This is a love story, simply put. And what’s a love story, if not something to be shared and retold? This is a story about my love for a city that used to be a part of my life until I moved away from it several weeks ago. I, indeed, count myself lucky and fortunate to have been one of its many residents. In this city, I fell in love and made friends with people that will remain a part of my current friendship circle.
This is also a story about two girls who fell deeply and madly in love… with a city. A city that has been everything to them and now that they no longer live in it, it’s all they could ever talk about. Like that awesome boyfriend (or girlfriend) you broke up with and can’t stop talking about. Austin played a significant role in my life, and therein I made a home and lifelong friendships with some phenomenal people. One of whom will be featured (a lot) in my story today, Poojee aka Pu.
Talking about Austin without Pu would be incomplete as you will get to see as you read along. I have known Pu for more than five years, and I love her so much. Not only because she gives me great food recommendations (hehe) but because she is just Pu. Despite being a vegetarian, she is the only vegetarian I know that has better taste in food than me. She is classy, full of spunk, adventurous, and smart — what’s there not to love! She is also a nerd like me and has the same uncanny ability to get excited about geeky things. She is the kind of friend that’s always ready to hit the road with you for a new sense of adventure. It is therefore not surprising that majority of my exploits in Austin were with her. And this was the reason why I am featuring her in this story. Indeed, I could not think of another person with a nonpareil love for Austin!
As I write this, I no longer live in Austin, but its memories will forever be etched in my brain. If you follow my posts on Facebook or Instagram, you would know how much I love Austin. If I thought I loved Austin before, I love it more now that I am hundreds of miles away from it. Despite contrary opinions on Austin, albeit satirical, (see below too), it is one of the best cities to live in the US!
To preserve the memories of Austin lest we forget (as if!) and for posterity sake, I decided to write a colorful memoir about it with my friend, Pu. This story is a collection of our times in Austin, places we visited, dined, or did one of our nerdy activities. Since anything posted on the internet is eternal, the hope is that this photo book will serve as a guide for those who are yet to fall in love with such a beautiful place.
This is Pu — She is also my adopted ‘Nigerian’ sister. When my mum came visiting last year, she gave Pu a Nigerian name — Omonike. Omonike means ‘child to cherish’ in Yoruba — a tribe that I belong to in Nigeria. To welcome Pu to the family, I donned her in a traditional garb with the help of my other Nigerian sisters.
The adventures and our recommendations are divided into categories below, replete with embedded hyperlinks. Sections marked with ‘PS’ means Pu Says NOT post-scripts :-D and denotes Pu’s perspectives on said matter. It would be a herculean task to list ALL the places we have visited and activities we engaged in while in Austin, so we picked a few to be representative of each category. The hope is that you enjoy reading it as much as it was for us to put this together.
1. PROFITEROLE & NOSH
A. Cafes to Visit
The cafes mentioned here were those I have visited and liked for either their coffee or the overall atmosphere. The WiFi has to be good and the parking bearable.
- Vintage heart —This is my favorite coffee place in Austin. It has a homely feeling and different seating arrangement. Whoever is always in charge of the music has my heart, as he/she is always on point with their mood/weather-appropriate Pandora playlist. The coffee is good, and the room is well ventilated with the aroma of coffee filling the air thus increasing productivity. It’s right off I-35 and on E. 7th street. During the summer, they have deals and lunch specials; make sure to ask the barista. There’s a decent amount of parking. The backyard has some interesting graffiti art. It’s all-in-all a lovely place to be.
- Mozart’s Coffee Roasters — This place was just a few minutes’ walk from my old apartment. There is ample seating and the decking overlooks the marina. There is free Wi-Fi and an eclectic variety of mouth-watering desserts. I am not a big fan of their coffee, and the coffee is not the reason I kept going back. Sincerely, it was the great atmosphere, the aroma, and the view that made me keep going back there. If you have pets, then you are in luck as they have an upper and lower deck for pets. I have gone there countless times to work too. It’s a place that remains ageless be it in the summer or winter. From Dec — Jan, they put on a light show for 15 mins every hour from 7 pm. It’s always a delight to go during this time and especially savor their peppermint mocha — it’s like Christmas in a Styrofoam cup.
- The Factory — Cafe with a Soul— If you are curious about or love modern art, art pop (as inspired by Andy Warhol), then you should visit here for that. If you are like me, with a hyperactive brain that runs 100mph, then come here too.
The reason is that every nook and cranny of the cafe has a lot to fill your eyes and nurture your brain cells. From books on how to be a Parisian (replete with how to be a snob), to life-size chess boards, and oodles and oodles of books (hmm, the smell), to the invigorating & addicting smell of coffee and tea, there’s a lot for you to enjoy here. There’s a chair swing to appeal to the child in you and comfy chairs with artsy throw pillows. The seating options and arrangements are vast from the sofa-style to the bar-stool style. You choose your pick!
Once you can get past the pleasant distraction, make a beeline for the counter where you can order via an iPad station. This too is oddly satisfying as they have pictures and categories of all their profiteroles, coffees, and tea selection. Once you make your selection, you can check out and pay via cash or card.
I ordered the matcha latte and the olive oil cake, which turned out to be really yummy and tasty.
They have some card games and tic-tac-toes too that you can indulge in while hanging out with your friends.
It’s a good place to study however they have a no-laptop policy which I hear they try to enforce. It’s also at the tail-end of a strip mall (which isn’t so bad), so there’s ample parking most of the time. If you use the restroom, your eyes are going to be in for a treat.
- Quack’s 43rd Bakery — This has a nice location; set between Hyde Park and 43rd street and has the 60's/hippie feel. The confections are gastronomically divine. The people who work there are very nice and are always have a smile on their faces. I wished they had more seats though. All in all, this is the place you should consider going to for desserts, coffee, and bagels.
PS: Vegan cupcakes for that one vegan friend 😉
- Cenote — Nice selection of breakfast food including omelettes, migas, and sandwiches plus the service is quick! There is an outdoor seating area where you can bring your pets. This place is also great to study/work and casual meet-ups with friends. From Monday through Friday from 4–7 pm, they have happy hour prices; $1 off all beer and wine and half-priced appetizers. The music, too, is on point! Parking in front might be a hassle, but they have an overflow parking lot just down the street.
- Patika — Wine + Coffee + Beer — The only essential thing missing is water. The coffee is good, the ambiance is warm, and the people who work there are really nice. Try the granola and yogurt and vanilla latte. The space is gorgeous and the only thing stronger than their coffee is the WiFi signal. I have gotten some good work done here.
Other honorable mentions are:
- La Madeline French Bakery and Cafe — In addition to their ooh la lacious French-inspired confections, you can reserve one of their rooms for private events.
- Monkey Nest Coffee — Pu says they have “delicious” vegan cookies. I am yet to try those and would probably never.
- Dominican Joe — Purchasing their coffee goes towards a good social cause. In addition, there are many seating options and the WiFi is good. They also display mini artworks and jewelry for sale from local artists.
- Bennu Coffee — Comfy couches, reliable WiFi, good mochas! What else could you possibly need from life?! :-D
- Amy’s ice-cream — We love this place! If you go to the one near UT campus on Guadalupe, you can get 20% discount with your UT ID card. You can also take a quick photo for $8 or so. I favor the combination of Heath bars, fuzzy navel — orange and peach, and mocha choc chips. Pu ALWAYS orders the Mexican vanilla and strawberry. The people that work there are always nice and helpful and can give you recommendations based on your preference. If you are feeling especially frisky, you can order the ‘mystery’ bowl.
PS: (Live a little and don’t get a tiny, and you’ll see the staff make your delectable ice-cream even more crushingly luxurious).
- Lick Honest Ice Creams — Believe me when I say that the following ingredients can be in your ice-cream and they won’t taste like feet or death: thyme, beets, goat cheese, paprika, cilantro, lime, olive oil, lavender, sea salt. When Pu told me about this place with a glint in her eyes, I thought she had gone bonkers. My first time there was with so much doubt and skepticism until a dollop of ice-cream found its way into my mouth, after which I became a believer, and I have since converted many doubters. This place is legit and what they do with ice-cream is so unconventional. The ingredients are locally-sourced and GMO-free.
Must get: Brown Butter Brown Sugar (seasonal), Goat Cheese + Thyme + Honey, Dark Chocolate + Olive Oil +Sea Salt.
- Cow Tipping Creamery — It’s right by West Campus on Rio Grande street. You get a lot with the ‘small’ size, and the toppings are doled onto your ice-cream generously. They also have ‘stackers’ which is a medley of ingredients. They sell out of a food truck, and there are benches out for you to sit and enjoy your treat. The staff is friendly and nice!
- Moojo — Admittedly, this place just opened on the Drag, and I have only been there once. However, this place is amazing. They have the ice-cream cookie sandwich collections. I suggest you get that in a bowl and not paper as the latter might fall apart. The staff is friendly, and their menu blackboard by the curb almost always has something witty on it.
- Tiff’s Treats — The chocolate cookies are ALWAYS a treat. They also have packages for events like birthdays, exams, thank-yous. The prices are affordable, and delivery is prompt and efficient. I once wanted cookies delivered to my Korean sister, and they had to go through hoops to have the words written in Hangul as their text-maker could only handle words in English. One of the many things I miss about not living in Austin.
- Oasis on Lake Travis — It’s a Mexican restaurant and quite a drive from downtown, as it is located off 360. The food and drinks might be overpriced and underwhelming, but the view is a killer one. If you are lucky to get a seat in time for the sunset, then count yourself lucky. The sunset view is breathtaking and serene.
- Maudie’s Tex Mex — The grilled fish tacos and any of the enchiladas are my favorites.
- Trudy’s — Mexican martinis, chicken-stuffed avocado, Cholula honey chicken, sopapillas, mangrias — these are a few of my favorite things from here. The happy hour prices are enviable and pocket-friendly.
- El Arroyo — Good food, good drinks. Where else can you get ‘ritas for 99 cents on Thursdays? They’ve always been known for great food, great drinks. Perhaps, the most memorable thing about this place for me would be the signs. Oh, my word! They are so witty, punny, and downright hilarious. When I get on the bus to campus, I make sure to sit close to the windows so I can see what the sign says for that day.
- Gloria’s Latin Cuisine — They offer free salsa dance lessons on Friday nights from 10 pm. Make sure to adhere to their dress code hence you might not be able to get in (not kidding). Also, if you come in before 10 pm, you can avoid paying the $10 cover charge.
- Torchy’s Tacos: Cheap quality food. So famous, even Obama visited the So-Fi (South First) one. I recommend the trailer park and Baja shrimp.
PS: I love their fried avocado taco and their habanero salsa.
- Magnolia Cafe — Open all day 24/7 and the food is very tasty! The location on Lake Austin has better parking.
- Juan in a Million — Go here for brunch and have the Don Juan, thank me later.
- Hula Hut — Even though it’s Tex-Mex, they do have some Hawaiian influence in some of their meals. The margaritas are yummy, and they have a nice deck when you can feed tacos to the fish.
D. Asian Food/Asian-Fusion
- Michi Ramen — If you love ramen or Japanese food, you need to go here. They have a lot of manga to keep you busy while you wait for your table. I love the sapporos (my broth of choice is the medium stout) and their endless choices of toppings. If you bring in canned goods (they donate these to charity), you can get your pick of two mochis for free. They also have this Tex-Mex ramen which tastes really good.
- Chi’Lantro — Asian fusion+ Korean + Tex-Mex; this combo is definitely innovative. I love their kimchi fries and bulgogi burgers. They have fixed locations for some of their food trucks but for others, you have to track them. I once drove 30 miles one-way to chase one of their food trucks, and it was worth the trip. “Original Kimchi Fries has caramelized kimchi, cheddar and Monterey jack cheese, onions, cilantro, sesame seeds, sriracha, and their “magic sauce”. You have an option to add tofu, spicy chicken, soy-glazed chicken, spicy pork or rib-eye beef (beef is a $1 extra).”
- Chosun Galbi 조선갈비 — One, sorry two, words — 넘 넘 (That’s nom-nom in Hangul). The last time I had Korean food that good was in Boston. The food is good, but the service is tricky to define and not that fantastic. I also recommend the 삼계탕 (samgyetang; ginseng chicken soup), bibimbap 비빔밥 (bibimbap; mixed rice with assorted meats and vegetables), and 불고기(bulgogi; literally translated means fire meat. It’s basically grilled marinated meat). This place contributed to one of the reasons why I enrolled in Korean language classes.
- Shabu Hot Pot + Noodle Bar — There was a lot of tasty food and wide selections of broth, meat, and vegetables. Everything tasted fresh and the place looks high end.
- Mongolian Hot Pot — Close to UT campus and another good place to get your hot pot fix. My rule for eating hot pot is never to eat it alone; go with a friend or even better go with more than five! The wait-staff are really nice and friendly and will answer any questions you have about your order.
- Ho Ho Chinese BBQ Austin — Seriously, the duck is good.
- Sway — Thai food: I love Thai food; only second to Korean food. I also love everything about this place. Pu introduced me to this place — see how wonderful she is! It was kismet the first day I went there when I heard Fela Kuti’s song blasting from their PA system. The food has never disappointed me, and I have recommended this place to a lot of my other friends too. There’s a new branch opening soon at the Domain, close to Kung-Fu Saloon. Make sure to take a picture at the yellow wall when you go there.
- Think good vibes, tasty food, Bento boxes, unagi don, and yummy sushi. I used to go here a lot with my Toastmasters crew. It’s a place that can also cater to large parties.
- Titaya’s — This place has some of the best Thai food I’ve eaten. Try their classic pad Thai or Pad See Eiw.
- Szechuan House— I haven’t eaten a lot of Szechuan-inspired Chinese food to form an opinion. However, this place has got some good options. The preponderance of food options caused me to have decision paralysis the first time I went there,
- Whip In — This place is a gem! Indian food + seafood + a mini-mart + live band + beer garden; what an eclectic combo! I heard about this place from another friend, and I was glad I checked them out. It’s located off of South I-35, and parking can be a hassle.
- Teji’s Indian Restaurant — I have had the best Tikka Masala here. The garlic naan is also indescribable. The prices are also pocket/student-friendly.
- Masala Wok Austin — Indo-Chinese place. Pad Thai, Tikka Masala, Mango Lassi, and their Gobi Manchurian are my favs. It is located in the Arbor Walk mall with ample parking.
- Bombay Bistro — For carnivores with Indian predilection!
- Bombay Express — For good Indian food.
PS: The best India food in Austin from a vegetarian perspective. Plus the best place for India street food, knickknacks, and masala chai!! They never disappoint!
E. “American” Food/Breakfast Food
- Chez Zee American Bistro — there’s usually a wait to get in here especially on busy days. Good thing they also have coloring activities for adults (they could have been for kids now that I think about it, hehe). I love their eggs Benedict, creme brulee french toast, and if you are in luck, you might catch their piano man play a tune or two. The interior of the bistro is cozy and has a warmth to it.
- Bouldin Creek Cafe — for vegan/veg inspiration [Yumm!] — This is clearly Pu’s recommendation because I would never put the word ‘Yummm’ and ‘Vegan/veg’ together in the same sentence; my vocabulary (and my gut) isn’t that expansive and welcoming, hehe.
- Spider House Cafe — This place is different depending on what time of the day you go there. I have been there in the mid-afternoons (for a Sunday meeting) and at nights with friends a la joie de vivre. This place is totally rad at night; the statues and decors come alive. The food is decent, and the drinks are reasonably priced. at night. There are lots of statues and lights all over the place. Parking could be a nightmare, so heads up.
- 24 diner — I love the espresso shakes and I always (almost) order the Belgian chicken waffles. It’s open 24/7, and there’s ample parking. Pu also told me about this place :-D!
- Hopdoddy Burger Bar: The one on SoCo (South Congress) usually has a longer wait than the one at the Domain. My favorite items on the menu are El-diablo and the Kennebec fries.
- Hopfields — Fries with aioli, seared duck frisée salad. Good beer selections and burgers too! It’s not too far from UT campus.
- Kerbey Lane Cafe — I have eaten at all of their Austin branches, and I find that the one located on Kerbey Lane off of 38th street has a better overall package — food, parking, and ambiance. My favorite thing to order is the Eggs Francisco pictured below. They also have good queso and crispy chips.
- Yellow Jacket Social Club — Tuna melt and Apple cider. The tuna melt there is so so good! It’s not your typical happy-go-lucky spot but the food is good and the music too. I have been able to work here on my laptop, and that was a delight!
- Punch Bowl Social — Bowling, game arcade, gastropub, “American” food, and karaoke. They locally source their food ingredients from local sources like Johnson’s Backyard Gardens. Good luck though finding a table for your party of 6 on a Friday evening plus the karaoke rooms are ALWAYS in use!
- Hoover’s Cooking — soul food as good as you can get in Texas. Corn bread, Jamaican jerk chicken, cowboy beans, fried okra plus more.
- Blue Dahlia’s Bistro — Breakfast, brunch, and French. This is one of Austin’s best-kept secrets; tucked nicely away from the hustle and bustle of I35. It’s very close to Franklin’s BBQ and the ambiance at night is lovely. Pu and I went there first for one of our #treatyoself days. Try their roasted turkey and goat cheese salad.
- Lima Criolla Peruvian Restaurant — formerly La Chaparrita — They have plantains, and their Arroz con Mariscos (rice with seafood) is delish.
- Russian House of Austin — I have been to the one in DC too, but I love this location better. I went with a group of my colleagues, and one of our Russian colleagues hosted us. We went there on a Sunday and did the buffet — get ready to be stuffed. Try everything you can and ask questions if needed. The traditional homemade beef/pork Pelmeni and the borscht are my favorite.
- Buenos Aires Cafe — Pu loves the gnocchi here.
- Sao Paolo’s Restaurante — They have plantains! The Bobo de Camaro is their signature dish and quite a winner dish too — it’s a dish of shrimp and yucca tossed with onions and bell peppers in a tomato coconut cream sauce, served with steamed rice.
My favorite appetizers are the coxinha (pastry dough stuffed with minced spicy chicken, deep fried and served with a side of spicy chipotle ranch) and fried yucca balls (smothered in spicy queso). The atmosphere is lovely and can vacillate between a ‘quick’ lunch with friend or a date night. On most evenings, they have live music as well.
2. UNIVERSAL SOLVENTS
A. Alcohol You Later
- Opal Divine — best Scotch [and Scotch tasting] in Austin so far. It’s located atop a hill on SoCo and has an excellent view. They also have good steak and sweet potato fries.
- Apothecary Cafe & Wine Bar — Classy place with great wine selection. The menus is seasonal and interior cozy. The crab cakes and escargot were memorable items on the menu.
- Scholz Garten — Visit this 131-year old authentic German Bier Garten, if you are a beer person. I am not really a beer buff; I am more of an oenophile, once you go red or white, you can’t go back. But this historic place probably has the most collections of beer I have seen in Austin, and the few ones I tried were quite good too.
- Moontower Saloon — This is a very nocturnal place. Live band, outdoor seating, good beers! Make sure to take a picture at the Austin, TX logo.
- CoCo’s Cafe II— Their bubble tea game is on point! And pretty much everything else on the menu. I love the #5. They also have soups-of-the-day that are mostly always enjoyable.
- Teapioca Lounge — Coffee & Tea, bubble tea, juice bars & smoothies. They also have games you can play with your friends.
- The Steeping Room — Vast tea collection! The location at The Domain is uniquely exquisite.
A. Cool Hangout Spots/Karaoke
- Ego’s bar — this place is a dive bar and is literally located in the basement of an apartment complex near the parking garage. Don’t let that deter you as this bar is a treasure trove. The drinks are cheap, and the audio quality of their songs are unique and different from your regular karaoke bars. The guy who runs the karaoke is a phenomenal singer. Depending on when you go, it might take hours for you to get called up — but the wait is worth it. I took Pu here for her birthday, and we had a blast. It was a Monday night (fewer people), and we sang a total of 10 songs. “Leaving on a Jetplane,” “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Drops of Jupiter,” “Piano Man,” and “Hey Jude” will always bring back good memories of those halcyon days. The crowd is also a good reason to go as they will back you up on your songs and even dance along. I once sang two French songs — (Papaoutai and Ta fête by Stromae) and I got a decent amount of backup singers. Ego’s bar is definitely worth a visit! It’s right by the Chevron gas station as the sign might be hard to see at night.
- The Common Interest — Great for group karaoke. As with most places, make sure to call ahead for large party private reservations.
- Culinary Dropout — Good for groups. They have some games you can play with your friends — ping pong, cornhole, foosball. The cocktail list is vast, and they have a lot of antipasti choices.
B. Rainey Street
- Bungalow: Located on Rainey street. Old-fashioned; decent music.
- Little Lucy’s Mini Donuts — Sold hot and yummy from a pink food truck on Rainey Street — opposite Bangers. My favorites are the blueberry lemongrass and strawberry. You can order the chocolate or raspberry dipping sauces.
- Chupacabra Cantina — Frozen margaritas and happy hour!
- Container Bar — Dance until you drop! Here’s hoping you’d get a good DJ when next you go dancing.
- Masala Dhabi — It’s a rule of mine to have a somewhat full stomach before hitting the dance-floor, and in the most unconventional way, I love nibbling here or at Banger’s beforehand. This place is a food truck but it packs more punches than it looks. I have had the best chicken 65 and goat biryani here. You can request your order to be as spicy as you want it. The only drawback to this place is that seating opportunities are sparse especially during busy hours (usually Friday and Saturday nights).
4. CHEAP THRILLS
- Goodwill: I love cheap thrills, and this includes shopping. Of all the Goodwill stores I have been to in Austin (and I have been to several), the one on Lake Austin Blvd is probably one of the best. The items are a bit pricier, but their quality makes the prices worth it. They do live auctions on Saturdays and look out for the color tags for discounts.
- Uptown Cheapskate — I wrote about this place once, you can read about it here. Pu told me about the place. They have trendy wardrobe options, and you can get cash or store credit for your donated items. They have a seasonal ‘most-wanted’ list (you get more bucks for these articles). I am always pleasantly surprised at the treasures I find in this store. This is not your typical ‘Goodwill-esque’ stores as the prices of some of the items are steep, but you get more high-end/designer items here. Also, the people that work there look like they came right out of a Vogue catalogue, as they are always en vogue (see what I did there).
- Half-Price Tickets — If you are a theater-geek or someone who loves plays and shows but can’t afford the lifestyle, then you need to have AusTix on your speed-dial. They provide discounts on tickets, and these are available on the day of the performance for theater, dance, and stage productions. Pickup dates and times are available on their website. AusTix frequently offers tickets to Esther’s Follies, Live Oak Theatre at the State, Zachary Scott Theatre Center, Mary Moody Northen Theatre, Capitol City Playhouse, The Planet Theatre, UT Performing Arts Center and many others.
5. OUTDOOR FUN
- Lake Travis Zipline Adventures —These guys are amazing. I went ziplining here with some friends for my birthday in 2012, and it was an unforgettable experience. I got a Groupon deal which came with a lot of perks. My tour guide was animated and fun to talk with. Once you check-in at the front desk, you get into a bus, and then you take a ride on a barge to the zipline spot. There’s a bit of a hike in between ziplines. My tour lasted for more than three hours, and I did the five ziplines in a day; ranging from 250 ft to over 2800 ft. Because the ziplines build up as you go, it helps you just get ready for the last line which was breathtaking. Make sure to pay attention on how to break your fall as you glide along. All in all, it was a memorable experience, and I highly recommend them.
- Enchanted Rock State Natural Area — Texas Parks and Wildlife — Good place to hike. The view from the top is incredible and when you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t. Keep powering on to see more rocks. Don’t forget to pack enough water supply, sunscreen (if needed) and snacks.
- Pennybacker Bridge — This is another Austin landmark and a historical, scenic view. If you like to bike, there’s a scenic loop there that’s perfect for biking. You can also hike up the hill to take pictures or propose to your significant others. Whatever you end up doing there, make sure to watch your steps and be safe!
- Just For Fun: Watercraft Rental — Jetski and canoe rentals and party barges; the fun is endless. It’s quite a drive from Austin but worth the drive. Make sure to pack extra dry clothing.
- Ski Shores Café — This is a really nice place to host an event. I threw a birthday party here once and rented a boat for two hours with friends (cost was decent). No outside food is allowed (understandably so) but they allowed me to bring my cake and other desserts. Our boat driver was nice and gave us a tour of the houses by the lake, especially those allegedly owned by celebrities like Michael Dell, Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey.
- Northwest Park — Tennis, swimming (fees apply), volleyball, and basketball. There is ALWAYS parking!
- Inks Lake State Park — This is technically not in Austin. I have had my best camping experience here. There’s a watering hole called Devil’s hole (think where you can jump off a cliff), and two fishing piers. I camped here on a weekend with friends but did it cabin style. It was during one of those Austin summers and did not want to die of a heatstroke overnight, hehe. The cabins were comfortable and had AC units in them. They have communal restrooms which can be quite a walk from the cabins, so I suggest going with a buddy if you have to go when it is dark outside. The park also has a good hiking trail!
- Emma Long Metropolitan Park — I’d camped here once with friends on a weekend in October. It was a delightful experience. You can also fish here too. Make sure to call the park beforehand for space availability.
- Pease Park — By now, we’ve established how weird Austin is. So it should come to no surprise to you that come every last Saturday in April, a group of Austinities gather here to celebrate the birthday of Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories — Eeyore. This event got started in 1963 by students and faculty from UT’s Department of English (hook’em!) and has since gained momentum to become a part of Austin’s hippie subculture.
On other normal days in the park, you can explore the great hiking trails, beach volleyball courts, and picnic tables with numerous seating arrangements.
- Hippie Hollow — Ahem, this is not a place for kids (or anyone < 18 years). Only about 20 minutes away from Lake Travis, clothing is optional here. It’s the only legally recognized clothing-optional public park in the State of Texas. It’s been said that visiting here is a stimulating experience, but you’d have to go yourself to verify this claim.
- UT Turtle Pond — I saved the best for the last. This place has been regarded as the coolest and one of the most relaxing spots on campus. You can take a nap under the cool shade or even have a little picnic too. There is no car access to this spot (unless you have the university-approved car tags) during school hours as it is smack dab in the middle of campus. This pond holds a variety of turtles ranging from the red-eared sliders, smooth-shelled hog-nosed turtles, to the Texas River Cooters, and some alligator snapping ones. During the hot summer days, a lot of these turtles come out to get some tan on the rocks in the pond. One of the pleasant memories of this place is hearing the carillon play from the Tower adjacent to the pond while walking by.
6. HIKING & SCENIC VIEWS
- Barton Creek Greenbelt — Summer swims here are the coolest thing to do! This is a large area full of hidden treasures like the Airman’s Cave, several swimming holes, and bouldering spots. The cave has a vast collection of statues and arts. The hiking trails also have a lot of gradients so be careful to watch your steps especially when you are close to areas by the cliffs.
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center — Whether you are old, young, or grumpy, this place has something for everyone. You can learn about flora and fauna here. There are wind-chimes and swings throughout the area, and if you are lucky to go in the spring, you can get an eyeful of our state flower — Bluebonnet. It’s also a fantastic location for photo shoots. As a UT student/employee/staff, you can get in for about $2 or so. There’s a nice gift shop located as well. There’s a Family Garden — a beauty to behold, and playscapes for kids where they can garden, pump water into buckets, or just play. This place is just resplendent, and the flowers add to the overall appeal.
- Lady Bird Lake/ Zilker Park — There are no words to describe this place. I particularly enjoy walking the 3-mile loop in the cool of the evening with friends. Flora to fauna — you get to see them all. At Zilker Park Canoe Rentals, you can rent canoes by the hours and paddle on the Town Lake and under the I-35 bridge.
- Austin’s New Boardwalk on Town Lake — The scenery magnificent and serene. This boardwalk was commissioned and opened to the public about three years ago. It’s also a good hiking trail, and you can walk your dog here too, even if you don’t have one. There’s a path that can take you to Zilker Park from here.
7. EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITIES
- Austin Public Library —Of all the many locations in Austin, Howson remains my favorite. Maybe because of its proximity to my old apartment as well as ample parking, and the overall aesthetics of the surrounding environments. Or that it reminds me of a simpler time when I was way younger and would go to libraries and spend my whole afternoons there. You can sign up for free to use the facilities (bring an ID card and a copy of your utility bill or lease agreement). I signed up many years ago and have access to tons of e-books and audio-books, which are automatically checked out for you when due. I am yet to borrow a hard copy though for fear of forgetting to return it and then ending up in jail for unpaid library fines. If you know me, you know I would not survive a week in jail!
- Toastmasters — Toastmasters is a club for anyone who has ever struggled with public speaking and wants to improve on that. It’s a club with that has served over four million people, and today the organization serves over 345,000 members in 142 countries, through its over 15,900 member clubs. It is also a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. Toastmasters has done a lot for my personal life and professional career than I can put into words. I learned how to communicate better, assertiveness, and leadership skills.
One of the things I would miss about Austin is my #UTSciencesToastmasters group. They have been one of the best things about Fridays! I have been a member for five years. Visit them if you are ever in Austin! If you are looking to make new friends and also improve your public-speaking skills, then you definitely try them out (tell them you are a friend of Tolani, and you might get the deluxe treatment :-D). Having visited more than 10 clubs outside of Texas, I’d have to say that this club is the most welcoming. You can also find other clubs nearest to you by using this link.
- Texas Union Informal Classes at UT — They offer over 350 classes for recreation, fun, self-improvement. Examples include sculpting 101, power yoga, Adobe 101. It is another way to explore new interests and also meet people. More information can be found here.
- George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center — This is located in East Austin, not too far from Franklin’s burger. It’s probably one of my favorite museums in Austin. I once attended a free SXSW show that was held here. The African American history here is rich, and you get to learn a lot more about the phenomenon that was George W. Carver. The museum celebrates the Juneteeth festival as well.
- French Legation Museum — This place is 175 years old and arguably the oldest preserved residence in Austin. It was the home for charge d’affaires for the King of France when Texas was a republic. Make sure to ask your guide about the Pig War of 1841.
- Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum — This used to be Austin’s only IMAX theater five years back. I remember watching The Hobbit there in IMAX and it was a delight to my eyes. This museum also shows the “Story of Texas” with special effects and three floors of exhibits.
- Harry Ransom Center — The curation and resident arts are sights to behold. They also do touring exhibitions. I think this museum has everything from art, literature, TV, design, drama from the late 90s to date. A memorable trip for me was seeing Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait. I recommend a visit plus the staff is super-friendly.
- The Blanton Museum of Art — You can park in the garage on Brazos street for <$5 (if needed), remember to take your ticket with you to get it validated at the museum. On the third Thursdays of the month, they do free shows with extended evening hours. It is, however, free to all UT students. Seriously, this museum has some interesting exhibits ranging from small to large light installations, Warhol, Xu Bing’s Book from the Sky, to Renaissance Art, Roman sculptures, and some Greek collections.
- Elisabet Ney Museum — This museum has a vast collection of the eponymous German-American sculptor as well as statues of German kings, statesmen, musicians, and writers. The building is in the shape of a German castle. The museum has free admission and also hosts local shows. Be sure to check them out.
- Austin Museum of Art at Laguna Gloria — This place is pristine and beautiful. The museum was built in the early 1900s in the form of a Mediterranean-style villa. The exhibits are dynamic, and the grounds are beautiful.
8. SWIMMING HOLES
Austin has a wide variety of places to go soak up in; whether your taste bethe chlorine type or the natural spring water. There’s something for everyone. I had started an adventure with a friend to swim in ALL the local city pools in Austin, but I barely scratched the surface because Austin has a lot of them. Managed by the Parks & Recs Divisions (don’t think of Leslie Knope), the Aquatic Division has 51 public pool facilities, which includes 7 municipal pools (there are fees associated with using these pools), 28 neighborhood pools (free to use), 3 wading pools, Barton Springs Pool, 11 splash pads, and 1 rental facility (Commons Ford Ranch). There are also some other pools not affiliated with the city that you can use for a small fee. Below are some places to get your Phelps on:
A. Campus Pools
- Gregory Gym and RecSport Center — Owned by UT; this is ‘free’ for currently-enrolled students and university employee/staff. Non-affiliated persons can purchase a day-pass for about $10 or a monthly pass (I think for about $100), and this will get you access to not only the pool areas but the gym as well. The Gregory Gym has an indoor, heated pool with dedicated lap lanes (up to 10ft deep). There’s also a smaller indoor pool (up to 4.3 ft deep). There are three pools outside with one that you can play beach volleyball.
B. City Pools
- Deep Eddy: This is one of my favorite swimming spots in Austin. The water is natural and chlorine-free, and the view is just magnificent. There’s a $3 fee (for residents) to use the facility (cash only). The shallow end is well demarcated from the lap lanes. The environment is serene, and there’s a walking trail right behind it. If you don’t want to get wet, you can bring a book along and curl up under one of the trees to get lost in your world. Another fantastic reason to love this place is the summer flicks. Every year between June and July, there’s an annual Splash Party Movie Nights where movies are projected on a big screen. It is a perfect hangout with friends to have a picnic on the hill and then cool off in the water.
- Barton Springs Pool — If you live long in Austin enough, you’ll come to see that most Austinites get excited about unusual things like the moon. This piqued my interest so much that I decided to attend the annual “Full Moon Swim” last year. Unfortunately, this was canceled and rescheduled because of heavy rain showers. The event is held at the Barton Springs Pool during every full moon at 9 pm. Admission to the pool is also free at this time. I haven’t attended one before, but it is said that the pool is packed with swimmers and dancers who howl at the moon. Could Austin get any weirder? It’s open to people of all ages and there are some local beers to sample and dishes as well. It’s also a potluck picnic setting.
And if moon howling isn’t your thing (I understand this), feel free to visit the pool during the day to experience the cool of the spring. The temperature is stable all year round at 68 °F (20 °C) during the winter and summer months.
- Montopolis Recreation Center — Good place to swim and cool down during the Texan hot summers.
- Westenfield Park — This was close to my former apartment. They renovated the pool a couple of years ago, and I wished they’d extend the same courtesy to the tennis court! In the summer, the pool is open to the public for free, and there’s usually a lifeguard on duty. There’s a short walking trail and a basketball court here too.
9. GUNS, AMMOS, & GOLF…
- Red’s Indoor Range — I am not a big fan of indoor shooting ranges because of the loud noises and reverberations. However, this place is really good and is full of gun aficionados. They have a store where you can get gun accessories and whatnots.
- Astro shooting — it’s quite a drive out of Austin, but it’s worth it. You can bring your own guns and ammunition (not that I own any of these). Pu is a very good shot and was given the nickname ‘Dead Eye’ by our instructor. I, on the other hand, was just too trigger happy, hence didn’t aim too well and ended up with the name ‘Calamity Jane.’ :-D
- City of Austin Hancock Golf Course — This is one of the oldest golf courses in Texas. Not only does it have a good range, but it is also home to picnic tables, BBQ pits, playscapes for kids, and basketball courts.
- Topgolf (Austin) — This is a wonderful place for happy hours and to host team events with friends and family. It’s OK if you don’t know how to play golf. There are three floors with several bays and each bay can hold up to six people. It is open all through the year (the bays are climate-controlled and comfortable). If you go on a weekend, it’s usually packed, and the waits are longer. Each bay has a computer for you to store your name/group info and the course/track you want to play; there is also a big TV to display these information. The golf balls are micro-chipped and can record the distance of whatever range you play. Your shots/hits are recorded by the microchip and transmitted to the computer. I highly suggest that you get a membership card, not only because it is cheaper this way but because it keeps a running record of all of your hits. I once left my card at home and had to purchase another one during check-in. The seating arrangement is comfy with a mix of sofas and high chairs. The wait staff is super-friendly and always on top of things. There is ample parking out front too!
10. LOCAL FLAIR
- Cathedral of Junk — This place is a masterpiece; don’t be fooled by the name. The owner, creator, and curator — Vince has kept this treasure trove going since the early 80’s. Vince has a way of making junk look good. Every nook and cranny of the yard is a sight to behold. Also, different areas of the Cathedral have different color themes ranging from yellow, blue, pink, red, green. He’s also very nice and can give you a tour of the place too. I suggest you call ahead and make an appointment as the ‘junkyard’ is literally his private backyard. Don’t worry if you can’t see the junkyard when you pull into the location; it’s hard to see it from outside. Don’t forget to put some money in the tip jar.
- Hope Gallery Art — This is cheap fun for anyone who wants to explore the artistic side of Austin. The graffiti keep changing every time you go there. Parking might be tough uphill, so I suggest you park downhill and walk up.
- You’re My Butter Half — Well, it’s obvious why you need to go here :-D
- H-E-B- I cannot talk about this place without welling up on the inside. It’s the best thing in Texas (not every Texas city has one, sadly). The prices are decent, and the quality of the good are superb. The produce section has over 900 selections and has a lot of locally-sourced items. It is ONLY at H-E-B that you’d find tortilla chips shaped like Texas. IMHO, it’s probably the best grocery store in the US. Moving to a city without an H-E-B feels incomplete, and I’d hate to become that person that buys everything (especially groceries) from Walmart. I promise I won’t become that person. So Texans, cherish what you have because H-E-B rocks!
- Central Market — Also owned and operated by H-E-B. I think of Central Market as the high-end, bourgeois version of H-E-B. It’s like Whole Foods but somewhat cheaper. They also cater to your event, check our their menu here and see select pictures below. This place boasts of vast collections of cheeses, wines, and local produce. They also offer cooking classes, large outdoor playscapes, and live music, at every location. Behind their cafe, they have a patio stage to host all kinds of live music — all free. Here’s the schedule for upcoming music shows.
- State Capitol — Visit here to get the rich historical facts on what makes our Republic so great! The architecture is beautiful, pristine, and well-maintained. There are free 30-minute tours; you can take advantage of these to view the grounds and surrounding buildings.
- Austin’s Bat Colony — This has been declared as the largest inter-urban bat colony in the world. Between April and October, crowds gather every night to watch 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats “hang out” around the Congress Ave Bridge. To get the best view, go to Congress Ave bridge at Town Lake. You can get here on the Capitol Metro bus too. Best viewing months are July & August at sunset. It’s also a romantic spot if bats are your thing.
- Barton Creek Farmers Market — Every Saturday from 9 am — 1 pm, and on the first Saturdays, they have a petting zoo which can be a treat. You get to pet the baby goats and play with chickens. There’s an ATM available for use there, but I suggest that you bring cash. Some vendors accept cards as well. There are a wide variety of items to get here, ranging from carrot relish, Buddha Brew Kombucha (if you bring back the bottles, you get some cents off your purchase), cheese, organic produce, nuts, chocolates, and of course live music! Going here on Saturday mornings was always a delight.
- Austin Zoo — Got four Groupon tickets to visit here, so I did with friends. It was on a Saturday morning in March, and it had just rained, so it was not a busy day. My friends and I were able to visit the grounds and see all the animals. The tour guide was helpful even though there didn’t seem to be a lot of animals when we went.
- iPic — Located at the Domain. Tickets are really pricey and not student-friendly. However, it’s worth going once in a while on #treatyoself days. If you pay a bit more, you can get the La-z-Boy experience with your blanket. The movie experience feels cozy as if one were watching from the comfort of their home (sans the steep movie ticket cost). It gets really cold inside, so I suggest you bring your jacket.
- Alamo Drafthouse Cinema — Dinner, drinks, movie all at the same time and place. With the exception of the Downtown location, they have ample parking in all their locations. They also have some strict rules geared to maximize everyone’s movie-watching experiences, such as persistent texting, using your phones, or talking during the movies (you may be thrown out without a refund). Also, you may be denied entry into the theater once the movie has started. These rules are enforced strictly, and while initially, I had a weird reaction to them, it’s actually not so difficult to adhere to them. Watching movies at the Alamo might have ruined other theaters for me because they are THAT good. Instead of getting bombarded with ads before the movie, you get to view customized video “preshow” contents. And they do an excellent job of curating these contents, even showing related movies from way way back! Also, you can order food or drinks at anytime during the movie. My favorite items on their menu are the loaded fries, espresso chocolate cake (the best part are the chewable espresso beans at the bottom of the cup), and their Brussels sprouts, bacon, and goat cheese pizza (I promise it’s a real thing). They also host sing-alongs!
PS: I love this theater. They have comfortable seating, you can order food and drinks inside, and if you go early, you can see their specialized trailers to prepare you for the movie you’re going to watch. They also hold film festivals.
- Ballet Austin — Enjoy a performance by the Ballet Austin, with tickets starting at $15!
- Zilker Park Blues On The Green — The sky (and the song genre) is blue, and you are on seated on grass, so it is literally Blues on the Green. Remember to pack a blanket just in case. Parking can be a drag here, so I suggest taking the bus or carpool with someone. Think of this event as ACL for those who cannot afford the steep ticket prices (OK, maybe not really). The concerts are free, and the event makes you well up on the inside with so much Austin pride. You get to listen to live performances of bluesy songs from a lot of artists.
- Esther’s Follies — This is an Austin tradition. You HAVE to see a show there to know why it’s all the rave really. Magic, music, (night) matinees, and so much more. They are a premier musical comedy troupe performing relevant/timely hilarious skits and songs. Make sure to call or check their websites for their schedules because the shows sell out pretty fast especially on the weekends.
- Oscar G. Brockett Theater —We both love seeing shows and have been to the Oscar G. Brockett theater a couple of times to see some play. We have seen some free and paid shows here too. You can subscribe to their mailing list to get info about upcoming shows. As a UT student or employee, you can get discounts on tickets. I love this theater and the seating arrangement; it feels more intimate, and you feel more connected to the actors/actresses.
Time spent on Shakespeare is time spent well.#AsYouLikeIt
- Frank Erwin Center: If you are yet to go here to see a show, exhibition, or performance, then you haven’t truly lived as an Austinite. The Center is big with paid parking. Get on their mailing list to be notified of upcoming shows. They also have a will-call/pick-up area for your tickets. Make sure to read the rules before going to any show as they may differ. When we went to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, we were not allowed to bring in large electronic devices such as the iPad because of the laser beams used in the show.
- Austin Scottish Rite Theater — There’s history brimming in every nook and cranny of this place. It’s right off of campus near MLK. Parking is ample here. There are several Freemason pictures and symbols to satisfy your curiosity. The chairs in the auditorium are very cozy, and you can see the stage clearly from almost any position. I went there in 2015 with one of my Balkan friends to watch a live performance by the Alash Ensemble— a Tuvan, throat-singing group.
- Austin Symphony Orchestra — The summer concerts are always fun. They also do some free shows, if you are lucky to snag one of those.
12. SEASONAL STUFFS
- Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival — Follow them on Facebook for more details on festival dates.
- Pecan Street Festival — This festival is held in the Spring and Fall. You can spend a day or two on 6th street and see tons of booths of handmade crafts, arts, tasty food and snacks. Most of the items are locally made, so you will be supporting local business. It’s also a kid-friendly event.
- Laguna Gloria — This is an art museum, but in May you can attend the “Fiesta” festival. There’s live auction, food, drinks, and art displays. You can read more about it here.
- Zilker Hillside Theater — Every summer, they put together a free show. I have seen Bollywood Twelfth Night (yes, Indianesque Shakespearean play) and Hairspray here. It’s free to watch the plays but you may have to pay for parking. Come early before the show starts so as to get good spots. Bring a blanket or a foldable chair along.
- Miracoco Luminaria — These guys came to town sometime in 2012 at the Palmer Center.
Each luminarium is a dazzling maze of winding paths and soaring domes where Islamic architecture, Archimedean solids and Gothic cathedrals meld into an inspiring monument to the beauty of light and color. Read more here.
PS: Don’t know if this is a yearly thing!
13. LOCAL FLAIR
- Whole Food Skating Rink —Between November and January, Whole Food sets up a skating rink for about $10/person at their Flagship store (located on 5th Street). Check out their website for next opening dates. While you’re there, you might want to consider snagging one of this deliciousness in a jar. Pu introduced me to this spread, and it goes well with almost any brand of crackers. Thank us later.
- Trail of Light — This is a must-do in December. Google Fiber sponsors a free photo booth where you can have your pictures taken under the Christmas fiber lights. The kettle corn and cotton candy are always treats that I look forward to savoring. There are different live performances and picture opportunities with the displays.
They also have roller-coasters, carousels, and some other rides you can get on by purchasing tokens (usually at low prices).
So, that’s all folks. Putting this piece together took a lot of hours and emotional time-stamps. At a point, I had to take a break as I was getting too emotional from the floods of memory. Now that all’s said and done, I think what this story is really about is friendship. It’s about friends who have influenced me to be the person I am; without whom, my Austin exploits would have been a mere thought in passing. And for Pu and my other friends, I am thankful and grateful to have met you all. Thank you for giving me memorable memories from Austin, which have become the lifeline I hold onto especially now that I am in a new city. The prospect of ‘starting again’ is scary and filled with so many unknown parameters, but I know this too shall pass. Austin will always remain a special home in my heart. Not only because of what or those I left behind but also for what and those I carry in my spirit. 제발, 안녕히계십니까 (Please, stay in peace).