Four days in Austin and Texas Hill Country: Tacos, vintage shops, delicious BBQ, wine tasting, and rock n roll.
We definitely did not get enough time in Austin on this trip. It was our first time in Texas, and it left us wanting to see more. Austin is a twangier, tangier, dustier version of Portland, Oregon. In fact, Portland actually stole Austin’s “Keep Austin Weird” slogan. Austin has more live music and less rain, more BBQ and less strip clubs. I am in love with both cities equally now, and wish it was easier to visit Austin as much as we visit Portland.
Paddy’s band The Mercy Ray was invited to play at their lead singer’s best friend’s 50th birthday party in Dripping Springs, Texas, about an hour outside of Austin in Texas Hill Country. Heidi (the lead singer) was from the Austin area, and really wanted to bring her band home for the party. We’d never been to Texas, so we all cashed in our airline miles for a four day weekend.
The best time of year to visit Texas is not early September. Austin in early September is 100+ degrees. That being said, it is still possible to have a great time while taking periodic refuge in air-conditioned environments.
Day 1: Exploring Austin: shopping and murals in the North Loop and South Congress neighborhood
In order to maximize our time in Austin and due to the lower flight price, we opted to fly in on Wednesday night and stay a night at a crappy airport hotel. The rest of the band was getting in late afternoon on Thursday, so we had the day to explore Austin on our own before our entourage arrived.
We checked out of the not-so-quality Quality Inn at the airport, picked up our rental car, and headed to the North Loop neighborhood to do some vintage shopping.
The North Loop neighborhood in North Austin has a cluster of great vintage shops right next to each other. If you are looking for a vintage Playboy issue or mid-century antiques, Room Service Vintage is your mecca.
Had we not had to ship it home, we may have purchased an awesome 70’s swag lamp here. But alas, it wasn’t quite worth the price or hassle. There was some truly fantastic stuff though. If you are into vintage shopping, this cluster of shops shouldn’t be missed.
After shopping, we were a bit peckish so we went for lunch at nearby Torchy’s Tacos. Torchy’s has many locations in Austin so it shouldn’t be difficult to find one. An Austin fast food favorite, Torchy’s offers lots of inventive and tasty tacos that are not your traditional Mexican fare. We both had a Trailer Park taco, which was fried chicken with pico de gallo, lettuce, chiles, cheese, and a poblano pepper sauce. Paddy also had a Brushfire jerk chicken taco with mango, and I had a Mr. Pink taco with seared ahi tuna and chipotle sauce. There were so many delicious options, we wanted to try them all!
We also loved that they had a big vat of house made unsweetened ice tea with fresh lemon wedges as a drink option. There was a house made sweet tea as well.
After lunch, we sought out a couple famous Austin murals. Austin has a plethora of great murals, and we only made it to a few of them. We prioritized the two Austin Texas murals for the photo op. It was our first day in Texas, and we couldn’t help ourselves.
We had a couple hours left to explore the South Congress neighborhood.
South Congress is a very popular area with both tourists and locals. Be warned that parking is not easy to come by. After driving around and discovering that all the neighborhood streets off South Congress are residential permit only, we finally found a pay lot at the South Congress Hotel on E Monroe Street.
South Congress street is full of fun shops and restaurants to explore, and is a must do for anyone visiting Austin. Our favorite store was Triple Z Threads, which takes vintage western shirts and embroiders various designs on them. There were sasquatches, scorpions, cats with laser eyes, and other fun designs. They also have a lot of fun t-shirts and other unique gifts.
Big Top Candy Shop has just about every kind of candy you can think of, and some you couldn’t imagine yet (sweet corn or pickle soda anyone?)
Allen’s Boots has the largest selection of cowboy boot styles I’ve ever seen. So many prints, sequins, colors, styles. If you are looking for some Texas cowboy boots to take home–this is your place. However, be sure to budget $200-$800 for a pair. These boots are quality, and some are even works of art.
Venturing out into Texas Hill Country:
The rest of the Mercy Ray had arrived by 3:00 so we met up with them at a nearby music rental store to get their gear. Once that was sorted out, we were ready to head out to our Airbnb house in Dripping Springs, about an hour from Austin.
Austin’s hill country is hot and dry, but also full of natural springs and swimming holes. We didn’t have time to check out any swimming holes on this trip, but if you need a break from the heat, here are a few options in the area:
*Note that many of the local swimming holes are organized and require advance reservations for a specific day and time slot as crowd control.
Our Airbnb house was really out in the middle of nowhere, but it was pretty. We loved the big porch with the hill country view.
There were quite a few Airbnb rental house options in the hill country area. Some even had swimming pools. We were happy that our rental had nice, frosty air conditioning and the fridge was stocked with Texas Topo Chico sparkling water.
Epic Texas Hill Country BBQ:
That evening we met up with Heidi and her family at the famous Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood. The Salt Lick can get pretty busy in the evenings, and they accept reservations for parties of 10 or more on weeknights. We made a reservation for our big group, which was advantageous. When we arrived there was already a walk-in wait list for the air-conditioned dining room.
If you can’t wait for a spot in the dining room, there is plenty of outdoor seating and you can order to-go orders to eat on the picnic tables outside.
A couple things to know about the Salt Lick:
1. It is cash only. There is an ATM on site if you need it
2. It is BYOB. They don’t sell alcohol here, but will gladly provide you with cups to drink yours with. Customers actually show up here with coolers of beer. If you didn’t bring your own, the Salt Lick has a winery next door with wines and beers for sale.
And then there’s the meat:
The meat is cooked over a huge BBQ pit, and there are several kinds to choose from. I had the pork ribs and turkey, and Paddy had a sampler platter with ribs, brisket, and pulled pork. While the meat was clearly the star of the show, we were super impressed with the coleslaw! I don’t like sweet, mayonnaise-based coleslaw, and theirs was quite the opposite. It was vinegar-based and super flavorful. The perfect compliment to the heavy meat. The potato salad was also delightful and very low on the mayo. Everything was top notch.
The only thing we weren’t crazy impressed with was the cobbler. It was WAY too sweet. They had peach and blackberry, and both were very sugary and didn’t let the tartness of the fruit come through. We also tried the chocolate pecan pie, which was good, but nothing outstanding.
After that huge dinner and a long day of sightseeing we were tired, so headed back to the Airbnb to have some drinks and relax.
Day 2: Day trip to Wimberley
We all went separate ways to do our own things on Friday. Paddy and I opted to drive down to the town of Wimberley, about a half hour drive from our Dripping Springs rental house.
Wimberley is a cute little town. It’s a town your mom will love. Lots of boutique shops to stroll around in and a western vibe. It’s a mom town.
We enjoyed all the artsy cowboy boot sculptures throughout the town. I read that there were more than what we saw, but we didn’t have time to find them all.
The shop keepers were very chatty and friendly. We took a lunch recommendation from one of them and had lunch at the Leaning Pear.
The Leaning Pear looked very upscale and new. It was full of ladies who lunch drinking ice tea and chardonnay. We expected it to be a bit pricey, but were shocked at how reasonable the prices were.
We each had a sandwich and a cup of their gazpacho. The ice tea wasn’t standard Lipton, it had a subtle fruit flavor to it. The gazpacho was very refreshing on such a hot day. The sandwiches were fantastic and only $8! Everything else on the menu looked delicious as well. If you are looking for a lunch spot in Wimberley, The Leaning Pear can’t be missed.
The Texas Hill Country is home to many wineries, and I had hoped to do a bit of wine tasting after lunch. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and were only able to visit one vineyard in Dripping Springs. We opted for the Solaro Estate Winery not far from our Airbnb.
Solaro Estate Winery had an impressive wall of wine awards off their tasting room. Our friendly host had us taste several wines, of which our favorite was their sparkling wine. Unfortunately sparkling wine and non-pressurized airplane cargo holds are not a good mix, so we didn’t purchase a bottle here. The others were nice, but we didn’t love them enough to justify the prices.
We spent the late afternoon and early evening enjoying the pool at Heidi’s friend Sita’s house in nearby Driftwood. In retrospect, we probably should have opted for an Airbnb with a pool, as nice as our rental house was. It was so hot and sitting in a pool with a drink made for a comfortable, relaxing afternoon.
For dinner that evening we went out to Hays City Store in Driftwood. We sat at outdoor picnic table seating under string lights. It was the perfect place to mop up all the beers and wine we drank at the pool.
I had the Chicken Fried Chicken with mashed potatoes and jalepeno gravy and a side of sauteed spinach. The jalepeno gravy had a nice flavor without being too spicy. I also tried their margarita sampler, which was Instagram-worthy and delicious. It came with classic lime, strawberry, watermelon, and jalepeno cucumber. If you are going for a full margarita here, the jalepeno cucumber is the best.
Day 3: Rock n Roll birthday party
Saturday was the day of the big 50th birthday party for Heidi’s friend Sita, so Paddy and the rest of the band wanted to take it easy and rest up.
The party was at an outdoor venue called Roadrunners in Dripping Springs. We arrived early so the band could load gear and set up before the party.
Roadrunners is a bar and grill in downtown Dripping Springs with tons of outdoor seating and shade, along with a playground for kids and a mini-golf course. In addition, they often have live music on the weekends. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the food, but we were all impressed with the quality. Their menu isn’t extensive–mostly burgers and sandwiches. However, the salad options were leafy, green and organic (no iceberg lettuce here) and the sandwiches were tasty. Craft cocktails were expensive, but beers were very reasonable. The Roadrunners staff were very accommodating for Sita’s birthday party and everything was a great success.
The layout of the property is nicely set up as well–the playground for entertaining the kids is far from the stage. Close enough to the main bar area for parents to sit in the shade and keep an eye on them, but far enough to not be a distraction from the entertainment at a show. There are many nooks and little tables to sit at throughout on the stage side. Enough space for someone to have an intimate conversation or be right up front to watch music.
The Mercy Ray did one of their best shows ever, and the party was fantastic. It was insanely hot though. Being an outdoor venue, we had to endure the 100 degree heat until the sun went down and dropped the temperature to 85. The drummer almost had heat stroke, but everyone survived and the staff supplied ample pitchers of ice water to everyone throughout the evening.
We loved Austin, and want to go back again and spend more time staying in the city itself. There were a lot of things I wanted to see that we missed, like the bats! We also want to check out more of Austin’s music scene and nightlife. If we go back, it will definitely be in the early spring or a time when it isn’t so dang hot. We had a bit more time to explore Austin before we went back to the airport Sunday afternoon, but it was so hot that we opted to go to the airport early for the air conditioning.
We did get a chance to check out a few shops on South Congress that we missed the first time, like Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds. Their plus-sized costume selection wasn’t stellar, but their earring selection was. I had to control myself and narrow it down to four pairs.
So long Austin, until we meet again!
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