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Feb 06, 2004: Texas Travel Advice?

WARNING: narcissism ahead

MJ, Iris, and I are headed to the IA Summit at the end of the month. We're making a family vacation out of it, and have a week to kill (roughly March 3-10).

So, our question: if you were traveling with a two-month old, wanted to enjoy some warm weather sight-seeing, avoid spring breakers, and were going to do this in the rough vicinity (say, a half day's drive) of Austin, Texas, where would you go? San Antonio (been there; what else is there besides the River Walk)? Kerrville? South Padre Island? Make the haul to Big Bend?

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Comment: Michael (Feb 6, 2004)

Padre Island and Big Bend both could be full of Spring Breakers. Call and ask first. Pedernales Falls http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/pedernal/ is an easy day trip from Austin. Fredericksburg is a nice quiet little German town http://www.fredericksburg-texas-events.com/ and an easy drive from Austin. March could be a good time to see the Blue Bonnets starting to bloom. There are several flower stops that makes a good photo op for babies.

Comment: andrew (Feb 6, 2004)

Big Bend is *far* from Austin, about 450 milels, and if you haven't already got reservations for March, you're almost surely SOL.

If you're up for hiking, http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/enchantd/enchantd.htm Enchanted Rock is one of the most impressive places in the Hill Country, and it's about 2 hours from Austin near Fredricksburg. It's genuinely awe-inspiring, and can accomodate a range of energy levels and hiking abilities.

Nearer to Austin is http://www.texasoutside.com/hamiltonpool.htm Hamilton Pool. No swimming in February, but still very pretty.

What about Shiner TX, the home of the famous Shiner Beer?http://www.shiner.com/home.html There's not much there besides the brewery, but the tour is pretty cool. http://www.shiner.com/home.html

You will want to avoid Padre and the coast. Spring break will have claimed it totally by 3/10.

Wimberley is a cute town about 1 hour from Austin. There's a neat glassblowing studio there, and it's close to several Texas wineries. http://www.wimberley.org/

Finally, my parents dragged me to the LBJ Ranch out in Johnson City about 1 1/2 hours from Austin. http://www.nps.gov/lyjo/ It was surprisingly interesting and quite pretty. This is on the way to Fredericksburg. There's nothing else to do in Johnson City, BTW. It is close to Perdenales Falls which is mentioned above. Perdenales is nice, but can be sort of dull if you don't want to just hike.

Comment: Lou (Feb 9, 2004)

Thanks for the input guys. Looks like we'll definitely be spending some time in Wimberley; still fielding additional suggestions!

Comment: Austin (Feb 9, 2004)

I'll second Frederiksberg. Nice for a visit. There are also scads of lakes near Austin that are wonderful for a day trip.

Likewise, Enchanted Rock can be a decent day trip, and there's camping if you're willing to be more adventurous (with the two-year old).

Comment: Adam Polansky (Feb 13, 2004)

I have to add a vote for Wimberly. It's kind of an artsy community with a few nice places to walk around (suitable for strollers or carriers). For "cheesy, but strangely fun" there's Aquarena Springs http://www.continuing-ed.swt.edu/aquarena/ Glass-bottom boats and a scuba-diving pig. Now that's family fun!! Both are an easy afternoon trip from Austin.

Comment: Marcia Morante (Feb 14, 2004)

While you're in Texas, Iris might want to see the rumored-to-be third base man of her favorite team. A little far from Austin, but if you're a fan, how far would you go for a photo op with Alex Rodriguez?

Comment: Kevin Cheng (Feb 14, 2004)

Third for Frederiksberg. South Padre I go to every year and it IS full of spring breakers so don't do that. If you want some sun minus the spring breakers, Corpus Christi is actually a good choice. Personally, I think Austin itself is the perfect place for sun and family. Lots of parks, quiet outdoor coffee areas, lakeside eating and of course, bbq at the Salt Lick or even just Rudy's.

Comment: Andrew (Feb 15, 2004)

Ah, Salt Lick is way overrated. Long drive, long wait, pretty much just regular bbq. Just go to John Mueller's in Austin. Drive to Lockhart for Smitty's for the real TX deal. (See this site for reviews).

Comment: Tony Byrne (Feb 16, 2004)

Long copy-paste from an Austin friend about good eats in Austin (sorry, no general Texas travel advice) and kid-friendly things to to do while there....

Quick things off the top of my head: good Mexican = Guero’s on South Congress, also nice funky shops in that strip. And El Sol y la Luna also on South Congress (Congress is main—capital). Or Curra’s on Oltorf, also in that area. Also (lots of good Mex) Las Manitas on Congress north of the river for breakfast or lunch—excellent! Mount Bonnell for good views of bridges/lake, canoeing on town lake (rent in Zilker park), walking the trails around town lake, including fun Lamar walking bridge.

more tips: nice UT area coffee shop= spider house off Guadalupe (east 1 block at about 30th). Mother whole foods store at 6th and lamar —good deli and next to largest independent bookstore in Texas—Book People. And across street from awesome record store—Waterloo records where afternoons, probably including Friday, often free music and beer around 5. Great selection of most things, and especially Austin and Texas music.

Ruby’s bbq on Guadalupe has organic beef if you want to do the tx bbq thing...or if you don’t, Wheatsville coop deli just north of there has an awesome VEGGIE frito pie! I’ll probably think of more.

Gene’s Restaurant on East 12th(I think—maybe 15th or higher—you’d have to look up), if you miss Lousiana soul and cajun--the real deal, I think.
Artz rib house on south lamar for bbq/ribs including an excellent grilled veggie plate and bulegrass and country music most nights and weekend afternoons.
Maria’s on far south Lamar for tacos, sometimes music.
Jovita’s, south first, for tex-mex and nightly music.
Continental Club on south congress for texas music.
Broken spoke (south Lamar) for really texas music and western dancing.
Vespaio on south Congress if you feel you need a very fancy Italian meal for a treat. They take reservations for first seating only. Or Fonda San Miguel for upscale and very good interior Mexican. Or Kenichi for nice sushi--downtown
West Lynn Café, nice vegetarian near our house, on west lynn.
Good beer and neat old building—Opal Divine’s. Try the Belgian Urthel (not Urquel).
Kim Phung on far north Lamar for good Vietnamese. BYO wine or beer.

These are mostly food...not sure what all you like, or what you don’t have much of.

Also, Jones museum on Congress downtown for modern art, Laguna Gloria branch of the Austin Museum of Art for exhibits in great old house on pretty lagoon. Nice monster sculptures on path by water.

Oh, and if you want a movie, the Alamo Drafthouse downtown near 4th street (on Colorado, I think), has older/art movies and serves good food and beer and wine during the movie. Fun. Monday is dollar night—dollar movie, dollar popcorn, dollar pop.

I recommend the trails around town lake and Zilker park for slow relaxation if the weather is nice. Ducks, dogs, etc. The Lamar walking bridge is just downriver from the car bridge, the car bridge is a nightmare for walking, but the new pedestrian bridge is lovely. Or shoal creek trails along Lamar/Pease park nice for walking, too. Or for a drive, drive out 2222 West to see lovely Lake Travis, nice views, though could be traffic at rush hours. Follow signs for Mansfield Dam.

The Chronicle is the weekly Reader-equivalent with all the music and art and event listings. Should be around stores/restaurants for free.

Comment: Prentiss Riddle (Feb 17, 2004)

[This is a pastebomb from e-mail to Lou, much of which overlaps with what's been said above, but what the heck.]

Sorry for the very slow reply. Part of the problem is that your question suggests that maybe you want to head to the coast, and all I really know about the coast is where you *don't* want to go.

South Padre Island, which has the best beaches in Texas, is pretty much Spring Break Central. But I don't know the timing for spring break. Calls to a couple of hotels should tell you whether you'd be ahead of the crowd.

It may be that there are other options, too, specifically small towns with too little beach or too few hotels to attract the part crowd. For instance, I visited Port Aransas 20 years ago and I remember a tiny beach town with a UT marine biology station and a couple of small hotels. But for all I know that's completely changed since then.

"Warm" being a relative thing you could stay inland and still have a break from the Michigan winter. West of Austin is the Texas Hill Country with a thriving regional tourist industry based on antigue shops and B&Bs. The epicenter is Fredericksburg, and old German town where farmers built small "Sunday houses" for their weekend trips to market and church. The Sunday houses are all B&Bs now and very nice, if you have a certain tolerance for fru-fru. There's a lot of pretty country around Fredericksburg for scenic drives, Enchanted Rock is a spectacular geological formation and an easy climb just outside Fredericksburg, and there are plenty of smaller towns to explore. Comfort is maybe my favorite of the tiny towns (the Comfort Common is nice if you want to sleep there) and I recently blogged about a hidden restaurant worth a special drive:


It would be easy to combine the Hill Country with a visit to San Antonio, if you haven't been to so many conferences there that you're sick of it. A lesser-known hotel at the far edge of the Riverwalk that I've always wanted to stay at is the Havana http://www.san.antonio.the-hotels.com/havana-riverwalk-inn.htm -- it's got an unusual historic style (more noir than fru-fru) and a very cool bar in the basement if you can figure out where to park the baby for long enough to get a drink.

On that note, if you find yourself with any extra nights in Austin, there are two hotels on South Congress that I've been trying for years to find an excuse to stay at myself, the funky Austin Motel and the more modern chic San Jose Hotel.

Now, in a different direction: between Austin and Houston are more historic little towns, none with quite the character of Fredericksburg but not bad. Fayetteville is the one I've often detoured to drive through. It has a classic courthouse square, a few blocks of houses, a couple of restaurants and B&Bs and not much else and would be a good base to explore the area. Even tinier are the historic hamlets of Warrenton and Round Top where there'd be absolutely nothing to do but relax. (UT has a culture center at Round Top where they put on concerts and a famous summer Shakespeare Festival, but who knows what will be happening there this time of year.)

Say, do you like wine? Both the Hill Country and the countryside around Fayetteville have wineries you can tour.

If you did stay in Fayettesville or thereabouts, you could easily combine that with some nights in Houston. Houston has great museums -- the Menil Collection is my favorite, but there's everything from the ponderous MFAH to the uniquely wacky Orange Show. Houston also has great food (during the oil boom people moved there from all over the world and during the bust they all opened restaurants) and some funky neighborhoods where there must be some interesting lodgings (I'd look for a B&B in the Houston Heights or Montrose).

And if you go to Houston and *must* see the Gulf of Mexico, Galveston is day-trip distance. A lot of people hate Galveston -- the water is full of silt from the Trinity River and outside of the historic districts it's pretty run-down -- but the historic districts are full of pretty Victoriana. I used to live there and have some affection for its air of faded luxury. Plus, Galveston has a nice ferry ride across the mouth of Galveston Bay -- a better way to enjoy the salt
air than the beach, in my opinion. Bring bread to feed the seagulls.

Whew. Does that help? Once you pick a destination, tell me and I may be able to come up with more tips.

Comment: dr. pat oles (Mar 14, 2004)

We are planning a trip the hill country and would like a prediction as to the date of the blooming of the blue bonnets this yr.(04) THANKS

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