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An Insider’s Guide to Austin, TX

Austin has proved over the years that it’s much more than the state capitol of Texas. Live music plays every day of the week here, so there’s no shortage of opportunities to see your favorite genre of music. There’s plenty to do outdoors, from swimming in a pool made from natural springs to biking around all the trails and parks.

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Image via Flickr

Go Swimming

When the temperature’s hot, the place to be is Barton Springs Pool. The pool is over 3 acres and is filled completely from natural springs close by. With a year round average temperature of 68 degrees F, any day of the year is perfect for taking a dip. The depth ranges from very shallow to 18 feet, so it’s a great place for kids learning to swim for the first time or more advanced swimmers wanting to practice their skills.

Check Out the Bats

A unique and little known fact about Austin is it’s home to the world’s largest urban bat colony. Head to Congress Avenue Bridge to check them out if you’re not spooked easily. If you’re really into bats, make sure to come in August when the Bat Fest takes place. Along with some amazing Texan food and beer, you’ll have the chance to see 1.5 million bats come out when the sun goes down. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

Listen to Live Music

Austin is called the live music capitol of the world, and for a good reason. Almost any night of the week will have live concerts available all over the city for your listening pleasure. Not just limited to country music, everything from reggae to jazz to rock can be found at different venues. Bigger concerts like Austin City Limits and SXSW also take place in Austin, so grab tickets if you happen to be in town during one of those events.

Jerod Slay explains why he loves the city so much:

“Austin is loaded with fun things to do for visitors, from touring our beautiful capitol to cooling off in the natural spring pool at Barton Springs, but one of our favorite things about Austin is still the wide variety of live music you can find on any night of the week.”

Walk or Bike Around Town

The sprawling city has trails all around it to stay active on. Lady Bird Lake is a beautiful place to visit during the warmer months to get a walk in and have lunch overlooking the lake. There’s plenty of parks throughout the city to ride your bike on as well. If you’ll be there for awhile, sign up for one of the many races around the area.

Watch a Race

Adventure junkies will love visiting the Circuit of the Americas. Home to the famous Formula 1 United States Grand Prix, races can be seen here year round. Treat yourself by getting a VIP package to a race complete with a tour of the venue and catering service.

 

Marissa Pedersen

Marissa is a freelance writer, travel blogger, and social media marketing manager from Seattle. She runs the travel blog Postcards to Seattle, which captures all her journeys from around the world. She likes to stay active wherever she goes, from kayaking in Italy to snowboarding in the Alps.

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An Insider’s Guide to Visiting Richardson, TX

Dallas may steal the spotlight when it comes to cities, but make sure you don’t overlook Richardson when visiting Texas. The city is full of activities to do, from spending a day in the park to trying out different food trucks at a park dedicated to them. Add these items to your itinerary next time you’re in the area!

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Image via Flickr by Manish S.

Check Out the Visual Arts Building

The University of Texas hosts this community-based art exhibit, where art displays are donated by a wide variety of artists. Lectures by guest speakers are given regularly, and guest artists sometimes make an appearance. It’s a great way to spend a day indoors that’s just too hot outside, and afterwards you can sign up for a tour of the entire campus.

Richardson Farmers Market

All your exploring will build up an appetite, so there’s no better place to stop than the farmers market. You’ll ge the chance to meet the local vendors and try their food. There’s a huge variety available to purchase, including jams, pickles, and locally grown mushrooms.

Take a Stroll Through Breckinridge Park

If you want to relax in the city, this park is the place to come. There’s over four miles of walking or running trails available, making it the perfect way to spend your lunch break. Many people choose to make a day of it and bring a picnic with their families as well. You can even fish in  one of the lakes in the park.

Try Out Different Food Trucks

Food trucks are all the rage these days, and Richardson is no exception to this. Head to the food truck park to indulge in everything from lobster rolls to snow cones. Local Christopher Migliaccio explains why he loves coming here so much:

“In my town of Richardson, my family and I really enjoy going to the Richardson Food Truck Park.  Everytime we go to this outdoor venue, there is a variety of delicious food to choose from and there is always different food trucks there each time we go there.  The one constant establishment at the Food Truck Park is the Interurban Bar which serves a very refreshing Bishop Cider Nectar.  It is a great stop for the family. ” 

Catch a Show

The Eisemann Center for Performing Arts is a fun place to go for couples and families alike. See different performances including beautiful ballet shows or special Fourth of July orchestra shows. Events happen year round, so there’s always something to see at the center.

Marissa Pedersen

Marissa is a freelance writer, travel blogger, and social media marketing manager from Seattle. She runs the travel blog Postcards to Seattle, which captures all her journeys from around the world. She likes to stay active wherever she goes, from kayaking in Italy to snowboarding in the Alps.

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Follow Me:
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Texas Just Declared Its First World Heritage Site

This past weekend, the five historic missions in San Antonio received official designation as a World Heritage Site. Hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the culmination of a nine-year effort to secure the missions with this elite status, reported San Antonio news station KENS5. The missions join an impressive list of other U.S. World Heritage Sites, including Yosemite National Park, Monticello, Independence Hall, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Officials estimate that the new designation will invigorate tourism to the missions—to the tune of a hundred million dollars and tons of new jobs in the local tourism industry. Want to beat the rush? Here’s what you need to know about America’s newest World Heritage Site.  

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The San Antonio Missions

The World Heritage designation recognizes the historical nature of the missions, which were communities developed by the Spanish in the 1700s to defend against French expansion into Texas and convert indigenous people so that they might become Spanish citizens and help maintain control of Texas.

The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park consists of four visitor areas spaced about two miles apart from each other. The whole region is brimming with chances to learn about Spanish and Native American heritage. Each of the four churches (the first four entries in the following list) are also active parishes.

The missions are:

  • Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuña, or Mission Concepción. Dedicated in 1755, the church is the oldest unrestored stone church in America. Several of the rooms still boast original frescos.
  • Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, or Mission San José. The largest of the missions (its nickname is the “Queen of the Missions”), the building was restored to its original design in the 1930s.
  • Mission San Juan Capistrano, or Mission San Juan. Founded in 1716 in eastern Texas, the mission was transferred to San Antonio in 1731. The stone church, friary, and granary were completed in 1756. A self-sustaining community, residents San Juan produced iron tools, cloth, and prepared hides in addition to growing fruits and vegetables and raising livestock. Surpluses were used to establish a trade network that extended to Louisiana in the east and Mexico in the south.
  • Mission San Francisco de la Espada, or Mission Espada. This was the first mission in Texas and was founded in 1690. Originally founded near present-day Weches, Texas, the mission relocated to San Antonio in the early 1700s and added a friary in 1745. The mission’s residents specialized in blacksmithing, weaving, masonry, and carpentry, trades which influenced San Antonio’s post-colonial transition.
  • Mission San Antonio de Valero, or The Alamo. Founded in 1718, the mission’s era lasted until 1793, when the Spanish converted it into a military barracks and outpost. In the 1800s, the Alamo became a hotly contested military base and served as the site of the battle for which it is still well known today.  

Each of the missions are connected to each other and the San Antonio River by the Mission Hike and Bike Trail, which weaves through old neighborhoods and farmland along eight miles of paved pathways (16 miles out and back). Water is available at each of the missions, but travelers should only expect to find food near Missions Concepción and San José.

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Where to Stay

The city of San Antonio is almost as exciting to visit as the missions themselves. With 20 million visitors arriving each year, the city has developed plenty of exciting places to visit, such as museums, theme parks, nature hikes, and fine dining. Flights into the city are fairly inexpensive, and the city is also home to a wide variety of budget-friendly hotels. The Wyndham San Antonio Riverwalk, Omni La Mansion del Rio, and Hyatt Regency Riverwalk are all great options.

Come for the history; stay for the vibrant contemporary city. The San Antonio Missions have been around for hundreds of years, and with their new designation as a World Heritage Site, it’s clear they’ll continue to make an impact for years to come.

Hippie Hollow Beach on Lake Travis is less than 30 minutes from Austin hotels.

Takin’ it Off in Texas: Beaches Where You Can Sunbathe in the Buff

Texas may be known as the epicenter of the conservative movement, but that doesn’t mean you can’t sunbathe in the buff. While Texas law doesn’t prohibit toplessness on any beach, you need to know precisely what the rules are and where to head to avoid getting arrested for indecent exposure, public lewdness or disorderly conduct.

Officially Sanctioned Nudity

There’s only one official nudist beach in the state. Hippie Hollow at Lake Travis in Austin boasts slabs of rock for soaking up the sun and sliding into the lake for a swim. This site has restrooms, garbage bins and drinking water conveniently located near the lake.

Need to Know: The clothes-free option doesn’t extend to the parking lot, so keep yourself under wraps until you enter the park. You must pay an entrance fee to use the facility.

Stay Nearby: Stay downtown at an Austin hotel to be within a 30-minute drive of Hippie Hollow Park. Sheraton, Hyatt, Hilton and Radisson are just a few of the national chains you can choose from. If golf is your game, Omni Barton Creek Resort and Spa has four 18-hole courses just 16 miles southwest of the lake.

Most Popular Nude Beach

Join the party on UFO Beach on South Padre Island — the area got its moniker when an emergency evacuation pod that looked like a UFO washed onshore. The sandy beach is the state’s most popular unofficial nudist beach, especially during spring break. The beach lies 10 to 12 miles north of Beach Access No. 6. Since you’ll be driving on wet sand, access the site in a street-legal four-wheel drive vehicle. ATVs not licensed for street use aren’t allowed.

Need to Know: The last chance for a porta-potty is at Beach Access No. 5, 3 miles south of Beach Access 6. There is a fee to access the beach.

Stay Nearby: South Padre Island is a four-hour drive from hotels in Houston, or you can stay closer to the beach on South Padre Island. The Hilton Garden Inn South Padre is less than a 10-minute drive from Beach Access No. 6. The hotel has rooms with ocean views, refrigerators and microwaves. You have direct access to a clothing-required public beach and can enjoy amenities such as a beach-side pool and whirlpool tubs.

Away From It All

Explore 60 miles of remote shoreline along Padre Island National Seashore. To access the beach, drive south from the Malaquite Visitor’s Center until you run out of pavement. While nude sunbathing isn’t officially permitted, it’s practiced discreetly. The remote and open nature of the shoreline lets you see a vehicle approaching long before it’s close enough to notice whether you’re naked.

Need to Know: Texas nudity law specifies illegal nudity as intentionally exposing your anus or genitals without regard for whether someone present will be alarmed or offended. Throwing a towel around your lower half while people are within viewing distance is sufficient to comply with the law.

Stay Nearby: Corpus Christi hotels put you within a 30-minute drive from the Malaquite Visitor’s Center. You can find national chains such as Best Western Fairfield Inn, Embassy Suites and Courtyard by Marriott in the area. Stay on the edge of Corpus Christi Bay at Hotel Corpus Christ Bayfront, a hotel with views of the marina and within walking distance of restaurants and city nightlife.

Book hotels in these cities throughout the U.S. to get close to some great local food joints.

The 10 Best Places Across the United States to Chow Down like a Local

Treat yourself to a good meal, festive drinks, friends and family with this list of the 10 best places in the U.S. for scrumptious local fare. From Hawaii to Virginia and everywhere in between, there’s a great restaurant for everyone.

1. Carmel’s Breakfast House, Phoenix, Arizona

This cute restaurant was opened by a local weatherman and serves up local favorites like tartines, Panini and fresh brown-butter scones. Start your day at a great hotel in Phoenix, like the Hermosa Inn, and make your way to this breakfast haven.

2. Taqueria del Sol, Atlanta, Georgia

Locals and tourists flock to this hang-out which serves traditional Tex-Mex flavors, including the house specialty, Beef Enchiladas, with a to-die-for red chile sauce.

3. Grits & Groceries, Belton, South Carolina

Nestled in an old farmhouse, Grits & Groceries is a restaurant and small grocery store that features delicious lunch and dinner fare like homemade pimento cheese sandwiches, grass-feed beef hamburgers and more.

4. Ad Hoc, Yountville, California

This restaurant’s three-course dinners (which change nightly) bring in diners from all over the country. Other favorites include a delectable wine list and the restaurant’s signature cocktails.

5. White House Sub Shop, Atlantic City, New Jersey

Frequented by locals, tourists and celebrities (including Frank Sinatra and Ellen Degeneres), the White House Sub Shop has a large selection of hot or cold sandwiches, including the famous White House Submarine.

6. Elizabeth Street Café, Austin, Texas

A fusion between Vietnamese and French cuisine, the Elizabeth Street Café in Austin is a favorite among locals in and around the city; the restaurant’s most popular dishes include pho (a Vietnamese soup) and pork buns. Try it out for lunch after a stay at the nearby Hotel San Jose.

7. Coconut’s Fish Café, Maui, Hawaii

Set against the panoramic backdrop that is Hawaii, Coconut’s Fish Café in Maui offers up the freshest fish and seafood, including famous fish tacos, seafood chowder, seafood Caesar salad and fish burgers.

8. Swan Oyster Depot, San Francisco, California

This century-old San Francisco culinary institution (which turned 100 years old in 2012) features fresh oysters, crab and more. There are many superb San Francisco hotels nearby, such as the Nob Hill Hotel, to stay at after a delicious meal.

9. Lombardi’s, New York City, New York

Touted to be one of the city’s best pizza places, Lombardi’s features classic pizza pies and more unusual varieties like the famous clam pizza, homemade meatballs and fresh sweet Italian sausage.

10. Cocoro, Chicago, Illinois

Last, but not least, on this list is Cocoro in Chicago; this restaurant features an eclectic menu, including dishes like Pork Terrine, muffuletta and the delicious Short Rib Grilled Cheese sandwich.

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HipHunt: Austin

Between students and tourists, it can be hard to dodge the crowds eager to take in the best drinks, eats and experiences of Austin. Luckily, the Texas state capitol has plenty of quieter spots and lesser known locales to absorb some of that uniquely Texan culture, especially if you spend a day in South Austin, just below the Colorado River. With incredible nightlife, it’s ok to get a late start to your day and complete this scavenger hunt anytime between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m.

The Hotel San Jose opened as a motor court in 1936. While a retro-feel remains, the amenities have been upgraded to offer one of the best hotel experiences in the city. The interiors are both minimal and quirky, mixing kimono-style bathrobes with 1960s concert posters and handmade wooden furniture. And while the hotel is located on South Congress, among some of Austin’s busiest blocks, the lush courtyards keep you secluded and peaceful when that’s desired. Before starting your adventures, borrow a typewriter from the hotel and write out a memory from your travels. Instagram a photo of it with the hashtag #hipmunk to be featured on Hipmunk’s Instagram.

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Since Austin is only chilly for a couple months out of the year, visitors will likely want to take a dip in Barton Springs Pool, a natural spring that is 68 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. It’s easy to rent a bike (Hotel San Jose customers can rent from the hotel) and pedal to the city’s natural beauty in the midst of Zilker Park, only a 13 minute ride away (or just over two miles). There’s a fenced in (and paid) portion of the springs with a green lawn for lounging and lifeguards on duty, but the better experience is just outside that fence where the spring is both free and dog-friendly. Find the friendliest pup frolicking in the water and tweet us a picture @thehipmunk!

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After a dip in the icy spring water, bike back to Sandy’s Hamburgers on Barton Springs Road for a creamy treat. This no-frills burger joint has a walk-up window or drive-thru, with a few picnic tables for those who want to hang out. While it doesn’t look like much, there’s no better warm weather treat than a Sandy’s dip cone or milkshake. Order your treat of choice and Instagram it tagged with #hipmunk so we can all enjoy (and try not to drool).

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 2.21.24 PMWhen it comes to meal time, the restaurants along South Congress and South Lamar can get pretty congested with people. But just a bit East of Congress is Curra’s Grill. Famous for tamales and avocado margaritas, you’ll enjoy a Tex-Mex feast here after a day in the sun. There’s everything from tacos and enchiladas to ceviche and fajitas. What do you recommend off the Curra’s menu? Tweet us your favorite @thehipmunk and let us know.

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Do some shopping, but just to the West of Congress on South First Street. Here visitors can find some truly Texan, and Austin-style, places—think vintage shops and quirky art galleries. Don’t skip past the old-school neon signage at Roadhouse Relics, where you’ll find the Americana creations of artist Todd Sanders. His neon art is in national magazines, the movies of Terrence Malick and Robert Rodriguez and the collections of Willie Nelson and Norah Jones, to name a few. Snap a shot on the side of Roadhouse Relics where you’ll find the iconic Greetings from Austin street art, beloved by locals and tourists alike, which Sanders is responsible for restoring just two years ago. Share on Instagram with the hashtag #hipmunk.

Finally, end your evening on South Lamar, a short drive from South Congress, South First or Barton Springs Road, depending on where you are in your hunt. Find yourself at the Broken Spoke, a honky tonk with real country bands and real country dancing. There’s sure to be a friendly enough Texan to teach you to two-step (if you don’t already know it), and plenty of couples to watch for the wallflowers. Find the best pair of cowboy boots and tweet a picture @thehipmunk!

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6 Hours For Business Travelers In San Antonio

While San Antonio, Texas, is an excellent tourist destination known for the historic Battle of the Alamo and its picturesque River Walk, the city is also an established center for business. The Alamo City often plays host to meetings and conferences for such diversified industries as healthcare, car manufacturing, financial services, and oil and gas. The Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, conveniently located in the heart of the city’s Downtown San Antonio allows business travelers easy access to many of the city’s must-see attractions. Here’s a quick guide for the business traveler (or just the busy traveler!) with just six hours to spare in one of Texas’ gems.

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1:00 p.m.

Check into one of the many beautiful downtown hotels San Antonio has to offer. The Grand Hyatt San Antonio is located next to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, while the Westin Riverwalk San Antonio is on the famous River Walk and only a short 10-minute walk away.

1:30 p.m.

Pop into Schilo’s Delicatessen on E. Commerce Street for a Reuben sandwich, split pea soup and their famous homemade root beer. This German-style deli, housed in a former 19th century mercantile exchange building, has been serving up sandwiches since 1917 and is emblematic of the city’s rich German roots. It’s only a six-minute walk from the Westin or a seven-minute stroll from the Convention Center.

 

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2:15 p.m.

Amble on the famous River Walk, or Paseo del Rio as it’s also referred to in Spanish, one story below street level. There’s an entrance on E. Commerce and Losoya streets only a few steps away from Schilo’s. The River Walk is a series of sidewalks lining the San Antonio River and peppered with restaurants, bars and shops. Construction on the project began as early as 1939 and has continued to be extended away from the down town area. The river is used for many boat parades, including all five of the San Antonio Spurs’ NBA Championship victory cruises and annual holiday lighting ceremonies.

 

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2:20 p.m.

Continue on the river for approximately five minutes until reaching the Hyatt Regency San Antonio hotel. Once inside, walk through the hotel’s specialty-designed pedestrian walkway complete with concrete waterfalls and romantic landscaping reminiscent of indigenous pyramids. The walkway is appropriately named Paseo del Alamo as it leads back to street level directly across from The Alamo Mission. The Alamo was the site of the famous Battle of the Alamo in 1836 during the Texas Revolution. It’s one of five historic Spanish frontier missions in San Antonio that were collectively named a UNESCO World Heritage Site this July. Walk through the mission’s gardens and learn about the battle’s iconic participants, including General Sam Houston, James Bowie, and Davy Crockett. Admission to the Alamo is free.

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3:10 p.m.

After the Alamo, walk to the corner of East Crockett Street and cut through Rivercenter Mall. Do a bit of shopping inside the beautifully sunlit mall. Go down to river level for Marble Slab Creamery ice cream where they expertly hand-mix flavors and toppings into a waffle cone. Enjoy the lovely views of the river and the sounds of the Peruvian woodwind instruments played by the Andean Fusion band, which can typically be found there on the weekends.

 

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3:45 p.m.

Continue south on the River Walk for another 10 minutes until you reach HemisFair Park, located on the grounds behind the Convention Center. The lush park ground has beautiful gardens, cascading waterfalls, fountains and playgrounds. The park is home to the Mexican Cultural Institute, which showcases Mexican artists and classic films. Rise to the top of the city for $11 at the Tower of Americas, the 750-foot rotating observation tower and restaurant, and get 360-degree views of the Alamo City. Grab a coffee or have a delicious meal at the award-winning restaurant Chart House.

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4:30 p.m.

Catch bus 305 at the corner of S. Alamo and Nueva Street (towards S. Main Opposite Johnson) and explore San Antonio’s King William Historic District. Hop off at the Beauregard St. stop, approximately three stops and about an eight-minute bus ride. Walk west on Beauregard and make a left on King William St. to admire the beautiful 19-century homes designed in Victorian, Italianate and Greek revival styles once occupied by early German settlers. King William often hosts various street fairs and celebrations.

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5:00 p.m.

Keep admiring the architecture until you reach Guenther St. and choose to either walk on the street or the river until you reach the Blue Star Contemporary Art complex on South Alamo St. housing various art galleries and brewing company by the same. First Friday is an art walk that happens every first Friday of the month where galleries, homes and businesses along South Alamo St. alike stay open late to showcase artists’ work and offer free wine.

5:45 p.m.

Stroll up South Alamo St. or hop back on the 305 bus until you get to Rosario’s Café Y Cantina at the corner of S. St. Mary’s St. for some delicious Mexican fare. Start with a refreshing prickly pear cactus margarita at the bar. Have the white fish ceviche or the shrimp nachos as an appetizer, then try the chile relleno (stuffed poblano pepper) or chicken enchiladas Suizas.

6:45 p.m.

If you’re still up for a nightcap, head to The Friendly Spot, an outdoor bar known for their micheladas and more than 250 bottled beers to choose from.