A Collegiette’s™ guide to an epic Austin weekend
“Wait…you have McDonald’s in Texas?!”? Yes, I was asked this. My cousins in California for years were convinced that I rode a horse to school, greeted everyone with a hearty “Howdy!” and wore a cowboy hat.? I had to remind them that no, I don’t go to A&M.
For many out-of-staters—and even some clueless in-staters—it’s simply not obvious that Texas isn’t all cacti and cowboys. Everything’s bigger and better in the state that houses the nation’s best city and university (I might be biased): Austin and UT. Usually about all they know is that we have an awesome football team. (Oh wait, well, this is awkward.) So when your family, boyfriend and friends hear you rave about how awesome Austin is and finally decide to visit for a weekend, you want to be able to prove your case. And with the variety of outdoor activities, nightlife, and food the city has to offer—all with a bizarre spin unique to ATX—you should have no problem persuading them that you made the perfect choice when you chose burnt orange. But with so many amazing activity choices, the hard part is narrowing it down. So here are a few of my favorites, a barebones guide to cramming the most delightful of your choices into one wonderful weekend.
1: Town Lake/ Barton Springs
A bit obvious? Perhaps. But absolutely essential. There’s nothing better on a beautiful day than walking around Town Lake and having a few near-deathexperiences as cracked-out moms sprint by at an inhuman pace with their strollers, destroying anything and anyone in their path. And what’s more refreshing in the frequent ungodly heat than diving into the clear blue water of Barton Springs and avoiding eye contact with the topless tanning hippies? Or explore Austin (and get a killer arm workout) by renting a kayak and cruising under the bridges, dodging turtles, ducks and frighteningly huge swans. The Town Lake trail is also chockfull of sweet make-out spots. There are great benches all around the lake, perfect for cozying up to your boo, if you don’t mind a little PDA. If you like to keep your private business, well, private, the Opossum Temple and Voodoo Pew, a deliciously vine-covered gazebo with benches, is a particularly excellent spot where only the squirrels will be watching you. There’s nothing more romantic than necking on a waterfront bench, sneaking glimpses in between smooches of the Texas sun slowly setting on the water. (Note: the last suggestion was primarily catered to someone whose significant other is visiting.) And be sure to check out Austin’s famous bats take flight at dusk from under the Congress Avenue Bridge. Nothing simultaneously impresses your little brother, terrifies your mother and says “my city’s better than yours” like a sky blackened by a million-and-a-half winged rodents.
2. Catch a flick
You have no doubt caught a movie at one of the locations of the Alamo Drafthouse. But have you checked out its events? With sing-a-longs, quote-a-longs and so called “hecklevision” technology, which allows you to rip apart an awful movie as you watch it, this theater is turning the cinema into an interactive experience in true keep-Austin-weird form. For example, one recurring event the cinema hosts is The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Feast, a consecutive 12-hour screening of all three films, complete with a grandiose eight-course meal. With the theater’s creative concepts for such unique movie experiences, you can ensure that even a trip to the movies will leave your guests thoroughly impressed and, more importantly, entertained.
3: The trailer park
I don’t mean this in a conventional sense. I’m not suggesting you play tour guide, pack up a picnic and go trespass on some poor trailer-dwelling citizen’s yard with the justification you’re doing some sightseeing. I’m referring to my favorite dining option in Austin: the lot full of food trailers on South Congress. It’s the best place for a group who can’t agree on what they want to eat or for the people who, quite frankly, just want to eat six meals instead of one. Quality AND quantity is what it’s all about, people. Mighty Cone offers a delightful assortment of crunchy goodness. The best part? It’s all served in a cone. And with none of that plate business, it means your hands are free to grab a treat (or 12) from one of the other stands. A sandwich from the Turf Grill, some fro-yo from Mambo Berry or a mini pie from Cutie Pies, perhaps. And don’t forget to hit up the lot’s original trailer, Hey Cupcake. With a giant rotating cupcake on top, it might be the happiest place in the world. With names like Snowcap, Sweetberry and the Michael Jackson, the cupcakes even sound delicious (hmm…maybe not that last one). Be sure your guests get their sinfully sweet treat injected with whipped cream, transforming it into what is called a Whipper Snapper, for the low, low price of free! Good for the wallet, bad for the waistline, but you only live once and I’m sure that stroll around Town Lake burns off a sprinkle or two.
Yes, yes—another blatantly obvious piece of advice. But there’s going out, and then there’s going out done right. Personally, I could ride the E-Bus for six hours and be thoroughly entertained, but public transportation doesn’t seem to wow the average person and hearing 76 choruses of “TEXAS! FIGHT!” isn’t as fun and exciting for people who don’t actually go here. With that said, the best place to start off a good Thursday night out is, sans doubt, an El Arroyo happy hour. Margaritas for 99 cents?! It’s like buying an iPhone app…that gets you drunk. And with fantastic fajitas and the requisite unlimited chips and salsa, it’s a great place to load up on carbs before a big night out. And trust me—nothing helps you get bros more than the lingering aroma of tacos on your clothing. Tex Mex breath, however? Not so desirable, so make sure and grab a handful of those free peppermints on your way out.
It’s also essential that you consider your audience when making location decisions for your big night out. For instance, I don’t see my mom chugging a $5 liquor pitcher at Shakespeare’s or my dad teaching me how to dougie at The Blind Pig. However, a calm Tuesday night sipping drinks on the balcony with acoustic guitar entertainment is a completely parent-friendly option. On the other end of the spectrum, my rowdier friends might make a bit of a scene amongst the more upscale, older crowd on West Sixth. So figure out what the best option is for your guests, i.e. what results in no fights, arrests or embarrassing stories at family reunions. One fail-proof option could be the Kung Fu Saloon. All day happy hour for Sunday Funday, arcade games and skee ball? It’s like Chuck E. Cheese’s but without the shrieking and sobbing little kids that make you want to kill yourself. And if you’re particularly lucky on your downtown adventure, you could end up with the cooler-wielding cab driver who provides beers you can shotgun in the back seat while en route. His name is Mike. Tell him I said hello, because losing his number was the biggest mistake of my life.
5: Morning After
If it hasn’t been clear thus far, I’ll say it right now: I’m fond of eating. So hopefully your guests plan on gaining 3 to 5 pounds during their stay. But for real, no trip to Austin is complete without satisfying late night munchies or nursing a hangover (can you tell I’m also fond of drinking?) at Magnolia Café or Kerbey Lane. Eating at one is essential; eating at both is preferred. Waiting for two hours at 3 a.m. for queso at Kerbey is a weekend experience all UT students know well and a ritual that all visitors should partake in. Similarly, there’s nothing like recounting your night—sometimes while still wearing last evening’s outfit—the next morning at Magnolia Café and drowning your shame in maple syrup euphoria. There’s absolutely no problem giant pancakes can’t solve, and I can vouch for the fact that the carrot cake is delicious even after sitting in the car for six to eight hours in August heat.
So there you have it—my favorite spots in my favorite city. Trust me, after I showed my friends and family the glorious entertainment options Austin has to offer, they no longer wondered why I chose UT…or how I gained that freshman 15.