SXSW in Austin, Texas

I am so excited to tell you about Austin, because it’s the last post I have to share before I can FINALLY get into telling you about my travels from this summer (Maine, Bordeaux, Positano, Rome, Amalfi!) As giddy as I am to get into the really good stuff, Austin was also pretty rad. Attending SXSW was my first real visit to Texas (unless layovers count) and I was actually pretty taken aback by how liberal, eclectic, and outdoorsy the city was. As a New England gal who has predominantly stuck to US coastal travel, I always assumed Texas was full of conservative cowboys. Thanks American media for fueling the stereotype. And while I did see a cowboy or two in the Lone Star State, I found Austin to be a diverse and liberal gem. There are ample food trucks, live music venues (yeah honky tonk!) and fried chicken joints (where they fry pickles, too!) There’s great beer, coffee, art, and BBQ, and if you want to play bingo with chicken shit, well you can pursue that dream in Austin too. There are saloon-looking shops and big hand painted signs around the city advertising guns and gold. You can cycle or run along Lady Bird Lake, or find a cool creek to take a dip in. Austin definitely has some of that old western charm, with a fun, electric flare and divine homespun food.As I was in the city for SXSW, I spent the majority of my days in talks and meetings. I didn’t see anyone big or exciting (I was pretty bummed to miss Joe Biden) – rather I went to the smaller advertising seminars, which were still cool and a great opportunity to learn about how brands and business are tackling industry challenges.

Despite not having much free time in the day, I did get some awesome food recommendations from friends (more on this later)! I also had a two-hour break one afternoon, so I rented a bike and cycled along Lady Bird Lake for a bit. That was probably my favorite day – I loved discovering Austin’s outdoorsy scene and seeing locals enjoy the mild March weather. It’s a dream of mine to spend a few years living somewhere like Austin, where I can soak up the sunny weather all year-long!On my cycle-adventure, I biked past Barton Springs Pool (below), whose blue hues called to me, and I was bummed I didn’t have a bathing suit! The pool is three acres in size, and thanks to the underground springs, the temperature is usually around 70 degrees, making it the perfect March paradise. Others had no fear of the cooler river, and kayaked or padded boarded down stream. I also walked along South Congress Ave one afternoon, in hunt of pizza for lunch. I loved how Texas the shops felt, with big neon signs, flat roofs, clay colors, and a splash of fun.My Austin to-do list included checking out the Uncommon Objects for incredible antiques, popping into Feather Boutique to browse through curated vintage clothing, thumbing through the literature at Book People, pursuing through the fine art at the Mexic-Arte Museum, taking in the colors of Graffiti Park, and stopping in Brohemiato while hunting for some sweet vintage for my Kai :) I also went into some awesome leather-goods stores on South Congress, and while I didn’t purchase anything local (I’m a Frye girl through and through) I did love running my hands along the smooth leather and taking in that fresh distinctive leather smell. On my walk back, the most Texas-thing-ever occurred:

OK, now it’s time to tell you about the good stuff, aka the food! Austin’s food scene was my favorite, and I perhaps love it even more than New England’s traditional seafood fare (which is saying a lot, because, oysters!) I’d scoured the web before arriving in Austin, and between friend-recommendations and internet digging, the top contenders in Austin for food were: Odd Duck, Justine’s, East Side Pies, Irene’s, June’s, Launderette, Sway, Josephine House (this one turned up on top-lists A LOT!),Bufalina Pizza, Elizabeth Street Cafe, The Steeping Room, and Shady Grove.  As I was only in Austin for five days, I unfortunately didn’t get through this whole list. I also didn’t document a lot of food photos, because it was more a work trip and not a lug around my DSLR for every moment kinda trip. BUT I did get to Odd Duck, which was fantastic, Home Slice which I didn’t mention before, but was a welcome mecca mid-shop on South Congress, Shady Grove which had a super fun vibe outside, BIG beverages and home-style food, and Gus’s (below) where I ate a bag of fried chicken, fried pickles, coleslaw, mac’n’cheese, and root beer for good luck!With all of the eating, I also did a lot of walking, and loved strolling up to the State Capitol on my lunch break one day.We were staying on 5th Street in East Austin, so we had a couple nights out on that side of town. A few of the places we went honestly weren’t my scene – I don’t love scream-o music or big crowds of teens in hoodies who look to be dancing on the verge of a mosh-pit. Call me old, but I prefer great cocktails, good conversation, and dancing to new beats that get your body shaking, not jumping violently. We hung at the Brixton a bit, which was cool, but when things moved next door to Hotel Los Vegas, I called it a night. Now, before you call me boring, I did LOVE White Horse, a country bar with live music (yee-haw honky-tonk!) and a bomb foodtruck outside (hello my dinner of 500 tacos, I miss you!)And speaking of live music, it’s not SXSW without a few main musical acts, and my two favorites were Dakhabrakha (below) a Ukrainian folk band who incorporate modern beats and musical styles into their tunes, and Charlie Cunningham (photo in front of the stained glass window) who blew my mind and made me cry and is my new hall pass (sorry Kit Harrington, as you’re now engaged I’ve moved on to greener pastures).The last stop I wanted to tell you about was Torchy’s Tacos. Food trucks are a major thing in Austin, which makes me feel great, because I forget to eat like 38% of the time, and I love walking down the street and suddenly being like – ohh yeah, lunch! – and there is a taco truck perfectly positioned on the horizon. And Torchy’s is like, the fairy godmother of Austin food trucks – she’s magical and will make your dreams come true, AND grant you a side of green chilli queso. So on my second night in Austin (the first night I stayed in a Motel 6 by the airport – LMAO scary times!) I went in search of Torchy’s. I walked from my place on 5th Street to the Torchy’s on 1st, which sounds like a short stroll but took about an hour and was a bit dodgy at night (at one point I was wandering by this facility that I thought might be a jail, and I was getting nervous until I saw signs that it was a school for deaf children and I immediately felt terrible and safe). Anyways, I saw the glow of Torchy’s from a distance, and followed the waft of melted cheese all the way up to the truck. Two tacos and a side of queso were ordered immediately, and to my surprise there was no wait, no line, and my tacos were in my tummy within ten minutes!So that’s Austin for ya (or at least my very newbie take on it!) I absolutely loved the city, and I can’t wait to come back again soon for more fried pickles and honkey tonk. Austin, perhaps see you again next spring ;)

x Ali

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