While they say that everything is bigger in Texas, what I know from my ten days exploring Austin and Hill Country alongside my middle daughter and Jeremy is that it’s much different from what I expected.
For this leg of the adventure we chose a home base for Andi (the name of our RV) at an adorable KOA about twenty minutes outside of Austin. While we prefer State Parks and sites in more natural settings, this KOA made it easy to dip in and out of town. We enjoyed the pool at the KOA almost every day, and loved reading, working and hanging under the shade of the trees near our site. In the evenings we sat outside to catch up on our favorite TV shows, cook S’mores and enjoy dinner.
As this was the last leg of our time in the South, my jaw no longer dropped open by the plethora of taxidermy stores and gun shops, or the store windows with the No Concealed Carry and No Open Carry signs prominently displayed. What I experienced mostly is that Austin seems to be an amalgamation of so many other cities I have explored throughout my life.
Let me explain.
A little bit Nashville, a little Bit New Orleans
Austin has Sixth Street which is somewhere in the space between Nashville’s Honky Tonk Highway and New Orleans Bourbon Street. Music venues and bars line the streets, music and the smell of stale beer pouring into the streets. We spent our first Saturday night at Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar, managing to get a seat in the Peanut Gallery with an excellent view of the stage. For three hours Rayna and I sang until we could barely talk, the place packed to the hilt with men and women of all ages, and bachelors and bachelorettes galore. From the long-haired man in his sixties in his Liberace-esque attire who intermittently tossed stacks of paper money into the air as he hopped on and off the stage throughout the night, to the mysterious woman in her thirties who planted herself near the bar next to the Peanut Gallery to dance with any man who would take her hand, the people-watching at Pete’s was as stellar as the music.
A little bit Venice Beach, a little bit Beverly Hills
There is also a distinct urban hippy vibe that also felt familiar having lived near Venice Beach, CA for more than 25 years. Having been the city in which Whole Foods was founded, Yoga and Pilates studios, organic markets, coffee shops featuring clean lines and pristine countertops, are dotted throughout the different neighborhoods of Austin we explored. And when we floated in and out of the stores lining Congress Street, eager to escape the 90 degree plus weather, it reminded me of Rodeo Drive, or LA’s much loved Century City Mall. Austin also is somewhat outdoorsy, and while we didn’t bike, we did paddle board and kayak on the Colorado River that runs through Austin one night after work for a cool respite from the heat.
A little bit Southern, a little TexMex, a lot of Gourmet and Delicious
Besides the noteworthy BBQ experience we had at the famous Terry Blacks upon our arrival, and Tex Mex at Granny’s Taco Truck, the hours we spent walking in and out of the stalls at the Texas Famer’s Market at Meuller was one of my favorite culinary experiences on our adventure thus far. As both my daughter and I love the creative aspect of cooking, we planned a week’s worth of incredible meals based on the delectable treats we picked up at this Farmer’s Market set in a Pavillion alongside Mary Elizabeth Branch Park. The menus we designed for the week included:
- Fresh Crab Linguini
- Thai Pad Se Yu
- Wagyu Steak and Grilled Vegetables
- Homemade Pizza
- Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna
- Charcuterie with local cheeses and meat
- Fresh salads made with local greens and veggies
One of the reasons why I chose Andi is that her kitchen space is amazing, and I love that I can cook like I did in my ‘sticks and bricks’ home. Being the sous chef to my daughter while we were in Austin was heaven on earth as she made herself at home in Andi’s kitchen.
After one week we felt done in Austin, so on the following Friday we decided to pack up Andi and head to Hill Country to explore. While there is pretty much nothing I want to write about San Antonio that was memorable, we loved the shops and small town vibe of Wimberley, Texas, and our quick stop at the Blue Hole Regional Park was magical even though we didn’t have a reservation and were unable to swim. The night we spent just outside of San Antonio was at an RV Resort and we were lucky enough to grab a site with an incredible golf course and lake view which was the setting for a memorable dinner. On our way back to Austin where my daughter was catching her flight back to New York, we explored Texas wine country in a town called Fredericksburg where we happened upon an incredible upscale restaurant called Vaudeville, and feasted on an incredible charcuterie board with Texas-made meats and cheeses.
While Austin had so much to offer, I couldn’t find the pulse of it exactly. Maybe it was too hot. Maybe I was distracted by the joy of hosting my daughter for the first time. Or maybe I am starting to discover how the energy of a city or place does or does not blow my hair back. My friend who moved to Austin from LA shared during our visit that the city has grown dramatically during the last few years, exploding into the fastest-growing large metro area in 2020 adding over half a million residents from 2010-2020. And like most urban areas, that comes with more crime, homelessness and traffic, all things I am trying to get away from in this Radical Living Challenge, and the next chapter of my life.
Today we are driving our second leg of the fifteen or so hours it takes to get to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I am looking forward to cooler weather, mountains, and a lot of fresh air to blow my hair back.