Dallas-Fort Worth, TX

The last stop on our mini-Texas tour was Dallas-Fort Worth, which is technically two cities (or one “metroplex“).  We were visiting friends who live about halfway between the two cities, and they’d very kindly offered to show us some of the highlights.  We only had a day in the area so we definitely only scratched the surface of both locations.

First up, we drove into Fort Worth for some brunch.  I’d seen some good reviews for Yolk in Sundance Square, and whilst it was good, I don’t think it was worth the hour way.  We did get to explore Sundance Square whilst we waited which was very relaxed and peaceful on that Sunday morning.  It was also freakishly cold (again!) so we were pleased to finally get into the warmth of the restaurant.

I loved the neon signs around the area, and there were some very pretty old buildings.

Continuing the old theme, we then drove to the historic Fort Worth Stockyards.  I have such little knowledge of American history that I don’t think I understood the significance of the Stockyards, but there once was a lot of cows here (that might be understating some facts).  There still are some cows here who get herded down the street twice a day (we weren’t in time for that), but there’s also cowboys, shops, bars, and a rodeo in the district.  It was fun to wander around and see the wild west – a little cheesy, but fun!

We jumped back in the car and drove the 45 minutes over to the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.  When we were asked what we wanted to see, we hadn’t wanted to spend a significant amount of time in Dallas city centre – we figured that it was similar enough to other big American cities that we’d been to, and as we had such a short amount of time, we wanted to do something different.  The Arboretum looked beautiful, and we were lucky enough to visit when they had both their Fall and Christmas displays out.

It was a grey day, but that didn’t stop us spending an hour and a half here, enjoying their wonderful displays.  I can imagine it’d be stunning in the spring.

We then drove around Dallas for a bit, seeing the big skyscrapers and going passed the infamous grassy knoll.  For dinner, we’d asked for something authentically Texan so were taken to the Truck Yard.  This place was amazing – they have different food trucks every day and if I lived in the area, I’d be here all the time.  Husband had some kind of huge chicken sandwich, I had a hot dog, and we sat people-watching as the sun went down.

I really wish I’d taken a photo of the front entrance as it was covered in lights.

On the way home, we stopped at a Dairy Queen (or DQ as it’s called now) for some ice cream – I have always wanted to try DQ ice cream – it’s one of those places that I saw referenced in TV shows as a teen – and it feels quintessentially American to pick up dessert on the way home.

We were so grateful to our wonderful hosts for showing us so much of their cities.  We only experienced a small slice of this huge state, but loved everything.  Maybe next time we go, it’ll actually be warm (yes, I’m still grumbling about this, two months later.  I’m not over it).

Magnolia Market at the Silos, Waco, TX

As much as I would have loved to spend more time in Austin, we had places to go and people to see, so we checked out of the glorious Archer hotel, jumped into our rental car and found our way to the interstate. We were headed north to a little town just outside of Fort Worth which was about three hours away and fortunately, we were to have an uneventful journey. Built-up Austin gave way to huge endless roads and we were able to take it easy and enjoy the scenery.

In my humble opinion, an essential part of any road trip is stopping along the way, so I planned one “quick” stop pretty much halfway – Waco, Texas. Admittedly, the only thing I knew about Waco was its infamy, but when Googling for places to eat, one place was recommended over and over again, so we had to visit to find out exactly what it was.

Waco itself appeared to be a quiet town – as we drove in, we couldn’t really see much going on, and there really weren’t that many people on the roads. We found some street parking next to an (abandoned?) railway line and walked towards two huge grain silos. Husband was incredibly confused – I had promised him grilled cheese for lunch, and now I was taking him to some rusty old silos?

The Magnolia Market at the Silos is quite an abstract concept for people who aren’t familiar with the programme Fixer Upper ie both me and Husband. I had never heard of it before, so honestly much of the visit to the silos was lost on me but for fans of this show, this is like Disneyland. There’s a shop where you can buy merch, food trucks, a lawn area to sit and play on, some more food trucks, a garden store, bakery, and yet more food trucks.

The food trucks were what we were here for and I naively thought we’d just grab a couple of grilled cheeses, take a few minutes to eat them, then be back on the road in next to no time. You know how I said that Waco appeared to be a quiet town? That’s because EVERYONE IN WACO WAS AT THE SILOS. It was crazy, and despite there being about a dozen trucks, the queue for each one was about 20 minutes long.

The Cheddar Box was our chosen truck. Husband changed his mind in the queue and went for one of the Mac Daddies pots – a cup filled with gouda mac and cheese and bacon whereas I stuck with my original plan of a bacon and gouda grilled cheese. And they were definitely worth the wait. After a quick wander around the perimeter, and about 15 minutes of standing about, we had our hot lunch in our greedy little hands.

It still wasn’t particularly nice weather so I was so surprised that the place was as busy as it was. There were so many people on the lawn, and there was no way we were getting into either the store or the bakery as they were rammed. Good for Chip and Joanna Gaines though – they’ve taken two old silos and made them into the place to be in central Texas. People come from miles around to visit this area that used to be… well, nothing!

Unbelievably, we ended up spending an hour and a half in Waco (which really threw off our schedule) without seeing very much of the actual city but I would have regretted not experiencing the incredible grilled cheese so I’m pleased we did stop. I had given serious consideration to visiting the Dr Pepper Museum and really wanted to walk around the centre of the town as well, but we just ran out of time. I’d scoffed at the Waco travel guides that recommend more than a day in the city, but you really do need more time to explore. Especially if you’re going to spend a day solely going to each of the delicious food trucks of the Magnolia Market – what a life goal.

Dr Pepper Museum in Waco

Austin Day Two

After spending our first day exploring downtown Austin, we drove south of the river and parked up at Zilker Park, very close to Barton Springs Pool.  There was zero chance of relaxing by the pool today as the temperature had dropped further, but there were some brave souls taking a dip in the natural spring water.  I can imagine how beautiful it would be to spend time here in the summer.

We walked along the creek, crossed a footbridge, and continued parallel to Ladybird Lake.  There were a few people out on the hiking trail, but we had much of it to ourselves – the wind was quite harsh coming off the water which I suspect kept people indoors.  As we passed under Congress Avenue Bridge, we could hear (and smell) the hundreds of thousands of bats that live there – tiny little squeaks!  At sunset, people watch them fly out from underneath the bridge – there are some amazing photos to be found online of this phenomenon.  

We continued our walk down South Congress Avenue, stepping over the Bird scooters that had been liberally abandoned all over the place (I didn’t even know they were a thing).  The road was a little trafficy, but it was a lovely to spend the morning checking out the unique shops and restaurants with their glorious signs.

We thought about going into Allen’s boot store but a) it was really busy and b) I knew I end up spending a lot of money on boots I’d never wear, so I settled for just photographing their sign.  We then peered in more store windows before stopping for lunch at Jo’s Coffee, warming our hands around our hot cups because it had turned bitterly cold (I know – I keep complaining about the weather, but it was just so unexpected!).  I spent way too much money on a Jo’s tote bag – in my defence, it’s an amazing tote bag – and headed back to Zilker Park to find the car.  

This walk around South Congress had made me realise that I needed more suitable clothes – the t-shirts I’d packed were not remotely appropriate – so on the drive back to the hotel, we stopped at a few retail parks.  We just visited some standard shops including Ulta and Skechers.  Nothing special, but I really appreciated having the car so we could go and buy an emergency coat from an outlet store!

Back at The Domain, we went on a little wander for some more shopping.  The Domain is a lot bigger than I expected, and we seem to have ended up walking about two miles and even then I don’t think we saw everything it had to offer.  Once we’d had our fill of window shopping, I stopped by the Sprinkles cupcake ATM (conveniently opposite our hotel), Husband stopped by the Apple store (conveniently next to our hotel) and we went back to the room for a little nap.  

We didn’t end up going out for dinner in the end as the Archer’s excellent room service tempted us.  We spent the evening planning for the next day – a nervous drive north to see more of Texas.  

I think we managed to see a lot of Austin over our two days in the city.  If we had more time, we perhaps would have spent some time exploring east and west of downtown, maybe been a bit more courageous with our driving, or visited Lake Travis.  There’s always next time

Austin Day One

With two days in Austin, we wanted to tick off as many sights as possible.  We decided to split the city into two – north of the river, and south – day one being our northern adventure.

Before we flew out, the weather looked really promising – beautiful sunshine and a not-too-hot 25ºC.  We packed t-shirts, sunglasses, and plenty of SPF for me.

What a waste of time that was, because the temperature dropped to 8ºC and we were FREEZING.  I had to buy a coat as we were completely unprepared – it’s Texas for goodness sake, it’s supposed to be hot!  The consequence of this was that some of our walks were not particularly pleasant, and the rain got a little tiresome, but I suppose at least we weren’t walking around in the sweltering heat!

Although we’d hired a car, we decided to get an Uber from The Domain down to the city centre as Husband didn’t feel like trying to find a parking space.  It was a good decision as the traffic was crazy, so we just sat back to enjoy the half-an-hour ride.  

Our Uber driver was very confused by our first stop and checked with us a couple of times to make sure this was where we wanted to be.  Oh yes, this was exactly where I wanted to be.  The Co-Op on Guadalupe Street is three floors of merchandise from the University of Texas – we’re talking flags, bumper stickers, sweaters, children’s clothes, even Christmas decorations.  I bought a bauble.  A BAUBLE!  I am not ashamed to admit that this was my favourite store in the whole of Austin and we spent 45 minutes filling a basket full of Texas Longhorns goodies.  I should have bought more.

After my spending spree, we walked south towards the Capitol Building, stopping to take photos of Jeremiah the Innocent – an iconic mural by Daniel Johnston of a frog saying Hi How Are You.  This was one of my Austin must-sees, but I can’t remember where I saw it first – I’m sure it’s appeared in the titles for a TV show I watched years ago, but no idea what that was.  I’m pleased I’ve seen it in person now.

We wandered around the outside of the Texas State Capitol building for a while, taking photos from every angle.  We were in Austin just days after the divisive mid-term elections which had initially worried us as we thought there might be some unrest, but there was no drama whilst we were there.  The Capitol building and the grounds were very peaceful, quite impressive and imposing and we considered going on a tour – maybe if we had more time.

As we sat in the grounds and watched the visitors (and squirrels), we scoured Google Maps for somewhere to get brunch.  It was only 11am but we were a little peckish after skipping breakfast so we took a little detour to Walton’s Fancy and Staple on 6th Street.  This was a deli/restaurant/florist and I fell in love with it.  We got there when there was plenty of seating, but by the time we left it was packed – I’m so glad we got there early, as we would have missed out on their delicious sandwiches.  

After having the first of many debates with myself over whether to get a tote bag (a recurring theme pretty much everywhere we went), we continued our walk and ended up at the 6th Street Historic District.  We were here to pick up some legendary Voodoo Doughnuts, and spent a good 5-6 minutes just deciding on what to get – their flavour combinations are phenomenal.  The restaurant is cash only (I made sure I had plenty of $$$) and is open 24/7 – I hadn’t realised this prior to our visit and had spent the morning being worried that they’d sell out.  After a really great chat with the guy behind the counter who seemed genuinely excited that we were from the UK, our choices were boxed up and we continued our adventure.

In all of the travel guides about Austin, people raved about 6th Street.  We were there during the day, so we didn’t see it in all it’s neon glory, but honestly we didn’t want to hang around for too long.  It felt kind of… sketchy, and this is coming from someone who has hung out in some very sketchy places.  Neither of us felt particularly comfortable, so we quickly took some photos and wandered further towards the river.  

We didn’t want to cross the river today as that was scheduled in for day two, so instead we walked west down the hiking trail.  It started to rain ever so lightly and the wind was picking up a little, so after a quick Google, we decided to find a place to get some snacks and head back to the hotel.  We cut up West Avenue and found the most amazing building – the Turbine Generator Building of the Seaholm Power Plant.

The whole area has been turned from a decommissioned power station into a new neighbourhood full of residences, shops, and restaurants, and is just a delight to walk around.  I really liked the energy and the atmosphere here, and whilst a few of the retail units are still empty, it definitely has promise.

We popped into the nearby Whole Foods which was very exciting (for boring people like me) because it’s the original one, dating back to late 1970s.  If you like Whole Foods, I highly recommend a visit, but I admit that it’s not going to be top of many people’s list.  

We picked up some water and other fun snacks, then Uber’ed back to our hotel room (with a driver who was not happy about going to The Domain).  Back in the hotel room, we feasted on our Voodoo Doughnuts before having a quick wander around the rest of The Domain.  We did consider going back downtown for dinner that evening, but having walked almost 20,000 steps, we decided to stay local for the night.

Should have got more doughnuts though.

Archer Hotel and The Domain, Austin

We had two days in Austin on our Texas mini-break and knowing we were going to hire a car gave us a bit more freedom than we normally do when picking a hotel – we didn’t have to rely on finding something super central.  I am so pleased that we had this option as we were able to choose one of the best (if not the best) hotels in Austin – the Archer Hotel.

The Archer is located at The Domain shopping and restaurant district in North Austin which isn’t everyone’s idea of what Austin should be, but I loved it.  It was very easy to walk around and we felt very safe even exploring the area at night.  It has everything we need in a holiday base.  Well, almost everything – we missed having a CVS/Walgreen type store, particularly when I urgently (yes, urgently) needed nail polish remover and couldn’t find anywhere that stocked it.  

The hotel itself is beautiful.  We booked a King Suite which was very generously sized with a separate seating area and the most insanely comfortable bed.  There was a wonderful waterfall shower in the bathroom which was stocked full of Malin and Goetz toiletries (my favourite!), topped off by a comfy dressing gown and Archer branded slippers.  The decor was perfect, everything was so clean and tidy – we really couldn’t have asked for anything more.  

We had a great view over The Domain from our huge window where I could see my favourite stores (Sephora and Sprinkles cupcakes), and there were fantastic restaurants just steps away.  We ate at Velvet Taco on our first night and had amazing chicken tacos – I would happily have eaten there again but we were too exhausted after our walk around South Austin so we ordered perfect room service from Second Bar + Kitchen in the hotel.  

I’ve already mentioned the amazing service that the Archer offers, but it really is second to none.  When we arrived, there were caramel sweets waiting for us in the room, and the turndown service came with delicious snacks – we had shortbread one night and a moorish caramel brownie the second night.  I wish we were there for longer.  

As we checked out, we had a great conversation with Nate on the front desk – he gave us valuable advice for our drive up to Fort Worth, we chatted about his visit to the UK a few years ago, and he talked passionately about the hotel brand which has genuinely made me want to stay at the other Archers.  He told us all about the ‘souvenir’ cabinet in the lobby – instead of generic, tired tourist rubbish, each Archer has its own curated range of gifts made by local artists.  The display was almost like a mini gallery, which complimented the rest of the beautiful art displayed around the whole hotel.

We were throughly impressed by our stay at the Archer and should we find ourselves in Austin again, we wouldn’t hesitate to go back.  Not only because we didn’t get to experience their outdoor space like their pool and patio (it was so freakishly cold – more on that in later posts) but also because I really want to see what other turndown treats they offer!