Saturday, August 04, 2012

Keep Austin Weird and San Antonio, well, for a weekend trip

When I found out that  Zhuang was heading to San Antonio for work, my first thought was: Alamo Drafthouse! And this coming from someone who has no clue how far Austin was from San Antonio in the country's largest state (besides Alaska!). The good news was, Austin was about 1.5 hours drive from San Antonio and even odder, the flights into Austin were cheaper than San Antonio, so yay!
To me, Texas = BIG. Big cars/trucks, big gallon hats, big meals, big people. Suprisingly though, it wasn't really that BIG, at least not from what we saw of San Antonio and Austin.


If I had to live in the Midwest, Austin would definitely be it. Definitely locavore haven, from food to shopping. I loved the pride Austinites have for their local restaurants and you must go shopping on South Congress (SoCo) for local designer jelwery and clothes. I couldn't leave Texas without a pair of cowboy boots, so a beautiful pair of Lucchese, handmade in El Paso since 1883, came home with me and when they claim that it fits like a glove, they're not kidding. So in love with them. I got my Lucchese's at Allens Boots -- rows and rows and rows of cowboy boots. I've never seen so many options in my life! At SoCo, definitely check out Uncommon Objects for completely random things, from old keys to old advertising signs -- things you never knew you need but absolutely wanted. Zhuang had to pry me away from a retrolicious pin-up girl calendar from the 40s. You can't miss Uncommon Objects coz it has a jacklope head proudly mounted on the store front.

If you need a mid-afternoon snack to cool you down, head to Amy's Ice Creams for a scoop -- you can have it with crunch-ins (basically mix-ins like Cold Stone Creamery). There are several Amy's in Austin and each location has their own special flavors on top of their basics, so definitely check them out. I had creamy Mexican Vanilla and Zhuang had Guinness Stout, both yums, even though I still love my Smitten ice-cream better.

The ultimate cool-down in Austin though, has to be the Barton Springs Pool. For a hot summer day, it's the best $3 you'll ever spend. It's basically a creek that was dammed up to create a 900-feet public swimming pool, so it still has cool and clean spring water running through it and natural rock bottom. It's great for people-watching, getting a tan or just a fun afternoon dip with the family. Wish I had this in my backyard.

We weren't crazy about the food in Texas, but would recommend The Salt Lick for fuss-free and good BBQ. It's about a 35-min drive from downtown Austin but definitely worth the drive for the beef ribs, sausage and pork ribs. It's dry-rub BBQ, so not one of those where the ribs are drowning in BBQ sauce. We shared Thurman's Choice, which was a platter of brisket, sausage and pork ribs, and additional order of beef ribs; rounding up the feast with pecan pie that had butterscotch filling -- when in Texas, go big or go home.

There were also food trucks galore in Austin and the best part about them? You don't have to go around hunting for the food trucks. They're always parked in the same location, so definitely stop for a bite whether you're in SoCo or just driving around Austin. We found some really good ones on East 6th Street, where I had my 10pm ice-cream between two super duper yummy chocolate banana cookie at Coolhaus.

But ahhh, if there was something I absolutely had to cross off my bucket list, it would be a visit to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. It was a tad confusing because I didn't know they had turned into a chain of sorts, but from what I understand, although the original Drafthouse warehouse location had to be closed in 2007, and founders Tim and Karrie League had sold the brand name and rights to some CEO dudes, the Leagues still retain "independence" for three Austin locations: Village, South Lamar and Ritz Downtown. We saw "Beasts of the Southern Wild" at South Lamar and I adored the pre-show, which contained old clips from music performances, cartoons, etc that may share similar themes with the movie. We of course had to have dinner at Alamo Drafthouse. I heard the shakes are must-have, but I was too stuffed from my blue cheese burger to have anything else, but there's always next time! Portions are huge, so I suggest sharing if you want dessert. If it's your first visit to the Drafthouse, check out the How Things Work (what time you should arrive, system to order food) and I highly recommend forking the additional $2 to buy the reserved seating tickets. The cinema is small and the reserved seatings are the best seats in the house -- so definitely worth the $2. We bought walk-in tickets and there was already a line forming when we arrived. We sat four rows from the front and it was still okay. We found the eating slightly distracting from the movie, so I would suggest checking out sa movie that you've already seen rather than something new. I can't imagine watching "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" while having to wolf down my burger. Can't wait for The Drafthouse when it arrives in San Francisco!

For more ideas and to-dos in Austin, I really liked and below is a list of some of the places we tried, as recommended by people who lived in Austin. If you love live music, be sure to head to a bar since Austin is apparently the "live music capital of the world" or so says the endless promotional signs at the airport. PS: Skip the Austin Ghost Tour -- totally not worth it.

  • Catch a movie and dinner at Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, either at South Lamar, Village or Ritz Downtown. Check their schedule for special screenings on their web site.
  • Afternoon soak in Barton Springs Pool. Guaranteed one of the best dips of your life.
  • The Salt Lick for BBQ -- either at Round Rock or Driftwood. Good ol' finger lickin' BBQ.
  • Lucy's Fried Chicken -- down home Southern deep fried goodness located at the end of SoCo. Love the dining in the back yard vibe. Give the deviled eggs a miss but the oysters were spicy kickin' and leave room for their pies! 
  • Amy's Ice Creams -- locations all over Austin with unique special flavors, even adult-friendly ones like Stout or Pina Colada.
  • Kerbey Lane Cafe -- open 24 hours but most folks go for breakfast. IMHO, not a must-do.
  • Hula Hut for Hawaiian-style Tex Mex -- we didn't manage to try this coz we were all Tex Mex-ed out.
  • South Congress or SoCo -- lotsa great local stores here. Definitely check out Stag, By George, Allens Boots, Uncommon Objects and honestly, just pop into any store
  • San Marcos Premium Outlets -- about a half hour drive from Austin, located in between San Antonio and Austin. Not as awesome as Woodbury in New York (I don't think anything's come close) but accceptable. There's also Tangers Outlets next to do. Drive around, don't walk especially in the summer heat.
  • The Domain -- if you're looking for a strip mall with slightly higher-end brands, check it out. It's about a 20-minute drive from downtown Austin. Not a must-do.


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