Since we had never been there before, last Friday afternoon my wife and I flew Southwest to Austin, TX for the weekend. Keeping with our weekend trip tradition, we again used only public transportation while on this trip. Light rail to/from our condo to the Phoenix airport and we caught an Express bus from the Austin airport and one of its stops was right at the corner where our Courtyard was located. Bus fare for 2 was $3.50 and it was as direct as a taxi. Our CY was at 4th & Trinity, right in the heart of downtown and just blocks from the Colorado River that cuts through Austin. (I was surprised to find the river was named Colorado, since for me the Colorado River has always been in the Grand Canyon.)
After we got settled into our room we grabbed our umbrellas and went out to find something to eat. Even on a rainy Friday night, downtown Austin is active. Since it was getting late we did not want anything heavy and settled on crepes. After dinner we walked some more and discovered “6th St.” Lots bars and live (loud) music. Since I am not a big fan of loud music, we called it a night.
Saturday morning we walked 3 blocks to the brand new (2 months) JW Marriott, grabbed a paper from the Concierges desk, went to the JW Starbucks and had coffee, a pastry and read the local paper. (I was surprised they did not have the WSJ Weekend available.) After that it was time to start exploring downtown Austin. We walked south across the Congress St. bridge to an area that was supposed to have a lot of restaurants, but we did not find much. Went back across the river via another bridge and into an area a few blocks west of the JW. We came across Jo’s and stopped for breakfast. Jo’s is a local joint that caters to the people that live in downtown Austin’s many new highrises. We managed to arrive just before the morning rush. We will go back to Jo’s on our next trip to Austin.
After breakfast we had to locate someplace for lunch with some friends that had moved to Texas from Phoenix, who we were meeting for lunch. After a while we came across Iron Works Barbeque, a few blocks south of the CY. Since we had a couple of hours to kill before lunch, we decided to walk up to Franklin’s BBQ to see if the lines were as long as we had heard. Franklins is north of downtown on 11th St. and east of the I35. Franklin's opens at 11AM and closes when they run out of meat. We arrived at 10:15AM and there was a line that started at Franklin’s went the full length of the block north, turned east and was about ready to turn south again. That must be some GOOD BBQ. Most people were sitting in camp chairs and some had tables with card games going. With that line, I am guessing they are not open very long.
Since lunch was not until 1PM, we decided to walk to the west side of Austin and locate the flagship Whole Foods grocery store. We located it a few blocks west of Jo’s, still in the trendy area of Austin. Since we had to walk back to the east side of Austin for lunch, we did not go inside the Whole Foods.
While walking east, we noticed Frank, purveyors of artisan sausage. We went in to checkout their menu, thinking about dinner. The menu had a desert item that was a warm chocolate chip cookie with bacon crumbles, coffee ice cream with bacon crumbles and a slice of bacon on the side. The nice thing about not having any kids is you can eat desert whenever you want, so we decided to have desert before lunch. It was really good!! We ate it at the bar and chatted with the bartender (Most of the time, chatting with the bartender is a good thing to do.) She explained that at Frank they make bacon infused Makers Mark and bacon infused Tito’s vodka. They use the bacon infused Tito’s in their Bloody Mary. That sounded good, but we did have a lunch date to keep.
At Iron Works BBQ there was no line and my wife and I split a brisket sandwich, which was very tender and tasty. Our friends had the sampler plate and the chicken plate and said both were very good. IWB will be on the list for our next trip to Austin. IWB is about 4 blocks south of the CY. After lunch my feet were getting tired and it was time for a siesta.
Once we were up and about again we decided to head back over to the While Foods store. We have Whole Foods in Phoenix, but not like this! Wow, in addition to the store, they have multiple specialty restaurants complete with sit down tables and table service. I am remembering: Pasta/pizza, fish, oriental. (I am forgetting some) They also serve wine/beer at the restaurants. If you do not like the wine/beer selection they have, you can go to the separate wine/beer bar and buy a bottle of wine/beer to take back to your restaurant. If you do not finish the wine bottle, they will cork it and let you take it home. We decided to have dinner at the Whole Foods fish restaurant and sat at the bar (All the tables were full). While we were waiting for our meal (We split a po boy and a glass of red wine.) a local couple sat down next to us. We started talking and found that they come to WF a couple of time a month to “go out” for dinner. We had an enjoyable meal with our new friends. They mentioned about the bats that live under the Congress Ave. bridge that come out at sunset every night. We finished our meal about 7:30 PM so we decided to walk over to the bridge and watch the bats with several hundred other people. After about an hour it became apparent that they were not coming out for us. Apparently it is still too cold. I wish I had known that an hour earlier.
When I checked in to the CY I forgot to request a delayed departure, so I stopped Sunday morning as we were heading out for the JW. When I gave the front desk person my name, before I even requested a time, he said “you’re Platinum, whatever you want!” My wife and I were both startled with his enthusiasm, which he noticed. He said “really, we LOVE our Platinum members!” (I think this kid has a future in the hospitality business, hopefully at Marriott.) After that, we went back to the JW and had their cold buffet. Yes, it is expensive ($22 each) but we have to splurge once in a while. And, the JW does a good cold buffet, I feel like I get my monies worth. We relaxed and read the Sunday paper while eating the buffet. After the buffet we had to walk off the food and went down to the river walk. Austin has done a nice job of setting up trails along the river. On the south side much of it is “over the water”. After about 5 miles we were back in down town Austin and thought that splitting a Bloody Mary and hot dog at Frank was sounding good. We added a dark chocolate covered bacon strip for desert. Frank is a repeat on the next trip.
Being so close to the Mexican border, I felt another siesta was in order. After that it was time to pack up and walk across the street to the Express bus stop. About 5 minutes later, the bus was there and we were off to the airport.
I am adding Austin, TX to my list of great weekend getaway cities: San Francisco, CA, Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, Denver, CO, Boston, MA. They all have vibrant active down towns and good public transportation.
Thanks for taking the time to post such an excellent and comprehensive trip report. Though I live just three miles across the northwest Austin city boundary, I spend very little time in downtown Austin. Traffic and parking tend to deter me and we generally visit downtown Austin when we have out of town guests.. I agree with you on the live music scene, it has always struck me as being very loud which does not necessarily in my mind equate to quality. If in the future you should happen to be in Austin in the spring, the flight of the bats from under the Congress Street bridge is worth seeing. You can google 'bat hotline" and obtain a phone number to determine if the bats are massing under the bridge and their expected departure time.
We walked right past the Capital building as we were walking from Franklins BBQ to the Whole Foods.
One of the things I like about traveling around the US is the chance to read local papers and realize that Arizona isn't the only state/county/city that has totally screwed up everything, at least according to the local newspaper. While we were in Austin the main story seemed to be about adding "open" gun carry to the already legal concealed carry law in Texas. When I moved to Arizona in 1986 open carry of guns was a long established right. In the 1990s Arizona added concealed carry and we were promised shoot-outs in the streets and bars. The media in Austin were making the same claims of "shoot outs in the streets" that we had in Arizona, but based on open carry vs. concealed carry. You got to love the news media.