Deep in the heart of Texas!

One of the joys of working from home, is often changing where “home” is. Anyone who has been following my blog or social media posts have probably realized that I don’t like to sit still for long – and changing up my workplace is a reoccurring theme.

Not too long ago I had the opportunity to piggy back on someone else’s business trip by joining them on the 1st leg of the trip to Texas and I jumped on the opportunity.

So after a work trip to Southern California, I met my ride and we headed East leaving the West Coast behind us! Two days later, we arrived in Capital of Texas – Austin!

I’m not sure how many cups of coffee or miles we drove, but my bloodtype was “espresso” by the time we made it to our AirBnB in Austin, TX.

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I heard Austin was “cool” but I was blown away by the unique and creative displays of art, architecture and how lush and green everything was!

If you’ve been reading MatthewGoto.com a while, you’ve probably seen multiple landscapes and murals that I’ve gravitated to across the different cities I’ve traveled to – but Austin takes the cake for creative expression, hands down!

It’s one thing to allow for creativity in the form of large scale art and its a whole new world when its celebrated like it is in Austin.

 From what I learned from conversing with strangers (mostly coffee shop employees and Uber drivers) the creative expression stems from the Hope Outdoor Gallery, which got its start in 2011. While the purpose isn’t as clear as it’s roots suggest (when I was there I saw a ton of people just writing their names), the goal was to create a place for large scale street art focused on inspiration, education and positive messaging.

Either way, I found the park to be inspiring. To know that a city dedicated a place for the outside thinkers, the creatives and those who need to be inspired means its my kind of city. And based on the traffic and amount of people coming and going its a project that deserves the extra funding or support to keep going! I know – its looks like no one is there, but I strategically took photos when I had good shots of the art – without the tourist obstructions of dads in cargo shorts and teenagers posing for their next filtered instagram post.

 From the top of the Hop Gallery structures, there was a pretty impressive view of the Austin skyline! There are a ton of new apartment buildings and highrise’s coming in – which only speaks to the growth and demand of the city. I wish I has the opportunity to visit the park at night to see how lighting brings different pieces to life and to take in the starlit glow of the skyline.  Surrounding the Hope Gallery were shaded trails that were equally painted – which at first seemed a bit vandalized but gave the park a very Alice in Wonderland vibe (assuming you were on the tail end of the caterpillars pipe or were on the same recreational usage as the Madd Hatter). img_2199Even after leaving the Hope Gallery and making my way past the North side of the bridge (separated by the Colorado river) unique murals decorated the parking structures, walkways and facades of almost every blank space you could see.

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While in Texas, its hard to go longer than a few minutes without seeing the Texas flag posted somewhere – Austin is 100% Austin and proud of it. Which shows not only a strong sense of community, but a progressive and welcoming one at that.

But street art aside, Austin is probably (and should be) more well known for its outstanding food options! For the few days we were there, we ate like Kings and didn’t have a bad experience anywhere we went. The food was always delicious, the portions reminded us we were NOT in California and the customer service always left us with a smile.

By popular recommendation, we went to Terry Black’s Barbecue… a MUST if visiting Austin. I was a little hesitant with the “mess hall” set-up where strangers stood in line for their opportunity to scoop the side dished of their choice into paper trays lined up on their medal food trays… But the peach cobbler, mac and cheese and potato salad make up for it and give the place a very “down south” vibe which add to the overall dining experience!Back on Congress Ave, South Congress CAFE was a great dinner option with equally large portions and a cocktail menu we generously made our way through (with no complaints). Congress Ave was filled with places to eat, unique places to shop and my favorite – more street art! But my absolute favorite thing about Congress Ave was that almost every establishment had an old school neon sign. It gave the street a very unique and old school vibe but also lit up the street at night almost welcoming you to explore every corner and stop along the way.

So this is the Californian in me talking (or being a naive millennial) but I had no idea that Austin was the capital of Texas. I cant be the only person – I for sure that Dallas had this one on the bag.

But either way, the State Capital building in Austin was spectacular! It caught my eye when we drove in, stood out when I was looking at the skyline from the Hope Outdoor Gallery and was even bigger and more grand in person.

I enjoyed walking the meticulously kept grounds rich in monuments and facts. And couldn’t have asked for better weather (or lighting) to explore this history rich landmark.

I joked in my instagram story of there being so much #History – because there was! Every statue had a story and stood for some monumental (get it, lol) achievement or mileSTONE (another bad pun – but I don’t care if you laughed, I did).

Now to my favorite part of Austin… It has got to be one of the most active and outdoorsy cities in America, right?!?! I mean there were people running, riding bikes, going for walks, paddle-boarding, canoeing and walking there dogs everywhere… Okay, the paddle-boarding and canoeing was just in the river – but you see the picture I’m painting.

Not only were there beautifully landscaped and paved walkways along both sides of the river and downtown, there were trails and paths carved out as well making this the perfect place for cyclists (especially those with road bikes and mountain bikes)!

The bridges were also lush with park benches, colorful planters and perfect picture opportunities to take in the views of (the growing) downtown area.

And it was hard to cover ground on the trails because every so often there was a break in the trail to provide river access for the canoes, paddle-board and kayaks. You could bike or run right by them, but after a long workday bouncing from coffee shop to coffee shop I loved taking the short breaks to enjoy more of what mother nature had to offer.

Even on a weekday, there were plenty of people out on the river taking in all that Austin had to offer. Between biking between coffee shops I always noticed there were always people on the water – which made me wonder, what the hell do these people do all day that they can spend hours on the river on a Tuesday?!?! I’m not mad – just tell me your secret!

While I wish Silicon Valley had these kind of walkable and photo worthy places to stop and enjoy – but Ya’ll (and yes, I mean YA’LL) can keep the Texas heat and humidity.

img_2264 I don’t know much about space or geology – but Texas must be 100 miles closer to the sun than California. You can quote me on that, not being an astronaut or geologist my uneducated assumption felt pretty accurate.

Even on opposite ends of the bridge and miles away from the Hope Outdoor Gallery there were reminders of the inspiration and optimism. After seeing this mural stretched between city blocks I googled the Hope Projects and found out that H.O.P.E. actually stood for Helping Other People Everywhere – an awesome mission that extends much farther and deeper than graffiti and colorful artwork.

 And when seeking shelter from the sun (even at 6:00pm in the afternoon) I found even more murals between a parking garage and movie theater. You can’t see the details of the mural behind my narcissism above, but there where classic movie posters set as the background to colorful art and Texas imagery.

 And back on Congress Ave among the restaurants and shops were plenty of tourist traps, that I of-course flocked to like catnip. The “I Love You So Much” stop was on my to do list, but unfortunately the line of people to take selfies was too long – don’t get me wrong, I love a good selfie (see items #148-165 above) but I prefer a casual selfie and not 300 angles and options to be filtered and painted for future sharing.

I couldn’t pass up this photo opportunity – for my love of Coffee and well, Love… Shoes and Sunglasses aren’t the top of my “Need” list – but since they were on the sign, I’ll take it!

This mural was on the side of one of my new favorite coffee shops (my next post is dedicated entirely to Austin Coffee Shops, so if you want to know where this is – stay tuned)!

And we ended our final night in Austin, Texas doing something unique and one of a kind – paddle-boarding Lady Bird Lake / the Colorado River at sunset with light up paddle-boards!

Through AirBnB we found The Adamson Bro’s who run their “Glow Paddle” Paddle Board Tours from the Texas Rowing Center in Austin, through Lady Bird Lake. I’m pretty adventurous and I’m a sucker for fun new excursions – and this is an activity I’d gladly do again tomorrow! Our guides were awesome, knowledgable and up for some good conversation – and the unique experience of paddle boarding the lake with neon lights fluorescently lighting the way was one of the best lasting impressions of Austin we could have asked for.

The experience was so unique and fun that I didn’t get much video footage from it or the steadiest of photos – but if you are ever in Austin, do yourself a favor and book your boards now!

You can check out 60 seconds of our tour on my Vimeo channel, not the greatest footage – but you can appreciate the gorgeous Texan sunset and the glow of Austins skyline over the water.

I know these are blurry photos – but when your photographer is on a stand up paddleboard you are just grateful they get the photo and your GoPro doesn’t find its was to the bottom of the lake.

I wish we had more time in Austin than the few afternoons to explore after long workdays – but I got a healthy taste of it and I am eager to return sooner than later to see more sights and sounds – and to paddle the lake one more time… maybe this time I’ll stay in focus! =)

Austin quickly became one of my favorite cities – in so many ways. There is so much more I want to see, taste and explore so I’ll be back soon!

Excited to share my next post showcasing the different Coffee Shops I had the honor of experiencing per locals and friends recommendations!

If you have any recommendations of your own, please comment and let me know! My next trip to Austin will be 0% work and 100% play and I’m going to have to plan accordingly to fill my days with everything I want to do!

Stay tuned, the #AustinCoffeeTour post is coming soon!

Till we meet again, Austin!