My bestie from high school lives far, far away in snowy New England. When she visits NTX, she has to split her time between family, work, and friendship obligations. So, she bought a plane ticket to ATX and invited her girlfriends for a labor day vacation.
Despite my Sooner-sized reservations about Austin in general, I accepted her invitation because I love to spend time with her. Her tour of Austin definitely changed my opinion of the city. I had an amazing time, and I plan to take my husband back next spring when we have some time.
Would you like to visit Austin? I recommend the following hotels / restaurants / activities:
-Radisson Hotel and Suites-Austin Town Lake: Newly remodeled, the Radisson has the best view of the Congress Street Bats from their "Batio." The room rates are reasonable if negotiated online ($250 for a double occupancy for three nights over Labor Day weekend). Parking costs $15 a day, but if you have multiple cars you can use your room key over and over if you pay through the front desk (shh... don't tell!).
-McCormick and Schmick's: After getting in late because you worked a full-day, I suggest dinner at McCormick and Schmick's. If you sit at the bar, you can partake in their unique "Happy Hour." Instead of drink discounts, you can buy $1.95 bar food with the purchase of a cocktail. I recommend the fish tacos for quantity of food for the price. Really, at under two dollars an entree, you can't get too wound up with the taste!
-Breakfast at Kerby Lane: This famous Austin eatery has many locations. I suggest one further away from UT in order to avoid waiting in a line. Their breakfast foods are fantastic! If you can stomach the thought of queso in the morning, then get the Cowboy queso. It is white queso with black beans, guacamole, and pico de gallo. Yum!
-Picnic lunch from Whole Foods at Barton Springs: Walk off your massive breakfast by shopping for your picnic lunch! Be sure to bring your reusable grocery sack because you will probably end up with a feast of foods from their salad bar and prepared lunch area. I personally enjoyed mixed veggies dipped in tzatziki sauce, a feta and olive blend, spinach salad, tuna salad, and strawberries. I found the picnic potato salad to be uninspiring. Be sure to avoid stubbing your toe as you leave the Whole Foods parking garage because I can tell you from personal experience that it will put a damper on potential swimming plans.
If you are lacking in reading material for lying in the sun, I highly suggest a quick stop-off at Half-Price Books to pick up something to read. The water at Barton Springs is quite chilly, so you'll want something to entertain yourself as you sit in the sun to get nice and toasty. You'll have to pay cash for parking ($3) and for entry to the pool ($2?). It is a natural spring fed pool that will provide you with plenty of excitement paddling in the cold water and people watching.
-Afternoon Snack: You'll want to cool off with a tasty treat as you head out of Barton Springs. Luckily, there is a good pay-by-the-ounce frozen yogurt place just down the road.
-Late Afternoon Kayaking: By this time, you're well rested, so it is time to get back out on the town! Head to the Texas Rowing Center to rent a kayak or two. I personally suggest kayaking for $10/single kayak for an hour. Kayaking is fun, but you don't want to over-do it on your vacation! It is neat to be kayaking in the middle of the city with the Austin skyline in full view.
-Dinner at Manuels: You've gone back to your hotel and gotten gussied up. You're ready for a night on the town, and I suggest starting with some Mexican food. This trendy restaurant is an easy walk from the Radisson. Their Mexican martinis and enchiladas verdes were worth every penny. Our concierge also gave us a coupon for free nachos (thanks dude!), which were basically the solid version of Kerby Lane's cowboy queso. Muy delicioso!
-Drinks at Cuba Libre: If you're not the 6th Street type, then you might feel like your after dinner options are limited in Austin. Never fear! I suggest stopping at this Cuban club for an authentic mojito or two. You can finish off your evening wandering around the vibrant city center.
-Watching the bats: If you're in Austin in the late summer or fall, you might take a break from taking in the city life to watch the Congress Street bats. It is a pretty crazy ecological wonder.
-Breakfast at Juan in a Million: This eatery of Man Versus Food fame serves up the most amazing breakfast tacos at astonishingly low prices. It is about a five minute drive east on Cesar Chavez from the hotel. I recommend the Don Juan breakfast taco with extra tortillas. With a >20% tip, I still only spent $8.
-Take a morning stroll: Your hotel is along a lovely trail. Take some time to talk to your traveling buddy (whether platonic or romantic) while enjoying a stroll along Town Lake.
-Lunch at County Line: Before you head out of town, you need to take some time to eat some Texas BBQ! Head out to County Line and order your favorite BBQ treat. I honored my husband by ordering his fav--a pulled pork sandwich--and I was not disappointed. We also enjoyed a half-loaf of their homemade bread. The bonus of the meal is that it is located along a river and has a lovely view.