First Impressions – Austin, Texas

While I’ve only been here the equivalent of a generous five minutes and my impressions are based on the airport, the view from a cab, an enthusiastic cabbie, and the grounds of my hotel I have a few thoughts about Austin, Texas.

  • Tillandsia! – Ya’ll didn’t tell me you have tillandsia. I really didn’t believe they were tillandsia when I first spotted the telltale blobs in the tree branches. I came up with a few possible explanations before a close look revealed that yep, ya’ll have tillandsia. You really know how to charm me Texas.
  • Turns out it gets cold in Texas – How do the tillandsia survive when I thought I might die walking from the parking lot to the hotel door? Look, I understand cold. I left a winter wonderland just this morning. But this is Texas! Isn’t it supposed to be warm here? Given that I intend to spend most of my time here outside in gardens it looks like I’m going to have to make an emergency run for warm gear. Turns out that a long sleeve shirt and spring jacket just isn’t going to quite cut it.
  • You have trees that lose their leaves – Who knew? I didn’t. I stupidly assumed it didn’t get that cold this far south. Lesson learned.
  • Ya’ll’d inspired the creation of what I think could be a new word – And with it’s use of not one but TWO apostrophes it seems very much in line with Texan vernacular. Like Texas plus! Incidentally it means “you all would” or “you all did.”
  • There are palm trees in Austin – I expected a few here and there but it turns out they are all over the place here. And not just your scrubby fan palms either. Texas you are blowing my mind.
  • Where are your Texas stereotypes Austin? – I need stories to take back home to the Canadians. So far I have not seen an overabundance of patriotism, guns, gun shops, gun racks or cowboys. Except for that one monster-truck-sized SUV and a man asking for directions with a distinct twang I have seen very little that screams, You have now entered Texas! Run for your life! If I do not go home bearing tacky souvenirs this trip will not have been a success.

I get to experience my first real day in Austin tomorrow. I really didn’t know what to expect about this landscape and so far it has been an education. The next few days should make the hell I endured traveling here completely worth it.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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31 thoughts on “First Impressions – Austin, Texas

  1. Hate to break it to you, but Austin is not the city to get a real Texas experience. It’s a weird little oasis unlike the rest of the state. You’re likely to see more cowboy hats if you hang out in South Austin. The best parks are down there anyway. You absolutely cannot leave that city without getting some good TexMex. Try Curras on Oltorf or Polvo’s on S. 1st. Get your coffee at Bouldin creek on S. 1st and your juice at the daily juice on Barton Springs Rd. Oh, and on your way out get some ice cream at Amy’s in the airport. You won’t be sorry.

    Did I mention that I miss the food in Austin?

  2. Welcome to Austin! The gardens at Zilker Park are probably already on your busy agenda, but I think you’ll love them & I can’t wait to see any photos you take of our fair city :)

  3. Texas is flat so the wind will cut right through you making it seem a lot colder. Next week it will be hot as hell. I hope you have a great time in Austin. Welcome to Texas!

  4. You may not see the stereotypes you are looking for. Austin is known to be sort of an island of sanity amidst the rest of the gun-totting, Bush admiring state. (sorry if my bias or political thoughts were too obvious with that!) ;) Austin is supposed to be a great city!

  5. Deirdre: Next week! Anyways it’s supposed to warm up a little bit.

    KJ: Texas lite. I was being a bit facetious because in reality most of those things (gun racks etc) would scare me a little.

  6. TexGurl: Thanks for food suggestions. I was told about Curras but any suggestions are welcomed.

    Heather: I got so caught up in arranging photo shoots that I did not look into any places to visit for leisure. Thanks for you suggestion.

  7. You’re in a really cool place. Austin is something else. BTW -In the South it’s spelled “y’all”.

  8. Jamie: SXSWInteractive is on. My spouse is here to attend. I’m not attending.

    Mary: THANK YOU for the correction. I have been spelling it incorrectly for a long time!

  9. More common in my part of the South than y’all’d is y’all’s…used as a possessive. When that which is possessed is itself plural, you get a preceding ‘all’ as in “Are these all y’all’s flowers?”

  10. When you go to Curra’s get the avocado margarita. Trust me.

    Also, there’s a chance the bats are starting to come back from Mexico by now. Check for their nightly exodus from under the Congress St. bridge around dusk.

  11. Apologies to KJ and TexGurl and the rest of you….but come on! real Texas experience? Austin really isn’t that different, and I think the Texas stereotypes are exceedingly unfair as I have encountered more small-mindedness, borderline-racism and general meanness after I left Texas than I did when I lived there.
    True, Texas has its own share of the afore-mentioned cultural problems, but after living across a wide swath of the United States, I cannot see how small town Texas is any different than pockets of the Appalachians, rural NY, the Midwest, etc. etc.
    And I’m proud that when people visit they always come back and tell me how nice, enthusiastic and open they found most Texans to be.
    So Gayla….
    Re: Austin: it is ecologically unique because the river valley provides an abundance of lush, rich vegetation that makes the early summer absolutely delightful. We love our wildflowers, but it might be a bit early for the bluebonnets (keep an eye out anyway, though)
    You’ll find some great kitsch at Toy Joy on Guadalupe Street, and that’s right on the main drag that runs next to UT, so pop into the student bookstore for longhorn related stuff. There also used to be a little street market in an empty lot next to the bookstore, so look for that as well.

  12. hehe….it was pointed out to me by a work friend that perhaps I might be “overreacting” to the perception that certian err stereotypes are being perpetuated in the above posts. chalk it up to homesickness. I do miss the avacado margs

  13. hehe….it was pointed out to me by a work friend that perhaps I might be “overreacting” to the perception that certian…err…stereotypes are being perpetuated in the above posts. chalk it up to homesickness. I do miss the avacado margs

  14. Welcome to Texas! I agree with TexGurl when she suggests that it is imperative that you not leave the state without TexMex. If you’re strapped for cash, Taco Cabana. Heck, my husband and I can eat in fancy restaurants, but we’ve probably eaten far more Taco Cabana (and I’m Hispanic, so I should know from TexMex). Their margarita’s aren’t too shabby either, and they’re much cheaper than an upscale place!

    I also agree that Austin is not a great place to get the full feel and flavor of Texas. Too bad you didn’t get a little further south. San Antonio might have helped a little more with that Texas experience you were craving! (Want to see a whole lot of wide open nothin’? Make the drive down!)

    Hope you have a great time!

  15. I moved to Austin about 2.5 years ago. It’s like an oasis in the middle of Texas — I love it here! I second the person who suggested you go to Pulvo’s and Bouldin Creek. If you want to see some funky things it’s also fun on South Congress, and the grounds at Laguna Gloria and Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center are beautiful. Another restaurant that just re-opened is Mother’s on Duval St. It’s amazing!!

  16. I don’t know if you mentioned what hotel you’re staying at, but for a great botanical experience check out the Hotel San Jose on South Congress. Wonderful garden experience – and they have drinks/dj in the outdoor courtyard. I always stay there when I’m in Austin.

  17. FishTX: You know I’m just teasing right? and making fun of myself too… So far everyone has been EXCEEDINGLY friendly. I am LOVING it here!

    ‘Scaper: I saw the Hotel San Jose earlier this evening. Gorgeous.

    To Everyone Who Mentioned Polvos: Went there for lunch today. REALLY YUMMY. And the horchata was way better than the crap you get in Toronto.

    TexGurl: I really want to see the bats but am told it is too early and cold still.

    Peter: That’s great!

  18. So- would you belive that I woke up to a little blanket of snow here in Alabama? The heart of the Deep South?? Low tonight= 26ËšF.

  19. FishTX: I in no way meant to insult Texas. I actually think it’s a beautiful state full of beautiful people, and a beautiful ecology for that matter (I miss the wide crooked live oaks and the cactus). I merely meant to say that the Austin version of Texas is really different from the rest of the state (and most people’s expectations about the state). You’re not likely to meet any cowboys there. Here’s to shattering stereotypes!

  20. For stuff go to the University Co-op – things longhorn, Texas, etc.
    Of course you are going to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center – must must.

  21. Anyways after all my cold weather whining it is gorgeous today. I spent 5 hours at the Sunshine Community Garden and I think I may have a sunburn! I wore a hat!

  22. Go to Magnolia Cafe and Kerbey Lane (both restaurants). You’ll be sad if you don’t.

    I miss my hometown of Austin TX and am glad it’s not living up to the Texas stereotype (ewwww).

  23. tell your man to go see the guy giving tours of the universe in the inflatable dome. it’s my husband.

  24. I think you will find that most Texans love visitors as they are exceedingly proud of their state. (I think it has to do with the fact that Texas is the only U.S. state that used to be its own country, as my Texas relatives love to tell me!) I do, though, apologize in advance for any of the “eh?” jokes you get if they learn you’re from Canada. I think it’s just a reflex from all the y’all jokes.

    And one more suggestion: don’t be afraid to use the phrase “all y’all” as in “all y’all have been just great!” It rolls off the tongue really well and will bring a smile to any Texan’s face. Enjoy your visit!

  25. Oh Lucky You! Austin in springtime (or anytime) is a special place. The Hill Country is unique in Texas for its mix of flora and those gorgeous violet crown sunsets!
    You’ve had lots of advice, but I wonder if you have found Las Manitas on Congress (at 1st Ave) yet? Go sit at the counter for a workday breakfast or lunch and start up a conversation. Your story for the folks up north will start right there.
    Do you plan to visit the garden of a rather well known landscape designer and author up in Hyde Park? It’s on the corner and way cool. She’s amazing.
    And please go to Barton Springs Nursery–still the best in town IMHO. It’s not that far from the Botanical Gardens, and they can point you in some interesting directions.
    Have a blast and a margarita for me! God I miss that town.

  26. Gayla wondering if you are still in Austin.I am in Cedar Park which is basically in Austin. I have seeds for you and my greenhouse is waiting for you to pick out a Texas complementary succulent or cactus.Hope you get this e-mail.


  27. Don’t know if you’re still in Austin, but if you are, you *definitely* need to get lunch at Mother’s.

    And if you’re not still there, you should go the next time you’re in town. (; My husband is from Austin. We always go there when we visit — it’s so good!

  28. Howdy! I was just introduced to your site a couple days ago and I’m exploring tonight since I can’t sleep. I hope you enjoyed your stay in Texas. I frequently go to Austin to visit friends. I can’t say I’ve ever had bad food in Austin. I do live in one of those hick counties where every household has at least one shotgun and a pickup truck. There are more head of cattle than people, more oil wells than people, everyone wears boots to avoid the fire ants (who will make it up your pant leg if you wear tennis shoes), and all the convenience stores sell burgers and pizza along with bait and gas. The only radio stations we get are country. It’s a lot of fun living in stereotypical Texas. Hubby and I moved here 5 years ago from Fort Worth and we love it. So peaceful and quiet, we can leave our front door unlocked and keys in our ignitions and not have anything to worry about. Bonus is that I’m only an hour drive from the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Yee Haw! hehe

    For some great Mexican food, here’s a great website:

    And as for Mother’s that Leanne mentioned, a homeless guy burned down the restaurant last year cooking some meat on a grill in the parking lot (which is ironic b/c it’s a vegetarian restaurant), but they are rebuilding so if you ever make it back you must try it.

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