But I just came back from a perfect weekend getaway with the hubs — less than 48 hours — in which I somehow managed to feel like I had both soaked up a ton of local culture, and also scored some much-needed rest and rejuvenation. And despite the shortness of the trip, I didn’t come home feeling any FOMO.
Our weekender was in Austin, Texas. And although neither hubby nor I had ever before been there, we found it a perfectly paced town where there is plenty to do and see, but not an air of pressure that you must see everything on a list or else you have somehow blown a major opportunity. (I hate that feeling.)
In fact, before we left on this trip, I solicited some advice from travel blogger friends, as well as a pal who lived in Austin during graduate school. Here’s what the latter said about it in an email: “The good thing about Austin is that you can just soak up the vibe and not feel like you have to do any one, or 10, particular things. If you have some good food, margaritas, and hear a little music, then you’ve gotten a good slice of the city.”
And, after my visit, I found that description of the Southern city just exactly right: Austin is a place where you can find what your particular personality seeks — food, music, sun, culture, shopping, whatever — and come home enriched and restored. I loved that.
It also helped that we were so well located when we visited, thanks to our gracious host hotel, the W Austin. It’s right downtown in the Second Street District (literally right next door to the famous Austin City Limits music venue), and allowed us to walk (even in 100-degree heat) or take a few-dollar Uber ride easily around town to see a ton of great stuff without much effort or advanced planning.
That said, here are my absolute favorite things we did with our 48 hours in Austin, Texas: a little weekend getaway that felt like so much more.
7 Things to Do With 48 Hours in Austin, Texas
1. Barton Springs Pool
When it came to activities, I knew little about Barton Springs Pool, but from what I gleaned, I knew to put it top of my list. First of all, I’m quite partial to pools. And this one sounded incredible: Located within Austin’s Zilker Park, it’s a three-acre (three acres!) spring-fed pool that is open to the public (for $4 apiece). And it far, far exceeded my expectations to become one of the most favorite public urban offerings I’ve ever visited. I’d say it’s Austin’s No. 1 can’t-miss activity if the weather is right.
First of all, look at this gorgeous thing:
We were advised to arrive “early” to avoid crowds, but we were on vacation schedule and took our sweet time, arriving at 11:30 or so. And we only waited behind a few people to pay our admission and go inside. As you can see in the photos, folks of all ages and categories — families, couples, teens — were out enjoying the pool, which is an awesomely refreshing 68 to 70 degrees compared to the 100-degree air. (Think that sounds cold? For comparison, I got my scuba diving certification in the dead of winter in 50-degree water when the air was the same.)
You’re not allowed to bring outside food in, but people bring their towels to soak up the sun on the grass, and relax between dips. There’s even a diving board!
And forget whatever (germy) images you conjure when you think “public pool.” Evidently, Barton Springs closes every Thursday for a top-to-bottom cleaning. This is truly a spectacular gem I’d visit every summer weekend if I lived in Austin. So amazing!
2. Graffiti Park
Here’s something I’d never heard about — I think most people even in Austin haven’t — and wouldn’t have known about except for the W Austin. The W Insider (a.k.a. concierge) had put together a list of cool things worth checking out arund town and placed it in our room (next to a bottle of welcome bubbly rosé, where it was sure to get our attention). This was on that list (cited there as “Hope Gallery,” but I have since seen it referred to as “Graffiti Park” more frequently).
Basically, it’s an abandoned building site that’s been turned into a living, vibrant canvas by local graffiti artists. There are gorgeous and thought-provoking images and quotes. But visitors are also welcomed to buy paint on the spot and express their own impromptu creativity (ideally not over the murals, but wherever else they carve out space).
So, so cool and worth seeing — and, of course, also a selfie magnet. (Hubby compared it to Lacma’s Urban Light installation in our hometown of L.A.)
3. Kayaking on Lady Bird Lake
So we asked the W Insider about our options for renting kayaks, and he let us know about Congress Avenue Kayaks, easy walking distance from the hotel.
Off we went to rent our double kayak for $15 per hour (or $25 for a half day), just to get the flavor. It’s such a peaceful experience, it’s almost hard to believe you’re right in a downtown area and not some kind of park (except, of course, for the high rises in view). Totally recommend!
4. Ashiatsu massage at Away Spa
I know from massage. I’ve been lucky to experience all manner of hot stones, aromatherapies, outdoor treatments, specific cultural specialties around the world like Turkish hammam — all kinds of blissful massages. But I’ve honestly never had one like the ashiatsu massage at the W Austin’s Away Spa.
It’s a brand new offering, and it uses the therapist’s… feet! She holds onto bars on the ceiling to do this. Yes, the pressure was fairly deep (I wanted it that way), but it doesn’t have to be a crazy-intense massage. My therapist, who was a dancer, said the pressure would be easily variable based on people’s preferences.
I don’t mean to sound like a complainer, but I find myself sore all the time these days. It’s from carrying children (both on the inside and then on the outside), and from lugging a 15-inch laptop (rue the day I made that purchase decision). And I’ve got near-constant core soreness from my continued work on my postpartum diastasis recti through specialized programs like the postpartum healing Mutu System and Pilates reformer classes (ClassPass, I’m obsessed with you). So when I have a chance to have a massage this epic, it can be a real game changer for a whole weekend.
5. Watching bat flight at Congress Avenue Bridge
In working on a recent U.S. travel piece that appeared in Country Living and Esquire and other such pubs earlier this month, I researched a place I’ve never personally visited but sounds so amazing: Carlsberg Caverns in New Mexico, where people gather to watch every night as bats take flight from the cave into the night sky. It sounded like a dramatic and unique spectacle of nature, so I included it in that story.
Well, turns out, Austin — yes, urban Austin — has its very own version of that! Apparently the world’s largest urban bat colony (because anyone knew that was such a thing?) lives under downtown’s Congress Avenue Bridge, and people gather every night to watch them take flight.
The bridge is within easy walking distance from our hotel, and we watched from up top with other pedestrians lined up against the railing. But people also gather on the grass down below near the water.
What I liked even more than watching the urban bats (which are themselves weird/interesting/unique, of course) was this evening ritual of people all gathered in anticipation. It reminded me of gathering with everyone in Oia on Santorini in Greece, part of a ritual to watch the sun set. Sunsets and bats are cool, obviously, but getting to be a part of a ritual like this actually feels like the main attraction to me. I’m a sucker for community.
6. W Austin Wet Deck
OK, I’ve already mentioned that I rarely meet a pool I don’t like. But the W Austin’s pool — pardon, its Wet Deck — is a special scene. It’s open from sunrise to sunset, and is basically an all-day party requiring a wristband for hotel guests (or for purchase). In addition to the long fourth-floor pool itself, there are private cabanas, lounge chairs, tanning shelves, a fireplace, and outdoor showers.
Yes, this pool gets crowded, and that’s the point: It’s a party. But it worked in my favor that I am an early person and Austin is a sleep-in town, so I never had any trouble getting a place to set up shop and feel comfortable.
I took the below photos on an ordinary Saturday. But just as we were checking out the next day, the place was getting packed for the ginorm party, Shockwave, which takes place the last Sunday of every month in the summer.
Anyway, despite all the beautiful people, I found the vibe very welcoming and down to earth. I actually had a long, semi-heart-to-heart chat with a fellow twin mom, who was also on a minibreak from her kids. And there’s no better place for a heart-to-heart than in a spectacular pool, I say. But that’s me.
7. Just actually (wait for it!) relaxing
Thanks to the aforementioned FOMO, I sometimes have a hard time relaxing when I’m on vacation. Who has time for that?! Sunrises and sunsets to catch on a schedule! Ferries and puddle-jumpers and tours departing! This one restaurant you have to go at one particular time to put your name down six hours in advance!
Well, I loved Austin for not making me feel like that. Its relaxed vibe is perfect for carving out the particular pace that suits you.
So, in the evenings, after dinner, hubs and I went back to our gorgeous, comfy 15th-floor suite at the W Austin with its river and downtown views and high-tech everything — and just chilled. The eff. Out. We were content to watch the stream of people over the Congress Avenue Bridge, or on the boats in the river, while actually allowing ourselves a bit of time to regroup and relax amid a powerful AC and a pair of massive televisions. And that was the perfect counterpoint to our well-paced Austin days.
So those are a few of my favorite things in Austin!
[What? No food, you ask? Of course Austin was full of superlative food options — and I’m reserving the whole next post for that. So check back!]
Disclosure: Starwood and the W Austin paid for this travel with the expectation that I would write about my experience in town here on this blog. My itinerary was totally my own to create, and I based it on my personal interests and travel and recreation style. As always, I only cover on this blog the products, services, and experiences that are worthy of my endorsement and my readers’ consideration.