IMG_3361-1024x768 New Discoveries in Old Austin Austin Texas
The imposing state capitol, built of Texas red granite and completed in 1888
Lovely and historic Austin, Texas is the closest thing John and I have to a home base in the U.S.

Since most of my immediate family lives in Austin, we have been making regular visits there for many years. After we became expats in 2015, those trips evolved into a blur of shopping, seeing old friends, spending time with our family, and filling up on Tex-Mex food and sushi (neither of which is really a thing in Colombia). In the past we haven’t had much time for sightseeing, but we’re making a renewed effort now that my mom has just moved to a more central part of town.

Austin looms large in my childhood. My parents met there when they were both students at the University of Texas in the 1950s, so I guess you could say I owe my existence to Austin! Although I grew up in a small West Texas town, our family traveled to the Big A regularly when my Granddaddy George Baker was serving in the Texas House of Representatives.  I later lived there for several years, first as a UT student and then as a young married.

Then, as now, there was a certain mystique about Austin that’s hard to put into words. Maybe it’s the stunning natural beauty of its riverside location in the green, rolling hills of central Texas, or the deep sense of history (Austin has been the capital since 1839, when Texas was still a republic). Or maybe it’s because Austin is both a state capital and university town that has attracted a vibrant, diverse, and cosmopolitan mix of people. And, famously, Austin has fostered a music scene that’s world-renowned.

In many dismaying ways, Austin has changed forever in the past few decades. With the likes of Google, Apple, Oracle, and Tesla building huge new facilities there, the city is experiencing a building boom and a tremendous influx of new folks from California and other states. As such, Austin is struggling to keep from becoming just another sprawling and overcrowded metropolis with hideous traffic problems (that struggle is real, hence the slogan “Keep Austin Weird”). But there are pockets where progress hasn’t encroached yet (much) and you can still experience the Austin of yore.

Here are some new discoveries from our recent trips to Austin. Some of the photos are in galleries – just click to see larger images.

Judges’ Hill and Pease Park

After my mom moved out of her house in North Austin and to her new apartment last week, we decamped to an Airbnb in the historic Judges’ Hill neighborhood. So-named for the numerous judges and attorneys who have lived there for a century and a half, Judges’ Hill is the last remaining primarily residential neighborhood in downtown Austin. It’s filled with stunning and beautifully preserved mansions, many of which are well over a hundred years old and studded with historical markers.

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The stately Herblin-Shoe house, now home of the Austin Bar Association.
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The Caswell House, headquarters of the Austin Junior Forum

Just down the hill and across Lamar Avenue is Pease Park, a beautiful city park with quite a historic pedigree (General George A. Custer once camped there with his troops). Bisected by scenic Shoal Creek, it’s a lovely place for an early morning stroll.

Scholz Bier Garten

Opened in 1866 by German immigrant August Scholz, this joint bills itself as the oldest beer garden in America and the oldest continuously operating business in Texas. While Scholz is far from a “new” discovery to me (it’s an old haunt from my UT partying days), it was John’s first visit. It was also a fun trip down memory lane for my mom, Mary Lea, who shared many a dance there with my daddy Frank when they were UT students. While we were there, the bartender showed us the old entrance behind the bar to the speakeasy that once operated during prohibition – and also told us about the secret tunnel from the capitol building that kept the lawmakers connected to their booze. There’s lots more interesting history on the Scholz website.

 

Austin Street Art

The global street art craze has caught on in Austin, and there are beautiful works all over town.

McKinney Falls State Park

After all my past years living in Austin, I had somehow never made it to McKinney Falls. That is, until John the travel planner discovered it and declared he wanted to hike there on his birthday (it was July 20). Hike we did, and we really enjoyed this beautiful and lesser-known park that’s in a far southern corner of Austin.

Mt. Bonnell

This beautiful city park is also one of Austin’s oldest, attracting tourists since at least the 1850s. Situated on a 775-foot rise, Mt. Bonnell offers stunning views of the Austin skyline to the east and Lake Austin (one of the segments of the Colorado River that run through Austin) to the west.

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The Austin skyline from atop Mt. Bonnell. The iconic U.T. Tower is on the far left. Back in the day, there were laws against high-rises that would block any views of the State Capitol building. Now it’s barely visible.
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The western view overlooking Lake Austin
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The old cornerstone
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My maternal granddaddy, George A. Castleberry, visiting Mt. Bonnell when he was serving in the Army during the First World War
Dry Creek Inn

Just down a side road from Mt. Bonnell, you’ll find the Dry Creek Cafe and Boat Dock – one of Austin’s rapidly vanishing breed of funky, original, and atmosphere-filled dive bars. The Dry Creek has been operated by the same family since 1953, and somehow it managed to survive COVID. We were glad to see it.

Other Discoveries
  • Austin has become quite the culinary mecca. Here are our favorite restaurant finds from this visit:
    • Wu Chow, serving absolutely wonderful Chinese fusion cuisine from its downtown location. Reservations are a must!
    • Juliet Italian Kitchen. Sumptuous Italian food, expansive indoor and outdoor seating, and an adventurous brunch menu on Barton Springs Road.
    • Salt Traders Coastal Cooking. This seafood spot was the site of John’s birthday lunch (oysters!), and we enjoyed it so much that we went back with the family a few nights later.

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      A friendly staff awaits you at Juan in a Million.
    • Juan in a Million. How in heaven’s name have we never visited Juan’s until this trip? This hole-in-the-wall taco joint has been open in East Austin since 1980, serving up traditional and yummy Mexican fare. If you’re lucky, Juan himself will greet you as you come in the door.
      • Tex-Mex standbys El Arroyo and Eldorado. El Arroyo has gotten a lot of global exposure on social media
        el-arroyo-signs-5 New Discoveries in Old Austin Austin Texas
        A recent and LOL-funny El Arroyo sign

        lately for its causticly funny signs, but the food’s also really good. Eldorado is our current Tex-Mex favorite in Northwest Austin – the margaritas and creative menu items are other-worldly!

    • Got a sweet tooth? Check out funky Voodoo Doughnut (recently imported from our old stomping ground of Portland, Oregon), Lick for ice cream, and Tiny Pies (tiny but tasty).
  • We loved our Airbnb in Judges’ Hill, the Brady Carriage House. It’s a cozy one-bedroom apartment behind the 1915 home of Judge John W. Brady. Bonus for dog fanatics: you’ll be greeted by a darling elderly basset hound named Ruby. We enjoyed our stay so much that we’ve booked it again for November.
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Brady Carriage House

Are you making new discoveries in a city that’s familiar to you? Tell us about it!

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39 Comments

  1. Thank you for the tour. Looks so nice and I love pictures, especially old ones. Such a family treasure.

  2. Always enjoy a guided tour of one of my favorite, weirdest little cities in the country. If it wasn’t for the heat & traffic… BTW, we should mention one of the best bookstores in the known universe, Book People, and maybe THE best public library anywhere. Thanks, you two.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      The library is FANTASTIC! We always enjoy a visit there and we’re both card carriers (we check books out electronically all the time). Have not heard of Book People – we’ll find it next time. I’m a sucker for a great bookstore!

      Amazingly, the heat was bearable this time. It never got higher than 97 or so, which is unheard of for this time of year. Everyone was talking about how unseasonably cool it was, and in the meantime the West Coast was boiling. The climate is broken . . .

      Hugs to you both!

  3. Annie Berger Reply

    What a fun post to read and I’m sure an enjoyable one for you to write about your trip down memory lane as well as an opportunity to play tourist in your old stomping grounds!

    Thanks for introducing us to a different Austin than we have discovered on our own stay in the capital city.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Annie! It’s a little crazy how many new things I’m discovering after having lived there for so many years. Chalk it up to John the travel planner, who always uncovers new things to do, see, and eat before we go 🙂

      Glad you liked the post. Be well!
      – Susan

  4. What a wonderful blog about your memories of your time here and Austin’s hidden gems! And that picture of the three of you at your Granddad’s desk in the Capitol is priceless! By the way, if you hiked the Onion Creek Trail in McKinney Falls State Park on July 20, we could have waved at you over the back fence. You would have been about 30 feet from our backyard. Thing is, we are moving to a senior community in central Austin in a few days. We’ll miss that quiet, bird-filled world.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Glen!! Wow, if only we had known you were nearby – we would have popped in to say hey 🙂 Where are you moving? Mom just moved to Westminster – she sold her house and bought a beautiful apartment there. It’s a great new beginning for her!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much! It was a great trip for a lot of reasons – we got to help my mom get settled in her new place, spend time with family, eat ourselves silly, AND see new places in Austin. Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

  5. Mary McGarvey Reply

    Hey, John & Susan! Thanks for the revisit! I’m sure my John especially enjoyed revisiting his stomping grounds of UT! Hope to see you both again, soon! John & Mary

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Mary! I emailed you a few weeks ago – hope you got it 🙂 I forgot that your John and I have UT in common. We’re headed out on a big road trip tomorrow for the month of August, but let’s try to get together after that!

  6. Wow, that was a trip down memory lane. I met my husband at UT Austin. I had birthday picnics at Mt. Bonnell. I worked at Texas parks snd Wildlife on the edge of McKinney falls and hiked there during lunch breaks. On weekend I would bike the trails along Shoal Creek. It was a wonderful decade of my life.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Oh wow! We have even more in common 🙂 I have lots of fond memories of my time in Austin, as well. It’s such a special city.

      • Yes, we do! Austin is a great place. We felt at home. Our favorite restaurant was Borinquen on South Congress. Fabulous Puerto Rican food. In the 90s they had live 7-10 piece live salsa bands and we’d go dancing.

  7. What a lovely post, re-visiting your childhood place, so hope Austin doesn’t become another sprawling metropolis. Hey, you look so much like your Mum in that photo 😊

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Ha, she and I both get that a lot 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the post, and hope you two are doing well.

  8. What and incredible tour, anchored by two fine Texas men❣️ Such a fantastic collection of what Austin used to be. Sure do miss that town❤️

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Ha, that did not occur to me, but you’re right! Two abuelo bookends – love it. Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

  9. Thank you for your beautiful view of my favorite city. Austin truly has a mystique about it that grabs you and never lets go!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Mimi! You’re the one that mentioned the mystique of Austin to me last week and I’ve been mulling it over, trying to put it into words. Glad you loved the post, since you were one of the stars 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Henry! Hope you’re well. Miss you.

  10. Thank you for the wonderful tour of Austin. Having had been an expat for 14 year, I can totally relate to the typical blur of shopping, seeing old friends, spending time with our family, and filling up on local foods. Loved all of your discoveries!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Donna! We’ve only recently been trying to see more of the sights of Austin and not get caught up in that blur. Looking forward to more discoveries! Hope you’re well.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Nancy! Hope you get to see Austin someday. How are things going in Spain?? Looks like Covid numbers are up again there. Hope you’re well!

      • We have both received both jabs and plan to fly to Poland next week for a short vacay, God willing! The pandemic isn’t bad where we live. It’s more suburban than urban where we live. Very quiet and peaceful, with a view of the Mediterranean Sea!

  11. Austin has a special place in my heart as well, living there for three months with ark and my ex-boyfriend. 🙂 I do love that town. Such a cool place and so not ordinary Texan. The waterfront is, indeed, stunning. And there are many other green spaces and recreation areas as well.

    I do remember some fun bars and a fabulous vegetarian restaurant. We never went to the South by Southwest festival, but I’ve heard wonderful stories about it, especially about friends leaving and renting their house out for heaps of money. 🙂

    We should go back one day, once we get over our disgust with certain Texan political decisions… I’ve always called Austin an oasis in Texas, or the San Diego of Texas.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Liesbet – great to hear from you! I didn’t realize you spent some time in Austin. You’re right, Austin is a little progressive dot in a very red state, but that’s changing. Hoping you don’t have to wait too long before the political situation improves and you can visit again. The people of Texas deserve far better leadership than the current clowns in office, and their voices WILL be heard. Anyway, hope you guys are doing well.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Sue! I remember you mentioned attending school in Austin. It seems like everyone who’s spent any time there has lots of good memories. Hope you, Jake, and Mr. Teddy are well!

  12. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when I was told about Austin’s uniqueness: a very culturally diverse city, like a liberal oasis in an otherwise conservative state. Your photos of the beautiful old buildings, the city skyline, the parks, and those colorful murals make me even more curious of this city.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      That is a perfect description of Austin, Bama. it’s such a progressive city, which is one reason Austin has always appealed to me. Hope you guys are well!

  13. Such cool discoveries you made. It’s amazing isn’t it how we can live in a place for years and still not know all it has to offer. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Austin from different people over the years. It sounds like a very cool city. I hope it stays weird!
    Alison

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Isn’t that the truth? Sometimes the most interesting and undiscovered things are in your own backyard! I hope Austin keeps some weirdness, too, but it’s becoming a real struggle. Now is the time to visit. Hope you and Don are well!

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