30 Hours in Austin, Texas

Last year, when Clay’s sister and family made plans to fly out to Texas for a week-long visit, we advised them to fly into Austin rather than San Antonio because rates tend to be more reasonable and we all could spend a night or two in Austin before saying our goodbyes at the Bergstrom International Airport. We looked forward to our return getaway to the state capital (fun fact – it’s the second-most populous state capital in the nation) and after a packed-full week of San Antonio adventures, the seven of us (four adults and three kids) piled into the 4Runner and made our way to Austin, Texas.

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We took the scenic route through Hill Country – stopping in Driftwood, Texas for lunch at The Salt Lick, a favorite spot of ours to take out-of-town guests. At The Salt Lick, you can experience a winery, an outdoor playground, delicious BBQ, and the quintessential hill country Texas vibe. It’s extremely kid-friendly and despite feeding thousands of people throughout the week, it is very efficient and well-run.

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From The Salt Lick, it is just a quick 20-minute drive into downtown Austin. We checked into our hotel, The Embassy Suites Austin Downtown Town Lake, and let the kids run back and forth between our rooms while the adults enjoyed a cocktail. The hotel is perfectly situated between the Texas Capitol Building, University of Texas at Austin campus, 6th Street, and South Congress Avenue so we were able to walk almost everywhere, which is our favorite way to explore a city!

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We totally experienced 6th Street just the way it’s meant to be experienced…

…during the day with kids!

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For an afternoon snack, we went to Voodoo Doughnut and found ourselves disappointed. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by artisan donuts throughout our travels but these just weren’t that good. Furthermore, the ordering process is insanely frustrating and completely inefficient and the person who took our order embodied every single stereotype of the millennial generation. If you find yourself in Austin craving donuts, skip Voodoo and head over to Gourdough’s Big. Fat. Donuts. We wish we did! Oh and in case you’re wondering what our picks for best donuts ever? Sugar Shack in Alexandria, Virginia and Condon’s Doughnuts in Wells, Maine. You’re welcome.

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We walked along Lady Bird Lake back to our hotel to take advantage of the manager’s reception (free drinks!) before heading back out at dusk to see the world famous bats. The largest urban bat colony in North America lives underneath the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. During ‘bat season’ (April – November), the bats leave the bridge nightly, which results in quite the spectacle that can last up to 2-3 hours.

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We walked to the Austin-American Statesman park and waited for about 30 minutes for the first bat to emerge. And before long, we were treated to a wave of bats.

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Hard to believe but there are thousands of bats in this picture. We all commented on how awesome it would be to see the bats from the water. There were a lot of kayakers and a couple of river cruises on the water and they definitely had the best seats in the house – next time we’ll do that, for sure!

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The next morning, we checked-out of the hotel after breakfast and walked down South Congress Avenue to experience the iconic Austin street scattered with shops, restaurants, and bars.

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I mean – you can’t go to Austin and not take a picture with this mural, right? Located on the wall of Jo’s Coffee (absolutely delicious coffee!), it had been vandalized (again) since we were there last summer…the lettering is thicker this time around.

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After getting our fill of South Congress Avenue, we drove to Covert Park at Mount Bonell, a famous area alongside the Lake Austin portion of the Colorado River (not the Colorado River…Texas has their own Colorado River…because that makes sense).

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We then headed to the University of Texas campus for lunch. We ended up at Gabriel’s Cafe and enjoyed Texas beer and traditional lunch-fare. The building was hosting an MBA graduation ceremony so we definitely felt like we were on a college campus, complete with gowns and caps. University of Texas at Austin is no Clemson University but we could certainly see why so many people like it! 🙂

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We had just enough time to swing by the State Capitol Building before heading to the airport. The Texas State Capitol Building is such a cool place to visit – it’s open to the public and is gorgeous inside! Surprisingly, it isn’t the tallest state capitol building in the United States (that honor belongs to Louisiana) so I guess not everything is bigger here. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to explore all the halls and chambers like we did last summer but there is always next time.

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And before we knew it, we were saying goodbye to Meredith, Harry, and Alaina. We are so thankful they chose to spend their Spring Break while we were stationed in Texas. Who knows where the Army will send us next, but wherever it may be – we can’t wait to share it with our family and friends.

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That Time I Didn’t Bloom

I didn’t love Texas. At least not compared to the last couple of assignments the Army has thrown our way. As one who has shouted the merits of blooming wherever you happen to be planted, I found it quite frustrating to feel so disconnected from myself and others in a city as vibrant as San Antonio, Texas. Not only did I not feel like the best version of myself, I felt guilty for feeling that way because so many other people love the area. I felt like a fraud. Because no matter how hard I tried, I simply could not bloom.

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Military families are no strangers to being plopped into landscapes that we otherwise would never find ourselves living. “Bloom where you’re planted!” is a mantra said by many, including myself. In Texas, I did everything I was supposed to do in order to bloom – I became involved with both of the kids’ schools, I got to know the other parents on their soccer teams, I joined a gym, we became active members in a church, we explored our new city at every given chance, we ate local cuisine, and we called San Antonio home. But no matter what I did, I always felt like an imposter. A fake. Someone who didn’t belong.

That’s not to say that there weren’t aspects of San Antonio I didn’t enjoy. I always had a blast at the Tejas Rodeo in Bulverde on Saturday nights. We loved Oaks Crossing, a restaurant attached to our neighborhood HEB where we could drink craft beer and listen to live music while the kids danced and ran around the outside turf. I found my favorite steak street tacos, pizza, and pho. We thoroughly enjoyed our church. I loved the non-touristy part of the Riverwalk near The Pearl, and Hill Country really is beautiful. But all of that wasn’t enough for me to bloom.

Now that we’ve been happily settling back into the national capital region for the past couple of months, I’ve been reflecting on why I wasn’t my best self in Texas. All I can come up with is that maybe we’re not meant to be at our best at all times. And it doesn’t matter how great a city, town, community may be – sometimes it just doesn’t work. And perhaps we should be okay with that. I do believe that I made the best of my time in San Antonio. I do have to remind myself that I am failing to bloom doesn’t mean that I didn’t try hard enough nor does it mean that I did anything wrong. It simply means that Texas Karen isn’t the best Karen. And that is okay.