It’s become an annual tradition. Every spring, before the planting season really takes off, I take a trip without my Carrot to somewhere new with some of my favorite people. It’s just the reset button I need to make it through another farming season and has become, in my opinion, a non-negotiable part of my farming life. In 2015, it was New York City to visit some of my favorite college gals. Last year, it was Nashville with 22 rowdy ladies for a bachelorette party. This spring it was Austin with my mama.
Our trip began with a long drive to Austin. An hour in, we began spotting blue bonnets all along the roadside. Another hour closer to Austin and we witnessed people pulled over everywhere, snapping photos of the beautiful blue flowers. I started Googling and discovered that the legendary Texas wildflower season had come a few weeks early this year. This blue specks were Blue Bonnets! We canceled our vague plans of heading to downtown Austin for exploring and ventured to the Hill Country instead.
We wound through beautiful landscapes scoping out blue bonnets all along the way. In my Google quests for some of the best blue bonnet viewing spots, I stumbled upon an iconic diner (our favorite!) of the same name tucked into the hills at Marble Falls. I got a breakfast sandwich and copious amounts of coffee. Mom got the chicken livers with a massive side of country gravy. Though completely stuffed we still couldn’t resist the pies. There was just enough room for pecan and lemon meringue.
We continued to wind around hill country in search of the best blue bonnet spots and finally had great success at Pace Bend Park.
After getting our fill of wildflowers (for today!), we headed to what can only be described as an amusement park of beer and food at the Oasis Brewery. The third floor brewery on the shores of Lake Travis was the most amazing spot to linger. The view over the lake was stunning and the flights of beer and pear ginger cider only added to its beauty. We met up with my little cousin and his girlfriend, then gorged ourselves on classic Austin fare- BBQ, queso, elote and slaw.
By ten it was time to drop my mom off to the hotel and head downtown. Sixth Street on the Saturday night of spring break was a little too much for me to handle. We found our way to the Driskill Hotel bar, a place that can only be described as pure Texas. President Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson had their first date right in this very bar. I loved it.
Because I can’t visit anywhere in the spring without a trip to the local market, we began our Sunday by visiting the HOPE Farmer’s Market. This quaint little market did not disappoint. With artists, farmers, chefs, bakers, non-profits, live music and hula hoops, it one of the best markets I’ve ever been to . I filled up on pastries, perogis and tamales before enjoying a giant cup of iced yaupon tea and somehow running into the only Texans we know. We chatted in the sunshine, I grabbed a can of kombucha for the road (what?!) and we were off in search of more wildflowers.
We found ourselves at The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center a true work of beauty. The paths under live oaks, fields of flowers and beautiful architecture all made it worth the drive. Watching Athena the owl only added to the charm of this truly magical place.
The Picnic Food Cart Park brought many tasty samplings (like veggie flaquities and blood orange popsicles). Cousin and his lovely girlfriend parted ways, headed back home to San Antonio while my mother was stuck with me for the rest of the night. We headed to Zilker Park, got a halfway across a pedestrian bridge until we were utterly transfixed by a kayak water polo practice. Only a few miles from South Congress, we rented some bikes and peddled our way across town for some dinner.
It was Sunday evening so many of the patios were closing down early. Our first choice spot was unavailable (the Guero’s Taco Bar patio is just so Southern entangled by live oaks). We wandered a bit further and instead found ourselves at the South Congress Cafe. The patio was charming and the food turned out to be my favorite of the trip. A champagne poached pear salad with arugula, baby kale, burrata and candied pecans was beautiful and delicate. The seared hamachi with citrus, avocado, mache, more pears and a roasted serrano lime vinaigrette was some how better yet. This being our fourth meal of the day, I had to send my menu away to resist ordering more.
We biked back down South Congress at nightfall and somehow managed to see the site of the century (an exaggeration, but barely): millions of bats flying out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge.
By day three in Austin, we felt like we’d experienced it all. We’d had adventure and good luck, urban and nature. Now it was time to focus on getting real touristy. We started at the Texas State Capitol and it was immediately clear their legislature was in session. The whole building buzzed with politicians, citizens and lobbyists. After seeing a farmer’s market and/or grocery store, my next favorite way to experience a place in by stepping foot inside their center of government. I find the history and commotion beneath these walls absolutely powerful. Visiting the Capitol had little to do with the famous pink exterior– though that was pretty cool too.
A trip out of town to the a sprawling expanse of a restaurant called The Salt Lick was next on the super tourist agenda. The turkey sandwich (smoked for hours, roast to perfection on the grill and piled high with pickles, onions, lettuce, tomato and mustard) was a surprise highlight. The chocolate pecan pie was a very close second.
Bellies stuffed, we headed back towards downtown Austin in search of the Treaty Oak after a recommendation from Sarah. The tree is the last surviving member of the Council Oaks, a grove of 14 trees used as a sacred Native American meeting site, and also survived a poisoning in 1989. Then we moved on to exploring the surrounding area, including a stop for pastries and visit to the most eclectic, meandering antique shop I’d ever seen. We dashed across town to a happy hour at the Moonshine Patio and enjoyed a quick round of drinks and pretzels with spicy pimento cheese spread before heading to the legendary Continental Club for (somehow) our first real live music of the trip. The Peterson Brothers, who play there every Monday night, did not disappoint. Their love of music and each other was infectious.
Day four of Leek & Leek Mom adventure took us to Waco! It was easily the most spastic of our days as I geeked out over every little thing and made my mom follow ridiculously obscure directions to every Fixer Upper site I could find. I swear we did some non-obsessive things (like walk across the suspension bridge and grab breakfast at the sweetest little coffee shop), but mostly I just navigated my mother around the city (usually in circles).
We began at the site Chip & Joanna most recently purchased (The Elite Cafe) and then moved on to Clint’s wood shop, the original Magnolia store, and the beautiful historic garden where Chip & Joanna got married. Once we had finished the “normal” sites, I got a little deeper into the woods (figuratively), winding us through charming (and not so charming) neighborhoods past three beautiful Fixer Upper renovated homes. We even took a (pretty long) trip out of town to see Jimmy Don‘s iron design shop and waved at the guests of The Magnolia House. Driving windy rural Texas roads past working farms and narrow creeks searching for these sites was a surprisingly lovely addition to our Waco day.
Last on our list, the site of all sites: we made our way to The Silos. Again it was evidence that everything is bigger in Texas. Much like the giant Oasis Brewery had a theme park crazy feel to it, this stop had a similar energy. People milled about excited to go from one place to the next. The retail store and garden store were lovely, not so much places to shop as places to inspire creativity. Food carts lined the back of the property which opened up to a space intended for lounging. I got the grilled cheese on French toast with thyme-scented onion jam and bacon. Shaded picnic tables, swings, and giant striped bean bag chairs encouraged us to stay and enjoy. Yard games sprawled out on the lawn. Children were running in every direction. Flowers and herbs were tucked into every corner. The charming Magnolia Bakery had a line round the block. The Silos stood tall looking down on everything with their industrial whimsy.
As a child who grew up playing at small-town feed mills staring up at the giant silos while my farming parents conducted important business only to grow to adulthood and see them close down, this place held more than just charm and whimsy. The creativity and love given to this iconic spot to give it new life was beyond inspiring. I know Chip and Joanna are quickly turning into a billion-dollar empire, but I love their ability to take old, oft neglected places and bring them new life. I love the attention to detail and re-purposing of things in new, unexpected ways. It was the perfect place to end a beautiful trip of great food, sunshine and flowers.