If you're looking for a fun adventure, Texas is the place to be! Surprised? We were a little too, but this trip was one of the most adventurous domestic trips we've taken. It's been a year and we're still talking about our Houston/Austin road trip and decided it's time we share it on the blog!
If you're less into reading and more into videos, you can watch our highlight reel here! If you watched the video and want a little more detail on the activities, you're in the right place!
Trip Outline (our expectations)
Living on the east coast we don't hear all too much about Houston; however, it happens to be the capital of the YouTube fitness community, and we love the YouTube fitness community. When we realized we'd have the chance to attend a bodybuilding event in Houston, I signed up for the United Mileage Plus card and used the sign on bonus miles to book Eric and I two free tickets. (Sign up for this amazing card here!)
Outside of the fitness community, we didn't know anything about Houston and wanted to make sure we made the most of our trip to Texas. We decided to extend our stay and road trip from Houston to Austin after the competition. After all, we had heard tons about Austin and how it's a must see. We actually almost moved to Austin on a whim a few years ago (without ever having visited), but that's a story for another time...
From the moment we got into our rental car in Houston we were surprised by all it had to offer. It was more sprawling than we had thought and the city itself felt more like a suburban area than a city at all. Everything felt foreign to us because we had never driven around a city that looked so much like...a town? Sure there are clusters of apartment buildings and a few high rises, but overall the energy was much calmer. I was digging it right away.
We stayed in an Airbnb in the heart of Houston and absolutely loved our place. The location was perfect for many reasons, but mostly because the best dim sum restaurant in all of Houston was about 50 yards away from our door. In fact, we spent most of our time in Houston eating. More people should be talking about the food scene in Houston, it's beyond incredible!
Wanna Bao - steps from our Airbnb.
In between meals we explored downtown and dodged a few rain storms (if you can even call them that - the rain there is on another level). Despite the muggy weather, Houston captured my heart and I decided I never wanted to leave. There's an energy there that I have a hard time explaining, but it felt so homey.
We took a day trip to NASA, which on it's own was entirely worth our car rental. We've visited a lot of museums, and I have to say this was one of the better ones. They do a great job at making the information entertaining and interactive - and that's saying a lot coming from me! Our car also allowed us to find all the best coffee shops and what is still our favorite bakery in the world, Common Bond. After eating our weight in croissants each day, we realized we were in town for a fitness competition and decided it was time to get ourselves in line.
We attended the Summer Shredding Classic, met some of our fitness idols, and worked out in the famous Alphalete Gym. These experiences were life moments for us, and I have no doubt that experiencing the Alphalete community helped me fall in love with Houston. The energy of that fitness community and the overwhelming support and pride that comes with it brought literal tears to my eyes. While this experience is not for everyone, I do recommend a stop at Alphalete for any fitness-lovers that want to experience the unique atmosphere.
Before leaving Sugarland and Houston area, we made one final stop at Shipley's Donuts (priorities) and then hit the road! Destination: Austin.
Everywhere In Between
The road trip between Houston and Austin is about 3 hours and it'll take you through the cutest small towns that look like something out of a movie. I honestly feel bad grouping all these amazing places together into one category, but I'd highly recommend taking the drive through all of them. Although the drive is about 3 hours, we gave ourselves a whole day so we could take our time at each of the stops. Some of the major stops along the way include:
Blue Bell Creamery
Before I even start talking about Austin, I feel the need to mention that I was still wearing my heart-eyed-Houston glasses, and unfortunately, Austin suffered because of that. Have you ever had the most amazing trip of a lifetime and then everything after that feels kinda blah? That's what I suffered through in Austin. I had a great time, but the overall vibe of the town was just not what I had imagined. I'd love to give it another shot, but as of right now I'm just not sure it's the type of place for me. That doesn't mean others don't like it though, so I'll continue :)
We arrived in Austin just in time to check into our next Airbnb, and we quickly realized we weren't in Houston anymore. Our apartment was in a true high rise building downtown, which came with a gorgeous view of Lady Bird Lake. While the view was quite possibly the best you'll ever see, the apartment owners operated it like a hotel and it was clear they didn't feel the need to bother with any additional amenities. The apartment was fine, but it was a definite reminder of why I prefer the personal touches of Airbnbs over commercialized hotels. Plus they only gave us one roll of toilet paper, and I mean, c'mon.
Airbnb aside, it was time to explore the city! We had such high expectations for Austin because well, everyone loves Austin. We parked our car in the garage and set our feet to pavement to see what this place was all about! We decided to stay right in downtown so we could have the easiest time walking within the city, but we realized about 30 minutes into our walk that there really wasn't much around. Hotels, corporate buildings, some shopping...but that's all. Kinda a bummer.
Thankfully we decided to keep the rental car for the first few days in Austin so we used that to get around. We actually spent our first full day in Austin leaving Austin so we could road trip to San Antonio. San Antonio was HOT and BUSY so we made quick work of the big items (the Alamo and the river walk) before we high-tailed back out of there. Honestly, my favorite memory from that day was when we stopped at Buc-ee's in New Braunfels, TX, which happens to be the biggest convenience store in the entire world. Buc-ee is our buddy, the River Walk in 110 degree weather is not.
We returned our car and ended up conducting the rest of our trip by foot and Lyft (which made me wish we had kept the car). My overall recommendation on Austin and rental cars: If you're visiting for a drinking trip and plan to spend most of your time in the 6th street area, don't worry about a car. If you're in Austin to literally do anything else, you'll want access to a car. We made walking work most of the time, but there were definitely areas/times I would have felt safer in a car. There were also a few restaurants and areas we didn't get to explore because the walkability wasn't friendly.
Some blogs had mentioned that we could walk to Barton Springs, so we popped the address in Google and headed off to do some swimming and sunbathing. The 20 minute walk turned into a 40 minute hike past some pretty sketchy areas of the river (we did this on the 4th of July so there were a lot of people out partying.. not sure if it's truly a seedy area or if the holiday brought out some characters). Either way, it was probably the most uncomfortable I had felt all trip. The pool at Barton Springs itself was a friendlier atmosphere and I had never felt so happy to lay in the grass in the sun. We certainly earned our relaxation that day!
We learned our lesson and utilized ride share the rest of the trip when we were in doubt. We checked out 6th street while we were there and honestly it wasn't our vibe. The crowd was super young, like super young, and it had a bit of a dark energy. We decided to stick to more day-time activities, including: a roller rink, an improv comedy show, the state capital, and transit to a kayak launch for a sunset kayak trip. All of these were incredibly fun and I recommend them to everyone. Surely they're not the "typical" Austin adventures, but by now you know better than to expect that from us!
The sunset kayak trip was our highlight of Austin. It truly isn't every day you can paddle down a river with view of a city skyline. This trip was an Airbnb Experience hosted by a local, which gave us first row access to all the best info. Our guide let us kayak on our own then called us to the Congress Ave bridge to watch the bat migration as the sun set. Most tourists stand on the bridge and watch the bats wake up for feeding, but the view from under the bridge was truly incredible.
Overall, Texas was full of surprises for us! We fell in love with Houston, the quiet underdog of Texas. And we were surprisingly unprepared for Austin, making it seem a little over-hyped. My best advice for any trip, but Austin in particular, is to do your research! Might seem simple, but we definitely thought a place as popular as Austin wouldn't need so much prep work and that was an obvious miss on our end.
Have you been to either of these cities? Which was your favorite?