Austin is ranked as the number one best place to live in the USA. We were extremely curious to check out the city that so many are flocking to. I spent time in Austin a few years ago for SXSW. I must admit the city didn't resonate with me then and although we loved vacationing here, I still don't get the appeal of moving here the second time around either.
Our home base in Austin was in the outskirts, an hour outside of "Austin proper" on a lake called Lake Travis. After a couple of weeks of moving around a lot this was a perfect spot for us to settle down in a serene setting. The Point Venture part of the lake is quiet and secluded and we happily gave in to our surrounding by spending most of our time in the lake or in the house enjoying the lake views and gorgeous sunsets. There is a bar/restaurant one mile away at the marina but we turned around as soon as we arrived because it was very crowded and everyone was unmasked. Otherwise, there really isn't much to do here. The nearest grocery store is a thirty minute drive and Starbucks is fifteen minutes away. For those looking for a true retreat on a pristine lake, Lake Travis is a wonderful choice. This is not a place for people who want a coffee shop around the corner, Instacart delivery or a plethora of great restaurants nearby.
Enjoying spectacular sunsets every evening was a true treat. The weather was perfect for our entire stay except for a bout of three consecutive rainy days. Clear and sunny skies, a warm lake and the fluffiest white clouds I have ever seen. Pure bliss.
We rented a house called "The Santana" on Airbnb. The owner, Flip, was super responsive to all our questions and needs. The home is brand new with the scent of fresh paint still lingering. We chose this home for it's modern touches, high tech wiring, spacious living and most of all the breathtaking views. If you're ok with being in the boondocks, I highly recommend staying here.
There are plenty of ways to connect with nature around Austin. I would imagine that the accessibility to many trails, lakes, springs and water falls are one of the main appeals to living here. However, the main hub of the city just doesn't jive with me. It's hard to explain, but everyone just seems to be on a different frequency. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it just is (at least in my experience). There is a sprinkle of an arrogant, hipster mentality that I just don't connect with. One thing I really did admire about the city though is the permeance of mom and pop shops throughout. There are many creative stores, styled in quirky decor that offer an abundance of unique and interesting items. A strong element of creativity is definitely appreciated and nurtured here.
Overall Austinites comply with Covid guidelines pretty well. Very few people did not wear their masks, most notably on the trendy and popular S. Congress Street. It is also the most bustling city we have visited during the pandemic. Our friends who live here noted that it feels much quieter than pre-Covid but compared to other cities we visited, Austin seems pretty full and vibrant to us. The folks here love their tacos and coffee. There are coffee shops and tacos everywhere you turn. We stopped at Quickie Pick for a coffee and got a chuckle out of this bodega style one stop shop where you can pick up toilet paper, tacos, coffee and wine all in one place!
East Austin surrounds the University of Texas, home to a whopping 50,000 students. We drove through the campus and admired how tucked in and contained it was. There is some beautifully preserved architecture there as well. The main drag called "The Drag" reminded us of Miami's art deco vibe. Zilker Park was a nice stop as well. It was filled with people and their dogs having picnics, playing frisbee and volleyball, and just enjoying a beautiful afternoon. We met a friend at the park who we haven't seen in thirteen years! This was a great location to meet and catch up with lots of space to social distance (although I have to say, I'm having a hard time hearing people these days with all the space between us!).
The Umlauf Sculpture Garden is well worth a visit. This picturesque garden is filled with dozens of bronze and stone pieces, many of which are very moving. It's a sweet little oasis in the city and a great place to get lost in your thoughts and in the art pieces themselves.
The homeless population has gotten pretty bad in Austin. Our friends complained about the mayor's decision to allow the homeless to pitch tents throughout downtown. They were mainly in clusters in specific spots, like under highways, but many were also dotted along a popular waterfront promenade. Other than this sticky situation, downtown was pretty well maintained and also the least trafficked area in the city.
The food in Austin is fairly good and there are plenty of restaurants to choose from. However, the service is lacking. Everyone seems stuck in some sort of robotic trance complying to COVID laws which have stripped them of normal human interactions and behaviors. For example, we were excited to have coffee and pastries at Hillside Farmacy. Their signage literally says "coffee and pastries" yet when we asked which kinds of pastries they have they said "we don't serve pastries". Hmmmm. We also disliked their "minimal contact" ordering plan. We had to download an app that wouldn't let us order basic things like hot chocolate or a glass of milk. We had to get up, go inside, and ask how to place the order. We were told to order a coffee on the app and come back in to give them a heads up that we'd like hot chocolate instead. We were slowly getting more annoyed. Instead of pastries I opted for the biscuits and wanted jam and butter along with them. There was no way to request this in the app either. This is a full service restaurant, I just wanted a server to speak to but no one was willing to help. When the hostess walked by we told her we were having a hard time ordering and she looked at us blankly and said "this is our minimal contact way of ordering things". Minimal contact led to minimal customer service so we got up and left. Too bad, they had a cute patio with yellow umbrellas (my favorite color) but their service sucked. For brunch we headed over to Better Half Coffee & Cocktails. They have the largest outdoor patio we have ever been to, a really terrific outdoor space! Service was again a little bland. I can't put my finger on it but everyone we interacted with in Austin just seems to have their head up their ass. Luckily the food was satisfying and left us ready to explore more of the city.
Tiny Pies has the most delicious mini pies EVER! We picked up a banana cream pie, coconut cream pie, chocolate cream pie, turtle pecan pie and Texas two step pie to go. As soon as I took a bite I regretted not stocking up on these.
As mentioned, the outskirts are beautiful so locals have an easy reprieve from city life when needed. From my understanding, Austin folks tend to gravitate to the bountiful nature around them as much as possible. After dealing with the less smiley crowd in the hub we were thrilled to encounter friendly deer back by the lake. Deer are as common as birds on Lake Travis. We easily spotted dozens of these beauties every day.
Overall, Austin has character, personality and its' own unique charm. Although locals think otherwise, the pandemic didn't seem to affect them as much as other cities we have visited. It is surrounded by beautiful landscapes and terrain making outdoor trips easily accessible and they are readily embedded into daily routines. The culture is not one I personally connect with. If I had to be brutally honest and blunt I'd say the people here just don't seem happy. We were really rooting for Austin too! Second time around and it just didn't click. That's ok though. There is no judgement. Clearly many have had a totally different experience and have fallen in love with this city. If anything, this is a lesson on how different we all are and how our past experiences shape our current ones ensuring that it is impossible for everyone to have similar perspectives. We don't all have to have the same opinions and we certainly won't. Sometimes we just have to agree to disagree. We certainly won't have any opinions with strong foundations if we don't get out an explore the world or conversate with people from different states and countries. So, that's a second lesson here, get out and discover your own feelings towards other places by visiting them or by listening really well to people who come from other places. Don't assume that because others rave and love a place that you automatically will too. Allow yourself to have a different point of view and don't get upset with those who don't agree with that perspective. I'm really learning to embrace differences rather than striving to find similarities. We have been surprised a multitude of times by how we thought we would feel about a city versus how we ended up feeling about it when experiencing it ourselves. Sometimes we just need to getaway, connect with nature and allow ourselves to think a bit to come to new realizations.