Austin is a city that gets talked about a lot. Everybody knows somebody who knows something about Austin. They’ve embraced the mantra “Keep Austin Weird”, and trust me, they do. I find a lot of similarities between Austin and my own hometown of Lawrence, Kansas. Both cities are a blue blip in a very red state, but both are so much more than their politically liberal leanings. Both could easily play leading roles in a foodie’s dream and both are powerhouses of culture.
My husband and I spent about 5 days in Austin in early January. It was his first time visiting, and my third. Both of my previous trips were to attend SXSW, so my experience was a bit limited, but this was an awesome visit and we’re already making plans to go back. Based on my experiences, I have a few recommendations of things that you shouldn’t miss if you visit Austin.
This is my top recommendation for how to spend some of your time in Austin, and it includes eating at some of the city’s best food trucks. We love doing food tours in cities we visit and Austin Eats didn’t disappoint. I wish we’d had more time in Austin so that we could have done more than one of their tours, but we participated in their Best of Austin Food Truck tour and it was pretty amazing! The tour started with fresh Golden Eggs from Sandra Bullock’s Walton’s Fancy & Staple (seriously, look these up – they’re amazing), then visited the Cocoa Puro tent at the Saturday SFC Farmers’ Market. All items sold by vendors at this farmers’ market have to be produced within 150 miles of Downtown Austin.
Other stops on the tour included Kerlin BBQ, where we sampled a fantastic BBQ brisket & cheddar kolache; la Barbeque, where we skipped the line that was forming before they opened, and had the best brisket and pulled pork of our trip, alone with homemade pickles and a really unique cole slaw; Tumble 22 for some Nashville Hot Chicken and Deep Eddy Sweet Tea vodka; Lucky’s Puccias, in the courtyard of Mort Subite Belgian Pub for puccias, a tasty authentic Italian sandwich made with bread baked in the wood fired oven inside the food truck; and Churro Co. for an incredible s’mores churro. All of the food and beverages are included throughout the tour and you absolutely will not leave hungry.
This is an adorable little area (just a couple blocks) where old homes have been turned into restaurants and bars. It’s adjacent to Downtown, and where our Airbnb was. There are food trucks interspersed throughout the area, so if you’d rather have food from a truck, then grab drinks at one of the hip little bars along this street, you can absolutely do that.
If you’ve got a rental car, I definitely recommend going out to check this out. The bridge is stunning, but the view is even more spectacular. It can be a little confusing to find, as there aren’t any signs and it seems to be a bit of an unofficial park area. If you see people parked on the side of the road, just before you are about to cross the big bridge, you found it. You’ll park where they are, then climb up. You won’t regret the mini hike. The view from the top is AMAZING!
This spot started as the beginning of a building and the project was never completed. Now, it’s an outdoor gallery where artists use spray paint to create amazing art on the concrete foundation of the building. There’s also a great, unobstructed view of Downtown Austin.
One of the better presidential libraries I’ve been to. LBJ was the one who created many of the social programs we work with today. It was interesting to see how they all started. There’s a neat feature in this library where they allow you to listen to phone conversations LBJ had with many people, including Jackie Kennedy, right after JFK was assassinated. It’s really interesting. It’s on the UT campus, but they have a designated parking lot, so you shouldn’t have any problems.
If you like art museums, this is a great one. The entry way is beautiful and they just opened a brand new building (it opened right after we left Austin) that looks amazing. This one is also on the UT campus, but there’s a public parking garage that makes things easy.
This is a Detroit-style pizza spot that started as a food truck. I recommend checking out the original (behind Craft Pride at 61 Rainey Street). They have an amazing patio in the back yard, where the food truck is, and Craft Pride serves all kinds of Texas craft beer. The pizza is amazing, and it’s a spot I go back to every time I’m in Austin.
This isn’t the original location (that’s in Portland), but it’s just enough of a taste of Austin’s 6th Street to be enough for me. 6th Street is Austin’s Bourbon Street and can be a little overwhelming. I recommend going long enough to grab a doughnut and catch a little live music.
Torchy’s is always on the list of recommendations when you’re talking about Austin. If you like tacos, you’ll like this place, and they even have a “secret” menu. It’s an Austin chain, but they’re spreading to other places across the country (Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma right now). but they know what they’re doing. There are lots of locations all over the city and all have different features. Check out their website to find the location that best fits your needs.
We stopped here on the way back to the airport. It’s a small food truck attached to a brewery in a really industrial-looking area. If you’re using GPS, you’re going to think you’re in the wrong place, but you’re not. They have a really nice outdoor area and the food is unique and really good.
This is one you’ll have to drive to. It’s about 30-45 minutes outside of Austin, but it’s worth it. It’s one of the more famous BBQ spots in the country. They have amazing food, but it’s super popular, so I recommend it for lunch rather than dinner. We actually went as soon as we got off the plane and got our car in Austin, since we couldn’t check into the Airbnb until later in the afternoon.
No matter what you choose to do or where you choose to eat, Austin has something for everyone. What are your favorites?
As the year draws to a close, I always like to take a few moments to reflect on all my experiences over the past 12 months. As with most years, 2017 will be remembered as a year of curve balls and unexpected surprises, but what would life be without occasional surprises and detours? Here’s my 2017 Year in Review. . .
I just passed the two-year mark at the University of Kansas at the Center for Public Partnerships and Research, managing the Institute for the Advancement of Family Support Professionals project. The Institute officially launched our free, online learning platform on November 1st and things are going well. As the project continues through 2018, a career map feature will be added to the platform that will help guide users to trainings that will help them become proficient in a national set of core competencies that were developed by the project. The project involves a team of stakeholders from many different organizations, spread across four different states and most of the work is done virtually via video conferencing. You can learn more about the Institute and even sign up to take some of the courses yourself at www.InstituteFSP.org.
My husband, Josh, spends his time working in content marketing and communications strategy for a Victoria, British Columbia-based marketing and consulting firm. He is the account lead for several Fortune 1000 clients and has spent some time this year writing about something he’s really interested in – blockchain and cryptocurrency. You can find some of his writing at www.CoinCatalyst.com. The Bitcoin learning curve has been steep for me, but I feel much more educated in the world of cryptocurrency thanks to Josh’s devout research skills. We even spent the drive back and forth to Central Kansas for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year listening to Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money on Audible.
We’ve continued traveling fairly extensively throughout 2017.
In May, we celebrated our 7th anniversary by flying to Honolulu, spending four days on the island of Oahu, followed by 12 days on a cruise ship visiting three additional islands for seven of those days and crossing the Pacific for the additional five. While in Hawaii, we stayed in an Airbnb on the North Shore of Oahu, visited Pearl Harbor, did a driving tour of Oahu, had coffee in Kona, visited our first active volcano in Hilo, went mountain tubing at Kauai Backcountry Adventures through the irrigation canals of an old sugarcane plantation in Kauai, marveled at the beauty of Waimea Canyon, took a 6-person cruise along the Na Pali Coast with Na Pali Experience (seriously, if you ever get the opportunity to do this, DO IT!!!), did the entire loop on the Road to Hana, and visited art galleries in Lahaina.
After spending five days at sea, we disembarked the cruise ship in Vancouver and walked 25,000 steps the first day off the ship. Vancouver is one of our favorite cities in the world and we always appreciate the opportunity to explore our favorite places when we’re there. We even made the drive along the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler. They’re not kidding when they say the Sea to Sky Highway is one of the most beautiful drives in North America. It’s truly spectacular, and was made even better because of an app I stumbled upon when we were planning our time on Oahu. If you’re ever traveling in the Hawaiian Islands or in British Columbia (and a few other locations), and you’ll have a car, I HIGHLY recommend looking into the GyPSy Guide. The company has several tours of varying lengths for each of the Islands, as well as many tour options in British Columbia, and several popular National Park destinations in the United States. We probably downloaded 6 or 7 of their tours for our trip and they were worth every single penny. You download the tour and pair your phone with the car’s Bluetooth, then play the audio of the tour through your car speakers while you drive. The tour is triggered by GPS signal, and the guide gives fantastic directions. We saw things during those driving tours that you would never find in a guidebook or by just using trial and error. I wish every destination had something similar.
When we returned from Vancouver, we found that my mom had become very ill while we were away. She’d lost a lot of weight and was very weak. Her liver specialist at the University of Kansas Hospital decided that it was time to talk about being placed on the liver transplant list and I spent three days working from the hospital while my mom went through the tests and evaluations that are required before being placed on the list. During this process, it was discovered that my mom was also in kidney failure and she was admitted to the hospital for about a week while the doctors worked on getting her healthy enough to be placed on the transplant list. The treatment she received while in the hospital helped her regain enough strength to officially receive approval to be placed on the liver transplant list on my 35th birthday. Her health continues to be stable and she will likely have to get much worse before she will be able to receive a transplant, but we’re fortunate that she’s on the list.
Through this process, I’ve learned more about the process of organ transplants than I ever knew existed and have started preaching the importance of registering to be an organ donor to anyone who will listen. I even organized an organ donor drive for the Midwest Transplant Network at my office, in August. If you’re not already registered to be an organ donor (not just with a sticker on your driver’s license, but through an actual registration process), please consider registering at www.OrganDonor.gov today. Five minutes of your time could mean the difference between life and death for someone you know.
In late September, Josh and I had the opportunity to visit Boston for 4 days for a marketing conference. Since both of us have a professional interest in marketing, it was a perfect opportunity to attend a conference together and get in a little sightseeing while there. Last year, we visited Boston on a cruise, but only had the chance to be in the city for a one day, so it was nice to get to spend more time there and actually get to explore a bit. We stayed in an Airbnb in Beacon Hill, right in the middle of everything. We even took Amtrak to New London, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island, so we could check off a couple of additional states. It was a great, albeit short, trip.
One day after returning from Boston, we flew back to Vancouver, BC for a few days ahead of another cruise. We woke up before dawn one morning and drove our rental car to the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen to go to Victoria and visit Josh’s childhood friend, and his family for the day. We got to enjoy high tea in Butchart Gardens before walking around Downtown Victoria, and spending a few hours at their home before taking the ferry back to Vancouver that night. We also had the opportunity to take another GyPSy Guide tour and drive east out of Vancouver to Kamloops, BC. Someday, we want to take a trip to the Canadian Rockies (Jasper, Banff, etc.) and Kamloops is halfway between Vancouver and the Rockies. It was a beautiful drive and we’re eager to get back to the area.
From Vancouver, we boarded the Ruby Princess and headed south. We stopped in Astoria, OR, to see Mount St. Helens, spent a day in San Francisco, where we visited Sausalito, sailed under, drove over, and walked over the Golden Gate Bridge, saw the Full House Painted Lady houses, and walked around Haight Ashbury. We spent the last day of our cruise in Santa Barbara on a food & drink walking tour (Eat This, Shoot That) of the “Funk Zone” which reminded us a lot of our own East Lawrence. The cruise ended in Los Angeles and we flew home that afternoon.
Staying Busy in the Community
After founding the Girlfriend’s Gala in 2014, I’m working with our planning committee to wrap up plans for our 4th annual event, on February 2nd. The Gala is an American Cancer Society fundraiser resembling a “prom” for ladies 21 and over and features a photo booth, snack bar, raffle, and bachelor auction. It’s an event that’s becoming really popular in Lawrence and I spend a lot of time each year preparing for it and soliciting donations. It’s always a blast and it raises a lot of money for a good cause.
I also spend time as a member of the Board of Directors for Just Food, the food bank, here in Douglas County, Kansas. I serve as a member of the fund development sub-committee and help with a lot of the plans for fundraising events throughout the year.
This year, in my capacity as a Board member for the Social Media Club of Lawrence, I’ve helped to revamp the format for our 2018 meetings. Since the club was founded, it has been meeting weekly, on Wednesday mornings at 7:30. With many of the members starting families and having to drop kids off at school at exactly that time every morning, it was becoming difficult to get many members to attend meetings. We’re excited to start hosting monthly lunch networking meetings and monthly evening meetings with presentations, starting in January. For more information about attending or becoming involved with SMC Lawrence, visit our Facebook page.
I’m so close to being done with grad school, I can smell it. I’m officially half-way through my final year of a two-year Master’s program at the University of Kansas in Digital Content Strategy. I’ll walk down the hill at graduation on May 13th and finish my final class over the summer.
I didn’t travel as much for work this year as I did in 2016, but still got out of Lawrence with colleagues a few times:
March – South By Southwest Education – Austin, TX
March – South By Southwest Interactive – Austin, TX
March – Institute for the Advancement of Family Support Professionals Meeting – Harrisonburg, VA
2018 will bring a trip to Texas and two trips to the Caribbean.
In January, we’re spending 4 days in Austin and San Antonio. Josh has never been to either city and I’m looking forward to getting back to Austin and visiting San Antonio for the first time. We’re staying in an Airbnb on Rainey Street, which is one of my favorite little pockets of Austin. We’re excited to get to see one of our friends and her family when we visit San Antonio. We accidentally found out they would be there (visiting from southern Mississippi for a conference) the same weekend we would, so we’ll get to spend time with them both in January and in November.
In May, we will be travelling back to the Eastern Caribbean on the same itinerary we sailed in 2016 (St. Thomas, Tortola, and Nassau, out of Miami). We haven’t booked any tours yet, but if Josh has his way, we’ll be doing the same tours we did when we were in each location before. Unfortunately, St. Thomas, St. John, Tortola, and Virgin Gorda all took pretty direct hits from two hurricanes this fall, and we’re not sure how many of the tour operators are back to functioning 100% at this point. We really enjoyed touring St. John and visiting the Baths at Virgin Gorda when we were there in 2016 and would love to get back to both again.
Western Caribbean for Josh’s 40th Birthday
In November, we will be sailing to the Western Caribbean with at least 25 friends and family members for Josh’s 40th birthday. We sail from New Orleans, which will be a lot of fun! You can see our itinerary and learn more about the cruise HERE. If you’d like to go with us, we’d love to have more in our group, so please let me know. There’s plenty of room for more people in our group and you get quite a few perks by being a part of a group, so make sure you book through us. Deposits are always fully refundable through the final payment for cruises, so there’s not a lot of risk involved in booking early.
2017 has been quite a year. We’ve been a few new places, made some new friends, been involved in our community, and learned a lot. What were your favorite parts of 2017?