Welcome to Texas, or as it’s known in my childhood – Cowboy town. I’ve said this before but the US is really more of a conglomerate of different states than one unified country, which provides it an ample set of advantages and obstacles. Texas is one of its most distinctive states, with some even calling it a country by itself. To be fair, I discovered on this trip that at one point, Texas actually was its own self-governing country for a while. In fact, that was just the tip of a very large iceberg on how complex Texas’ history and legacy was, and I was just about to discover it. I started my trip by flying into Austin and taking the airport bus downtown. One of my favorite things about the city is how well planned the public transportation is. You can take buses everywhere for a flat price of $2.50 per 24 hour period.
The most iconic sight in Austin has to be the State Capitol. It’s almost like the center of gravity of the city, with its large stature imposing onto Congress Ave, the main road of Austin. It’s probably one of the biggest state capitols that I’ve ever seen and has a beautiful park surrounding it for a peaceful walk. I definitely took advantage of the ambiance for some quiet time.
Austin has done a really good job of balancing its urban buildup with parks and natural expanses. One of my favorite parts of this effort is Lady Bug Lake on the east side of the city. It’s one of its largest water bodies and people frequent the area for all kinds of water sports such as stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking. Had I more time, I would have definitely wanted to hit the water too.
If you’re looking for more of Austin’s restaurant and commercial life, head down to South Congress, which is literally south of Colorado River and Congress Ave. There’s a bunch of cool street markets, craft stores and amazing restaurants. I took a walk up back to the bridge crossing the river and stopped at a bunch of stores just to see what was being sold.
I would also plan the trip back up to the bridge to align with sunset, because one of Austin’s coolest attractions is the flight of the bats. At sunset, all the bats that lie underneath Congress Bridge come out in a swarm.
This is a hazy sight of it. I couldn’t get a good shot because it was storming and I really didn’t know what I was expecting and how to prepare my camera for it, but trust me when I tell you, it is one of the most memorable sights I’ve seen and I’ve seen some cool stuff around the world. The wait can be rather frustrating because the bats literally do what they want but I made some good conversation with the hundreds of people also in anticipation.
Another cool place to check out is the Barton Springs. You have to pay a $8 fee to enter the actual pool where the water comes from naturally heated springs, but you can also swing through the children playground to this creek-like area. The actual pool is top-optional so note that when you’re heading there. Austin has a bunch of cool secrets like these.
And then of course, what’s Austin without 6th Street. Austin is known as the live music capitol of the world, and the areas surrounding 6th street do host some of the liveliest pubs and bars I’ve seen in a city. There’s a bunch I liked including Jackalope, Blind Pig Pub and Bull McCabes (which is actually on Red River St). Grab a beer, chill out and dance with other tourists/locals. It’s a ball of a time. One place I highly recommend is the Midnight Cowboy speakeasy which needs reservations well in advance but does tableside cocktail preparations.
Before I go on to talk about food, we must talk about food trucks. Austin has the most food truck parks I’ve seen in an US city, probably comparable to Portland. These are where some of the best food is dished out and it’s a lifestyle here to eat out on outdoor benches because the weather is always warm. I love love loved this.
One of the places you MUST make your way to is La Barbecue. It’s a 2 hour wait if you just swing by but if you pre-order a week in advance, you can just come up and collect your order and pay immediately. The beef brisket is heavenly and is some of the best I’ve ever had in my life. It’s really depressing because I don’t know if I’m ever going to have such good brisket in a while. Their sausages are also really well done, with the meat mix being spot on and spicy. I also was a big fan of their potato salad.
The most recommended place to me was Torchy’s Tacos. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but Austin is famous for multiple things, and Tex-Mex is top on that list. Torchy’s is the epitomy of that celebration with savagely unique taco combinations and a mean queso dip. I’ve had comparable tacos in my travels around cities, but I will admit their queso is unbeatable. I personally liked their Green Chile Pork taco the best.
Another recommendation I’ll provided is for Gordough’s. I couldn’t make it out to their Public House where they serve ~donut burgers~ but I made a stop at a food truck and had one of their most populat donut dishes. I can’t remember what it’s called but it has whipped cream and fresh strawberries on a light fried donut. It was so good, but so sinful. Texan food isn’t known for being light but I didn’t know that so I was very overwhelmed quickly by how dense the food was. Make sure you take note of that, if not you’ll leave a few pounds heavier for sure.
Having seen Austin, I heard I had to check out San Antonio while I was nearby, so I booked a Greyhound and went out.
San Antonio is an absolutely beautiful city, and a lot more historically tied if you ask me. There’s a lot of events that happened around the area and the buildings and roads seem to reflect that. The centerpiece of the city though is the Riverwalk, which is a long expansive river that is banked by restaurants and bars. At some points, there are dams, bridges and even this performance area. You can take a boat cruise tour although I opted to walk the whole way and pick up on tidbits that the tour guides were sharing.
On the upper level lie more of San Antonio’s historical features, the most important being the San Fernando Cathedral. It is one of the oldest cathedrals in the US and has the architectural brilliance to show for it. I loved just walking around and admiring the stonework gone into the church, and the best part was that because I came on a Sunday, service was going on and I could peek into the stunning interior.
If you continue westwards from the Cathedral, you’ll come across the largest Mexican Market outside of Mexico. This market has all kinds of stalls selling crafts, goods and memorabilia. There are also live music performances and talent shows.
Of course there’s a whole array of Mexican street food to choose from. I would say you’re gonna get more authentic Mexican food here than actual Tex-Mex which was a big thing for me because I’ve discovered a love for Mexican food since coming to the US. I’m really going to miss having easy access to Mexican food now that I’m out of the US.
And then we come to the Alamo, the highlight of my trip. From the memorable warcry ‘Remember the Alamo’, this area is a historical tribute to the complexities of Texas’s politics. The main building is actually a shrine of sorts to those who sacrificed their lives to protect the Mission (monikered ‘The Alamo’), but the whole campus holds artifacts and exhibits explaining how people fought over this area. It’s really an exciting and sobering visit, and completely meets the hype. It’s also completely free.
In San Antonio, I only had one meal, but this meal probably is as classic as it gets for my travels. I didn’t really want to drop a pretty penny on the Riverwalk restaurants but I also wanted good food. I basically camped outside the San Fernando church and followed those people who escaped church service early to reserve seats for lunch. I followed them to the nearby Poblano’s, which is a Mexican cafeteria that serves platters that are so affordable. I really had a hearty taco meal with chulapas here. Man, this was as good as it got for Mexican food.
Texas was an adventure and a ride. Be prepared for a very different part of the US when you cross these borders. There’s so much more I wish I did, like catch a rodeo or visit the famous Hamilton pools, but alas I must await my return to this exciting state. I will be back, Texas.