San Antonio Sabbatical

Sightseeing Tour: Austin in 90 Minutes

Posted on: December 3, 2010

  • In: Diversions
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Well, I’m down to my final two weeks here in San Antonio.  I’ve been cramming in a lot of sightseeing and food sampling lately because in a couple of days I will be putting my car out for shipping back to the northeast region of the U.S.

Yesterday I made my first visit to Austin, Texas — the state capital and a city known for its weirdness.  Austin is only about 80 miles (a 1½-hour drive on I-35 North) from where I’m currently living.  I had heard a lot of good things about Austin and decided to go see for myself.  Prior to arriving there, I booked a 2:30 p.m. sightseeing tour by van so that I could see as much as possible in the limited time I had available.  The weather was nice for touring; temperatures rose into the 70s.  At 11:30 a.m. I arrived in Austin, parked my car at a meter ($1.00 per hour – 3 hours maximum), and asked a businesswoman who was exiting her office for directions to the Visitor Center.  She was very friendly and generous, giving me almost $3.00 in coins to feed the meter (since neither one of us had enough dollar bills to make the correct change; she refused the $5.00 bill I offered her).  We then walked together for about two blocks since she was heading in that direction anyway.  I was so appreciative of her kindness toward a total stranger and thanked her both in person and in a follow-up e-mail.  At the Visitor Center, I picked up some local information cards, mentioned that I would be taking a tour that afternoon, purchased postcards and a Texas pecan praline candy (yum!), and asked for lunch recommendations.  The friendly worker (Patsy) gave me the names of a few places within walking distance and offered to let me view the menus on their computer.

I ate lunch at Annie’s Café & Bar, one of Patsy’s recommendations.  Annie’s seems like a popular place and it was full of noisy lunchtime diners when I arrived (I was lucky to find a seat).  For a change, I ordered one of my favorite junk food dishes, a hamburger and french fries (“Bistro burger & frites”).  The portions were large — I couldn’t finish it all — and the meal was delicious.  After lunch, I re-fed my parking meter and then went to the Visitor Center to meet my tour.  On the way there, I passed a large colorful sculpture of a guitar on the sidewalk.  Music is a major theme in Austin.

The Austin in 90 Minutes Tour is a narrated van tour of Austin and the surrounding Hill Country.  I booked the reservation ($24.95 plus taxes and fees) through the Austin Tours website.  This tour is run by Austin Overtures and has three daily departures.  My 2:30 p.m. tour had only three tourists — me and two others — plus our driver/tour guide, Maggie, who has been a resident of Austin for the past 15 years.  Austin in 90 Minutes provides an overview of the city by covering a 30-mile radius of its most important features.  Maggie drove us around the area pointing out historical and cultural places while explaining their significance.  Her comments were interspersed with pre-recorded narration that is provided as a safety feature for drivers as they navigate the busy city traffic.  It was obvious that Maggie is very knowledgeable about the Austin area and she is proud of her city.  We drove around the Capitol area, the 50,000-student University of Texas campus (which houses the Blanton Art Museum and the LBJ Presidential Library), the Austin Hill Country where some famous Hollywood stars and athletes have homes, and passed some music venues, eateries, parks, and a variety of other notable buildings and sections of Austin.  I took some pictures but this was difficult to do from the van.  Maggie mentioned that Austin is a popular city for young people, especially college students and recent graduates.  This city has so much history and culture and a vibrant live music scene.  The downtown area and Hill Country show remarkable contrast.  Austin seems to have something for everyone and this adds to its appeal.

My first trip to Austin was okay.  Although I enjoyed the Austin in 90 Minutes Tour (Maggie is friendly and she did an excellent job), I wish I had more time on my own to spend walking around the city.  This day trip was squeezed into my schedule and I was tired from the previous day’s museum visits so I couldn’t fully appreciate all that Austin has to offer.  But, from what I’ve seen so far, I definitely prefer San Antonio as it is more charming in my opinion (e.g., Riverwalk and Spanish-themed architecture), has a lot of Spanish speakers, and has a great contemporary art scene (In general, I prefer visual art over music).  Also, it is more spread out.  Space is a big concern for me because I’m not a big city person to begin with.  The congestion in Austin reminded me of New York City; both have a lot to offer but there are just too many people.  San Antonio has less of a big city feel.  Surprisingly, despite the extreme summer heat, I’ve fallen in love with San Antonio (I never expected to like living in the south) and have added it to my list of places to consider for retirement.

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