Sometimes I travel for work and sometimes the places I travel to are actually pretty cool. Not always (sorry, Phoenix, I’m just not that into you), but sometimes.
Such was the case with a recent trip I took to Austin, Texas — a place I had experienced for just a few days three years ago as part of a bachelorette party. And, while I did have a wonderful time, I wanted more from the city as I knew it had much more to offer. Coincidentally, my husband had never been there before, so we decided to take advantage of my being there for work and made a bit of a work-cation + adventure.
With no real agenda, we set out to just enjoy the city and experience it in whatever way called to us.
On day one, after sleeping in a bit to catch up from the husband’s late arrival the night before, we sauntered from our lovely AirBnB (Art Alley Lofts) just half a block off of SoCo (South Congress district), crisscrossing the street and popping in and out of shops that called to us. We enjoyed a Tex-Mex brunch and some much-needed coffee at Joanne Fine Foods and then made our way back to our home-away-from-home for the next few days.
We then hopped in the car (a Challenger that made us feel ridiculous wherever we went) and headed north to an all-volunteer run bookstore, Monkeywrench Books. Unfortunately, it seemed as though the volunteer for the day hadn’t shown so we weren’t able to visit the shop. We settled for a pair of pour overs at a nearby coffee shop, Epoch.
A Capitol drive-by was next followed by a visit to the Yeti flagship store. By this time we were hungry but wanted to save as much space in our tummies for our dinner reservations, so after a lovely walk across the Congress Avenue Bridge, we opted for a snack (and an adorable tiny tart) at Second Bar and Kitchen.
We chose to say no to the bats and instead spent a few hours resting before dinner. And what a dinner it was. We dined at odd duck, which was truly a culinary delight. Not only was the food beautiful and delicious we arrived in time to take advantage of happy hour, which included half off bottles of wine. We went with a bubbly rose to go with our dinner of a sourdough loaf, Redfish ceviche, grilled quail (him) and pork chop (her). The hubs topped his meal off with a gorgeous butternut squash cake.
On day two, Friday, we headed out of the city to take in the Hill Country, which came highly recommended from coworkers who live in the area and is apparently synonymous with wine country. However, before hitting the grapes, we discovered a coffee shop, Mañana, that quickly jumped to the top of our list of favorites And, it was conveniently a few steps from where we were staying.
After we were adequately caffeinated and had filled out tummies with delicious pastries, our first boozy stop was Wimberley Valley Winery, where we were the first visitors of the day. We had the full attention of the sommelier on staff and had a nice time visiting with him — even though we weren’t a huge fan of the wines.
Next was Duchman Family Winery, where the wine was more to our liking but the ambiance was not. We followed that up with the most delicious barbecue at The Salt Lick BBQ — and only had to wait for about 20 minutes. After we licked our fingers clean of the smoked-meat yumminess, we headed up the hill to our final — and, as it turns out, favorite — winery, Driftwood Estate Winery.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get an opportunity to try any of the breweries that also call the Texas Hill Country home but, lucky for us, our next stop offered a menu chock full of local brews. First, we had to endure the one thing we really didn’t enjoy about the trip: Austin traffic. Seriously, I’ll never complain about Denver traffic again after dealing with the never-ending line of cars ATX served up. And it wasn’t even rush hour. (Okay, I probably will complain but I’ll also readily admit that Austin traffic beats Denver, any day.)
Our last stop of the evening was Easy Tiger, which is a beer garden — and a BAKE SHOP. Genius. The extensive beer list kept, pretzels and other goodies kept us occupied for hours and hours while we caught up with a friend of mine, who just so happened to introduce us to the stop. After we had our share of treats, in beer and baked-good form, we headed back to Art Alley Lofts for our final night of sleep before heading home.
Saturday morning we woke to cloudy skies so we took to the indoors — in the form of a book store — to start our morning after we hit our favorite new coffee shop, Mañana, for one last yummy cup o’ joe. Book People reminded me a lot of a Pasadena bookstore I had recently been introduced to by my mother-in-law as they both were huge and multi-level and not only included books, but featured interesting themed-areas and many book accessories. Book People also had a “blind date with a book” exhibit where shoppers chose a wrapped book based on a short description and nothing else. So fun!
After we perused the stacks for a few hours (and found a small screwdriver to fit my newly-broken sunglasses), we headed next door for a repeat stop at the OG Whole Foods and then, with a break in the rain, we toured a bit of Sixth Street, although we resisted the temptation to actually enter any of the bars. Once it became apparent that the rain wasn’t going to stay away for long (and we’ve had enough of the area), we decided to head east — despite “warnings” from local friends that the area was “full of hipsters.” And, make whatever assumptions you’d like here, but WE LOVED EAST AUSTIN. We first enjoyed a yummy Tex-Mex brunch at El Chile Cafe y Cantina before checking out Hops & Grain Brewing.
After a quick taster, featuring primarily IPAs, we ducked in and out of a few shops while trying to avoid the rain. We probably spent the most time browsing at take heart, a lovely shop where I could have been content for hours, and ended up purchasing our second ever travel souvenir (the first was an ornament from our honeymoon in Canada) — an adorable mini concrete house incense burner by the Japanese company, Pull + Push Products. We also left with a book and some sandalwood incense to go along with the house. Rounding out our east Austin tour was Zilker Brewing Company, APT F and Paper + Craft Pantry, the latter of which was a delightful stationary store filled with writing tools and greenery.
And, as all good things tend to do, our little Austin adventure had come to an end. We made our way to the airport, only taking one wrong turn and a lengthy detour for gas, and had one final Austin-based restaurant meal at Haymaker (eh) and then it was officially time to make our way back home.
One aspect of the trip I’ve failed to mention, with the exception of rain, is the weather. Although a touch on the humid side (okay, it was pretty humid), we enjoyed immensely the warmer temps. It was a nice introduction to spring before returning to a few more weeks of winter in Denver.
We truly had a wonderful experience in the city that recently claimed the top spot of the best places to live in 2019. However, we decided Denver is still our favorite — but I’m not surprised that the two cities have traded spots between one and two on the same list year-after-year. Overall, Austin is a wonderful place to visit but, for a home base, we’ll stick to the dryer climate and more-centrally located Mile High City that we love.
Highlights + favorites:
- Beer: Hops & Grain, Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden, Zilker Brewing Company, Jester King Brewery, Austin Beerworks
- Coffee: Epoch Coffee, Mañana, Houndstooth
- Food: odd duck, Second Bar and Kitchen, Joanne Fine Foods, El Chile Cafe y Cantina, Haymaker
- Hill country + wineries: Wimberley Valley Winery, Duchman Family Winery, Driftwood Estates Winery
- East Austin shops: APT F, take heart
- Eats and drinks on patios + walking
- Bookstores: Monkeywrench Books, South Congress Books, Book People
- I love you so much mural
- SoCo: TOMS Austin, Feather’s Boutique Vintage, Crofts Original, Kendra Scott flagship store, Monkey See Monkey Do, Parts & Labour, South Congress Books, Yeti flagship store, Triple Z Threadz, The Impeccable Pig, Cove Boutique, goop MRKT Austin
His favorites: Hill Country drives + wine tasting
Her favorites: Take Heart + Hill Country drives
Neither: traffic, road construction and feeder roads