My impromptu road trip in Texas with was honestly a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I had never been to the cities on the route before and each one surprised me in very different ways. Although the trip was speedy, I experienced some fun moments including these favorites that I know just about any visitor will love as much as I did.
Kayaking in Downtown Austin
I don’t think of Austin as one specific tourist site or even one experience. No, instead I view it as an amalgamation of the many delightfully quirky things to do in and around the city. Eating tacos from a food truck, clapping along with a live band and wandering the halls of the capitol were all fun, but the outdoor experiences are what perhaps surprised me the most. I always love being on the water, so one activity I made sure to try was spending the morning on Lady Bird Lake. This river-called-lake runs through downtown Austin and connects it with the city’s many parks, from Zilker to Barton Springs and beyond. For just $20 (they should probably charge more) I paddled along as the guide explained more about the history of the city, from the Congress Avenue Bridge all the way to Barton Springs Park. It was also a great way to escape the heat for a little while. The tour wasn’t just informative, it was a lot of fun.
San Antonio River Walk
I’d long heard about San Antonio’s River Walk, but nothing quite prepared me for the actual experience of strolling alongside it. Created over time in what can only be called a brilliant act of urban planning, today it’s a 15-mile stretch of parks and walkways following the San Antonio River. Set a story below the rest of the city, as soon you as you climb the steps down to the River Walk, the change is immediate. Surrounded by blooming flowers, cooler temperatures and almost irrationally happy people, I soon found myself one of those oddly ebullient visitors, all mesmerized by the city almost instantly. It’s a great treasure for San Antonio, and I best enjoyed it while on a 35-minute cruise along it with the company Go Rio. With equally happy guides – I soon learned there’s no reason not to be happy in San Antonio – the cruise was informative but also relaxing, and a fun and easy way to see the best stretches of the River Walk. The city though is so much more than the river, and throughout my time in San Antonio I was constantly surprised by how laid back and easy everything was. It’s a large city, but downtown isn’t chaotic and thanks to a culture of preservation, the city has a lot more character than most. Art deco facades blend in seamlessly with newer buildings, creating a rich architectural tapestry that frankly is hard to find.
Hotels always form the crux of my travel experiences – it really does matter where we decide to spend the night. Since I was working with Marriott International, I was fortunate enough to visit some incredible hotels throughout my Texas adventure. In Houston that meant enjoying the luxury of the Westin Galleria and the fun atmosphere at the Marriott Marquis Houston, with a rooftop pool that is the stuff of legends. But it also meant enjoying the refined elegance of historical properties like the century old St. Anthony in San Antonio. Enjoying an incredible downtown location, they effortlessly combine modern amenities with classic luxury experiences and the hotel quickly became a personal favorite. For something still different though, in Austin I was the guest of the JW Marriott, which is new and modern, but with that comfort and accessibility I love with all JW Marriott hotels. Each property was intensely different from one another, but each offered kind hospitality and enabled me to better experience their cities, albeit in very different ways.
Houston Food Culture
The one piece of advice I received the most before visiting Houston was to eat as much as possible. Over the years the city has developed a well-earned reputation for everything from high-end cuisine to BBQ, but my favorite was a local secret that I’m so glad I discovered – The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation. Started by “Mama” Ninfa Laurenzo in 1973, believe it or not but this is where the fajita was first introduced to North America. Not only some of the best Tex-Mex food I’ve ever enjoyed, but also one of the best meals ever, my dining experience here is something I know I’ll never forget.
Although there’s plenty to see and do in these Texas cities to keep just about anyone busy, the broader Texas Hill Country makes for a fun and easy daytrip and offers completely different experiences. Long known for its wineries, Fredericksburg is at the center of the Hill Country experience, and many wineries have small tasting shops in town to expose visitors to their vintages. But for a real winery experience, stop by the new kid on the winery scene Narrow Path Winery. Featuring a variety of red and white varietals, the wine is excellent, the views are beautiful and the staff relaxed and humble – a great combination. If you’re a history buff like I am, be sure to also stop by the LBJ Ranch, usually called the Texas White House. This was Johnson’s escape from the pressures of Washington and, as such, is also where many important decisions were made. Visit for the history, but linger to admire the expansive ranch and beautiful Hill Country views.