Tuesday, November 26, 2013

3 Days in Austin, Texas

If you read my previous posts (Pit Walk at the Circuit of the Americas - Austin Grand Prix and Grand Prix Weekend at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas) you already know that the USGP is what brought me to Austin. I was excited for the race but I also wanted to see the city.  The race is 3 day event but for a variety of reasons, folks don’t always attend all three days.  First of all, tickets are very expensive.  A general admission ticket will set you back about $150 on race day, so many folks choose to only go one day.  On the other hand, if you are there with your family they may not want to sit on cold, hard benches for 10 hours a day listening to the sound of deafening F1 cars for an entire weekend. But luckily, there is plenty to do in Austin!

Today I’m going to focus on some of the most popular attractions in Austin.  This was my first visit and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I knew that Austin was famous for it’s live music scene and bats, but that’s about it.

I started by visiting the usual suspects: The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, the Bullock Texas State History Museum, the Blanton Museum Art and the State Capital. All conveniently located on the University of Texas and within a few blocks of each other.

The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library did have a pretty good audio tour selection.  For $3 you got an iPod with a variety of tour options. I selected the 1 hour tour and also listened to a few selections from the Lady Bird Johnson “In her own words” tour. The museum includes some interesting artifacts such as the Presidential Limousine, a replica of the oval office, some of Lady Bird’s personal items, and the desk where LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act. There were several visual presentations throughout and telephones that you could pick up and listen to recorded conversations of the President.

The Blanton Museum of Art is on the smaller side so did not take long to walk through and view every piece. The modern art exhibit was the largest and included Andy Warhol’s controversial painting of Farrah Fawcett.  There was a small Renaissance exhibit as well as a Cubism section.  Perhaps one of my favorite pieces was a large scale “sculpture” in the atrium of the museum, Teresita Fernández’s Stacked Waters.

The Bullock Texas State History museum, I must admit, wasn’t my favorite. There was no tour or audio guide available. Not even a pamphlet describing must-see pieces. There were so many placards and posters I didn’t even know where to begin. I ended up wandering around aimlessly and leaving without a good understanding of the state’s history. The exhibits were lively but without a good explanation, they weren’t very useful to me.

Next up was the State Capital which offered both a guided and self guided tour. I took the 45 minute guided tour.  The tour was just long enough and filled with interesting facts you probably would not have discovered on your own.  Texans are REALLY proud of their state, which is evident by the décor. The light fixtures, floors, and even the door hinges are decorated with the word “Texas!” And they are especially proud of the fact that their capital building is taller than the nation’s capital!

Notice the light spell out "Texas"

Even the door hinges are adorned in Texas!

Once I was done with the structured activities I headed to South Congress Street for some shopping.  I typically do not like to do any shopping on vacation. Usually I only spend 30 minutes picking out souvenirs to bring home. But South Congress was different. The shops were completely unique. I spoke to several of the merchants and they all had one thing in common. They took pride in featuring local artisans and special items unique to Austin and Texas.  I spotted gorgeous handmade jewelry, the most amazing retro candy shop, and beautiful hand crafted art. I really enjoyed visiting all these shops, it was a nice change from cheesy t-shirts and magnets that proclaim “Don’t mess with Texas!”


You might have wondered if  the “bats” I mentioned above were a typo, but no! The Congress Avenue Bridge is home to the world’s largest population of Mexican Free-tailed bats! When dusk approaches, crowds of people and boats begin to gather under the bride. Once it gets darks, millions of bats come storming out from under the bridge in search of dinner. Sadly, I did not get to experience this spectacle first hand as the bats already migrated but I hopefully I’ll be back again during the months of March through November.

Downtown Austin, as you can imagine, was bustling at night! Just about every bar I walked by had live music.  Everything from acoustic guitar to acapella. You don’t even have to step foot inside because the music pours out and can be heard for blocks! I’m not a big bar hopper and I haven’t stepped foot in a club for years, but there seemed to be place for everyone. The famous Driskill Hotel was a personal favorite stuffed with cushy leather chairs, dark wood, and old school charm. I also loved the abundance of craft beer gardens, some of which featured over 100 craft beers on tap! I have to stop myself now because the food in Austin was so freakin amazing; it deserves its own post!

Please shoot me a comment if you liked this post or want to share your own experiences in Austin!



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