Austin Here We Come
February 19, 2011 4:05 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I need an itinerary for our Austin scouting trip. We are coming with high hopes next week, without the kids ( 2 and 6 months ), to scout out Austin as a potential place to live.

We are arriving Wednesday night and leaving early Sunday morning. We are staying in the Arboretum area. We will rent a car. We want to not get stuck in traffic and cover as many things as possible. It would nice to get a macro level view of what Austin has to offer for a I.T. Project Manager who likes reading, music and fitness and an Accountant who is all about newer construction, making new friends, and kids.

Assumptions that we are '78704' material do not help. For all you know we may be perfect for Round Rock. Assume nothing. How can we maximize our time to get a good feel for what the metro area has to offer? I am looking for recommendations on things to check out including neighborhoods, schools, business districts, parks, restaurants, shopping, etc. Yes, I know we should go to Zilker Park, SoCo, etc. I need help with logistics and avoiding traffic. If you were recruiting someone to Austin where would you have them eat, drink, shop ,play, etc. Give us the hard sell!!!!!

I am looking for something prescriptive like "On Wednesday morning drive out to XYZ and have breakfast at ABC. To avoid traffic, wait until after 10:00 before heading down Mopac to get downtown. Parking is going to be tricky so park at 123, and by the way, be careful of the ramp to the upper deck on I-35........" If anyone want to meet up, drinks and food are on us.
posted by jasondigitized to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Without knowing whether you're more downtown/South Austin/Round Rock types, it's hard to give good tips. Having said that, never take Mopac during rush hour and avoid I-35 at all times. Apart from its general problems (random stop-and-go all day), next weekend I-35 will be CLOSED at Ben White/71 for ramp construction, which will cause massive traffic disruptions.

Other thoughts: SoCo parking is easier after the lunch rush but before happy hour on weekdays; if you need a late meal, try Kerbey Lane (several locations, check the web site) or 24 Diner; if you like Tex-Mex, try Chuy's (also several locations). I'll think on it and see if I can come up with anything else.

(And I'll be out of town for most of next week or I'd consider taking you up on meeting up.)
posted by immlass at 7:23 AM on February 19, 2011

On the 'come here, Austin kicks ass' side, I'm going to say: I've never had to give tips to people who have kids already looking to move here, other than yeah, Round Rock and/or Pflugerville are the big family go-to suburb places where you can typically (although it's changing rapidly) get more square footage to live in for your $. If that's important. Likewise, some friends I know like the schools there. Strangely I have heard very little about any Austin school system being worth a darn, but maybe that's now the norm for schools everywhere in the u.s. If you want to avoid traffic, don't drive during rush hour. Despite our rush hours getting really crappy, they do tend to generally last only so long (I'd say 7-9ish am, and 4:30-7pm). There is really no avoiding traffic during those times on our two major highways. Also if you wanna go out and do something downtown near 6th street on fri, sat nights, it's starting to get ridiculous to drive near the 6th & Lamar intersection. There's plenty of great places to hang/eat whatever in Austin, if you like a city that still retains a fairly medium-sized to small city feel with a bunch of bigger-city bonuses (for example, big performing acts used to never come here, and bypass us for Dallas or San Antonio or Houston, but now they do). Likewise, stores like Ikea and such. But we got 'em now. Austin is super laid back, and everybody is generally pretty nice. If you smile at strangers on the street here - holy crap, they 90%+ of the them actually smile back at you (unless perhaps they are training for a marathon or running with the baby stroller).

On the 'dOn't come here, (but Austin still kicks ass)' side, even though you didn't ask - well, yep, there's tonsssszzz of people who moved here in the last 5-10 years, although the # who moved here who already had kids I think was not that big. Doesn't mean they don't have 'em now. If you haven't already heard, allergy drug companies love Austin, because there are allergens smiting those of us with allergies here all year round. That's right, there is no respite, and in fact most people with 'em are the worst during our coldest months, from end of Dec to March, due to cedar. It's pretty bad. Be forewarned. Also, if you like seasons, we don't really have them. It's generally a couple months of winter, and then the fiery orb of death in the sky we like to call Sol the Scorcher of Skins. Less humid than Houston, fortunately, and not dry like Arizona gets, but still. We had a month +? of more than 100 degrees recently. If you want a city with a more nyc melting-pot-y feel though, this ain't the place. I wish it were, I was born and raised in NY, and maybe someday it will be more diverse, but it just isn't. Houston (which granted, is way bigger in sheer population #), is way more diverse than Austin.

That's my generic data for ya.

Oh, and p.s. - Don't let the anyone tell you that you 'must go to the Salt Lick' if you eat meat. The Salt Lick is the de facto Hard Rock BBQ place just because it looks and feels like one might expect such a place should be down heah (they have a branch in the airport, now, eh), but I personally advocate Ruby's at 30th & Guadalupe, just north of the UT campus. Probably there are better places than that for BBQ outside the city limits, but I don't get outta town much ; )
posted by bitterkitten at 7:47 AM on February 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Much love for Ruby's, but call before you go there. There was a kitchen fire in December and I think they're open again, but I haven't been back. (Salt Lick--if you go, go to Driftwood--is best enjoyed with a large group. Going by yourself is a waste.)
posted by immlass at 8:44 AM on February 19, 2011

Food: Check out the Austin board on Chowhound; it's very active and scanning through a week's worth of posts should give you plenty of recommendations. Uchi and its new sister restaurant Uchiko are high on many lists. Eat at a food trailer; Odd Duck, East Side Kings, and Franklin's BBQ are favorites. If you have time for a 45-minute drive, go to Lockhart and have BBQ at Black's, Kreutz Market, or Smitty's. Otherwise, try the aforementioned Ruby's or Franklin's trailer (go at 10:30 or so; the line is long and they run out of food!).

Shopping: Upscale outdoor mall shopping at The Domain; indoor mall shopping at Barton Creek Square (south) or Lakeline Mall (north); funky and/or boutique-y shopping in SoCo, South 1st, Lamar both north and south of the river, 2nd Street. Browse books at Book People. Check out the flagship Whole Foods if that sounds like fun; they have lots of samples on the weekends, but it'll be crowded. There's yuppie outdoor shopping all around the Arboretum; the Arboretum itself is currently in flux due to many stores moving to the Domain, but if you want to go to The Pottery Barn you're in luck. Do stop in at Amy's ice creams there for a cone and eat it outside, watching the kids play on the cow statues. There are several farmer's markets, including one downtown on Saturdays.

Fun: Go two-stepping at the Broken Spoke. They have dance lessons 8-9pm before the band starts, so you don't even need to know how before you go. Good people-watching, too. See a movie over beers & burgers--or wine and a salad--at the Alamo Drafthouse. There's more live music than you can shake a stick at; maybe try the Saxon Pub or the Continental Club. The alternative weekly has music listings and I'm sure there are awesome local music blogs but someone else will need to recommend them. Downtown is full of bars, clubs, and restaurants. The Warehouse District is more grown-up and less seedy than 6th Street. Parking's easy downtown as long as you don't mind paying ~$8. There are a good number of metered spaces, though, and they're free after 5pm and on weekends. We have a big, glitzy Texas history museum and a decent art museum, as well as a somewhat underappreciated natural history museum.

Fitness: Take a walk on the Barton Creek Greenbelt; if it rains between now and then there should be water in the creek. It's still a lovely trail if there isn't. Rent a kayak or a canoe and paddle around Lady Bird Lake, and enjoy the hike and bike trail. Run a 5K. I like this gym; they sell day passes for $20, though that seems a bit steep.

Business districts: Downtown, of course, and there are high-tech employers scattered all over town. Lots of office buildings along Loop 360, Dell's up in Round Rock, etc.

Neighborhoods: If you want new construction, you're looking at either suburbia or more expensive infill (or demolish/rebuild) construction in town. Round Rock, Pflugerville, Cedar Park (maybe Avery Ranch?), Steiner Ranch? There are lots of new developments on the south side as well but I'm not very familiar with them. If it doesn't have to be brand new, a lot of my IT-project-manager friends live in Great Hills (Arboretum area) and Northwest Hills, also close to the Arboretum. More information about your price range and what you want would let people give you better recommendations.

Schools: People who want the "best" school district and have a large budget for housing (and property taxes) live in the Eanes district, but there are a number of respectable schools. I don't have children so I don't pay enough attention to give recommendations.

Traffic: Avoid major thoroughfares (Mopac, 183, 360, 620) between 7-9 and 4:30-6:30 and you should be in pretty good shape. I-35 is worse but you can probably avoid it completely. Here are some special event road closures to keep in mind.

Hope you have a great time in Austin!
posted by magicbus at 9:18 AM on February 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

Oh yeah, and come back in August to see if you still like it when it's 110 °F. :-)
posted by magicbus at 9:21 AM on February 19, 2011

I have a three year old--- I'm probably not as good with telling you about traffic and I don't know anything about Round Rock but here are some of our favorite places-

Mother's Cafe and Garden
Magnolias Cafe
Torchy's Tacos (My son's day care is right there so we got addicted)
Casa de Luz- macrobiotic restaurant- (they also have a school!)
Terra Burger-drive through organic hamburgers-- it's mostly for the drive through feature but they do have a small play ground and water play area for the summer
Central Market-they have a really nice play ground and eating area and often have music on the weekend and people dance-- (it's cute)
Daily Juice-- yummy fresh vegetable and fruit juices
Amy's ice cream at the arboretum--- play on the (fake) cows! Also walk behind and there's a little lake where you can feed the fishies and ducks

If you're into music scene I can give you some recommendations but it depends on what kind of scene you're into. I really like Mother Egans with all the Irish music--- fun stuff! Haven't gone since having the kiddo, but they were always giving me flyers about kid friendly celtic music festivals if you're dorky like that. ( I Am wahha)

The Oasis is really pretty, you eat and look out over the lake and watch the sunset, it's a really nice view, and during the summer they have free salsa lessons every Sunday night! Which is fun there were always a number of families with little kids dancing and what not when I used to go.

Mount bonnell is recommended but I myself built up huge expectations, it's just a pretty outdoorsy place to walk up a big hill and look over the lake. (Which if you're into that... is really nice!) So my native plants of texas teacher told me, some famous hooligan cowboy hid supposedly hid some treasure there... : )

We used to go hiking on the hills by 360 there are some really nice trails out there, and the green belt has some really awesome hiking areas.

Family Places--
Laguna Gloria is an art school, mostly for kids, with really beautiful grounds that's fun to visit
Mayfield park- Mayfield Park is right near laguna gloria and there are peacocks everywhere!!! It's beautiful and there are little ponds
Elizabet Ney museum- I don't know how dorky your tastes go but this is a REALLY COOL place, Elizabet Ney did a lot of sculpting and was well connected with some of the older figures of austin history and the museum is set in her house which looks pretty much like it did a back when she lived in it
Austin Steam Train--- I haven't ever gone on this, but my friend works for them and I REALLY wanted to take my son on the polar express (santa rides the train and gives cookies!)-- they feature some different types of train rides that let you explore the hill country and they do murder mystery train rides and historical train rides and such (and valentines day train rides and mardi gras train rides lol)
Pioneer Farms- You can learn how to make ice cream and butter the old fashioned way-- and I think you get to watch the cow get milked! Blacksmithery, wood working, textiles, animals, cooking-- there's an 1840 Tonkawa campsite--- (wow that's new I haven't seen it yet, I want to go!)
Austin Childrens Museum- Sciency stuff! This place can get over crowded so if you're ever able to go during the day hours it would be much better. I found it to be a great relief that they had a fenced in baby proof area where the crawlers can crawl around and spin things attached to the walls safely. Getting to sit down while being out with the baby?? Wow!
Austin Nature and science center---- This place is awesome and free! There are a bunch of nature trails in the back and they have a little section with some wild animals (a little sad, but they were animals that couldn't be released back the wild). The have an area with lots of different birds, owls and birds of prey and such not. They have a whole area filled with sand where kids can dig for dinosaur bones!
Zilker botanical garden- During the spring and summer this place is beautiful

So having said all that, to plan a trip:
Zilker park, Austin Science and Nature center, the botanical gardens, casa de luz, Daily Juice are all right near each other off barton springs road. The restaurants on barton springs road are all pretty decent, and I think there's a Chuys there too.

Mayfield park, Mount bonnel, and Laguna Gloria are all near each other. Might be a nice time to bring a picnic.

Elizabet ney museum is pretty close to mothers cafe--- there are a lot of nice places to eat in that area-- hyde park area. Central market is pretty close to there as well.

Terra burger is pretty close to arboretum area, as is Amy's ice cream (in the arboretum) and I like the Jason's deli right there but that's of course not a local thing. Oh thunderclouds is a pretty decent sandwich shop accross from Amy's ice cream there.

Austin Childrens museum is downtown-- theres also the Bob bullock state history museum (expensive) and the Natural Science museum (with dinosaur bones!) and it's free!

(Holy crap I can't believe I just wrote all of that, I sure hope it's helpful. Me thinks someone was avoiding homework big time LOL)
posted by xarnop at 10:39 AM on February 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

What everyone else says about the highways. Off-peak, you're ok on 183, 360, and MoPac.

If you're here early enough on Wednesday, head south on 183 to Boggy Creek Farm for their market day (they're also open on Saturdays). While you're in the vicinity, check out some East side taco trailers (no specific recommendation, but look for crowds and you'll know you found the right place). For that matter, check out the East side in general. It's the new South Side.

I know you know about SoCo, but do you know about S. 1st? Weird boutiques, food trailers, typical S. Austin stuff.

Take 360 south, and go wandering around the Wild Basin Preserve.

Take Braker to N. Lamar and go to the Chinatown Center. If you go on Saturday, get yourself some Dim Sum at Fortune. If not, you can still get pretty decent Pho and wander around a giant Asian grocery.

Hit up one of the Sustainable Food Center's farmers market. Triangle is a bit smaller, but there's hot food at the other two on Saturday.

The traffic is never good at 6th and Lamar, but you should still check out the Whole Foods mothership. It's both amazing and disgusting all at once.
posted by Gilbert at 12:44 PM on February 19, 2011

I just moved to Austin a little over a week ago, and I love it here. Let's meet while you guys are in town.

I've found that it's impossible not to get stuck in traffic here, and I just take it as an opportunity to listen to 90.5 (the local NPR station). That will help you get to know Austin better.

I don't have kids, but my sense is that Austin is very kid-friendly. Other folks have made great suggestions.

I'll MeFiMail you.
posted by xenophile at 4:37 PM on February 19, 2011

xarn - Tacodeli trumps the heck out of Torchy's. Go now! : )
posted by bitterkitten at 8:33 AM on February 20, 2011

check out Round Rock, Georgetown, Kyle and Buda. If you have kids, you don't want to live in Austin proper anyhow unless you plan on sending your kids to private school. Super cool town but AISD leaves a LOT to be desired. Georgetown has Monument Cafe which is a must see. Good luck and I'm sure that many folks will try to tell you that AISD isn't that bad. I beg to differ but you will have to make your own choice. Perhaps you are coming from a terrible place for schools, in which case AISD may seem to be OK or not terrible anyhow. Best of luck!
posted by screamingnotlaughing at 9:49 PM on February 20, 2011

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