ
One of my other must have foods in Austin was barbecue. Friends sent recommendations for places but most of them were just not going to work for our schedule.
The first recommendation was Franklins which is world famous and apparently you have to get in line at 6 a.m. because they only make a certain amount of food each day and once it’s gone, it’s gone. So you have to get there early to guarantee you get some!
The second recommendation was The Salt Lick, another incredibly popular BBQ place that was on Man v. Food! Adam had been there the week before and it was a little further outside of the city so that wasn’t going to work for us either with our limited time frame. But Adam said it was some of the best BBQ he’s ever had so if you’re in Austin and have a bit more time, give it a try!
We settled on Black’s BBQ which is more of a chain place but still with great food. We got takeout to go for dinner at the location near the UT campus. Unfortunately, it was about 30 minutes before they were closing so they didn’t have a ton of food left. We each got a brisket sandwich with a side of mac and cheese. Ahhh comfort food.
Comfort food also comes with a price though! Adam and I were in serious food comas. But since I only had a little bit of time left in Austin, I had to make room to meet my friend Sara for ice cream!
Fourth Stop: Amy’s Ice Cream
Sara is actually a college friend of my LA roommate Ali. We met in Vegas last winter. Sara is awesome! She’s lived in Austin for about a year so she suggested we get ice cream at Amy’s Ice Cream, another famous spot in the city.
They have over 350 flavors that are constantly in rotation so I chose to try something slightly outside of the box and went with Butterfinger ice cream. It was sweet cream ice cream blended with vanilla bean marinade and Butterfinger pieces. It was really good even though I was incredibly full from the BBQ dinner!
Sara and I drove around in her convertible catching up on life before I had to call it a night so I could get some sleep before my 6 a.m. flight back to New York.
It was a whirlwind three days in Austin! I definitely made the most of my time there but there was so much more I would have liked to do and see so I don’t think three days is enough. I’ll for sure be going back. If you make it to Austin, take advantage of the outdoors and the food!