ATX: Been there, Done that.

A city doesn’t make #2 on TripAdvisor’s list of places to go by being lame.

(Side note: I’m also v happy to see Nashville at #1, as I love that city too.)

But we’re talking about Austin, and well, since I just went there, I thought I would list everywhere we went. You know, in case you want to go there too.

For breakfast/brunch you can’t go wrong with Magnolia Cafe. Don’t let the crowd scare you away. You write your own name down, and let them take it from there. They’ll seat you and feed you so fast you won’t have time to complain. But you won’t feel rushed either. Service is expedited, but not compromised. I opted out of my usual scrambled egg order and tried the Flamingo sandwich. I cleaned my plate before I realized what was happening.

The Longhorns were playing the first day we were in town. Some kind of bowl something-or-other. (I love sports!) Anyway, we headed to the University Co-Op so we could outfit ourselves to hook ’em horns in style. If you like UT or longhorns or things that are rust/orange-colored you should go to this store, because they have everything you could possibly want. I think I even saw themed toilet paper. Dedication.

For the second year in a row, we stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn downtown. Location can’t be beat. You can walk to bars on East Sixth and home from bars on West Sixth…and enjoy everything in between. The rooms are consistent and there are plenty of secret bathroom options, which – if you’re like me and traveling with a group of friends – is a very important quality for a hotel to have. Note: breakfast and parking aren’t included. So we found our own brekkies and parked for free in the neighborhood across the highway.

For the bowl festivities and queso, we headed to Trudy’s. I had fish tacos and they were delish. The queso can’t be beat. And everyone was raving about the stuffed avocados. So if you’re a chicken eater, you should probably try it. Another Trudy’s fave is the Mexican Martini. So potent there is a two-drink limit on them!!

PS Nearby is Toy Joy, which is a lot like Wacko. Great staff. So much fun stuff to look at.

Day #2 started with Shipley Donuts. I went with a cinnamon-sugar sprinkle donut, but the crowd favorite was the Sausage/Jalapeno Kolaches. Think pigs in a blanket. I was so jealous that one of the first things I bought when I got home was a box of Morningstar Sausages and a thing of crescent rolls. It’s apparently all about the breading tho, so I’m sure it will pale in comparison.

Next stop was of the educational variety. A drive-thru tour of the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. Where we learned things like this was where JFK and Jackie were supposed to go after that fateful drive in Dallas. Word is, the housekeeper had dinner ready. LBJ also had his own landing strip onsite. Because when you have a huge ranch in Texas you have a lot of space for things like Air Force One.

You know what would have made every field trip better? A stop at a winery. I had my first taste of Texas wine at Becker Vineyards. What I really enjoyed tho were the adult animal crackers designated for palate cleansing. They weren’t like the regular oyster crackers you usually get, they literally tasted like animal crackers, but in a more mature, square pillow shape.

From there, we headed to Fredericksburg, Texas. Super adorable. Think stores carrying antiques, chocolates, clothing, kitchen gadgets and the like. And whatever category Rustlin’ Rob’s would fall under. Ho-lee crap. It’s like a Costco for sauces, dips, butters, jams, salsas and pickled things. Complete with tasters. So. many. samples. Grab a wheat thin or a pretzel and dig in. You could seriously fill up at this place. There’s also an adults-only hot sauce section in the back. Seriously. A table where you have to be 18 or older to try things. Don’t worry there’s also a bathroom.

On our way out of town we paused at Wildseed Farms to walk through the outdoor shop. I can’t imagine how beautiful it must be when all the flowers are in bloom, but I can guess it probably looks amazing.

Gruene, Texas was next. I loved it so much. It’s a cute little town right on the river complete with a huge dance hall and more antiques and a wine shop and Gristmill. I’ve never seen portions this big. We ordered the “Texas” size onion rings, which meant that 7 of us were going to have to eat 24. And they were HUGE. We may have left one or two on the plate. I ordered the rainbow trout (amazing!) with mashed potatoes and broccoli. Each side could have easily fed two people. There wasn’t enough trout to share. 😉 We opted out of dessert. (Several of the others ordered the ribs. I didn’t hear any complaints and there were lots of clean plates, so I would say that would be a safe recommendation as well.)

I can’t wait to return to Gruene some day to float down the river and explore the town in the daylight. Maybe I’ll even stay here. The themed bedrooms are so fun!! (Side note: my friend’s parents were repeat visitors and love everything about this place.)

Day three started on South Congress. While my friends got their hairs cut at Birds, I headed over to peruse Uncommon Objects. Last year we saw Emily Blunt and John Krasinski here. No such luck this time, but the shops along SoCo are fun. Altho they can get touristy and crowded. There’s another Magnolia here too. And Fran’s of Friday Night Lights fame.

We had lunch at a friend’s and then headed out for more wineries. Driftwood and Duchman Family Winery. Driftwood had an expansive view and fun people watching. There’s a lot going on at Duchman. Restaurants and weddings and such. Our group just did a tasting there.

And then it was time for The Salt Lick. It’s the best because it’s the best. I don’t even eat meat and I’ve made an exception for this place the last two years. I get the turkey and love it. The fatty brisket got rave reviews from the table this year and the ribs looked crazy, meat-falling-off-the-bone amazing. The bread is great, the potato salad is yummy, and we always end with a piece of cobbler to share. It’s BYOB so don’t be surprised to see guys carrying in big coolers or even kegs. This is Texas after all. You eat at picnic tables and it gets noisy. Embrace it. There’s also a winery here, set up by the owner’s daughter. It’s a nice place to wait for your table.

Our night didn’t end with bbq. We headed back to town and Peche. This was probably my favorite bar of the whole trip this year. Loved the decor, and the staff was knowledgeable and super nice. While one bartender was giving us a history lesson on absinthe, another one was making me a custom drink. The only direction I gave him was that I wanted it to have absinthe in it and I wasn’t afraid. He didn’t wait around to hear anything else, like how I said I couldn’t imagine drinking an alcoholic beverage with an egg in it. I love eggs but I don’t want to drink them. So you can imagine my hesitation and surprise when it was one of the first ingredients he rattled off after bringing me my frothy drink. (St. George absinthe, an entire raw egg, pecan maple syrup, lemon something I stopped listening, and a little nutmeg)…OMG. I had seen both he and the other bartender take drinks of it and they both super loved it, so I gave it a go. And liked it. Sometimes I surprise myself. I asked him what it was called and he said he didn’t have a name for it yet, but the first thing he thought after tasting it was that it was like Jesus giving you the middle finger. I like Jesus, but I think that’s a long name for a drink.

We moved on to Townhouse, an infusion bar we had loved last year. It wasn’t the same this go round. Same goes for Betsy’s Bar. Totally different vibes this year at both places. Which is unfortunate. We had a good game of Jenga at Betsy’s tho. Because Jenga and Skeeball are big bar games in Austin.

You guys. We’re just to Day Four. Talk about jam-packed!

Breakfast at 24 Diner. And then we drove around Clarksville, stopping at our favorite little old school drug store followed by more SoCo since then others didn’t get to walk around the other time we were there. Ice cream at Amy’s. And the next thing I knew I was eating fried pickles at Opal Divines, which is my favorite place for fried pickles (that I’ve had so far). I also enjoy sitting out on the deck and people watching and taking in West 6th.

It was New Years Eve and we had a great view for the fireworks from atop the Silicon Laboratories building on the waterfront. You have to know someone to get up there, but I’ve never seen fireworks so close. So maybe befriend someone who works there. (This tip also works for Fourth of July, altho as I understand it, it’s way more family friendly for that holiday.)

After the fireworks we walked to Trifecta. Nice space, but crappy clientele (at least this night). We moved on to Star Bar, which ended up being a fun place to ring in the new year. A nice, talkative and crowd who loved sharing things like hats and tiaras and noisemakers. From there we walked over to 219 West to dance a little bit and suck some helium. What? It happens.

We had our first meal of 2012 at Casino El Camino.

We walked a bit on the main drag of 6th and checked out the Driskill Hotel, which is gorgeous and apparently haunted. Seeing as I had to stop reading about the occurrences, I’m going to guess I won’t be staying in that hotel any time soon. Super private bathroom in the lobby tho, you know, if you find yourself wandering 6th and needing one.

Next we moved on to the Alamo Drafthouse. I will venture to say you will never be disappointed with a visit to the Drafthouse. It’s the original brew and view, meaning you can eat and drink whatever you like whilst watching a movie. We had so much fun we saw two movies (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Young Adult) with a visit to the nearby The Highball in between to break it up. I loved everything about The Highball but the prices. Bowling is $25/hr which, as S pointed out, would be much better if your group was bigger. As it was, tho…a little pricey for someone whose balls prefer the gutter.

For our last day in town (If you’re counting we’re at Day 6) we headed to Bess for lunch. I have never been and was excited to see what Sandra Bullock’s place had to offer. I loved everything about the decor and space. The menu looked good and tasted better. I went with a warm spinach and fried egg salad. (The egg had been poached and rolled in panko flakes.) I would also highly recommend the mac and cheese. And fried green tomatoes if you’re into them. We also stopped by Walton’s Fancy and Staple which looks great for light bites.

From there we attempted to walk off the past five days with a walk around Town/Ladybird Lake. We fell in love with dogs at the dog park.

Our last stop before the airport was Torchy’s Tacos. The trailer. The only trailer we visited this time around. I was not disappointed with The Resolution.

So there you have it. At least for this trip.

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