Exploring Downtown Austin, Texas

First Visit

A quick trip to Austin, Texas created a desire to return. The stay in the downtown area contrasted greatly with many other cities. In addition to friendliness, the streets were clean, and many families were out and about. Furthermore, bike and running paths and various self-propelled watercraft provided opportunity for healthy living. High tech is also evident as we ran into a REV-1 robot in test mode. Certainly, eye-opening for a small-town resident like me.

Robot on the Move-Austin, Texas

State Capitol

Visiting the Texas State Capitol was an easy walk across the Congress Avenue Bridge.  An early start to avoid any heat and humidity so often encountered as the day heats up allowed time to stroll around the grounds before the building opened for tours. This provided an opportunity to wander around the many monuments and soak in the history.

Highlights include the Tejano Monument, Texas African American History Monument, Southern Confederacy Monument (I believe in keeping evidence of past mistakes, especially horrendous ones so that we don’t forget and then repeat.) A monument to the firefighters lost in the Dumas-Sunray refinery accident is also on the grounds. The accident occurred before my time, but old-timers on the High Plains still remember. Finally, just outside the entrance to the Capitol is a drinking fountain in active use since the 1880s. A reminder of how much has changed through time.

Inside the Capitol Building

The line to enter the Capitol right at the opening was fairly short and the wait was about 5 minutes allowing us to join the first tour group. The rotunda buzzed with activity. TV stations covered a civilized protest re: banning of books. A group of teenagers comprised one tour group and several families opted to tour on their own versus with a guide.

Our guide was very informative. History lessons are most interesting when exploring. The State Capitol of Texas endured two fires about a century apart. The latter fire occurred in 1983. As a result, a four- story underground addition was built with the completion in the late 1990s. This massive space is so well lit, including natural light from skylights, that visitors will not realize they are underground.

The tour included a stop in a legislative chamber and discussion of beautiful historic artwork. Furthermore, the building materials, design and even light fixtures all emphasize the legacy of Texas. Legislation passed in the 1980s keep sightlines to the Capitol building open. A beacon shining. One hopes many will be drawn to enter and explore.

Eateries Abound Downtown

Food is incredible in Austin! Our first experience-lunch at True Food Kitchen. This hip location on the Capitol side of the Colorado River provided great meals for both meat-eaters and vegetarians. Their kale salads were phenomenal. Enough for me to want to plant a winter crop. Paninis and burgers were also enjoyed. The service was good, and the restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating. I highly recommend.

My favorite evening meal took place at Perla’s Seafood and Oyster Bar. This popular eatery may require reservations and/or patience to be seated. We were fortunate and were able to get a table promptly, but the line was long upon exiting. Again, both indoor and outdoor seating is available.

Oyster lovers have a varied choice-yes oysters are not all the same. The group I was with had a tasting of four varieties. Additionally, the summer melon & Buratta appetizer was delicious and large enough to share. Various seafood comprised the main courses. I found the brioche-crusted halibut much to my liking. For non-seafood eaters, steaks can be ordered. A caveat, the restaurant is a bit pricy, but worth every penny for a special night out.

Austin Shopping

Shopping in downtown Austin is enjoyable. Plenty of places to stop and shop as well as a plethora of sights to take in. We shopped on both sides of the Congress Avenue Bridge. “True” downtown is located on the Capitol side of the bridge. Many of these stores have been operated by generations of the same family. Plus, the architecture is more historic. And the street art is cool.

The other side of the bridge is a bit trendier. In addition to numerous restaurants including the aforementioned Perla’s, block after block of boutiques and designer chains draw many pedestrians to the area. Shoppers were abundant despite the many signs of inflation.

Outdoor Activities in Downtown Austin

One of the nicest features in Austin centers around Lady Bird Lake AKA Town Lake. A ten-mile path around the reservoir incorporating the Colorado River is heavily used by bikers, runners and walkers. The path is very well maintained and very shady-important for those hot summer days.

Additionally, many non-motorized watercrafts were spotted. Everything from crews sculling their shells to kayaks and paddle boards. A few fishermen were present as well. Boats can be rented at dusk in order to view the bats leaving their roosts under the famed Congress Avenue Bridge.

Congress Avenue Bridge

Officially named the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, this almost 1000-foot-long bridge became the center of my trip to Austin. I crossed the bridge on foot multiple times, ate a nice lunch from the second floor of a hotel overlooking the structure and walked beneath during the day. But the best view was at dusk as the bats were leaving their roosts.

Long ago, I watched the bats fly out of Carlsbad Caverns. More than forty years later it is hard to compare the two viewings of mass bats. Especially, since the Congress Avenue roost is in such an urban setting. On this occasion I was close enough to hear individual bats squeaking as they twisted and turned seeking airborne food. Truly a highlight of the visit and one worth fitting into any trip to downtown Austin.

Future Austin Visits

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Austin. Even the heat and humidity did not detract-although I will admit to enjoying the mornings and evenings the most. Perhaps I can return for one of their many outdoor music festivals. Since visiting, I now understand why so many people are moving to the area. If you have never been to Austin, be sure to put it on your travel agenda. I certainly enjoyed my first ever visit.

Enjoy the Austin Highlights

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