I Love This Place: Austin, Texas

To celebrate the love of so many places around the world, we’re introducing a new regular, monthly-ish series around here: I Love This Place. We’re asking ourselves: Which places cause a longing in our heart to be there, and why? Or, if it’s home: Why do we love where we live?

There’s a German word I wish we had in English: fernweh, which means “being homesick for a place you’ve never been.” I know that feeling well. I bet you do, too.

May this series stir a little fernweh in all of us. I see that as a good thing—because, as Mark Twain once wrote, “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.”

I’m kicking off the series today with one of my favorite places, and soon, other writers here will chime in. I’m psyched to give some love to our favorite pins on the map, big and small.

I love this place: Austin, TX

I have a funny relationship with Austin. It’s my hometown, so for that reason alone, I love it. It’s where most of my family still lives, it’s the backdrop for my happy childhood, and on the whole, it does well for its residents. The economy is strong, the food is outstanding, and the people are oh-so friendly.

But I lived there for almost 30 years, and I’ve seen it change soooooo much. What was once a best-kept secret of Texas is now known internationally, and the traffic proves it. It is crowded—so, so crowded. If I have to run an errand across town, my entire day is gone.

This is one of the reasons we recently moved to Georgetown, a small town right outside Austin. We learned from our years living in Bend, Oregon how much we love smaller towns with a bit of culture, and I’ve loved Georgetown since I was a kid.

But, Austin. It’s still a lovely place. It’s hot, and it’s crowded, but it’s lovely.

On Austin’s unofficial landmarks for tourists:

Lots of tourists head to the bats on Congress Avenue—the best time of year to see them is late July or early August, when there’s a ton (of course, that’s during some of the worst weather). The Stevie Ray Vaughn statue off Town Lake is pretty iconic, as is the “I love you so much” graffitied wall, where people go out of their way for selfies.

i love you so much
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Our family’s personal favorite is this goofy alien frog graffiti that’s been on The Drag, a street hugging the University of Texas campus, since my dad was a student there in the early 70s.

On eating out with family and friends:

Austin has no shortage of fantastic restaurants (when Kyle used to work in fine construction on high-end homes in town, he heard of several hours that didn’t even bother with kitchens!). The two classic Texas choices are barbecue and Tex-Mex, and I’m pretty sure you could eat out every night for a year at these two types of establishments and never repeat restaurants.

torchy's tacos
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Torchy’s Tacos is a beloved local chain with lots of locations (try the brushfire or crossroads). Naming the best Tex-Mex can turn in to a heated debate in Austin, and I really can’t narrow it down to my favorite—but at the top of the list are Maudie’s, Chuy’s (try the Mexican martini), and a total hole-in-the-wall called Ramos. Z-Tejas and Hula Hut are also fantastic, though not Tex-Mex.

The other official food is barbecue, and everyone also has an opinion on the best. I really love Pok-e-Jo’s, a local chain with locations all over, but Salt Lick has unbelievable food. It’s a drive outside Austin, to Driftwood, and there’s always a crazy-long wait. It’s a place where locals take their out-of-towners friends.

Austin has great burgers, too. Hopdoddy is our family favorite, but there’s almost always a line out the door. Phil’s Ice House has a fun playground with great food (and an Amy’s Ice Cream next door at both locations). Hat Creek, a local chain, also has playgrounds, with fantastic gluten-free options. And Top Notch has been off Burnet Road forever; my parents used to go there all the time when they were dating.

I could name 50 other favorite eateries, easily.

On a great Austin date:

We’d start off with drinks at one of many downtown happy hours, then head to 24 Diner for dinner. After that, we’d walk around downtown, window shopping and listening in on all the live music before heading to a concert (like the Andrew Bird show we caught recently!).

andrew bird stubbs
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Before heading home up north, if we’re not too exhausted we’d swing over to Cenote for some decaf coffee. Then, if my parents were being super-generous, the kids would spend the night at their place, and we’d go to Kerbey Lane for brunch before picking them up (I waitressed there during my UT years).

On Austin’s attitude, demographic, and style of its residents:

Austin is very laid-back; there’s almost no place where you need to dress up. Having grown up here, it now throws me for a loop as an adult when I travel and need to remember some fancier clothes! This fits me like a glove—I’m a t-shirt and sandals girl, through and through.

The average resident is getting younger, which, as a native, can sometimes feel off-putting when some people who’ve only lived here for a year or two because of the cool factor act like experts (I can’t even imagine how my own parents feel!). There’s a bit of hipster snobbery that’s leaked into the pipes, which disheartens me.

But the friendliness still outweighs any negative attitudes, and in all our travels, I’ve hardly found another city with locals as nice. Someone will walk by, smile, and say, “Hello! How are you?” and it takes me a second to realize they don’t know me—they’re just being friendly.

On spending a day in Austin entirely outdoors:

Austin is fairly green for a city, though having lived in the Pacific Northwest and married to an Oregonian, it’s not nearly as outdoorsy as we once had. Still, for Texas it’s pretty great. I’d bring a hammock and book to Emma Long Park and watch my kids swim nearly all day (one benefit to the warm weather: nearly year-round swimming).

zilker summer musical
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We’d head over to Central Market to get stuff for a picnic dinner, then watch the current Zilker Summer Musical (so, I suppose it’s summer in this scenario) at Zilker Park. It’s always free, and always fun. We could swim at Barton Springs right next door, but the water is 68 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, and the kids don’t love that.

On how to best spend $20 here:

el arroyo sign what if nobody was president
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Austin is getting more and more expensive, but having traveled a lot, I can attest that it’s really not too bad for a city. I’d grab some cheap breakfast tacos, possibly at El Arroyo just to read their daily sign, then head to Book People, the largest independent bookstore in Texas, and spend hours browsing before picking a paperback. Then I’d head over to Mozart’s and read with a coffee by my side and a view of the lake (if I’m feeling indulgent, their coffee milkshakes are divine).

On personal favorite memories and Austin nostalgia:

Just about every corner I turn within the original Austin boundaries, there’s a childhood memory waiting for me. I remember my dad taking me to Dirty’s for the first time when I was about 12, and hoping I’d one day be a Longhorn (my wish came true). As a ballet student, I remember going to see Ballet Austin‘s The Nutcracker every Christmas before it got too expensive. I remember driving slowly down 37th 1/2 Street to look at the insane Christmas light concoctions, which they don’t really do anymore.

37th Street Austin Christmas lights
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I remember spending all day long at our neighborhood pool during the summer, because that’s just what you do as a kid in Austin. I remember the first time driving down Old Spicewood Springs Road as a teenager and wondering if I’d fall off the side and in to the creek (there’s still hardly any guardrails). It’s a short road that makes you feel like you’re in the country, right in the heart of the city.

I remember not really understanding why Austinites are so die-hard about their beloved city until the first time I left it for awhile—and then I understood. There’s an Austinness that can’t be replicated elsewhere.

Mozart's Cafe

emma long park

It’s easy to live in the past, wishing a place was what it once was, and Austin’s changes tempt me to do this. But the new Austin is here now, and there are good things about it, too. In the meantime, our family will be happily living our day-to-day life in a nearby small town, and will take the train downtown whenever we get a hankering for the Austin vibe.

It’s still there.

9 months, 5 backpacks, 4 continents, 3 kids,
1 husband.

(It was worth it.)

9 months, 5 backpacks, 4 continents, 3 kids, 1 husband.

(It was worth it.)

22 Comments

  1. Devi

    Fernweh, what a great word. I’ll have to talk to my German hubby about it; he always says that German is a much more complex and intricate language than English. I love Austin, I’ve been there once but didn’t see much of it even though I was there for a week. Such a beautiful city though.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I love that word, too!

  2. Amanda Espinoza

    We live in San Antonio, Texas and have done many of the things you have listed here. About once a year we talk about moving to Austin, because of the “tech scene.” We always decide that living an hour away is good enough for us. We get the benefit of Austin without needing to live in the traffic. Thankfully, we have a Torchy’s Tacos down here in San Antonio! 🙂

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I think you’ve got it good, Amanda. 😉

  3. Lauren Wittry

    I just moved to Portland from San Antonio (where we lived for 5 years), and your post made me miss Austin. I loved living so close, visiting and we had Pok-E-Jo’s cater our wedding out there. But, we always felt “fernweh” about Oregon, so after spending our honeymoon in Portland and Bend, we made the move here 3 years later. Couldn’t be happier. But I still miss the Austin charm.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      We miss Oregon year-round here in Texas, which is why we hope to spend many summers up there!

  4. Amy

    I’m new to Austin … an adventure for our family of 5. My husband and I both grew up in Southern California in a beautiful suburb just north of LA. It’s interesting to hear you speak with nostalgia (and a little disappointment) about your hometown and all of its growing pains. Even California has changed so much in 15 years…I once wouldn’t have dreamed of leaving and over the past 10 years it became oppressive, expensive, and so congested it was impossible to enjoy what was once good about it. I’m loving Austin for our family but even I am still am nostalgic about the place I once called home (even though, like you, it really doesn’t exist anymore).

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I so understand, Amy. And welcome to Austin! From my experience of moving to a new place: give yourself grace + a few years. It always takes longer than you’d expect to feel at home in a new place.

  5. Emily Falke

    We lived in Leander for 3 years, and no where else has felt like home the same way. People and culture and food (oh, the food) and everything. I usually tear up when I think about it, wondering if we’ll ever get out of Central California and back there again. We swore we’d grow old there, but God needs us here for now. Thanks for highlighting such a wonderful place. Makes me homesick for a truly homey place.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I’m glad you liked it here! I’m a big fan of the California weather. 🙂

  6. Jen McGahan

    Love it quick! They’re saying Austin’s population will double by 2040. I’m sad to say that I’m feeling the same about Austin now, that you feel about Southern California. It doesn’t exist anymore.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I knoooooow…. I’ve heard that statistic, too. One of the reasons we bought in Georgetown while we did. I’m happy to settle in one place for a long while now, but I wouldn’t ever write off moving elsewhere again in the future. We’ve been known to. 😉

  7. Nicole

    I can’t wait to visit Austin (and you guys in Georgetown!) someday. Seems like such a cool city.

  8. Joan

    We’ve lived here (Austin) 47 years and our four kids were born and raised here. I’ve always loved this town but the traffic is beginning to get to me. I have to drum up a lot of patience if I’m out on Mopac before 10:00 am or between 3:00 and 7:00 pm. We are blessed to live in what used to be north Austin and is now central Austin. Everything we need or want is very near by including our church. I’m sure I’ll die here-unless God has other plans for me. It is a great place to live if you don’t mind hot summers and crowded streets. So many things to do and enjoy.

  9. Aubrey

    What great timing! My hubby and I just returned from Austin yesterday and I hadn’t seen your post until this morning. In our 24 hours there, we caught Center and Hopdoddys – fun to see those on your list!

    • Aubrey

      *Cenote. 🙂

  10. Joy

    Oh, this post brought tears to my eyes. We moved to the DC area from Austin over a year and a half ago. My husband and I lived in Austin for five years, and it will always be so very dear to our hearts. It’s where we got engaged, where we got married, where we really started our adult lives and made some of our closest friends. Georgetown is such a charming place, as well. I used to work up there and spent many summer afternoons at Blue Hole.

  11. Abby Cameron

    This is a fantastic reminder of why I need a weekend away in Austin very soon! Just the mention of all these places makes me swoon. I’m excited about this new series.

  12. Renee P.

    I’m excited about this series! And I really love that word “fernweh”!

  13. Katie

    My dad’s parents’ families immigrated to the Austin area back in the mid-1800s. The old farm in Elgin has been divvied up and will probably be sold and redeveloped when the last of Dad’s uncles dies. You can still visit my great-grandparents’ family home–it’s now a sausage place in downtown Elgin (Southside Market and BBQ). My dad’s roots go deep in the area, and he graduated from UT in 1977. We went back a couple years ago and he took me on a tour of all his favorite places from his childhood and university days (the ones that still existed). The co-op where he lived just off campus is still a housing co-op, though for a different kind of student. We wandered around campus and Lady Bird Lake and drove through downtown, and spent another day in the Elgin/Pflugerville/Sayersville area. I think every other sentence out of his mouth was about how much Austin had changed. My parents are permanently settled elsewhere, but you could see just how much Austin still was home to him…and how overwhelming the changes of the last forty years are.

  14. Diane A

    Hi Tsh – my 18 yr old daughter and I are considering coming to Austin in March for a girls’ Spring Break. I am looking at Airbnb – what would be a fun neighborhood with things to walk to? Anything we shouldn’t miss? Thanks!

  15. jennifer

    Just last night, my husband and I visited Austin for the first time. We fell in LOVE with The Firehouse for cocktails and people-watching. (picture this: located under a Hostel, enter through hidden-door bookshelf). We even abandoned our plans on the second night to return to The Firehouse for the evening.

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