Self checkout. One of the greatest advances of the 21st century, and executed beautifully by Farm Aire at ABIA (AUS). Ok, I may be lacking in history expertise, but I do have an eagle eye for convenience and I love doing things all by myself. This little kiosk allows travelers to quickly pick up delicious real foods prepared by Annie's next door, swipe their card, and be on their way to board a plane near Gate 21 in less than 60 seconds. Mama like.
FYI, it's the same menu of fresh sammies, wraps, & salads as Annie's, but cold & pre-packaged to fly. If you prefer your sandwiches to be grilled or you want something on a plate, you'll need to get in line and order from the counter across the way.
Checkout station is near the window.
If you happen to work in this complex, and you're looking for a way to add to your daily exercise routine, don't rule out the Riata Fitness Center. It's not fancy, but it'll do.
Compared to some other corporate office park gyms, I doubt that Riata's would win any contests. The equipment is fairly old and the variety of options in the small space is limited. On the other hand, everything seems to be in working order and I never have trouble getting right on a machine, no matter what time of day I come in. The AC is freezing and the water cooler is always full of good tasting cool H2O.
Since my big summer fitness kick began (thanks, Jawbone UP24!), I seem to visit this gym every weekday -- I mean, I gotta get my daily 10,000 steps in! It's great to be able to pop in for 10 or 15 minutes on the treadmill or elliptical during the work day, or go for a full 60 at lunch. Then after work, if the weather at the wonderful Riata Park trail next door is still too hot or wet, I can always drop back in for some resistance training on the Cybex machines.
I wish the wi-fi signal were more reliable and the TV volume could be muted (or turned off altogether), but I just use earbuds and apps on my phone to tune out the blaring CNN with my personal music or podcast stations.
Best times to visit? Anytime. From 8am to 7pm, I've never seen more than 4 people in here at a time and it's usually just me or maybe one other person.
I am gonna be so buff! Taking a new job back at the Riata Corporate office complex means I really have no excuse. I can exit my office every day and head straight over to the gorgeous half mile loop in Riata Park. The trail is level and well-maintained, the pond view is beautiful, and there's shade on at least 1/3 of the course (more if you choose the wooded hiking path on the south side). Plus, with my office access card, I can head indoors for showers, restrooms, & freshening up afterward.
Members of the general public, don't despair. You, too, can enjoy the awesomeness that is the 7 acre Riata Park. It's managed by the City of Austin and open to all. Amenities include:
+ shaded picnic tables
+ water fountains
+ a very nice playscape, shady in the evenings
+ 2 tennis courts
+ shaded Parcourse Fitcenter (for stretching & strength training)
+ several dog poop patrol stations
+ wet pond full of interesting flora & fauna
+ friendly fellow walkers/runners/bikers/dogs/kids
Park behind Bldg. 9 of the Riata Corporate complex on the south side of the park to easily access the playground or tennis courts. The lot is generally full during the business day, but evenings and weekends are no problem.
Evenings just before dusk are a great time to get down to the water's edge below the dam in the northeast corner of the pond. If you bring some bread crumbs, you'll meet several types of fish, turtles, and water fowl. Most surprising is the school of large gold and white koi (up to 2 feet long!) that seem to have been re-homed from one of the smaller ponds in the adjacent office park.
So nice to know that we northies don't always have to waste time in traffic to go downtown to Town Lake. We've got a gorgeous place to run, walk, exercise the dogs, and take the kids to feed the ducks right up here at Riata Park.
Psst. Wanna go on an adventure? Let's pretend we're wilderness explorers. Bring your machete, because you'll need it to get through some of dense thickets in Yett Creek Park. Wear your muddin' boots if it's rained recently, as the place gets pretty soggy and there is not way to cross the creek without getting wet. On the other hand, we'll be communing with nature with nary another human around, and we might see some interesting critters like birds, bunnies, deer, coyotes, and such.
Yett Creek Park is a little known undeveloped forested patch of 40 acres in North Austin just west of the Milwood neighborhood and southeast of the big Apple business park off Riata Vista Circle. A maze of rough, flat trails flanked by tall grass and thick brush await the determined hiker or dog walker. The marked trailhead on the Apple side is just past the Zimmer Spine parking area, but you can also enter the trail system from the back side off West Cow Path in the Angus Valley neighborhood.
While the park is managed by Austin Parks & Recreation, it doesn't appear to get much attention from the City. The local neighborhood association organizes semi-annual clean-ups, but it's clear as of July 2014 that the trails haven't been touched in quite some time. According to the internet (angusvalley.org/2013/05/…), the City has proposed to turn half of this park into our newest off leash dog trail, so new amenities and regular park maintenance may be forthcoming soon.
It's possibly the last cool weather weekend of the spring before the crushing heat of summer arrives in Central Texas. We want to go camping, and by "we", I mean 4 fairly high maintenance adults, 2 tenderfoot youngsters, and 1 small dog. We can't take Friday off to spend half a day driving, so what do we do? Amazingly, we found the perfect destination within 45 minutes of Austin and they still had spaces available on Tuesday afternoon. Reservations made in a snap online for Taylor Park!
Why do I say perfect? For $22 per night (a bit steep as camping goes, but I'm okay with that, especially split between 2 families), we enjoyed the following:
- fresh water
- BBQ grill
- fire pit
- covered pavilion with large picnic wooden table
- adjacent shady hiking trails
- lakeside fishing within a 10 minute hike
- clean showers, sinks, and toilets within a 5 minute walk
- quiet but friendly neighbors
- paved pathways for kids on scooters & bikes
- dog friendly
- open spaces for kite flying
- swimming beach at Fox Park & other adjacent parks entry covered for the 3 days of our stay
I have no idea how this place wasn't already booked solid. I can only surmise that since Granger Lake is fairly new as area lakes go (it was built only in 1980), it just isn't as well known as other nearby spots like Inks Lake and Bastrop State Park. Maybe the Army Corps of Engineers parks aren't as well promoted as our state & LCRA parks?
I highly recommend visiting this and any of the Granger Lake parks during the spring, as magnificent wildflower displays can be seen from several areas of the parks. The hike trail takes you through very shaded, forested paths and then suddenly, you round the bend to see a glorious field of 10 different kinds of flowers (including thick bluebonnets and blooming prickly pear cacti). The kids loved all of the wildlife they could see up close: pretty birds, butterflies, fish, snails, and so on. This is Central Texas!
- Be sure to pack in firewood for your pit, as they don't sell it here. We picked some up at Harley's on 183 before we headed out of Austin.
- Pack a hose for the faucets. There are 2 at each site.
- Use a tarp or other ground cover under your tent. The grass is full of sharp sticker burrs.
- Bring a hammock! You'll have trees and the covered pavilion to use as hanging points.
- Use 45N and 130 tolls roads to avoid Friday rush hour traffic. We beat our friends by 20 minutes and they were ahead of us until they hit the traffic in Round Rock.
- Watch out for the poison ivy & oak on the trails.
- Ask the guard house to note on the map which shower houses have hot water; not all of them do.
- Swimming is not really feasible at Taylor Park unless you bring a boat. We drove about 7 minutes down the road to Wilson Fox Park for their swim beach (which is not dog friendly, so you'll have to figure out what to do with any pups in your party).
- Read reviews of Granger Lake yelp.com/biz/granger-lak… for more info about the cool hike experience (including two antique bridges).
- Leave only footprints, take only photos :-)
For unique upscale gifts with a country & western spirit, Five & Tenn delivers items you won't find in the more kitschy shops on Broadway. Located in the long breezeway between the Omni lobby and the back entrance to the Country Music Hall of Fame, the store is convenient to hotel guests and folks visiting the adjacent museum.
Walking in, the place smells like leather. You can see boots, guitars, and a large sculpture of a horse made with driftwood (perhaps from the Cumberland River?). There's a little something for every age group, ladies and gents. Staff members are friendly when engaged, but no one hovers while you shop.
We were drawn in by the window display of adorable ladies' souvenir T's by Dang Chicks with slogans like "Dang Country", "Dang Lucky", "Dang Cowgirl", and "Dang Nashville". Jaw-droppingly priced at $45 each, they were of such high quality and novelty that one of us couldn't pass them by.
My most treasured purchase of the whole trip though was my one-of-a-kind recycled Willie Nelson "Always on my Mind" (1982) album & leather cuff bracelet by Broken Record Vinyl Collection. If I'd been carrying a larger bankroll, I'd have bought up every one the BRVC belts & bracelets to bring back to my music-loving friends at home, but at $82 - $260+ per piece, it just wasn't possible. Every time I wear this handcrafted work of art, I'll be transported back to my Nashville YSB adventure.
Adios, Nashville, and thanks, Five and Tenn!
Pizza Fresh (PF) is a concept that reminds me a bit of Papa Murphy's (PM). You can come in and pick up a pre-made pizza that you then carry home to bake in your own oven. Hence, the "Take-N-Bake" tagline.
What's better than PM (in my opinion) is that with Pizza Fresh, you can order ahead, get a pie made to your specifications, AND they will even bake it for you. The biggest one (the Family size) starts at $10.49 for Cheese and goes up to $14.49 for the Supreme and other classic topping combinations. Salads and buffalo wings round out the simple menu. You also have the choice to select "lighter" crust, which has 35% fewer calories and slightly cheaper prices (about $1 less than the regular).
Not in the mood for a whole pizza? No problem, you can also get pie by the slice or in a combo meal. Only $2 for the plain cheese slice is a bargain, as the thing is huge. This makes an excellent bargain kid's meal for my 7 year old, and we both give the pizza flavor "thumb's up".
PF is co-located with Blimpie sub shop, which is just north of Lowe's and behind UFCU in a new strip center that also houses Blue Banjo and Marakesh. Since it shares a counter with Blimpie, you can also order things from the other menu and pay in a single transaction - so convenient when he wants pizza, but I want a lower calorie, fresh-veggie-centered meal.
It's definitely not a place I'd drive across town to try, but if you live or work in the neighborhood, PF is a nice option for a fast family dinner or an inexpensive lunch. I'm sure we'll be back often, as my son's school is right down the street.
Right next door to the new Phil's Ice House burger joint and iFly indoor skydiving off 183 near Anderson Mill is the latest Austin location for Amy's Ice Creams.
Like any other Amy's location, at Austinville 78750 you'll see the colorful chalkboard behind the counter with today's special flavors. You'll also see the fresh-faced hipster-y ice cream professionals / performance artists with the funky hats, pounding crush-ins into the chosen cream and tossing scoops across the room.
Though she's been in business for almost 30 years, the premium ice cream Amy makes is still fantastic and remains my favorite anywhere. Go traditional (Sweet Cream, Dark Chocolate), go inventive (Ancho Chocolate, 512 Pecan Porter, Chocolate Wasabi, etc), or try a seasonal (Pumpkin Pie with Candy Corn, if you're my child). If you don't do dairy, there are some tasty fruit ices available just for you. You can check out the latest flavor options here: facebook.com/AmysIceCrea….
Bonus for families: bring the kids and let them run off the sugar on the shaded play yard out back.
Hooray! After several false starts and delays, the north side Phil's is open for business. The food menu is exactly the same as the other Austin locations (woo-hoo, more Violet Crown sliders for me). The same wonderful playscape (minus the cows) loved by families and the ice cream are there, too. Imagine the best of the Burnet Road location moved up here, but with lots more seating & shade, less noisy traffic and fewer aggressive grackles.
If you're new to the area or just don't know, Phil's is a restaurant spin-off concept from Austin's iconic Amy's Ice Creams (est. 1984). It was named for the late Phil Clay, a beloved friend and business partner who passed away suddenly in a motorcycle accident in 2003. The store's slogan, with permission from Robert Earl Keen, is "the road goes on forever ...the party never ends".
The Phil's menu is mostly basic burgers with flavorful toppings and a sweet bun, each combination named for an Austin-area neighborhood. You can also get sweet potato fries, veggies burgers, chicken or fish sandwiches, onion rings, and corn dogs. If you can't decide what to order, a nice option is the 3 or 2 mini-burger basket in which you choose from the flavor combos - 78704, Violet Crown, and 78756 are my recurring faves.
It's neat to see the flatscreens with a live feed of the indoor skydiving place next door to this Austinville 78750 location. iFly couldn't ask for a better advertisement. Everyone indoors at both Phil's and the adjacent Amy's couldn't help but to watch with fascination during our first visit during opening week.
I love that the tree shaded play yard is behind the building, giving a nice buffer to the sounds & sights of busy Research Boulevard out front. Also great is the large windows between the indoor dining space and the backyard, giving parents a complete view of the playscape (essential when all of the outdoor tables are full). Even if you don't have kids, I dare you to watch just a few minutes of the quick yellow tub merry-go-round in action (followed by the inevitable dizzy, nauseous wailing of a small drunk child) and not break into a smile.
The newest (and 6th) location for local frozen treats chain, Sweet Caroline's Snow Shack (aka SCSS) has only just parked this week at Davenport Village. Yay for me, as this is just down the street from my new office.
For those unfamiliar, SCSS serves traditional New Orleans-style shaved ice (called "snow balls" or "snoballs") from trailers that typically stay in place and open 10 or more months/year (weather permitting) around Austin. The texture of this ice shaved by SnoWizard machines has more bite/texture than water ice, but is much fluffier than a tooth-cracking, grainy, typical snow cone ice. If you love to eat ice [[I hope my dentist isn't readying this]] and know all the places in town with the best "chewable" ice for fountain drinks, you will love SCSS's ice.
Sizes range from the Small (16 oz) $2.50 to the XL (Big Gulp sized, 42 oz?) for $5.50. There are more than 45 syrup flavors ranging from the classic blue coconut, tiger's blood, and strawberry to more exotic options like dill pickle, cake batter, and silver fox. Cream flavors, combos, and additions (like condensed milk, nerds, and gummy bears) are available for a couple more quarters. You *can* order one of 4 sugar free flavors, but I don't recommend it; the bitter artificial sweetener will ruin the otherwise wonderful summer treat.
I love the chocolate with condensed milk, as well as the Hawaiian Wedding combo. One cool feature of the menu is that they will sell you a cup of plain ice for $1. I will absolutely be bringing my own cold can of Diet Dr. Pepper to pour over this ice in the near future.
The SCSS URL is sweetcarolinessnowshack.… but this just redirects to FB now. The full menu is available as a photo on their FB site.
Tip: Beware of ants on the lawn around the tree-shaded lounge chairs.
This review concerns the soul-sucking experience of using the in-person services of the Texas Vital Statistics office here at the Texas Dept. of State Health Services (aka DSHS). No offense to the first reviewer, but working there and being a customer deliver totally different perspectives.
Dear lord, why didn't I plan ahead and order my certified Texas birth certificate copy online txapps.texas.gov/tolapp/…? Even if it had to be done at the last minute, I could have gone to the City of Austin's Vital Records office on the East side austintexas.gov/departme… and gotten in & out in about 10 minutes (I know this is true because I've used that office before for this very same purpose).
The DSHS property is in a state of decay (literally), so much so that one of the newest buildings (the Moreton, a formerly pink granite structure on the southwest corner) was on the verge of collapse and is now undergoing a very expensive rehab effort with scaffolding lining all four exterior walls from ground to roof. A large portion of parking and the circle driveway is closed off to the public as a result, which means it's even more of a pain to get in & out of there.
To make matters worse, once you finally get parked and make your way into the Vital Statistics office, you will find the most inefficient, stereotype-confirming, bureaucratic absurdity, the kind that gives so many extreme-leaning folks all the ammo they need to despise government. You enter a dark, gloomy, cramped lobby with shredded and deflated brown vinyl chairs from the 1970s. At least 60 different signs scream at you from every surface in demanding block print of different sizes and readability the convoluted process to order, pay for, and receive your documents.
Step 1: Wait in line at the single first window. This is where you will be asked to state your purpose, confirm that you were born (or have died) in Texas, be reminded that you need to have photo ID, and get directed to Step 2 where you will fill out the paper triplicate form in pencil. Notice that they do, in fact, take credit and debit cards (for an additional $3 (!!) fee, you know, like the ATMs in bars and casinos?), which is totally contrary to their website which tells you that you must bring cash or check for this transaction. Feel glad that you took the extra time to dig that old retro checkbook out of the back of the desk drawer before you headed over.
Step 2: Sit at a crowded table right in the middle of the 5 lines for service (!!) to painstakingly complete your triplicate form with the blunt pencils provided. Scowl at the other patrons who at least had the good sense to print off their forms and fill them out at home. They have now bypassed you in line.
Step 3: Get in the next line to wait for the next available service window where you will drop off your form and payment. Wonder why you couldn't have paid at Step 1 the first time you interacted with a staff member who is behind the same counter. Watch through the glass windows as a multitude of employees appear to do anything but help move this line along. Overhear (whether you want to or not) the frustrations of the people all around you giving the play-by-play about how their day was ruined by the time wasted in this place.
Step 4: Ahhh, this is it! You are next in line! Proceed to one of the staffed windows, hand over your form, your ID, and your payment. That was fast! Uh uh, you're not done yet. Go sit down and wait some more.
Step 5: Find the least revolting of the available chairs and read the news on your smart phone. Oh wait, you can't! There is no decent internet connection in here, and although there is a wi-fi signal labeled "DSHS Guests", no where is the password posted. Okay, well, at least there is a TV up in the corner. No, it's dark, just taunting you with its absence of function. Arghhh! Replay scenes from the film Falling Down in your head and grin for a moment. Wait. Listen. Did you hear that? It's your name! Your document has finally come out of the printer. You are almost free!
Step 6: Rush back to the window where you paid. Sign for delivery, grab your documents, and hurry for the door before they put you in another queue.
2 stars are for the very friendly ladies working behind the counter. I got the feeling they were just as depressed by the place as we customers.
Please, DSHS Bureau of Vital Statistics, the citizens of Texas beg of you. It doesn't have to be this way! There are so many opportunities to make your jobs easier and your customers (fellow Texans) much happier. Let some bright, enthusiastic grad students from the UT School of Social Work or LBJ School of Public Affairs come in there to do a process improvement study for you, and then implement their recommendations. At the very least, take a field trip to the City of Austin's Vital Records office or the DPS Mega Center in Pflugerville and see how they do it.
Adorbs! What a bright, delightful little shop at the Irish Channel end of Magazine. If you are a proud native of the Gulf Coast, or just an enthusiastic visitor/transplant (or gift giver to someone who is), you will find something to love at NOLA Couture.
Think of all the symbols of New Orleans and bayou culture and cuisine. Now imagine those artfully integrated into a subtle, tasteful geometric pattern that appears on high quality accessories for ladies, men, kids, and furry friends who want to keep a little NOLA with them always.
NOLA Couture has developed custom fabrics and ribbons that show off your Gulf Coast pride in a classic preppy style that you can wear to office or church without coming off too wacky. Think ties, belts, key fobs, bags, scarves, pet collars & leashes, insulated tumblers, glassware, candles, and so on. The ties and scarves are 100% silk & wool. Patterns include:
--red beans & rice
--poboys & hot sauce
--beignets & cafe au lait
--Mardi Gras kings
--fleur de lis
--fleur de sea (with a fish, shrimp, oyster, and crawfish)
--oysters & pearls
I could not resist coming home with a red beans & rice belt for myself, plus a few ties for the Cajun/Creole men in the family. I'll probably be heading back to the online store for more gifts for upcoming birthdays.
Fans of LSU, Bama, Tulane, SMU (oddly), Florida and other southern colleges can find some neat things here, too. NOLA Couture even can do custom designs for you (your school, business logo, etc.), and shipping is free for orders over $65.
Prices are not cheap (ranging from $10 for a laser etched glass to $95 for a loomed scarf), but the quality of the all the goods appears solid. If you are looking for $10 T-shirts about drinking on Bourbon, this isn't your shop, but then you knew that!
Blackfinn Ameripub (BA) has a great menu, nice drink selection, and excellent service in a location that is convenient to my daily travel path of home-work-school. That means I'm going to be back here on a regular basis.
Full disclosure: my first visit to BA was as a guest to their opening week events, so I ate from a $25 per person fixed price menu that included apparently unlimited drinks, desserts, and passed appetizers, plus a full entree each. Future visits may have a higher tab, but maybe not, as they have some great specials throughout the week, such as a Pick 2 for $9 lunch on weekdays, 1/2 off wine on Wednesdays, and a $10 burger & beer deal on Thursdays.
Here's what I was able to sample with delight during BA opening event benefiting Make a Wish Central and South Texas:
--blackened brie on toast with dried fruit
--homemade Bavarian pretzel pieces with some sort of cheesy mustard dip
--seared ahi tuna
--"ying yang" (that's what they call it) shrimp
--jumbo lump crab cakes entree (very good - lots o crab!)
--salmon spinach salad (very good - tender and not overcooked)
--Hong Kong sea bass entree (very good, with a huge portion)
--house Texas Tea (it has another name) on tap
--individual key lime pie (order this. always.)
--pot o'creme hot chocolate dessert (this one was meh for me)
My dining companions and I kept commenting throughout the meal, "Mmmm. This is really good!" but I think our favorites were the seafood items, the house cocktails, and the key lime pie.
All the staff, from the hosts to the bartenders and cocktail waiters to the table servers, were total professionals. They were a pretty diverse group, all of whom were extremely easy on the eyes.
Other useful details:
--gluten-free, vegetarian, and low-cal items are clearly marked throughout the menu, even on the adult beverages section
--local beers and wines are noted on the menu
--portions are big
--the place is LOUD and definitely has the sports bar vibe, similar to Cover 3
--the menu is not currently shown on their website, but you can view it on their FB page
--there is a big patio and bar outside for the smokers and what not
Is BA a part of a chain? I don't know and I don't really care. The slick marketing machine behind the opening sure does make it *seem* like it must be a chain, and most of the restaurants in the Domain are chains, but whatevs! They treated me and my ladies right and that's all I ask.
**Update: I found out that BA is in fact part of the Blackfinn American Grille restaurant group, but the "Ameripub" is a new concept for Austin. Check here for more info: blackfinnamericangrille.…
After many trips to the Enchanted Circle area for winter ski adventures over the past 20 years, we have found our favorite lodging spot at the 4 unit ski lodge above Wild Bill's in Red River. Yes, you can rent your ski & boarding equipment for a great price at Wild Bill's, but you can also ski in/ski out and have a great view of the mountain from your 2nd floor porch overlooking The Face and the Platinum chairlift.
Like many Texans, we are semi-annual skiers. Going on such a family vacation is very expensive (in travel time & money), and when we go, we have a few top priorities that can be hard to meet at an affordable price: 1, we want to be close enough to walk to the easy slopes; 2, we want to have a full kitchen so we can make our own meals, and 3, we want private sleeping quarters for the grownups. Wild Bill's offers all of the above, plus the bonus of discounted ski equipment (20% off) with your onsite lodging.
We rented out the 2 bedroom Pueblo (unit #3) and the adjacent 1 bedroom efficiency Zia (unit #2) for 5 nights for our group of 4 adults & one child. We could have fit another 3-4 people in there if we were so inclined, but as it was we had plenty of room for quiet & privacy at night (a must for me). Per person pricing was comparable or less than that at most of the other nearby options, and Lyn gave us an additional discount for renting both units. Units #1 (not available for travelers) and #4 (Durango) were also occupied during our stay, and we hardly heard a peep from those tenants.
My favorite features of lodging at Wild Bill's were:
-- Free, reliable wi-fi in the unit.
-- Super friendly owners (Lyn and K) & staff. If you need anything, just ask and they will do their best to make you happy. BTW, K also performs music at Bull o' the Woods.
-- Very comfortable mattresses with high thread count bedding & towels; no skimping at all on the linens here. Never had a problem with sleeping in these comfy beds.
-- Extremely warm & effective heating. The temp got down to -34 degrees (that's below zero, folks) at night during our stay and we were never chilly inside.
-- Full-sized gas stove, microwave, coffee pot, and toaster, plus (by request) a 6 quart stoneware crock pot for overnight braising (pork shoulder to red chile posole). It took a bit of work to make sure the stove's pilot lights were working properly, but after that, smooth sailing. We ate like kings during our trip! We recommend stopping in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, or Taos on your way into town to do your big grocery shopping for the week, but if you forget anything....
-- Impressive grocery store (Der Markt) just down the block for all of those last-minute items like paper plates, hot cocoa packets, and flasks of the hard stuff.
-- Fully stocked kitchen ware, utensils, glassware, etc. We always bring our own cutlery and storage containers, since you never know what you'll find in a vacation rental.
Things I wished were different:
-- Shower stalls only, so no hot baths after a grueling day on the slopes. If there were some way to add a tub to Unit #3, it would be dang near perfect.
-- Rattling HVAC unit in the front wall of Unit #3 that makes a very loud clanging vibration sound every time the door is opened/closed.
-- No closets at all in Unit #3; all hanging clothes go on pegs in the hallway or bedrooms, and the rest stays in your luggage on the floor.
-- No way to block out light in the bedroom windows. Adding some black out curtains (in addition to the existing wooden blinds) would be helpful.
-- Cable TV spotty. The PBS station had no sound, but we didn't mind too much since we weren't watching much TV. Anyhow, the wi-fi made it easy to download some appropriate shows onto the iPad for the kid's enjoyment.
-- DVD and Playstation (nice touches!) didn't seem to work (at least not on the discs we tried). Again, no big deal for us since we didn't plan to use these things, but it may have been a bummer for a family set on watching DVDs or playing Madden. If this is essential for you, bring your own player to hook up to the quite nice flat screen TV.
If you have no first-timers in your group, it is a snap to store your equipment downstairs at Wild Bill's and just pick it up at 8am and walk across the street to the Platinum lift each day. However, if you are planning to take lessons at RRSA, you'll have quite a walk to/from the school over there (it's totally doable for adults, but if you have small ones, just take the free shuttle or drive over). We dealt with this by renting overnight ski/boot storage at RRSA for the days that we were dealing with lessons for the kiddo. After 2 days of lessons, when the kid was ready, we could then take the Platinum Way path from the top of Goldrush over to the Lift House and then just walk back home from there.
Bottom line, we had a fantastic time on our Red River trip this year, and I'm sure we'll be coming back to stay at Wild Bill's for our future visits. Thanks, y'all!
Arbor Walk may be the most infuriating shopping center design in the universe, but sometimes a mama's gotta do what a mama's gotta do and I brave the logistical nightmare of this place. When I do, 7 times out of 10, it's to drop by Carter's. (Okay, Spec's next door is probably the #1 reason, but once I'm in, might as well stop by Carter's, too.)
Carter's is a national chain store with color coordinated children's clothing for ages 0-7ish. Remember Garanimals (from the 1970s, not the current WalMart version)? It's a similar concept here. You can get matching big/lil sister or brother outfits for your friends having another new baby, or quickly pickup dresses, pants, shirts, and accessories for a few outfits and waste no time trying to figure out what matches, because everything is either bundled into sets, or at least displayed in a way that even a clueless new uncle can figure it out.
My son is almost to the end of the Carter's sizing limit now and I'll be sad that I'll no longer have such a convenient source of holiday pajama sets and durable all cotton Ts, jeans, and such, all with no licensed characters slapped on them (yay!).
If you have kids (or know a lot of them) and like these clothes, be sure to sign up for the Carter's customer program. You'll get MUCH better prices when you shop with their monthly coupons for 15-20% your total purchase. On top of that, almost every time I shop here, I get several other coupons or vouchers for more dollars off at my next visit. Last time, I mentioned while standing in line that I didn't have a coupon on me and the mom behind me gave me hers for 20% off and the cashier let the other mom have it back afterwards for a future use -- so nice!
If you like Carter's brand stuff, you'll also want to check out the kids' clothes in-store at Costco. They often have 3 piece PJ sets, 3 piece play clothes, and other outfits from Carter's brand at rock bottom deals.
By the way, the Yelp category is wrong. There is no baby gear or furniture at this store, only clothing for babies through age 7 and a small selection of shoes, toys, and accessories.
It's Walgreens. It's on the corner, of course. It is laid out exactly the same as every other Walgreens I've ever entered, and I like that, because I don't live in this town and it is really nice to have a familiar place to zip in/out when I just need to pick up a few things I forgot to pack when getting ready to visit the in-laws for the holidays.
These visits tend to go like this: Oh crap! It's Christmas eve and I forgot the candy for the stocking stuffers -- to Walgreens! Uh oh, kiddo suddenly has a fever and a stuffy nose -- to Walgreens for kid-dosed cold meds. No! They can't make me drink Folger's again. I won't do it! To Walgreens for more decent coffee. While I'm here, I'll just pick up a few other things like some instant nail polish strips, some body lotion, a bag of crispy snacks, and some very useful gadget from the As Seen on TV display.
Bonus: When you buy embarrassing stuff (anything from the feminine hygiene/carnal relations products, or anything from the intestinal difficulties aisle), the front desk checkers won't bat an eye. They are all friendly business, no judging smirks.
Speaking of the carnal relations section, why on earth are the baby products also stocked here? It's unnerving to try to stealthily peruse the marital aids and have some 20 year old baby daddy ask my opinion on the pricing of Walgreens diapers compared to HEB across the street.
With 6 years of parenting and attending around 547 birthday parties (give or take a few) at every imaginable venue in the Austin area, I feel completely confident in proclaiming Pump It Up (PIU) the king of "we do it for you" parties for children (especially in the 3-6 year old age range).
Certain times of the year, we are guests of this PIU location about once per month, and my own son had his own 4th birthday party here. We've seen princess parties, dinosaur parties, Star Wars parties, ninja parties, Beyblade parties, Spiderman parties, and no particular theme parties at PIU. The theme really doesn't matter, though, as all the kids really want to do is get to the inflatables rooms tout de suite and commence with the going nuts. This is totally fine because PIU staffs your event with 3-4 friendly, trained employees who make sure that everyone is following safety rules, and the kids get programmed beforehand with a mesmerizing video ending in a call/response quiz about the most important rules. What do you do when the whistle blows? (shouting at the top of your lungs) Stop! Look! And listen!
For those who missed my first report, a PIU party goes like this. Kids arrive 15 minutes early to watch the safety video and have parents fill out a waiver. At party time, everyone is herded into the first inflatable room where only your party guests will enjoy the attractions. About 1/3 of the way through the party, everyone is moved to the next inflatable room for more playtime on some different bouncy entertainments. Finally, you go into your private party room for nourishment, drinks, and b-day cake. At the end, the PIU staff clean up everything and help you get all the gifts and such loaded back into your vehicle.
Having hosted many special events at my own home and other venues, the PIU party is by far the most stress-free way to do it. Being able to relax and enjoy your guests knowing that all of the other tasks are being handled capably is such a relief. Knowing that everyone in the room with you is either a staff member or a guest is also a big plus.
I'm glad to see that they took the advice from my original review in 2008 and covered up the uncarpeted areas in the playrooms, so there are no more run-slip-bump catastrophes. Other changes since then include the addition of some vending machines with soft drinks and bottled water, as well as coffee and ice cream sold at the front lobby. PIU has also introduced some of their own theme parties including Glow In the Dark, Pirate Quest, and Superhero Training Camp. Finally, they now offer an online invitation system (similar to evite) that allows you to track all of your RSVPs and even have your guests' parents pre-sign the release waiver - very handy!
We have never used Pop In Playtime, but from reading other reviews, it sounds like that is a zoo and to be avoided if that sort of thing makes your eye twitch.
Wow - it's hard to believe it has been more than 4 years since I first reviewed Butler Park. At that time, my son was a roly poly toddler and I was a hyper-vigilant stay-at-home-mom of a preemie who had only recently discovered the joys of Yelp (ahhh, what a relief to use the rest of my brain again!). My, my, my, how time does fly.
Now that we have an active 6 year old (who as far as I know doesn't guzzle pool water anymore), we still adore this park. It's a gorgeous place for a stroll or picnic (but beware of grackles!), and it's a must stopping point when we want to show off Austin to out-of-town guests during mild weather. The views at night are now even more spectacular, especially from the observation hill. These days, we're most likely to visit when attending some kind of shindig next door at the Parmer Event Center or Long Center, or a concert or race across the way at Auditorium Shores.
Parents of toddlers, please know that the City of Austin finally cleaned up its act last year and put in a reliable water purification system for the awesome Liz Carpenter fountain, so you shouldn't have to worry much about catching cooties here any more.
I'm feeling inspired to create a new list called "XOXO from Austin" about all the things that make me love this town and Butler Park will be the first entry.
Dripping Springs' fave pizza place (if you believe the promo materials) has decided to open shop way on the northern outskirts of Austin. Hill Country Ranch Pizzeria (HCRP) has been brave enough to take over the location previously held by Hot Boiled Cajun Pho (RIP). I stopped in on the second week of business to check it out, and I liked what I saw.
The space looks cleaner and brighter, with more seating than before. The crusty fish tank, hand-washing station, and karaoke corner have been removed. Beer taps have appeared behind the counter (very promising to this beer drinker). A Kid's Wall with a giant chalk board at ankle-biter height is toward the back. Three or four tables were occupied at 6ish on a Tuesday and a few to-go orders came in while I was there (promising to the establishment, I'm sure, especially since they haven't even begun to promote their opening yet). Be still my heart - free wi-fi, too?
But who cares about all of that? What you want to know is: how's the food? I ordered a couple of pies (on Tuesdays, it's BOGO for $2; I tried classic large pepperoni and medium Fire In the Hole), some Harvester pizza balls, and a giant chocolate chip cookie. With a drink, that set me back $26 and provided enough food for a supper for my family of three, plus leftovers for another lunch or two for one.
Fire in the Hole: a tasty pie for those whose vice is the spice. The crust (which is the same for all of the HCRP pizza) is crisp on the bottom, chewy to the bite, and thicker than NY style, but not as bready as pan-style pizza. Toppings include pepperoni, andouille, red pepper, jalapeno, and onion, and it comes with their zesty C4 ranch dressing. We loved the flavors of this pizza although I'd say the warning of the name was unearned, If you want a burn, add extra red pepper.
Harvester Pizza Balls: the product of some visionary asking the question, "What would happen if I took a pizza roll and deep fried it, then dusted it with Parmesan cheese and served it with ranch dressing?" This particular version is stuffed with mushroom, spinach, and cheese, but you can choose from other flavors like bacon cheddar and pulled pork BBQ. I have to admit, I was expecting a total grease bomb, but these were not half bad. The outside texture of the savory beignet was the perfect combination of crisp and chewy, and the inside wasn't overwhelmingly gooey.
The pepperoni pizza and cookie were fine, nothing special, but perfectly respectable and something I'd order again. I can't wait to try some of the other interesting options on the menu like the Farmer John pie (with basil pesto, corn, asparagus, artichoke hearts, tomato, black olives, and cashews) and the Big Game Hunter (with venison, wild boar, gator, garlic, onion, and bell pepper). For the times when I ate pizza yesterday, there are always the several salads, sandwiches, burgers, or pastas as an alternative.
Chatting with the friendly and fresh-faced front of the house staff, I learned that HCRP has a $3 delivery fee for a 3 mile radius (which includes my 'hood - yay - we don't have a lot of great delivery options out here). I also found out that they have a gluten-free menu including pizza, pasta, and cupcakes (which are also vegan). Lunch specials starting at $5 are available Mon-Fri from 11-4 and other specials run almost every day of the week.
Welcome to the northside, HCRP. Glad you're here.
Have you ever in your life taken a long bus trip? You know, in the one with the svelte dog breed logo on the side? Well, if you have, you know that the experience is one to be endured, something that you anticipate with dread. You know it is probably going to involve delays and odors and discomfort and possibly danger. You bring something to read, a few snacks (but not too many, in case a usable bathroom is not available), ultra-minty gum (see above re: odors), you get ready for a long ordeal, and you hope for the best.
Well put all of that behind you because Megabus is here! Imagine getting from City A to City B in a clean, new, safe double-decker bus, surrounded by decent folks with great hygiene, taking just slightly more time than it would have in your own car. You can leave for a nonstop trip from Whitis and 21st (near UT) just about any hour of the day, any day of the week, and it will cost you something like $6-10 round trip. What's more, you'll have a restroom, a reclining chair, wi-fi access, and an outlet to power your devices. Wow!
The Megabus service is very new to Austin, so right now, there are only a few direct destinations (San Antonio, DFW, and Houston amoung them), but others are sure to come in the future. From Houston, they offer 19 destinations from which to choose, including New Orleans (okay, that one is around $25 each way, but that's still a great deal)!
Pricing for different routes can vary greatly on the demand for the particular trip and tends to increase as you get closer to your departure date, so you will get the very best deal if you schedule as far in advance as possible and choose dates/times when others may not want to travel. This is why you may logon one day and see a fare of $1, and then check a few weeks later and see the price for the same trip go up to $10. This also means any last-minute trips or attempts to change your departure time on your day of travel will probably cost you a pretty penny, but it's still cheaper than the canine line.
My adult nephew (who has a disability that makes driving not feasible) has been using Megabus for a few months now for regional trips between San Antonio and Austin, as well as between San Antonio and Houston. He is an extremely tough customer (especially with regard to cleanliness and reliability) and even he has had nothing but praise for Megabus. Our family has been so thankful to have this service available to allow him more freedom to travel independently and at a price point that he can afford on a fixed income. We are looking forward to them adding more destinations.
It's finally here, Austin. Our very own H&M, Swedish import and home to gorgeous fashions for women, men, and children at reasonable prices, has arrived at the Domain. While the North Austin location may be hoity-toity, the affordable price point that experienced H&M shoppers would expect has not been sacrificed for the sake of the address in the same shopping mall as stores like Tiffany and Louis Vuitton.
Pro tip 1: Sign up online for the H&M newsletter for an immediate 20% off coupon in your email inbox!
Having been on the Fader magazine distribution list for years as part of my SXSW hookup to fun free parties and music showcases, I was thrilled to get the invitation to attend their preview party for the eve of the official H&M grand opening on November 17th, 2012. Previous shopping trips at H&M in Germany, New York, and Las Vegas gave me high expectations about the quality of the merchandise, and the bargain hunter in me just could not be more excited. Not only did I get to shop early while enjoying sponsored cocktails and food, I got an extra 25% off my already low purchase prices (even the sale items)!
So what did I find? How about great holiday/date-night dresses priced from $10-$100, with most around $25. Sparkly tops and lacey skirts around $10-15 each. Designs and cuts flattering to all body types. Accessories from $4-$20. Beautiful coats and jackets for less than $100. Lots of tailored office-appropriate looks. Great seasonal kids' clothing, including full snow suits (parka and ski bibs) for about $50 - that's better than Wal-Mart's online price-point, and with much more adorable designs to choose from.
Pro tip 2: If the lines are long downstairs, go upstairs to the children's or men's areas for faster fitting room access and checkout.
Paying less for trendy pieces is always great, but H&M also has an upscale designer area (2nd floor in the Austin store) where you can find exclusive higher end pieces still at much less than you'd pay for something similar at department stores.
I didn't get the chance to spend much time in the shoes or menswear this trip, but I'll be back soon to update my review to include those areas.
This is the new Quest office in a brand spanking new medical office complex between the Parmer/Mopac HEB and the St. David's North Austin Medical Center. You'll know you're in the right place if you are heading north on the Mopac access road between Cedar Bend and Parmer and you turn right into the complex with the urgent care clinic on the left and the bank on the right. The Quest building is in the back. An alternative route is to take Parmer to Tomanet (that street right behind the HEB), turn right, and circle back around to Cedar Bend and Mopac North.
Oh, how I dislike the effects of aging (although I'll take them over the alternative, ba-dum-bum). As a lady past my 30s, I've now entered the territory in which semiannual health screening and lab tests are a given. Gotta blood draw to check the cholesterol and blood sugar, gotta monitor the weight and blood pressure, and even measure height (to ensure osteoporosis isn't causing shrinkage). These things are never much fun, but Quest does a fantastic job of getting you in and out of there fast with lab techs and plebotomists who are very knowledgeable, competent, and professional.
This new office is very convenient for me (living and working on the north side of town), and it doesn't seem to be as busy/hectic/crowded as the Clinical Path Labs that I've used in the past. I had no wait at all for my appointment, which was scheduled in advance online. When I needed to change my appointment time, no worries, I just went back online and updated my time without having to call and wait on hold for an appointment scheduler.
I have no idea how much the Quest fees compare to other labs, since my lab work was covered by my employer-sponsored wellness program.
Bonus: You can download the Gazelle app to your smartphone and get your lab results conveniently as soon as they are available, even sharing the test results with your doctor from within the app. On the Quest website, you can also pay your bill, as well as learn more about Quest's patient assistance program for clients with low incomes and/or no health coverage.
Does a space the size of my front yard really qualify as a "park"? Well, the Domain mall map says Century Oaks Park (COP) is one, and judging from all the happy kiddies running around every time we're here, it must be so.
COP is that nice spot in the Domain right between North and Cru where the fountain, fireplace, and giant armadillo abide. There are also a few wooden rockers, a squishy floor, some cool functional art pieces, and many shade trees. This makes for a lovely waiting area while your partner shops down the street or you bide time for your name to come up on a nearby restaurant waitlist.
Check the Domain website for information about free seasonal events here such as live music, holiday celebrations and the like.
FYI, the clean, air conditioned mall restrooms are just a few steps down the block between Steeping Room and Apple. They even have a family restroom!
Delicious. Vegan. Guilt-free. Queso. These are 4 words I didn't know could truthfully be uttered in the same sentence, but believe me when I say even the most passionate carnivore or dairy fan will agree that this stuff is tasty and to make it even better, it's made locally right here in Central Texas!
I'm not sure if Food for Lovers has plans to come out with any more products, but if the Vegan Queso is any indicator, whatever they make will appeal to all kinds of eaters and be not only pleasurable to consume but not so bad for the body. Their cheeseless "queso" boasts no dairy, no soy, no fat, no nuts, no egg, no cholesterol, low sodium, and only 20 calories per 2 tablespoon serving. If you're like me and eat the whole jar with a spoon, you've only blown 240 calories.
So, how does it taste? It's just a tiny bit spicy with Tex-Mex flavors, but not so hot as to make your nose run. It's creamy but doesn't have that glue-like consistency of other jarred "queso" products and it leaves no coating on the mouth after the bite has made it's way toward the next stage of its journey. I like it hot or cold and so far have used it with great results as a dip for super thin tortilla chips, mixed in with refried beans, and spread onto bread as a sandwich condiment.
I tried this Food for Lovers dip for the first time at a Whole Foods tasting demonstration and was inspired then to buy my first jar. The MSRP is about $5 per 12 oz jar, but if you are on a calorie restricted diet or don't want to eat dairy, trust me, it's worth the splurge. That first jar didn't last me long and now I am jonesing every day for my next fix. It takes a lot for me to brave the cluster that is the WF Gateway on a weekend, but I was willing to take the risk to get in there to snag my next jar. From a look at their website, though, it seems that you can also order this amazing stuff off the menu at several restaurants around town including VIVO (on Manor), Guero's, and Bouldin Creek Cafe. Other options include Wheatsville Co-op and Whip In Convenience Store.
Naturally, when something tastes this good, I gotta ask: What's it made of? I half expected the label to say something like "slaughtered angels and ground unicorn horns," but no, it's just green chiles, tomatoes, nutritional yeast, salt, vinegar, mustard seed, citric acid, calcium chloride, and spices. I do regret to inform my gluten-free friends, the Vegan Queso also contains wheat. Alas, nothing's perfect....
Who wants crawfish?! Get yourself down to Buda early on Saturday before the gates open at 11am and you'll be rewarded handsomely with stress-free multiple trips through the line to get your free-with-admission all-you-can-eat mudbugs. Otherwise, get ready to buy a cold one and settle in for a 15 to 30 minute wait for each half pound per person you'll receive, and you must get in line again each time you want a single order. OR, go like a high roller and get in the pay-again line for a much larger serving of better seasoned crawfish ($5/lb, 2 lbs max per order) for which you wait in line a mere 5-10 mins. Now that we got that out of the way....
As an honorary Cajun (born & raised in SE Texas and married into a NOLA family), I give the Louisiana Swamp Thing event a thumbs up. I love strolling around Buda City Park and hearing great Zydeco, jazz, and other bayou melodies while watching festival goers of all ages enjoy the setting. The kids under 8 get in free and the $20 entry fee for adults is reasonable considering the caliber of musical acts (Beau Soleil and Robert Randolph as headliners) and the included parking and crawfish. Bring your folding chair, a shady umbrella, and a big tub of wipes and let the good times roll!
To be fair, I must provide warning that every which way you turn around this event, there are new ways to have your wallet lightened. As you enter the gate, there are the timeshare hawkers trying to get you to enter a drawing for a free vacation - um, no! Then there are the jacked up prices on the other concessions, almost everything in the $6-$8 range (catfish poboy & gumbo - delish; red beans & rice - straight from the Uncle Ben's box, do not want!; beignets - had potential but were cooked in too cool oil and turned out way too greasy). The kicker is the kid stuff, from petting zoo to bounce house to ball pit to super soaker battle course, everything was $3 or more, and if your kid stepped foot outside for a minute, you have to fork over more cash for another turn. Don't be a sucka! Stick to the large free playscape, and limit your junk food intake by redirecting to the water stand and music stage.
Our family had a fun day of it and will probably go back next year, but this time with a better plan for the food & kid attractions situation. Like most of these kinds of events, you can't bring in any outside food or beverage, but you could fill up on something healthy before you enter and prevent a grease & sugar binge.
Tip: The park has bathrooms up on the hill in the back so you can get a good hand washing after handling all those shellfish. Dog lovers, the event lets your leashed babies in for free, too.
Unlike most Austinites, I'm lucky enough to live close to one of the 9 Metrorail stations around town. Unfortunately, since I live & work in North Austin, I have rarely been able to take advantage of the train, as the last trip of the day was at 6:30 PM and there was no weekend service. Now that there are extended evening hours on Friday & all day service on Saturday (as of March 2012), you'll be seeing me regularly riding downtown for date nights and family activities on the weekends with no worries about parking or DUI. Yay for public transportation!
The Howard station has a nice number of parking spaces (200 or so), but is otherwise sort of frustrating because it is not within safe walking distance of much of anything and only one connecting bus line (243 Wells Branch) currently serves the station. You *could* possibly walk or bike to Kiddie Acres, Jumpoline, and the chain stores on the southeast corner of Wells Branch & Mopac, but if you're traveling with kids, it's not a good idea. There's a group of homeless men & other pan handlers usually hanging out under the Mopac bridge and I'd not want to be on foot walking over there by myself (all 120 lbs & 5 ft 2 of me) or with my child. Thus, in my humble opinion, Howard station serves only as a park & ride for travelers headed to other stations.
So, why the 4 stars (which stands for "Yay, I'm a fan!" in Yelpspeak)? Well, I suppose they are for the Metrorail in general. It has a way to go before being half as useful as mature rail systems like on the East Coast or San Francisco, but we have to start somewhere. Riding the Metrorail trains is a comfortable experience. Trains are clean, other riders pleasant, and the wi-fi is a great bonus.
Tip: Follow on Twitter @CapMetroRail for up-to-the-minute news on changes to the service schedule & special discounts from partner businesses. Trains do get packed during special events like SXSW, so prepare a plan B for getting back up north at the end of the day if you fail to get on the last train home.
What a blast! Our whole family from age 5 to 75 spent 5 hours at iT'Z on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and we will definitely be back every time we're in town to visit PawPaw for the weekend. The place has everything -- food, sports viewing room, private party rooms, wi-fi, laser tag, bowling, bumper cars, go carts, gentle rides for the little ones, and a slew of arcade games for every taste. Ok, not EVERYthing -- the liquor license has not yet been granted, but once they get some beer in the joint, it will be dang near perfect for our clan.
Have you ever been to Main Event or Dave & Busters or Chuck E Cheese? iT'Z is smaller & less expensive than Main Event (although uses a similar swipe card system), while being more appealing to all ages than Chuck's or Dave's.
The iT'Z system works like this: when you walk in the door, you must purchase the unlimited pizza, etc. buffet for everyone over age 4. Prices vary from $4-$7 depending on age (little kids & seniors get a discount) and day of week (weekends are a couple bucks higher), and drinks are a separate purchase ($2). Beyond that, you can buy swipe cards loaded with points (about $0.25 per point) for gameplay, and the more points you buy, the better price per point you get. However, your best deal is to get one of the packages that includes buffet, drink, and gameplay in a single price, which at a minimum gets you a free drink and buffet for the price of the game play points alone. For example, $15 for 60 points and the buffet, or $24 for 120 points and the buffet.
Most games take 1 point, but some of the activities can cost much more. A 6 minute ride in the indoor, electric go cart for a parent and child cost 22 points (or around $5.50). Some of the claw games take anywhere from 3-6 points per play, but seemed "loose" to me, as I came home with several prizes for the kids in the family (Angry Birds in Santa caps, anyone?). Skee ball (which also earns tickets for prizes) and most of the little kid games take 1 point. The most pricey activities are:
* 10 Pin Mini Bowling / 12 Pts
* Bumper Cars / 12 Pts
Min height: 44"
* Go-Karts / 18 Pts/Single or 22 Pts/Double
Min height: 36" Passenger, 48" Driver (must be 16)
* Laser Tag / 16pts/Weekday or 24pts/Wknd
Vest must not go below the knees
The food on the buffet is nothing spectacular, but the quality seems better to me than that other pizza+arcade place for kids. I especially appreciate that there are soups, baked potatoes, and a decent salad bar for those of us who would like to eat sensibly. For kids who want some other sort of junk food beyond pizza, they can choose from nachos, hotdogs, spaghetti, jello, slushies, and the Ci-Ci's type desserts based upon a pizza dough crust.
The prize store has a great selection of little toys and candy for which we had no problem accumulating enough tickets to ensure that the kids in our group went home with some souvenirs.
Some games and ticket crunching machines were out of order during our recent visit, but staff members quickly appeared to make repairs and get them up again. When I had a problem with a machine that took my credits & offered no play, a staff person was eager to make it right for me. I'm pretty impressed with how friendly and responsive everyone working there seems to be.
Parents, there is no stamping system to ensure that kids only leave with their guardians, so keep an eagle eye on your adorable spawn. This was the one area where I thought iT'Z could learn a thing or two from the mouse-themed place.
Get there when the doors open. You'll have no wait at any game or activity at that time. By 2pm on Saturday, the place is packed.
Points and tickets never expire, so hold on to that swipe card and use it again when you come in next time. If you know you'll be back many times, load up with the 300 points for $50 deal, which is about $0.17/point.
Don't think you can game the system by sharing a card among multiple players. We tested this when one of our cards was depleted and received, "Card already in use." If you want to share, you'll have to take turns.
Bring a Sharpie to write names on your cards so that they aren't mixed up in Mom's or Dad's pocket. Even better, bring a lanyard for everyone and get the staff to punch holes for you to attach the card so no one loses their points by leaving behind the swipe card.
There is an "unlimited play deal" for around $27, but that one seems smart only if you plan to spend the whole day doing the high-dollar activities (older kids and grown-ups might get their money's worth). You can't transfer these points to another day or another person.
Food & drinks cannot leave the dining area, so remember to take a break from the arcade once and a while to come back and get a drink or snack. You paid for it!
Check out the iT'Z website for specials and coupons. You can also sign-up for their e-club and like them on FB to get other discounts.
Well I don't know about you, but to me, this was a wonderful way to get the SXSW 2011 season started. First, I got to ditch the car and ride MetroRail to/from downtown for the night's festivities. Then, I proceeded to run into some of my favorite Yelpers, Lauren W., Veek & Jack, Errol, Snuggly, Darla, David M., Javier, and Daniel J.. Sadly, Rick G. escaped before I could put the bum rush on him. If that weren' t enough, I got to drink delicious beverages courtesy of Prometheus Springs (spicy!) and the venerable Lone Star. Add the free commemorative screen-print T from Under Pressure and the pics via Magnolia Photobooth, and you've got a par-tay! Ghost Room was a fantastic indoor/outdoor venue with friendly staff who know how to do it up right.
P.S. Sunday morning was a little rough, but it was worth it! Thanks, Kelly and the Yelves.
I had the pleasure and privilege to be in the audience for the opening show at ACL Live at the Moody Theater last night, and I think this may be my new favorite indoor place for seeing live music in Austin. It's like a mash-up of the cool of Stubb's with the indoor fancy of the Long Center - I'm in love!
In case you haven't heard, the iconic PBS music program (Austin City Limits) filmed right here in our fair city for the past 35 years has moved into some swanky new digs in the W Hotel downtown at 2nd and Lavaca. Since they went through all the trouble to build this comparative palace, they've gone ahead and planned to let mere mortals in for some 60 to 100 pay-to-see events each year.
Sound quality is phenomenal, seats are comfy (and even include cupholders!), and all 2,700+ ticket holders are promised to be no more than 75 feet from the stage. For more intimate performances (like the hard-to-get-into show tapings), the seating can be reconfigured for a few hundred seats. And for all the crunchy hippies like myself -- you can feel swell knowing that the place was built for LEED certification using green building principles, reduced waste, and other tree-hugger concepts.
While the free sponsored cups of beer and bags of Fritos from the old UT studio space are gone forever (thanks, TABC!), there is a full bar or five on each of the three levels, so a cold beverage is never far away. They even had kiddie snacks for the family-friendly event we attended (but I don't think food will be a standard concession offering). For breaks before, during, and after the show, there are wide open outdoor terraces on each level, as well as comfy lounge areas inside.
Parking is nonexistent unless you count the $20 valet, but you can do like we did and pay $5-10 to use one of the 7 garages in close proximity or press your luck with free evening street parking. I can't hold this against the venue, though, because I think the parking headache would be even worse at any other downtown event site.
You still have to watch the ACL blog austincitylimits.org/blog to get a chance at those rare free golden tickets to attend a taping. This process is managed by KLRU as it was before and schedules are not posted in advance. For the not-free tickets to the all ages public shows, go to the ACL Live website linked above or contact TicketFly.com.
That was fun! Kinda like speed dating but instead of a new potential boyfriend, I got to try out several new-to-me Zoe's dishes and make two new Yelper pals, all before my coach turned into a pumpkin at 7pm. The beef roll-ups and tomato basil soup were deelish, but the best part was talking e-voting, bees, and the zombie apocalypse preparedness with Phyllis K. and Jack C.
Keri B. & Dej M., you are too sweet for sharing your immaculate conception chocolate cake. I won't ask how that pan miraculously appeared on your table.....
Thanks, Kelly & Zoe's, for a lovely evening! Great service, 2 free adult beverages, and on the north side just minutes from home & work. So nice!
It's slim pickins when it comes to dining out options in San Augustine, but Mary Kay's would be recommended even if there were lots of other choices.... She's a great country diner with friendly service and very low prices for the portions (especially when compared to Austin prices).
We came in for Sunday brunch and had some delicious pancakes, eggs, bacon, chicken fried steak, biscuits, gravy, and a breakfast burrito, plus drinks (tea, coffee, soft drinks). The whole bill for 6 people was less than $40.
Next time, I'd skip the biscuits & gravy, as these did not have homemade flavor (but then again, no one can make them like my Mama did, rest her soul).
My senior citizen dad and his wife eat here at least once per week (either in person or take out) and love it. Apparently, there is a steam table buffet for lunch (and dinner on Fridays) with a weekly rotation of southern classics.
Atmosphere: This place used to be a meat market but lots of effort has gone into making it less like a butcher shop and more like a homey cafe. There's a flat panel TV in the corner tuned to CNN and a jukebox with an assortment of seasonal and country/ pop tunes.
Bonus: Delivery within the city limits when a driver is there to do it. Call to confirm availability.
Hours: Call ahead to confirm! With the gas drilling boom, hours have been extended to include breakfast 7 days per week, but this is subject to change.
This Chevron station (which still has a sign calling it "Picky's Pantry") has the cheapest touch-free carwash that I've seen anywhere in Austin. With a fill-up, you can get a basic wash & dry for $4. The machine appears to be an ancient contraption, maybe one of the first generation to get rid of the scrubbing mop thingies, and the login kiosk has clearly been abused -- it no longer accepts money, so if you don't get a code at the pump, you will have to go inside to get one from the cashier in the store. Still, I can't beat that price. Remember when you could get a FREE wash with a tank of gas? Oh, the good old days....
Did you know that Schlotzsky's was born & raised in Austin, Texas? Now it may have grown to become a national franchise, but it's still an Austin original, and it's a pretty great value for a decent fast food meal made of "real" food.
Of course they still have their always tasty traditional muffaletta-style sandwiches on spongy, fresh-baked sourdough bread. I (like Yelper Don P, perhaps Schlotzskys greatest fan) am partial to the salads, and this location has just begun doing all of their salads made-to-order (rather than pre-prepared in the deli case), including daily homemade salad dressings. New flavors include Turkey Avocado Cobb, Cranberry Apple Pecans with Chicken, and some other yummy combos. I have never been disappointed with the freshness or quality of ingredients or portions of their salads, and now they're even more enticing.
More risky to my waistline is the addition of Carvel custard to the menu. Oh, the rich, creamy chocolate flavor (also available in a shake) is sometime too much for me to resist. Dang you, custard!
More components to this (horrors!) 4 star review of a chain restaurant:
+online ordering for easy pick-up after work or during lunch
+really good foccaccia-style pizza (made to order, naturally)
+Monday is Bunday with $4 sandwiches or pizzas after 4pm
+excellent service; seems like they are really trying to win & keep my business every time I visit, something I rarely experience in a fast food joint.
This was the most enjoyable free movie screening I've ever attended. The documentary film was great -- don't let anyone spoil it for you! -- and I had a perfect center seat from which to view it. Waiting in line wasn't really too bad and I didn't see anyone get turned away, even some folks who showed up after the opening credits were starting to roll. Thanks, Yelp and Universal for giving me the chance to see this movie in the comfort of the Alamo South and free on top of that!
P.S. The green chile mac & cheese is gooey mess of heaven. Other Alamo locations, please bring this dish to your menu!
I don't really know a spoonbill from a warbler, but I needed a shaded non-beach activity to bring some novelty to the family vacation in Matagorda Bay. This stop on the highway between Palacios and Bay City did just the trick.
For only $5, our family had use of the park for the afternoon, and an additional fiver gave us an hour of golf cart use. That's pretty cheap entertainment for a carload of people (maybe 4 adults and 1 kid or some combination thereof). Our 3 year old was most impressed with the motoring aspect of the outing.
As our visit fell at high noon at the end of August, there was little chance of seeing much wild beasts (like smart members of the circle of life, they all had the good sense to hide and take naps about this time). We did get to chase butterflies and see lots of beautiful flowers, but alas, no gators or birds were sighted. We also were able to pass by ponds, streams, the Colorado River, and check-out some turtles and minnows.
After about 45 minutes, we'd traveled every trail at least once and our boy was ready to go. The nice lady at the ranger stand told us early morning is the best time for viewing the critters, and we'll plan that for next time we're in the area.
It's hard for me to imagine that anyone doesn't already know about the wonderful work and mission of the March of Dimes, but then again, I'm the parent of a premature baby and MOD is one of my favorite charities.
MOD was founded in 1938 to collect funds (dimes - get it?) to support research and other efforts to prevent, treat, and eradicate polio. The vaccine that we've all taken has pretty much erased that disease from memory of younger generations of Americans, but your grandparents will tell you that it was a menace of death and disability until the work that MOD donations funded brought it to an end. With polio under control, MOD turned its efforts to birth defects and prematurity, their primary focus today. Many of the lifesaving assessments and early interventions administered to pregnant women and newborns (APGAR score, PKU screen, sickle cell screen, folic acid to prevent neural tube defects, genetic testing, etc.) are the direct result of MOD-funded research.
The major local annual fundraiser is the March for Babies 5K held in downtown Austin during the Saturday of Mother's Day weekend. It's a fun event for families, especially, because they sponsor a bunch of kid-friendly activities on Auditorium Shores, so it's almost like a free family carnival on walk day. Bounce-houses, hot dogs, photo ops with a buffalo, costumed characters, and a live band are a few of the entertainments available in past years.
The teams of families decked out in custom t-shirts and decorated strollers and wagons celebrating their babies' triumph over premature birth or birth defects are pretty inspirational. The walk teams sporting "in honor of" memorial messages for their babies who didn't survive are sobering reminders of why MOD is still needed.
Signing up to participate in the walk is easy online. You can effortlessly hit-up your friends for a few bucks to support a great cause and earn a very nice T-shirt for yourself in the process. I'm out there with my family every May and I hope to see you there!
Tip: If you work for a big company, they may match your donations, so check with your HR or community involvement department. The local chapter is happy to send a rep to talk about MOD at your workplace and hand out some swag, too.
Quaint little old fashioned ice cream shop on the historic square in old downtown Bay City serving Blue Bell products, fresh baked goods, and made-to-order sandwiches. We had friendly service by the owner on Saturday morning; she stopped decorating a batch of baby shower cupcakes to create our frozen treats.
I chose the strawberry milk shake, a real ice cream blend rather than the sickeningly sweet mystery fluid you get at the fast-food drive-thru window. The boys had sundaes, one with birthday cake ice cream - chocolate cake, chocolate frosting, vanilla ice cream, and multicolor sprinkles, and the other with a mini-brownie explosion, a creamy, saucy, chocolatey, nutty overload topped with whipped cream and a cherry, of course. A nice way to combat the heat (and pack on a few pounds) before we headed back to the beach.
From Bay City, take Texas Highway 60 all the way down to Matagorda and then follow the signs to the tall bridge that will take you to what is, IMHO, the best free public beach in our fair state. By "best," I mean clean, quiet, uncrowded, and family-friendly -- a place where you can have a great day communing with nature, soaking in some rays, splashing in the waves, catching some fish, building a sandcastle, and never once being accosted by hooligans in bass thumping 4x4s.
After decades of beach trips to Galveston, Crystal Beach, South Padre, and Port Aransas, we lucked into discovering this hidden jewel when our bay-side accommodations didn't offer the safe & clean swimming area we'd been expecting. Our Palacios innkeeper recommended we take the short drive over to Matagorda and we were more than impressed with what we found:
* Free lot parking, and beach driving with a $10 permit available at service stations in town (there's one right in front of the big bridge).
* Fishing along the shore and from a free public pier.
* Relatively clean restrooms and fresh water outdoor showers.
* Sheltered picnic tables & grills
* Clean sandy beach within easy walking distance of the parking lot.
Our visit came during the last long weekend in August, after most school-aged kids were back in class. On Friday, we had the entire beach to ourselves but even on Saturday, there was plenty of open space to enjoy the gorgeous environs. From what we heard from the locals, though, the place is never packed.
This park is an easy day-trip from the Houston area and provides a great alternative to the more commercially-oriented beach destinations on the Texas Gulf Coast.
Oh, and for the RV'ers, there's a 70-site RV park with all the usual hook-ups and amenities (see the LCRA website for fee info). Tent-camping is also allowed on the beach.
Home ownership is a blessing that comes with many special joys & burdens. Unless you're an old school renaissance man like my dad, you as a home owner must eventually face the crap-shoot of hiring someone (if you're lucky, an honest & skilled craftsman) to build or repair something on your property. Unfortunately, we have learned the hard-way on several occasions that on any kind of home improvement project you undertake, something can & will go wrong. It's going to take at least twice as much time as you thought to complete (because the workers will only show up every 3rd day), it's going to cost you twice as much money as you had budgeted, and the final outcome is going to be below your original modest expectations, which by this time, you will have thrown out the window, willing to accept just about anything to get the dang project complete so that you can once again use that part of your house and get back to life-before-the-project.
We'd been living in our home for about 6 years before we finally had the courage (and savings) to undertake our biggest home improvement project to date -- getting a concrete driveway installed. All these years, we've been driving, parking, and walking on caliche (dusty white rocks, for you non-geologists) every day, twisting our ankles and tearing up our high heels (okay, that was probably just me), and creating dust clouds with every pass in and out of the yard. With the arrival of our son, we knew the day was coming when learning to ride a tricycle would require a smoother surface, but so many bad experiences with contractors and handymen made us dread the prospect of tearing up our front yard.
After doing extensive research online, with Angie's List, and with friends in the building industry, we selected 3 businesses to come out for bids. Of those, Robert Russo of Austin Concrete Construction gave us the best price per square foot, offered better materials for reinforcing the slabs, and promised (weather permitting) to be finished in a week.
It was a rare pleasure to deal with Austin Concrete. Robert was true to his word and personally supervised the job. He was first to arrive and last to leave each day, and except for the couple of rainy days, he and his crew were working on our driveway every consecutive weekday until the job was done. He helped us design the best layout for the 3,800 square foot project, and his decades of experience were an advantage when foul weather meant shifting priorities and activities of the workers dealing with such an unforgiving medium as fresh concrete.
We got a kick out of watching Robert pad around the yard each day in bare feet, like some kind of Zen master who was communicating with the earth and the concrete, coaxing it into doing his bidding. If you look at the website and see a shirtless, gray-haired man working a machine that pats down wet concrete, that's Robert. He's gotta be over 60 (70?), but his upper body is ripped from the hard physical labor he puts in at his business. He owns and manages the company, but he's out there getting dirty & sweaty with everyone else. He's the kind of man who pays a fair wage and has no trouble keeping a reliable team of employees.
Bonus: My two year old son was in awe of the cement mixer trucks and all the other machinery, and Robert & his crew were very patient with him. Robert even set up a play area so that our boy could do some of his own work smoothing out some cement.
This (May 2009) was my first stay at Wild Oak Ranch (WOR) and I'm pretty sure that I'll be going back there at least once per year with my family as long as I have a kid living with me. There were a few things about the place that weren't perfect, but the things that were good were REALLY good, enough to overcome the missteps.
Our family of 3 (two adults and a 2 year old) joined another family of similar configuration for a joint long weekend trip to Sea World. Traveling with little people who still nap for two hours in the middle of the day meant that we wanted lodging very close to the park. WOR offered the best rate for a suite-type setup and offered a ton of family-friendly amenities, so they got our reservation.
Here's what we loved:
- a gorgeous, modern 1 bedroom condo with full kitchen, full bath (including giant jacuzzi tub), washer & dryer, great coffee maker, awesome bath & body products, and plush, natural-fiber bedding on a very comfortable bed. Imagine the W Hotel as a condo without the blaring club music. Everything seemed brand new, so the place may have been recently remodeled.
- an incredible array of activities for kids & adults, from a rec room with arcade games, to a fully equipped playground, to an on-site waterpark complete with 800 ft lazy river for floating, and zippy (even for grown-ups) waterslides. If we'd known it was going to be all that exciting, we'd probably have planned for a longer stay. There's so much to do that you don't really need to leave the property, making for a very economical vacation.
- poolside restaurant with an excellent bartender mixing a surprisingly high-quality top shelf rita on the rocks; a cocktail waitress brings your drinks to wherever you're floating in a covered plastic cup, no problem.
- beautiful hill country setting, with winding trails for strolling, plus flora & fauna to match. The kids had a supremely cute after-dinner encounter with a jack rabbit that they're still talking about 2 weeks later.
WOR is a part of the Hyatt Vacation Club, which is a sort of time-share arrangement. Consequently, I fully expected to be descended upon by all kinds of salespeople as soon as we drove up & possibly throughout our stay (ever been to Cancun or Cabo San Lucas?), but amazingly it never happened.
We really enjoyed ourselves at WOR and are sure to return. However, I'd be remiss if I didn't disclose the things that weren't exactly spectacular:
- reserving a "crib" means that you will have a pack & play in your unit. Be sure to check the bedding before the evening, as the place apparently has two sizes of pack & play, and you need to make sure that your sheet fits your little one's bed. Ours didn't, a fact we didn't discover until 10 minutes before bedtime - uh oh. Luckily, as a maniac first-time mom, I come prepared for lots of contingencies, and our extra crib sheet from home served the purpose until housekeeping could bring the right P&P sheet the following day.
- even if the reservation person assures you that you will have an adjoining unit with another party, it may not happen. We had planned to stay next-door to our friends, but when we checked in, we had been bumped to another unit a few doors down. It may have something to do with the vacation club members getting first dibs on their choice of units.
- know that whatever you leave in the sink will wind up in the dishwasher. I left a couple of my child's sippy cups in the sink when we left for the day, and upon our return that evening, the toxic fumes of burning plastic were thick in the air. Melted sippy cup tops were burned onto the heating element at the bottom of the dishwasher after a well-meaning maid had left them loose in the rack. The resort was very apologetic and offered to reimburse me for the cost of the cups.
- being out in the country means bugs. Maybe bugs in your room. We only ever saw one actual water bug, on the tile floor in the bathroom, but the odor of Raid was overwhelming in the toilet stall. It must be part of the housekeeping routine to spray bug spray around the toilet, or something. If you have asthma, this would probably be a deal-breaker for you. Next time, I'll request a chem-free unit.
- the restaurant with the great mixed drinks has terrible food. Stick with the fried, fast-food stuff if you must eat there. Better yet, reserve a grill and have a cook-out with your group, or use the full kitchen in your unit to make a decent meal. If you don't mind driving, there's plenty of great food that you don't have to cook yourself elsewhere in San Antonio.
If you have kids and are looking for an easy long-weekend within a 2 hour drive of Austin, Wild Oak Ranch is a good bet.
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|Places assisting with my attempts at a healthier lifestyle||New parents, you don't have to remain a prisoner in your home. There are lots of great places in Central Texas where families can have a good meal, socialize with others, and let the kids be kids.|
|It costs a pretty penny to be a customer here and it's worth it.||Public government agencies and such|
|Having a baby (who is now a big kid) made me a customer of these places. Stay away from here if you don't like children!||One of the best parts of Yelpdom - par-tays!!|
|Green-for-life, yo. Organic, recycled, whatnot.||Let's go on a culinary exploration together...|
|As I get around to reviewing the places near my home, they'll be added here.||Some of my favorite memories have been made during many glorious days and nights passed in this historic city. Here are some of my recommendations.|
"X o'clock? Must be time to go for a run!"
Austin, TX, Vereinigte StaatenYelper seit
Mai 2008Dinge, die ich mag
Austin, water, crab, fish sauce, my boys, dives, music, flip-flops, snark, community involvement, culinary anthropology, travel, kindness, enthusiasm, gutsHier bin ich häufig anzutreffen
My Underground House in North AustinHeimatort
Southeast Texas, y'allMein Blog oder meine Website Wenn ich nicht gerade yelpe, dann ...
I'm condensing millions of rows of health care transaction data.Warum du meine Beiträge unbedingt lesen solltest
Fellow Yelpers rate me mostly Useful.Meine zweitliebste Website Was ich zuletzt gelesen habe
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadMein erstes Konzerterlebnis
My dad's band's honkey tonk country & western showsMein Lieblingsfilm
The Big Lebowski, no Groundhog Day, no The Fifth Element, no Ponette, no ....Meine Henkersmahlzeit
Shrimp PoBoy (dressed, of course) from Johnny's in NOLAErzähl's nicht weiter, aber...
Red beans and rice didn't miss me.Meine neueste Entdeckung
The plank, as an exercise. Dang, that burns!Ich schwärme gerade für
Skiing the NM Enchanted Circle. Taos or Angel Fire or Red River or Sipapu?