Backyard Adventures: The Austin, TX Edition - My Family Travels

            Oh, the plight of the postbaccalaureate student! My undergraduate loans and future law school loans have made sure that my travel fund stays at a pitiful $0.  Although this means I won’t be embarking on any exotic adventures any time soon, it doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy a vacation. I’ve learned that you don’t have to go far for a good time – your own backyard can be riddled with new experiences.

            I have lived in Austin, Texas for the past seven years and am still discovering new things to do here. Just this past month I have gone to the Louisiana Swamp Thing and Crawfish Festival, ran in the Texas Round-Up 5k, saw a roller derby game and volunteered at Eeyore’s Birthday, a fund-raiser that benefits non-profit groups in Austin. While the crawfish festival and the 5k are pretty self-explanatory, I think that the latter deserve a little more explaining.

             One of my friends plays for the roller derby team Putas Del Fuego and we try to make it out to all her matches. Let’s talk about an interesting experience. To score points, one person from each team, the jammer, has to lap everyone. For each opposing team players they lap, they earn a point. Sounds easy, right? Now let’s throw in some elbow to face contact and see what happens. Not only does it look painful, but to handle a penalty, a giant wheel is spun and the players involved duke it out with matches that range from pillow fighting to baby stroller racing. Like I said, it’s definitely an experience.

            Eeyore’s Birthday is a big hippie festival complete with drum circles, costumes, and the occasional topless and body-painted woman. Admission is free for everyone and drinks are free if you sign up to volunteer. Just bring your friends, a blanket to sit on, and maybe even your pooch as the dog watching is almost as good at the people watching. Last year, my friend brought face paint and painted anyone who asked, turning our blanket into one of the hot spots at the festival.

            Events such as the ones I attended this month make Austin entertaining enough, but the city is also a great place for outdoor activities. You can choose one of the 5 loops (2.9 miles to 10.1 miles) and go for a run or bike ride around Town Lake. While you’re there you could even stop by the Texas Rowing Center and rent a kayak for as low as $10 an hour. For the life of me, I can’t spot it, but rumor has it there’s an eagle’s nest in the area. If you want to learn how to row for free, you can go to the Austin Rowing Club on one of their Learn to Row Days. It’s a great experience if you’ve never rowed but always wanted to try – I’ve learned that my lack of hand-eye coordination makes it pretty disastrous, though.  If a hike is what you’re after, the Greenbelt is a 7.9 mile hike and bike trail. My friends and I love going here because there are swimming holes throughout the trail. If you’re looking for an easier hike or somewhere romantic to go, you can visit Mount Bonnell to watch the sun set over Austin. And if you’re still not satisfied with the outdoor activities in Austin, you can drive to nearby Spicewood, Texas and zip line to your heart’s content or bring a cooler and your swim suit to New Braunfels and float the Guadalupe River.

             Now if you just want to layout and work on your tan, direct your attention to Barton Springs or Lake Travis. Barton Springs is a three acre pool, fed from underground springs and averages 68 degrees all year round. Lake Travis is a popular place for camping, boating, and swimming. I personally am not much of a camper or swimmer (unless you count trying not to drown) and since I don’t have a boat, I find Lake Travis to be a good place to lay out without any trees blocking the sunlight.  Remember kids, nobody’s waterproof … or cancer proof. Please wear sun block!

            With all my fitness talk (and I didn’t even get to mention outdoor yoga) you might have the impression that I probably just spend all my time outdoors and never eat. False. Living in a city that loves food makes that impossible. If you’ve ever been to Austin you might have heard people use the term, “Keep Austin Weird.” While this slogan has evolved to encompass Austin’s hippie vibe, it was originally created to fight commercialism and over-development and to support the small businesses that gave Austin its identity; businesses such as the local restaurants. We have Tex-Mex and barbeque galore. My favorite Tex-Mex restaurant in Austin is Trudy’s. If you go there be sure to order a Mexican Martini. Food is optional. Salt Lick Bar-B-Que is my favorite barbeque place. BYOB and cooler and hang out while you wait for a table. Service is great and the food will come out within a couple of minutes after you order. I know, a restaurant after my own heart! There are tons of Austin-only restaurants, which could be a foodie’s dream, but what Austin is really known nation-wide for food-wise is not Tex-Mex or Barbeque, it’s food trailers. Austin has approximately 31 food trailers all around the city.  There’s Sushi A GoGo, Hey Cupcake, Holy Cacao, Hudson’s Mighty Cone, etc.  The vote for the best trailer in Austin is actually going on right now at  From sweets to I’m-really-drunk-and-need-to-sober-up-food, there’s probably a trailer for it.

            Speaking of good times, if you were given just one reason to go to Austin, it would probably be 6th street, where the roads are blocked off from cars and all the bars are connected. During holidays, such as Halloween, it can get pretty crazy, turning into a block party with costumes. If you find 6th street is too young of a crowd for you, feel free to move up to west 6th street where the young professionals like to frequent. Still not ritzy enough for you? How about the Warehouse district on 4th? There’s an area of downtown for every crowd, which makes it easy for everyone to enjoy Austin’s nightlife.

            If live music is your favorite form of entertainment, you’re in luck because Austin is the considered the live music capitol of the world. We have almost 200 live music venues and every year Austin hosts music festivals such as the world renowned South by Southwest and Austin City Limits. South by Southwest is a week-long event that launches new media, music, and film.  Good luck trying to eat somewhere that week that doesn’t have a live band performing. Austin City Limits, aka ACL, is a 3 day music festival that showcases over 130 bands annually. Hosted in Zilker Park, multiple bands perform at the same time throughout the park. The hardest part of this festival is deciding which bands to see. I usually like to map out a course of action after the line-up gets released in the summer.  Last year Pearl Jam headlined and the year before it was the Foo Fighters.

            Music really is everywhere in Austin. That 5k I ran this month actually had a live band play for us on the course, which was a pretty nice surprise to have during the middle of a race.  Every Wednesday the Spazmatics, a very popular 80’s cover band, performs at Cedar Street Courtyard down town.  My friends and I have seen them multiple times and they never get old. However, this might have a big thing to do with the great people watching, since the band draws a very diverse crowd.

            From day life to night life, Austin has something for everyone and there’s always something new to do.  Austin has outdoor plays, such as the Spanish version of Romeo and Juliet, the Zilker Botanical Garden, and Gospel brunches galore. If you’re wondering what else is going on in Austin, is a great resource for visitors and Austinites alike. I’ve been working on my to-do list since I moved here and still haven’t scratched off close to half of what Austin has to offer. And now that I’ve given you the low-down for Austin, your only problem should be deciding what to do first. As for me, I’m impatiently waiting for summer so I can have another Backyard Adventure and float the Guadalupe River. 

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