When traveling through Texas, perhaps on the way from Shreveport, LA, to San Antonio, be sure to spend the better part of a day in Austin.
Austin, Texas, a city whose name comes from that of its first Secretary of State during the time of its Republic in 1836 is a beautiful and well-constructed city. Like most southern cities, its consistent growth over time allowed past planners to construct it in an orderly fashion unlike cities such as New York and Washington, DC.
While in Austin for only a few hours travelers might want to stay within its geographic heart, which is Congress Avenue. Congress Ave. provides everything a day-tripper might be looking for in a new city between restaurants, the Congressional Building, and even local wildlife.
Visiting Austin in the Morning
When planning to see Austin in the morning it is recommended that travelers rise or arrive early. For those who are staying overnight before enjoying the Capitol, the Courtyard Marriott on East 4th Street is a great choice. It is two blocks from Congress Ave., approximately half a mile from the capitol building, and surrounded by several art museums.
Additionally, lodging for a family of four can be found at under $150 providing access to two pools, a gym, and a restaurant neighboring a Starbucks that can be accessed from the main lobby. One downside to this hotel is that there is no complimentary breakfast. For those on a tighter budget lodging at prices ranging below $100 a night is just outside the heart of the city.
Rising early in Austin is an integral part of the city’s experience. While walking, listen for a slight chirping sound above. These are not songbirds, but bats. According to AustinCityGuide.com, an estimated 1.5 million bats inhabit the city, consuming more than 10,000 pounds of insects every evening (the equivalent weight of 4,000 Sony Vaio TX laptop computers) leaving Austin relatively pest-free. But the real show is in the evening.
Visiting Austin in the Evening
When traveling to Austin in the evening it is highly recommended that visitors make their way to the Congress Bridge. Every evening the city’s bats descend upon it in a river-like formation as a means of protection from any possible predators before parting from one another to engage in their solitary hunting.
For those who would prefer a different view, several companies offer cruises along the river for a fee of less than $10 a person.
If the idea of more than 1 million bats upon the skies above brings thoughts parallel to something out of the Blade trilogy, then be wary of driving through the city at all. Motorists wishing to enjoy the cool night air will find the sounds of the bats all around. But no fear is to be had as they are very cautious not to bother humans because of how small and defenseless they are.
Art on and Near Congress Ave.
Austin is a city alive with expression. The best example of this is on the corner of East 4th St. and Congress Ave. where pedestrians on their way to lunch, or simply doing business at the Frost Bank Tower, will find Craig Hein’s sculpture, Vibrancy. The surrounding streets, such as Brazos St. boast independent galleries while the Austin Museum of Art (AMoA) is just five blocks north of E. 4th St. and two blocks south of the capitol building.
With the opportunity to see so much art in one place it would only be a small disappointment for those stopping in the Capitol for that purpose alone on a Monday or holiday when the AMoA is closed.
Dining on and Near Congress Ave.
For those looking to exercise extreme discretion with their budget while dining Austin offers an array of reasonable meals. There are two pizza shops located between E. 7th and E. 9th St, and one block east of Congress Ave. on E. 6th St. is Ana’s Mart where a sandwich and drink can be purchased for under $5. In addition to low prices, Ana’s Mart offers a wide assortment of cigars, a fair selection of wine, and even the New York Times, all of which can be enjoyed at one of the two tables set up on the quiet sidewalk.
For those who choose Ana’s for a quiet, thrifty outdoor lunch it is advised to arrive before 11:30 while the tables are in the shade.
Diners who wish to indulge in a bit more luxury might want to visit one of four restaurants located in the InterContinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel on the corner of Congress and E. 7th St. For breakfast, Cafe Julienne has a wonderful menu boasting four different kinds of eggs benedict as well as crepes with an assortment of fruit or shrimp and crab meat. All of this can be enjoyed while overlooking E. 7th St. from one story up.
For a more seasonal and regional menu, the Roaring Fork is just one floor down. Its current appetizers include green chili pork stew and New Mexico fondue with lamb and chili-pistachio bread. For main courses, a large hamburger is available as well as long bone ribs with Dr. Pepper barbeque sauce, or one could simply enjoy the market-fresh fish.
All of this can be enjoyed within the confines of less than one mile along Congress Ave. allowing for a great day trip.