I knew a few months ago that a childhood friend would be getting married in Houston, Texas this April. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the festivities would fall during Semana Santa– the week before Easter when Bogotá virtually shuts down.
The timing seemed like fate, as Austin had been on my list of US places to see for some time, and is only 2 hours by car (duh “by car”… it’s Texas) from Houston. Besides, more and more people had been telling me that Austin is “just like San Francisco!” and, as I’m becoming more protective of my new home’s reputation, I wanted to see for myself.
Joe and I stayed at an Airbnb off of South Congress Ave, on the south side of the river and within walking distance of several restaurants, bars, and live music venues. Despite our cloudy, rainy weather, we loved meandering around the neighborhood. The food was good, the beers were cheap, and there was plenty of live music. I loved South Congress’ mix of antique shops and cowboy boot stores with contemporary boutiques and local artwork. What I didn’t love, however, was that Austin isn’t pedestrian-friendly at all. It felt – just like the rest of the state – that the city was built around the car. Even on South Congress Ave, a destination meant for bar hopping, wide streets and minimal crosswalks make it less-than-fun to be a pedestrian.
Although Austin has kicked out Uber and Lyft, there are local car sharing services (Fasten and Ride Austin) to get around town, as well as the bus system. When we ventured outside of the South Congress neighborhood, we hit up other notable tourist destinations including: Gordough’s Big Fat Donuts + Austin’s maybe million other food trucks, Rainey Street, Mozart’s Cafe along the Colorado River, Stonehouse Coffee, and the Alamo Drafthouse to see Get Out.
Before leaving Austin, we wanted to/had to hit up Franklin Barbecue. Personally, I had just watched a mouth-watering scene of people cutting into the restaurant’s brisket in The Chef on Netflix; Joe had read about Franklin’s on food blogs. But both of us were intrigued by the so-called Best BBQ on Earth that sells out daily to customers who wait hours to get a taste.
So, we got up early on a Wednesday in Austin and drove to Franklin Barbecue, arriving a little after 9am for a restaurant that opens at 11:30. They open the restaurant doors around 10am, if you need to go to the bathroom or want to buy some beers, but other than that, you sit and you wait patiently. It’s a thing. There’s a cute coffee stand in the parking lot, and Franklin’s provides lawn chairs. The staff is super friendly and comes outside continuously to let you know approximate wait times. Franklin’s runs the entire operation like a well-oiled machine. Fortunately for us, it was a cool, overcast morning. We just sat and read and talked to the people around us until doors opened, but I can’t imagine waiting during the heat of a Texas summer.
By 12:30pm, a mere 3-ish hours after arriving, Joe and I were seated and elbow deep into our BBQ feast. It was delicious, obviously. At Franklin BBQ, they slow roast their meat all night, and it shows in the flavor. We ordered the famous brisket, pulled pork, ribs, sausage, cole slaw, and potato salad for a steep $61. Needless to say, we didn’t eat anything else for the rest of the day.
So, no, Austin is not San Francisco. And San Francisco is not Austin. I suppose both have this “cool”, young vibe and outdoorsy spots in the middle of the city; but Texas is far more reliant on cars and SF is more obsessed with cutting edge technology and restaurants. And that’s fine. The live music, the food trucks, the Colorado River, and the drastically cheaper cost of living made me like Austin all on its own.
After a few days of exploring, we took our car rental 2.5 hours east, passing from the liberal enclave of Austin, past the “God Bless Texas signs” and billboards of Bible verses, to the diverse metropolis of Houston. Oh, Texas.