New Orleans and Austin, Texas - July 17-24, 2017
This trip was especially cool - not only did I get to revisit an old friend, NOLA, but I got the chance to see some friends in Austin while being introduced to a brand new city.
New Orleans I get to every year, and even if it weren't for work, I would try to make that happen because it is just the best. The food, drinks and vibe never disappoint. Is it ungodly hot in July? Of course it is, and so was Texas, but whatever, it's the south and it's expected in summer. The first few days of my trip was gobbled up by work, but after all the meetings we were treated to some really nice dinners at Coquette (Garden district) and Toup's Meatery (Mid-City). Both were all around amazing, from the food to the cocktails to the restaurants themselves. Coquette was more fine dining, whereas Toup's was more neighborhoody.
On Wednesday night, my meetings wrapped up and Joe flew in that night. We had dinner at Peche in the Loft district- which had amazing seafood and libations. After our late dinner, we dropped into Erin Rose's for our annual frozen irish coffees ($3.50!!! Can't beat it) and headed to the hotel. We stayed at the Hampton Inn Convention Center- which is in the loft district, close to great restaurants like Peche, Emeril's and Cochon, but about a 20min walk to the French Quarter. So close to the crazy but not in it. I would recommend it, probably the nicest Hampton Inn I've stayed in- they had a bar/restaurant in the hotel but also did the free breakfast thing, had all the french creole decor going on, and had a nice pool. It ran me about $125/night.
Thursday started with breakfast at Stanley's. Not the best breakfast I've had in NOLA, but good for something quick and no wait. A little walking around, followed by a stop at the Audobon Cottages that my company was renting out for the week. If you ever do a group trip to NOLA I highly recommend staying here. The cottages are so cute, and very tucked away on Dauphine Street, just a couple blocks away from Bourbon. However, you feel like you are in another world, it's so quaint and quiet there. The pool is everything at this place as well, extremely relaxing which is crazy since you are literally in the heart of the French Quarter. Cottages have their own patios, it's just a super cool set up there, great for large groups. After ample amounts of pool time, we had lunch down the street at Cafe Amelie on Royal- which was SO good. The courtyard was beautiful and so picturesque, I could have easily gotten sucked in to drinking there all day. Luckily we kept it moving- we checked out a few more spots on our walking tour and, of course, hit up one of our standby faves, Coops, for dinner. Never disappoints. After a long day of walking, eating and drinking, it was now time to head to Austin. But first, a crazy hot run! If you are looking for a long, flat run in New Orleans, find the trolley tracks that run on Saint Charles Ave. They go forever, and take you through some gorgeous neighborhoods. When I say crazy hot though I mean crazy hot- so go as early as possible.
We got into Austin Friday evening (Southwest does direct flights, only takes about an hour from NOLA) and our friends picked us up. They live in a condo building in a neighborhood 15mins from the airport- Zilker. It is really close to downtown, only about a mile away. We started out with bar hopping on South Congress St for happy hour, then walked down to the Congress Avenue Bridge to check out the largest bat colony in the world. Over a million bats live in the bridge and all take flight at dusk, so you get a good 15mins of bat watching as they fly to the east over Lady Bird Lake. We arrived at 8:30, and this time of year the bats had already been going for a few minutes, so I would say a safe bet is to show up at 8pm to see them initially take flight. After catching the bats for a few minutes, we walked back up South Congress and had dinner at the South Congress Cafe. Many places were packed on a Friday night, this one we were sat right away- but don't let the lack of people fool you, the food here was awesome. I got sea bass and brussel sprouts, delicious. Really good cocktails too. Across the street we had Amy's ice cream for dessert- a perfect way to end day 1 in Texas.
Saturday started out with a hike. About a 10min drive from Zilker, we pulled over to the side of a highway and parked. We found the trailhead and hiked a mostly flat, shaded path along a dry riverbed. We stopped at a few spots that are usually great for swimming, but since it hadn't rained in a while they were pretty much dry. The first stopping point was Sculpture Falls, then Twin Falls- and finally past Twin Falls we were able to take a quick dip before turning around and heading back. That was pretty cool, it's very rare you can just jump in a river after hiking, but that seems to be a thing in Texas. The whole hike probably took us a little under 2 hours, about 5.7 miles round trip.
Still wanting more swim time, after the hike we drove back to Zilker and checked out Barton Springs. This place was awesome, a beautiful park (admission $3 per person if you are a resident) built around the springs- which has basicially been turned into a huge, natural swimming pool. Like all things in Texas, it's extreme- it's extremely big, crowded, deep and cold. So cold, but don't let that scare you- just jump in and get used to it. It was over 100 degrees the entire time we were in Austin so it didn't feel so bad. There is a section of the springs you can go to that is free and fenced off- many people were checking out that option as well. So we laid out under the trees, we swam, and then headed back to the condo to clean up and head out for the night.
Saturday night was all about downtown Austin, 6th Street and Rainey Streets. This is where it all goes down apparently. At around 9pm they close off 6th Street so you can freely walk between bars. Rainey street is lined with huge old beautiful homes which have been turned into bars. Both places are super crowded so be prepared. We started out with dinner at Pinefish on 6th Street (great chicken), drinks at a beer garden, stopped into a few bars with rooftops, then walked down to Rainey and checked out one of the bars that had live music on the back patio. I think this whole scene was a little aggressive for my taste, especially on a Saturday night when it was super packed, I was exhausted from hiking and swimming, and it was still 100+ degrees- so I never really got into it. Hopefully next time I'll make sure to be super rested and prepared.
Sunday was my favorite day in Texas. My friends rented a pontoon boat on Lake Travis for 4 hours (40min drive from the city). I didn't even know this was a thing. Apparently you don't need a boating license- just a driver's license, and we were able to drive our own boat around this huge lake- it was so cool. It only cost us about $60 per person (there was 5 of us) for 4 hours on a boat which held 10 people. We packed a cooler full of goodies and spent the afternoon on this gorgeous lake cruising along, drinking, and swimming. It felt very Texas. We saw lots of people who had rented party barges too- which were double decker and had slides off them- so cool. We were about to book the boat for longer when a storm popped up, so we headed in after our 4 hours. We stopped by the Oasis to get a better view of the Lake we had just been on- and it's massive. The Oasis had it's own scene, we didn't stay but seemed like a great spot for a lunch or drinks- the views alone were worth it. Once we got back to Zilker, we had a great dinner at an italian spot Aroma (really good bruschetta and pizza) and did a quick walk around Barton Springs again to check out some city views and walk off dinner. We also stopped at an ice cream truck, Holla mode, for some thai rolled ice cream.
Monday- very hot run on the Lady bird lake trail, then the airport. The trail was perfect, mostly flat and pretty shaded. Getting to the trail was the toughest part, since it was downhill on that way there and uphill on the way back along the road, but it was only a mile each way. Luckily the rest of the run was for the most part shaded and had water fountains and bathrooms along the lake trail. I really felt like I did the South to death on this trip, and got a taste of Texas!
Cost Breakdown of Trip (excluding airfare and work events)
Hotel in NOLA Hampton Inn Convention Center: $250 for 2 nights
Taxi to NOLA airport: $35 (flat rate- same for Ubers)
Food/Drinks in NOLA and Austin: $850 total
Pontoon Rental Lake Travis: $120 total
Uber to Austin Airport: $20
Total for trip: $1275