When is it that you can call yourself a ‘local’? I’ve lived in Austin now for 9 years. When we moved here in 2006, it was for Derick to go to grad school at University of Texas. He forced me kicking and screaming away from Manitou Springs, Colorado; we were nestled in a little mountain town at 6300ft, right there at the base of Pikes Peak. I had never even been to Texas when we packed up our cars and all of our loved items (ie: I drove down with his peace plant, Bocephus, in the passenger seat next to me; we left a TV in our old apartment so we had room for Bocephus) and made the move to Austin. (In case you weren’t aware, Bocephus is Hank Williams Jr’s. nickname). I didn’t want to like it. All my friends who said I would love it, I wanted to prove them wrong. Then things happened. We got engaged in 2007. We got married in 2008. I changed my driver’s license from Colorado to Texas. We bought our first house in 2009. We adopted a cat, we got a dog. Derick got a Master’s degree, started a coaching business…my racing thrived…before we knew it, dare I say, I had grown to love Austin. And now that I look back, I’m not the only one. There are many reasons this city is growing at an exponential rate! Especially if you’re active, into good music, good food, and more recently, good craft beer. So I thought I would highlight a few of my ‘Austin favorites’ for the active-minded person who enjoys good food, drink, and of course being outside and active.
Favorite Tex-Mex: For good old, reasonably priced, reliable tex-mex I have to go with Maudies. Great margaritas, excellent queso and consistently good food. No frills but always friendly. My personal favorites are the Skinny Margarita (less sweet) with Sissy’s Chicken Fajita Tacos or if I’m starving, a Veggie Burrito with Chicken. If you’re looking for higher end but incredible Mexican (considered more ‘interior’ Mexican food), I’d recommend making a reservation (you’ll need it) at Fonda San Miguel. You’ll be as amazed by the architecture as you will by the food.
Best Tex-Mex to See Famous People: This has to be Guero’s Taco Bar (it’s just called that, in reality it is a massive restaurant) situated right in the heart of South Congress. My husband Derick caught Bill Clinton there a few years back but rumor is that there’s always a famous person lurking around Guero’s. The bonus is they’ve got great food (and of course margarita’s) but there is also fun shopping and many music venues (across the street from Continental Club) all around you. We find we frequent South Congress far more than downtown Austin; a little more our style.
Favorite Swim: There are SO many great places to swim in this city; one of the many things I love about it having grown up a swimmer. My personal favorite is Pure Austin Quarry Lake, a beautiful open water quarry that has buoys in it year-round (750-meters around the entire lake), and is surrounded by a steep hillside that leads up to a 1-km gravel path around it for walking or running. The water is always clean, laden with turtles, and the temps fluctuate naturally with the weather; so it’s great for swims year-round, and perfect for wetsuit practice in the winter months. Another gem is Stacy Pool, near South Congress; a 33.3-yard long spring-fed pool open year round that is FREE. They also heat it in the winter, so the best days are cool rainy days with steam rising from the surface; and you’ll have it to yourself! And you’ll see all kinds of characters here. Let’s just say this pool helps maintain the Keep Austin Weird vibe.
Favorite Run: It’s tough to beat the well-known Town Lake Trail, 10 miles of a crushed granite path which winds around Town Lake (recently re-named Lady Bird Lake). They have a ¼ mile marker for the entire 10 miles, so I love to do run workouts on the trail sans GPS but using the markers. When you need some hills to toss into your run, you can shoot off to the neighboring areas of Stratford or take Lake Austin Boulevard towards Mt. Bonnell. You’ll be as amazed by the massive homes as you will the challenging terrain; all the while overlooking scenic views of Lake Austin.
Favorite Massage: I have to go with My Kendal’s: Kendal Jacobson and Mark Kendall. Kendal Jacobson is a Massage and Physical Therapist and has had her own business now for 25 years. By combining both PT and Massage, and coming from a competitive swimming background, she is incredibly in tune with the ‘athlete’s body’ and I believe she is a huge reason I’ve stayed healthy season after season. Mark Kendall is a good friend who only recently became a certified massage therapist but has an Ironman background; upon seeing him, you would think he’s been doing massage for years already.
Favorite Dog Park: Living in South Austin, we love to take our dog to Longview Park. It is a huge field surrounded by a small greenbelt space (with about 4 miles of trails) tucked right in the middle of a South Austin neighborhood. The open space is more than enough room for our cattle dog Amico to play Chuck-It along with the numerous other dogs and their owners who convene around sunset on nice Austin evenings. This park is a hidden gem. We have come to know many of the other pups who come to the park and it’s a great way for dogs to interact and make new friends. Some people may even bring along a Happy Hour bevvy.
Favorite Pizza: Austin has definitely seen its share of new pizza restaurants the past 10 years. There were very few when we moved here. One of our favorites is The Backspace, which is tucked away in downtown Austin right behind the restaurant Parkside (same owners). It is a tiny room that is rustic and simple, complete with great setup of barstools that cozy up to the counter and a brick oven. The pizza is described as ‘Neapolitan’ (authentic Italian style) and the wood-fired flavor baked into each one makes them unique and always tasty. The menu is not extensive but that is one of the many things that makes it great. All the wines are Italian and they only serve Italian beer. It is often slammed for tables but I say walking into a bar spot is the way to go.
Favorite Pub/Drink: And while I may be a bit biased on this one, I have to go with Hops & Grain tap room as the best place to enjoy good beer with good friends. Situated at the ‘end’ of 6th Street on the East side of downtown Austin, it’s a perfect place to mingle complete with a variety of great beer options. As a bonus you can take a tour of the tap room at set times each day. Another fun fact is that the final Wednesday of every month is “Yappy Hour” from 6-8pm so you can bring your pup out to meet some new furry friends while you enjoy a beer on the outside patio.
Favorite Music Venue: How could we miss this one? THIS IS the Live Music City Capital of the World! And this is a tough one. We love good music about as much as good beer, so I’ll just name a few. We’ve been spoiled to small venues where you actually HEAR the music, you’re not just there to stand in a massive crowd. You can’t beat the Cactus Café which is located on the UT Campus; a tiny room with a full bar and a great place to see acoustic and intimate shows. Those who have played here? Alison Krauss, Dixie Chicks, Townes Van Zandt, Patty Griffen, Guy Clark … the list goes on. Another favorite is The Continental Club, located in South Congress; the downstairs often has larger names but a hidden spot is the upstairs “Library” which is small and intimate (and seated). You can catch James McMurtry there most Tuesday nights at the convenient show time of 8:30 pm. Finally you can’t leave out Stubbs’, which is not only a great BBQ restaurant but also has an amazing outdoor amphitheater that hosts incredible talent; also in downtown Austin. On this note, I’ll leave you with a list of the live shows we’ve seen over the years in Austin… Robert Earl Keen, Lyle Lovett, John Fulbright, Jason Isbell, Butch Hancock, Guy Forsyth, Slaid Cleaves, Lucinda Williams, John Hiatt, Patty Griffin, Brandi Carlile, Todd Snider, Hayes Carll, Guy Clark, Wilco, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, James McMurtry, Bob Schneider, Alejandro Escovedo, Band of Heathens, … and I am sure I’m still missing a few.
Oh and by the way…to my credit, I still have my Colorado phone number. Austin may have become home the past 10 years, but our hearts will always be in the mountains! – Kelly Williamson