Holy bearded bicyclists. Nothing is better than Austin, Texas during the spring.
Austin, like New Orleans, has a tendency to revolve around the cosmic forces of good food and music.
Yet Austin differs from New Orleans in all the right ways. With fields of wildflowers stretching across rolling hills and a state park located just 13 miles outside of its musical city limits, it’s almost too good to be true.
I’ve never been in a place where I can quell my lust for nature without robbing my taste buds or eustachian tubes of their usual dose of goodness.
So, here in Austin, I feel spoiled.
My Top Five
What started as the pet project of a 25-year-old Austinian dropout has quickly become one of America’s leading fresh supermarket chains.
Located just blocks away from its birthplace, Austin’s Whole Foods (525 N. Lamar Blvd, (512) 476-1206) is more like a small village than a supermarket. On top of all the regular fixings you can expect to find in our local Whole Foods, Austin’s flagship market boasts a charcuterie section and an ice-skating rink.
You want to do some more shopping? No biggie. I’d like to work on my triple axle a bit more anyway.
While you’re there, make your way to the studio-sized beer cooler. Now’s a good time to find some Texas nectar. Iron Thistle by Rahrs & Sons, a brewing company based out of Fort Worth, is my favorite beer this week.
If you can snag a seat from one of the grackles that frequent the outdoor patios of essentially every building in Austin, feel free to crack open a beer and rest for a bit. If beer isn’t your cup of tea, check out the wine section – it’s gargantuan, too.
Noon at McKinney Falls State Park (5808 McKinney Falls Parkway; (512) 243-1643) means campers from the night before should be clearing out, so it’s an ideal time to snag one of their 84 campsites and set up your temporary home.
After you’re done nesting, the Texas sun should be high enough and hot enough to cook you to the bone. Conveniently enough, McKinney Falls is home to two 8-foot cascades and one of the most beautiful swimming holes I’ve seen since my days in the Smokies.
At least part of your time in the park should be devoted to navigating trails that meander by the creek and through limestone overhangs.
This is best done early in the morning when you’re more likely to catch glimpses of white-tail deer disappearing into the forest.
Around fifteen minutes after sunset some 1.5 million pairs of bat wings begin flitting in Austinian moonlight.
That’s because Austin is home to North America’s largest urban bat colony. So, dusk at Congress Avenue Bridge over Town Lake, at least from March until November, is thrilling. For what should be the opening scene of a great horror movie is one of Austin's main summertime attractions.
For information on the nightly exodus of the Mexican free-tailed bat contact Bat Conservation International (512) 416-6700, ext. 3636).
Travelin' Regionally, Eatin' Locally
Dust rises to meet lamps in the parking lot of what appears to be an abandoned carnival. But it’s not a carnival, it’s world-famous barbecue, and after a day and a half of nonstop traveling, my buddy and I are ready to go to work. Good thing the portions here are so healthy.
The Salt Lick (18300 FM 1826, Driftwood, Texas), which is about 40 minutes outside of Austin, is well-worth the drive. It’s bring-your-own-beer, so I encourage you to nurse the brews you should’ve picked up at Whole Foods earlier while you devour the tenderest brisket in hill country.
Befriendin’ Slackerville’s Finest
Flipnotics (1601 Barton Springs Road; (512) 480-8646), a coffee house which has some of the best brew and live folk music in South Austin, is exquisitely alternative.
Locals run rampant across tiered patios while young professionals remain hermetically sealed off from their banter. Inside, the barista serves me an Irish Bomber which is a mix of guiness, espresso and mocha.
It does a good job of capturing the spirit of this place. It’s like drinking a Four Loko that tastes delicious and feels a little more work-oriented.
As I nestle down into my work, I’m met with prolonged eye contact from people with ankle-high socks and asymmetrical haircuts who have come riding in on fixed gears. They jovially exchange facts about weed laws, and I become so entertained by their tirades on higher consciousness, I can’t get into my work.
“This is old Austin,” says Duke, who is a namesake of the college his father attended for a semester. “People are happy here. We call it Slackerville.”
From New Orleans it takes a little over eight hours to drive into the heart of Texas. I-10 (West) is the main vein before you reach the wildflower-covered stretches of TX-71 W.