No business or conference trip to Austin would be complete without taking in the sights of Austin and Central Texas. If we have good rains in early spring, the Hill Country is ablaze in flowers and is magical. You won't regret taking the time to see Texas -- trust me. If it is summer, well, it is not so magical.
There's lots to do and see in Austin. Most sights are within walking distance of campus; others you'll need a car.
Here are the standards, approximately in the order that you'll encounter them and the order of their importance.
For restaurants, check out:
There are lots of things to see and do around Austin (click here for details). You should see:
For those of you who like night life, colleagues of mine have recommended:
If you have a long weekend, I'd recommend any or all of the following. You can do any day trip starting and ending in Austin, but it would be better if you simply splurge and stay over in San Antonio and Fredericksburg. Hotel reservations are easy to make over the internet.
Lockhart, the Barbeque capital of the Texas. Lockhart, 30 miles south of Austin, is a city that hasn't changed since 1930 and neither has its barbeque. There are several good BBQ restaurants that you should try, namely: Kreuz's, Smittys, and Blacks. (My favorites are Kreuz's and Smittys). I strongly recommend that you come hungry and eat your way through Lockhart -- go to all three restaurants, but make sure you buy little at each place (otherwise you'll never survive). Kreuz's serves BBQ on butcher paper -- you have your selection of different kinds of brisket, pork ribs, prime-rib, and pork chops. And maybe fixins other than meat. Kreuz's moved to their new location, vacating the restaurant that is now occupied by Smitty's. (Note Smitty's and Kreuz's are businesses derived from the same family; a disagreement pulled the family and its restaurant apart). A few blocks away is Black's, another traditional Texas BBQ restaurant favored by Lyndon Johnson. San Antonio is about 45 minutes from Lockhart. One last word: check the times at which these restaurants are open. Most are closed Sundays or after the BBQ runs out!
San Antonio. You could easily spend days in San Antonio, but one will be sufficient to see its major sights. The Riverwalk is in the city center. It is an attractive canal complex that can be toured by foot or boat, offering shopping, outdoor restaurants, and attractions. There you can see the Alamo (an important place in Texas's fight for independence from Mexico; it is a Spanish mission once held for 13 days by a group of Texas against the forces of Mexico's General Santa Anna), an IMAX theater (adjacent to the Alamo), the Menger Hotel (a late-1800s hotel that has real character, including photos of prior visitors, such as Babe Ruth and Presidents of the United States), El Mercado (a Mexican market offering both food and arts), and the downtown itself, which is quite attractive. You can visit all of these sites by taking trolleys, busses that look like cable cars of San Francisco. (About $1 per trip). Unlike Austin, San Antonio has a strong Hispanic heritage, which you will immediately notice and enjoy. There are quite a few restaurants on the Riverwalk, not all of which are good (read this sentence twice). Try Boudros. Or sip some cool root beer made at Schilo's Deli -- both are great restaurants. If you want a great interior Mexican dining experience, try La Fonda on Main. It is about 10+ minute drive from the Alamo, but is worth it. Call for reservations. Stay the night in San Antonio. The Riverwalk is gorgeous at night and there's plenty to keep you occupied.
Enchanted Rock. In spring, there are few places that are more beautiful than the Texas Hill Country. Hills can be blanketed in bluebonnets and other spring flowers, and it can be downright magical. Your destination should be Enchanted Rock, the Ayer's Rock of Texas. Pictures of this place don't do it justice, trust me. You can hike up to the top of Enchanted Rock in about a half hour, and expect to get some serious exercise in the process. Plan to bring some drinks and a lunch (which you can purchase when driving through Fredericksburg) and eat at the summit. Better still, bring a kite. You could easily spend a good portion of a day here if the weather is fine. But keep in mind that Enchanted Rock is a very popular place, especially in spring. The park has a limited capacity for tourists, and once this limit is reached, park rangers turn away visitors. Plan on arriving before 10am, and earlier on weekends, otherwise you may not get in. And if you don't, you'll regret it. (Iit's happened to me). And while you're in the vicinity, you might consider the trek to Coopers BBQ in Mason, Texas. The best I've ever had.
Fredericksburg. Where is the Pearl Harbor Memorial Highway? (Yes, Pearl Harbor of Hawaii and WWII fame). Answer: Fredericksburg Texas, of course. It is also known as Main Street to other Texans and Hauptstrasse to the locals. Why? Because of Chester Nimitz, Admiral of the US Pacific Fleet in WWII. Nimitz was from Fredericksburg. He and Douglas MacArthur were responsible for the Armed Forces in the Pacific in WWII. The Nimitz museum is a first-class attraction, made accessible to all by skilled architects and a really good museum design. The museum itself is spread across several buildings, including the Nimitz Hotel, where Nimitz grew up. Fredericksburg itself is a delightful place where you'll find all sorts of Texan art, personalities, and cuisine. You should spend the night here, not that there is much to do in Fredericksburg at night, but just to experience the Texan Hill Country and an authentic Texan town. For restaurants, I recommend the Fredericksburg Brewing Company, but now there are many other very good restaurants as well. My favorite hotel is the Peach Tree Inn, a motor inn designed and built in the 1920s, complete with car ports -- they don't make places like this anymore. This place fills up quickly, but there are plenty of other good hotels in Fredericksburg. Unless you're going on a holiday, reservations may not be needed.
Not far from Fredericksburg is Luckenbach, a town of approximately 5 buildings and fewer inhabitants, largely centered on a post-office. It's worth a half-hour stop to look around. On your way to Austin, you'll travel past Stonewall and the LBJ (Lyndon Baines Johnson) Ranch. LBJ is buried there, but his personality lives on. It too is worth seeing. Johnson City is next on the list, and while there may be interesting places to shop, I've yet to find any restaurant that's worth a repeat visit. My recommendation is, if you're hungry, to starve until you reach Austin.
Overall, the 3-day circuit is 250 miles, but no segment is longer than an hour and a half. It's an easy way to see and appreciate why Texan's brag about their state. Don't miss the opportunity to understand why. Enjoy!