30 Hours in Austin, Texas

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.

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.

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!

Violet would.not.stop.singing How Far I’ll Go from Moana.

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

…during the day with kids!

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

Our Lady at 1500 S Congress

I’m certainly not alone in my love for all the public art throughout Austin.

One of my favorites – Big Eye on South Congress

1720 S 1st Sreet

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.

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).

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! 🙂

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.

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 with us here 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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On the Road {Spring Break Recap 1.0}

Back in December, we decided to go to California for Spring Break because our children had never set foot in The Golden State and wished to do so. And because California is an amazingly beautiful place with the Pacific Ocean, many lakes, mammoth mountains, intimidating deserts, and majestically magical woods. It’s no wonder why Americans have made it the most populated state. Our original plan of flying to California was soon abandoned when I casually mentioned to Clay that we should try and squeeze in the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas (he had never been to either) while we were out there because who needs sleep? And because my husband is my spirit animal, we decided that we should do even more so we then concocted a 10-day itinerary that involved spending over 45 hours in the car, 5 states, 3 time-zones, and 3 days at The Happiest Place on Earth.

Our first day was the longest in the car during the entire trip – by design. We drove from San Antonio, Texas to Albuquerque, New Mexico (about 710 miles), stopping for lunch in Lubbock, Texas at the Cast Iron Grill and checking out Buddy Holly’s glasses at the Buddy Holly Center.

The drive out of Texas (almost 500 miles and we live in the middle of the state!) was exactly what we pictured it to be.

With 80 mph speed limits!

I know this may be surprising to some, but eastern New Mexico looks exactly like western Texas.

But as we approached Albuquerque, we saw mountains. MOUNTAINS! Having been stationed in Kansas last year and now San Antonio until next summer, we don’t really get to see mountains unless we travel (like our Colorado trip), so seeing anything 2,000 feet above sea level is quite exciting around these parts.

We checked into our hotel on Kirtland Air Base. ordered a pizza from Giovanni’s Pizzeria, and called it a night.

We woke up the following morning excited to see the Grand Canyon later that day. But first, we needed waffles at Tia B’s La Waffleria, which may now be one of my favorite breakfast spots in the entire country – second only to Tin Pan Galley in Sackets Harbor, New York. The kids had regular waffles, Clay got the Waffle Benitos, and I ordered the Avocado, Tomato, and Pine Nuts Waffle. Yelp very rarely lets us down while traveling and that morning was no different. The coffee! The waffles! The salads! Hands down the best meal we had the entire trip.

On our way to Arizona, the landscape became peppered with buttes, mesas, and all sorts of iconic desert imagery. Having spend a large portion of my childhood in Phoenix, I appreciated the stark landscape and the memories that accompanied it.

We made it to the Grand Canyon State! In case you were wondering, Violet is upset in this picture because there wasn’t any candy at this rest area.

When we discovered that we would be passing by Winslow, Arizona, we immediately decided that we had to stand on a corner with Jackson Browne in the town of 9,500.

When Glenn Fry passed away, the town commissioned a statue of him from his glory years…check out that hair!

We don’t share The Dude’s attitude of the Eagles and don’t mind their music at all (and yes, we listened to Take it Easy en route to Winslow). While I don’t consider them a favorite band by any means, my all-time favorite music documentary is History of the Eagles so it would have been a fallacy to not stop, right? And on a related note – when the hell will Behind the Music be available on Netflix or Amazon Prime?

As we made our way toward Flagstaff, we soaked up the gorgeous landscape of northern Arizona. Thanks to my 4th Grade Social Studies class, I remembered that Humphreys Peak (pictured) is Arizona’s highest natural point (12,633 feet). I also remembered that the Cactus Wren is the state bird and that Arizona only has 15 counties. Boom.

And before we knew it, we were driving into one of the most gorgeous National Parks in the country (Thank you, Teddy Roosevelt!). But since this post is already longer than the world’s longest apple peel (172 feet and 4 inches), I’ll continue the recap tomorrow. Next up – the Grand Canyon!

Fort Worth Weekend Recap

Around 5:30 on Friday morning, we left Lawton and headed 3 hours south to Fort Worth, Texas. Did you know it is the 16th largest city in the United States? Clay’s reserve unit is stationed at NAS JRB Fort Worth and the little guy and I decided to accompany him this time on one of his many trips to the Lone Star State. My exposure to the Dallas and Fort Worth area has been limited to the airport and the roads leading northwest to Lawton so I was looking forward to doing some exploring while Clay was busy with the Army. We couldn’t check into base lodging until later that afternoon so the little guy and I ventured to Target and an indoor mall – our options were limited in the rainy weather but I didn’t care, I was around real shopping!

We met Clay for lunch at Gloria’s Restaurant in Montgomery Center. Upon being seated, we learned the restaurant was a Texas chain, which disappointed us a bit (we try to avoid chains when traveling) but it was getting late and our stomachs were yelling “Feed me!” Thankfully we were given chips, salsa, and a whipped black bean dip right away. Since Gloria’s is advertised as a tex-mex restaurant with a salvadorian twist, I opted for the mini-salvadorian sampler called Nancy’s Favorite, which consisted of a tamale, pupusas, black beans and rice. Having never experienced salvadorian food before, I have nothing to compare it to but I will say that it was okay. Just okay. I did not like the dry spicy cabbage that was served on the side (I just wished it was kimchi), the tamale was bland, and the pupusas was not my style. However, I am glad I that I tried something new and veered from my typical mexican order of tostadas or chimichangas. The chicken fajitas Clay ordered were tasty but the winning dish of the meal went to Weston’s black bean and cheese nachos. I would order those again in a heartbeat. In fact, I ate the rest of his order while he was napping. Bad mommy. But so delicious.

After Clay finished up work, we checked into our room and relaxed a bit before grabbing some dinner. Weston fell asleep in his car seat during our search so we decided to find a counter-service place as opposed to a sit-down restaurant. We consulted Yelp and chose Woody Creek Bar-B-Que. The weather was quite volatile and Weston was not a happy camper at first, but our meal turned out to be really nice, all things considering. Clay and I each had a $1.50 can of Pabst Blue Ribbon (talk about classy…) and the three of us split a four-meat plate (ribs, pulled pork, chopped beef, and chicken breast) with fries and coleslaw. One thing we noticed about Texas barbecue (at least in Ft. Worth) is that the sauce is always provided in little cups on your plate rather than squirt bottles on the table. Ugh. I don’t know about you guys, but I much prefer bottles on the table – I like lots of finger-licking sauce! This barbecue was nothing earth shattering but it was better than average so we can’t complain.

On Saturday morning, the little guy and I checked out the planes on base while Clay was away. Weston is obsessed and couldn’t believe that so many fighter jets were available for him to touch. If only adults would approach things in life with such excitement.

We joined Clay and other members of his unit for lunch at Railhead Smokehouse, a BBQ restaurant in Willow Park. It’s Clay’s favorite place to eat when he is down in Fort Worth so he was excited to for Weston and I to sample the goodness. I chose a chopped brisket sandwich with coleslaw and potato salad (I took some fries from Clay’s plate). Everything was delicious and we agreed that Railhead Smokehouse is better than Woody Creak Barb-b-q.

On Saturday night we finally went to the place I was most looking forward to checking out…

The Fort Worth Stock Yards.

Home to the Stockyards Championship Rodeo, the Stockyards District is a former livestock market that is now home to a number of attractions, restaurants, and shops. The famous boot company, ML Leddies, is located in the historical district, as well as the Stockyard Stables, an opry, cowboy saloons, and Tim Love’s Lonesome Dove restaurant. If we were sans little guy, Clay and I totally would have dropped the cash to experience a Texas staple but alas, the famed dining establishment wasn’t kid-friendly.

The drinking of microbrew beers on the street is highly encouraged. We chose a brew from Rahr & Sons Brewing Company, located in Fort Worth. Speaking of beer, did you know that this week (May 14 -20) is American Craft Beer Week?

This trip was Weston’s first experience with ballon animals. The clown (artist?) was a nice guy who worked only for tips. Weston stared in wonderment as he crafted a dog on a leash for our little guy. The man sitting next to us at dinner (more on that in a bit) informed us that the clown attends The Cowboy Church every Sunday and makes balloon animals for the children in the congregation. How awesome is that?

You can’t go to The Stockyards without riding a horse!

We ate dinner at The Cattlemen’s Steakhouse. Now the place looked as if it hadn’t been renovated since it opened in 1947 but when you’re in the business of selling steaks, I suppose it doesn’t matter too much. Clay and I both opted for the filet, which was melt-in-your-mouth crazy delicious (in case you were wondering, the little guy chose chicken fingers). The cook prepared the steaks over an open grill in the middle of the restaurant – just meat & fire. The steaks had no seasoning or butter that you typically find at Ruth Chris Steak House, Flemings Prime Steakhouse, and similar places. Clay had a loaded baked potato for his side and I had horseradish mashed potatoes as mine. Our meals also came with a house salad. It was an experience I’m glad we had but next time we’re at The Stockyards, we will try a different restaurant – there are many!

So there you have it – my recap of our quick weekend in Fort Worth, Texas. Being in a big city again cemented my position that country life isn’t for me. I love the hustle and bustle, the options, and excitement that metropolitan areas provide. I’m sure it goes without saying but I highly recommend Fort Worth to any travelers out there – you will not be disappointed!