In this week’s interview, we are heading to Austin, Texas. A young city with a fun vibe and some really cool claims to fame, like being the Live Music Capital of the World. Also, Austin was named the BEST place to live in the United States in 2017 and 2018 – so reasons not to include it in your USA travel bucket list.
To tell us more about this lively city I interviewed Natalie, the voice behind The Educational Tourist, and she has many tips to share! This is Austin through the eyes of local. Enjoy!
If you want to read other interviews of this series, take a look at my “Through the Eyes of a Local” archive! I’m sure you’ll enjoy learning more about other cities from a local’s point of view.
Could you please tell us a bit more about yourself? Where are you from and what do you do?
I’m drawn to the unusual, off the beaten path, quirky stuff just as much as I am to historical sites and museums and love introducing my kids to all of the above. With technology growing by leaps and bounds, kids are truly global citizens.
The more we learn about each other the smoother the whole world will work and the stronger the foundation for our kids. I love reading, hiking and riding motorcycles with my husband. I also love to garden – especially things you can eat! I’m originally from Houston, Texas, but now call Austin, Texas home.
Which 3 places do you highly recommend visiting in Austin?
1) 6th street
In the heart of the city, downtown is a fascinating spot. Live music pours from almost every doorway. Without the kids, you’ll want to bar hop in the evening trying new food, drinks, and musical experiences. If you travel with the kids, check out 6th street during the day. I highly recommend touring the area by Segway.
2) Zilker Park
This park has something for everyone – swim, fly kites or ride the train. Check before you visit to see what festival is going on during your visit. There is always something cool going on in Zilker Park like Austin City Limits music festival in October and the Holiday Light Display in December.
3) Bat Watching
Austin is home to the world’s largest urban bat colony and watching them fly out at night is a once in a lifetime experience. You can watch them for free from the bridge but I highly recommend taking a river cruise. This gives you a comfortable venue while you wait and the sunset behind the bats (which is behind you, too, if you are standing on the bridge) makes for some truly stunning moments.
Is there anything you don’t like about your hometown? What is it?
No place is completely perfect though! No one in Austin likes the traffic. That is the only negative thing people say about Austin. I can’t even really say that because I’m originally from Houston and the traffic there is way worse.
What are your favorite things to do in Austin?
One of my favorite things to do in Austin is explore the shops and eateries on South Congress Avenue. This cool street has some really unusual spots which perfectly fits Austin’s city slogan of ‘Keep Austin Weird’.
Take some time to wander around the store called Uncommon Objects to see what odd, weird and unique things are on display. Next, try on costumes at Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds which is the largest and most jam-packed costume shop I’ve ever seen.
You can literally find anything and everything there. Anything. Rent or buy!
Food trucks are another must visit on South Congress Street. You’ll be amazed at the clever shape of trucks and the fantastic food that can be created and served from such a small space.
What is the best way to get around Austin? Is it easy to reach nearby cities?
For transportation in Austin, I recommend renting a car unless you are coming straight to downtown and staying there. You can also use Capitol Transit System for bus travel or Uber.
If you are headed to other Texas cities from Austin, consider flying rather than driving. Texas is really, really big and you’ll eat up a lot of your vacation time just getting from one city to another. The airport in Austin is comfortable, up to date and easy to find.
How travel-friendly is the city?
Austin is really traveler friendly. Everyone speaks English but you will also hear a lot of Spanish and many people are bilingual. Hotels are plentiful with a wide price range. Except for the freeway traffic at rush hour (7-8 am) and (4:30-5:00 pm), car travel around Austin is easy and smooth. Parking is plentiful and easy to find in most areas. Downtown, look for parking lots where you can pay for the spot or a parking garage.
How safe is Austin?
The vibrant parts of the city that are alive and hopping at night like 6th Street are safe for solo travelers to explore at night. If it is a super quiet area where shops are closed and no one is around, err on the safe side and don’t go there alone at night. I’d do my exploring of those areas during the day. Honestly, though, that is good advice for any city. Police are helpful and friendly, so ask for help if you need it.
What are the best things to do when the weather is, respectively, bad or good?
The weather in Austin is quite temperate. Extremes of cold and storms are uncommon but the heat is real! Expect triple-digit heat in August and early September where doing anything outside during the day is unsafe and miserable. The good news is that air-conditioning is absolutely everywhere so head indoors for comfort.
Some fun things to do indoors during hot weather:
- Bob Bullock Texas State Museum
- LBJ Presidential Library
- Harry Ransom Center Art Museum
- Texas State Museum
- Austin Rock & Roll Car Museum
What is the most special hidden gem of Austin? And why?
For me, the hidden gem of Austin which also sums up the city slogan, “Keep Austin Weird” is the seriously unusual Cathedral of Junk. This 60 – 100-ton art sculpture is hidden in a neighborhood in the artist’s backyard. You have to call ahead for a reservation to visit.
Stroll down memory lane finding familiar items from your youth. This is a ‘you have to see it, to believe it’ art installation that defies explanation! Come to see the cathedral shaped pile of ‘stuff’ (literally everything and anything you can imagine) for yourself!
Cathedral of Junk
4422 Lareina Drive
Austin, Texas 78745
Can you tell us where we can find the best view of Austin?
Austin is especially beautiful by night. One of the best spots for viewing is from the trail around Lady Bird Lake. See it while you are walking or see it from a riverboat cruise.
What is the most traditional dish in Austin?
Austinites love food! Texas is known for barbecue and Austin has plenty of places to find it. My favorite restaurant is on South Congress Avenue. It has the best version of French toast you’ve ever had – carrot cake French toast! They don’t take reservations but call ahead to get on the list which will shorten your wait time.
South Congress Cafe
1600 S. Congress Avenue
Austin, Texas 78704
Could you describe the people of Austin?
The people of Austin are friendly, relaxed and comfortable in their own skin. You’ll see folks in boots and people with purple hair, nose rings, and tattoos and everything you can imagine in between. Pretty much anything goes here. The locals are accepting of diversity – more than any other Texas city. So, come on, come all to Austin!
Tell us a fun fact about Austin.
A fun cool fact about Austin is that it is home to the longest music tv show, which has run for 44 years! The show Austin City Limits was started in 1974 and now has up to 5 million music lovers tune in to watch it each week.
What piece of advice would you give to readers who want to visit your hometown?
My advice for visitors to Austin is to act like the locals. Eat great food, enjoy conversations with anyone and everyone, listen to music, and take in the sites. Try new things.
Can you tell us a book based on Austin?
I love reading up on a destination before I visit it. It gives me a better feel for a place and I enjoy the trip all the more! Here are a few books to enjoy about Austin.
Weird homes: The people and places that keep Austin strangely wonderful by David J. Neff
Exploring Austin with kids: Over 100 fun things to do by Annette Lucksinger
Natalie Tanner, The Educational Tourist, has been blogging 5 years about how to make traveling with the kids easy for grown-ups, education for the kids, and fun for the whole family. Natalie, a 15 year veteran of teaching in elementary schools, uses her educational background to write travel activity guides for kids.
Read more interviews of Through the Eyes of a Local series and get inspired for your next adventure!
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