Meet anyone from Austin, Texas, and I can guarantee two things: 1. They'll be really proud of their city (they're not from 'Texas', they're from 'Austin'), and 2. They'll be the most warm and welcoming barrel of laughs you can imagine hanging out with.
Stab a pin into the center of Texas on a map, and you'll pretty much hit Austin. With a popular motto to 'Keep Austin Weird', it's the live music capital of the world, home to the Texas Longhorns (both the famous football team and the real, animal variety), and the coolest (in my opinion) music festival ever, ever, ever -- SXSW -- this, is a city worth visiting.
On my most recent trip, I touched down just before sunset. Around that time of day, between March and September, one of the most breath-taking natural phenomenon occurs, and it's a must-watch. Head over to Congress Avenue Bridge, where every evening, millions of bats swarm in unison out of the bridge's crevices and over the river, as they search for food. It can take up to 45 minutes for all the bats to emerge, and they'll consume on average 20,000 pounds of insects before returning! Sounds spooky, and I suppose it is a little like Batman's sent out his panic alarm, but simply amazing to watch.
A stone's throw away, I checked into the Four Seasons, which has a luxurious, old-world charm to it, like a home away from home. Overlooking Lady Bird Lake, the service and amenities are up to the usual Four Seasons' impeccable standards, but for a city hotel, the building's location makes you feel like you're on holiday. I couldn't help diving straight into the heated saltwater pool, before plonking myself into a hammock, hidden between the trees, and reading a book until cocktail hour. Cocktail hour is taken very seriously in this city, and the hotel's Lobby Lounge is a great place to kick off your evening. Nicknamed 'Austin's Living Room' by locals, sink into a giant blue leather armchair, soak up the live music and views of the lake, and sip on -- well if I was choosing for you -- and order the Steak fries. Skinny chips topped with rosemary, garlic and truffle aioli, they melt in your mouth. Although be sure to share them...they're potent!
Dinner, well -- there are a gazillion choices -- Austin is famous for it's lack of chain restaurants and it's incredible, independent hole-in-the-walls. There are five fantastic spots I'd like to recommend. Uchiko for a cool, modern vibe -- great if you're with a group -- they serve delicious Japanese food. Sway is dark, loud, with Asian food and makes an awesome peanut chicken curry. Clarks is a bright oyster bar with a happy, family vibe and a nice outdoor deck. Hula Hut is a Hawaiian party right on the river. Affordable, with gigantic portions (try the macadamia-encrusted Mahi Mahi) and a great happy hour, this is a cool place to watch the sunset.
We ended up eating dinner a ten minute taxi ride over the bridge at seafood spot Perlas. If you can imagine a very chic beach diner, that's not actually on the beach, this is it. The menu is experimental, and the waiters really care about / know what they're explaining. Portions are small, but your tastebuds pretty much explode. I started with the salt and jalapeno pepper fried calamari with green sauce and marinara, which was light and spicy, followed by the crispy Texas Gulf snapper served with lemon spinach and spicy sofrito. I left still feeling the tiniest bit hungry, which makes a refreshing change from the usual roll-me-out-the-door-I'm-stuffed feeling. Our whole group was so satisfied with all the yummy flavors we'd tried and shared across the table: we would all 100 percent go back.
The perfect way to start a day's sightseeing in Austin, is with breakfast at Annie's. Such sweet staff and a killer menu, try the Popeye Omelet, complete with bacon, spinach and white cheddar. Deeeelish. The best way to see the city, is on foot. Check out the Capital building, which is fascinating, and wander down 6th Street -- passed the historic Driskill Hotel, and buy a Stetson at the Goorin Brothers hat shop across the street (which is one of Mick Jaggers favorites). Back to the Four Season's tranquil spa for the afternoon -- they have a very enticing 'add-on' menu, whereby you can put extra bits and bobs onto your treatment -- which I of course, totally succumbed to. So my regular massage ended up including a MoroccanOil scalp treatment, the addition of Coco-vanilla shea butter to my massage oil, and a refreshing foot treatment. Well, a girl's gotta pamper herself sometimes...
A visit to Austin isn't complete without a night out on 6th Street. Pedestrianized by nightfall, I've never seen anything like it, anywhere else in the world. The entire mile or so is jam-packed with live music, in all different kinds of genres, blaring out from every bar, restaurant and club. It's a brilliant smorgasbord of jazz, blues, country, bluegrass, hip-hop, funk, there's something for everyone. In the week most bars don't have a cover charge, so hop from one rooftop to the next and just dance the night away.