Meet Jeff Krummel!
It seems like just yesterday our dear Krummel was getting sacked hard during the epic blizzard bash of 2016!
A proud native of Baltimore, Maryland, Krummel and I met fall of 2013 on a DC softball team, and once we realized we lived in the same neighborhood and shared the same love for traveling & national parks, a true friendship was born.
After doing his undergrad at his beloved University of Maryland, Krummel made his way to Austin for two years to complete a masters in structural engineering. Upon finishing, he moved back to the east coast to work for a couple of elite bridge design companies in both Washington, DC and now most recently, Raleigh, North Carolina.
When he’s not working or whipping up some of the biggest cookies and pizzas you’ve ever seen, you can usually find Krummel leading a hiking expedition through his beloved Smokies, on an evening run around town, or cheering on those dreadful Ravens to an all too familiar comeback win over my Brownies.
A true outdoors enthusiast, Krummel has traveled to 20 national parks, 40 states, and 12 countries around the world (all while having enough time to volunteer his time each year at the annual Maryland high school bridge competition). With several trips together under our belts such as Chicago and Shenandoah National Park, it’s exciting to think where we will end up next (maybe Alaska)?!
For those that know Krummel (a man of great generosity and a knack for tackling every task with a passionate brute force), you won’t be surprised to hear that he has constructed the longest, most in depth post of this blog’s short career. I guess everything is indeed Bigger in Texas!
ATX. Live Music Capital of the World. Austin City Limits. Keep Austin Weird. Silicon Hills. 300 Days of Sunshine. As a student for two years at the University of Texas, I was fortunate to enjoy living in this wonderful city.
Lady Bird Lake
For me, I enjoyed Austin most for the active nature of the city, being able to relax in the sun or cool off in its myriad waters – which is highlighted by the Lady Bird Lake Hike-and-Bike Trail. The “lake” – actually a dammed portion of the Colorado River – cuts conveniently through the heart of the city, separating the main downtown and the (even more) relaxed stretch that features South Congress, Auditorium Shores, and Zilker Park.
The trail circles ten miles around the water, but features numerous bridges, notably the beautiful Pluger Pedestrian & Bicycle Bridge, to cut in and cross the water for shorter runs. I’d start my runs under the 1st Street Bridge (great parking!) at Auditorium Shores, a hot spot for dog owners letting their friends off the leash to run in the grass or frolic in the water. Heading west along the well-maintained gravel path through the shaded cover of trees you’ll reach Neff Point, Zilker Park, and MoPac Expressway.
The trail crosses directly under the highway bridge on a pedestrian bridge always active with walkers, runners, and cyclists to an open area good for stretching and rehydration before returning east towards the arched Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue (“Bat”) Bridge and all the way out to Longhorn Dam.
Two years ago, the Trail Foundation filled in the 1.1-mile gap that formerly forced runners to run along and cross busy traffic with a “boardwalk” on the water, so the route now seamlessly circles the lake. If you’re visiting in the hotter times of year, be sure to go early or go late; I especially enjoyed evening summer runs ending with a short spur timed perfectly to watch the world’s largest urban bat colony emerge from under the Congress Avenue Bridge at sundown in a spectacular show streaming across the night sky.
**The show of Mexican free-tailed bats runs from March to October, peaks in August when the little ones fly, too, and generates huge crowds on the bridge sidewalks and down below at the Austin-American Statesman Park. Parking is free and the grass is open to pull up a blanket for a truly Austin experience**
The lake is also known for the Stevie Ray Vaughn Statue, terrific sunset views on the downtown, and the numerous kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. I’d rent mine at the Texas Rowing Center on West Caesar Chavez. Whether you are already an avid kayaker or paddleboarder or a total novice, this is one of the quintessential outdoor Austin activities, and the feeling skimming over the open water or circling around Neff Point is a can’t-miss.
Two more “can’t miss” places are the open green of Zilker Park and the cool feel of Barton Springs. Zilker Park hosts the Austin City Limits Music Festival and the Zilker Park Kite Festival each year, and, day-to-day, Zilker Park is a haven for dogs, kites, picnics, pick-up soccer and football games, and sand volleyball, with an outstanding view of the Austin skyline in the background.
Little kids will love riding the Zilker Zephyr Miniature Train, and those who relish the quiet respite of nature, flowers, and butterflies will enjoy the Zilker Botanical Garden. As an alternative, check out the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, a little ways south of Zilker and the Barton Springs Greenbelt.
And on a hot day, the icy 68°F water of Barton Springs Pool (right across the street!) feels consummately refreshing. This huge pool hosts morning lap-swimmers, a springboard for the adventurous, and large shaded areas for those looking to enjoy a good read. Just don’t be surprised by the vegetation – and endangered salamanders, if you’re lucky – in this natural pool.
For those this would deter, check out Deep Eddy Pool, which began as a Colorado River swimming hole and today is Texas’ oldest pool! In the summer, it hosts Splash Party Movie Nights featuring family films like Jaws on a large screen and moviegoers in inner tubes. The adjacent Barton Creek Greenbelt is a hotspot for hiking, off-road biking, trail running, and rock climbing.
Other Outdoors Attractions in Austin
To close the natural side of Austin, if you’re able to make the 45-minute drive, definitely absolutely venture south to the campus of Texas State for tubing on the San Marcos River – one of my favorite summertime activities.
Other spots like Hamilton Pools are well known but overrated; I’d suggest McKinney Falls or Pedernales Falls State Park instead (if the water’s not too low).
Lastly, Mt. Bonnell is well-known and steeped in legend among Austinites, and the sunset view above Lake Austin is absolutely worth it. If you enjoy this, also check out the 360 Overlook on the rocky limestone cliffs above the through arch Pennybacker Bridge on Capitol of Texas Highway. Pull up a blanket, grab a bottle of wine, and relax!
Best BBQ in Austin
If you’re reading for insights into where to find the best Texas BBQ, for that, I am your man.
For my first year in Austin, and well into the next, I swore by Louie Mueller Barbecue in nearby Taylor. A no-frills experience, just a cup of beans, pickle, some peach or blackberry cobbler if you so choose, and the meat.
The only cool air on a hot day comes from the ceiling fans and perspiration off your lemonade cup, but if you want great Texas brisket, pork ribs – or beef (“dino bones”), and smoked German sausage, this is one of the best in a small Texas town near Round Rock. On one legendary day, I split four pounds of BBQ with my brother before tailgating a Longhorn football game.
BUT, if you want the absolute best, Louie Mueller has, in my and most’s opinion, been passed by Franklin Barbecue – another true Austin experience.
Get a group of friends, stand in the long, long line (by 9:30am at the latest, or they’ll have run out for the day), wait until doors open at 11:00am daily, rejoice when you finally enter the modest shack, inhaling a salivating whiff of smoked meat as you walk inside, and chat it up with the famed Aaron Franklin himself as he measures out your meal.
Hand’s down the best juicy brisket in Texas, not to mention pork ribs that beat everywhere for me except Pappy’s in St. Louis, and smoked Turkey that will change the way you eat and think about BBQ – my order is a pound of brisket, half-pound pork ribs, half-pound turkey.
Texas BBQ is based on German tradition, using a simple black pepper-salt dry rub, slow-smoked to let the meat speak for itself; if you have to cover it with sauce, something’s wrong with your meat. And Franklin’s does this – let me say AGAIN – better than absolutely everyone everywhere. That said, Franklin’s has an espresso sauce that, feeling almost blasphemous for me to say, tastes great dipping every few pieces of brisket and turkey.
For more Texas BBQ, venture south forty minutes on 183 to Lockhart (the “BBQ Capital of Texas”) for Smitty’s Market – another Top 5 Texas Monthly joint. If you prefer more sides, our department events were always catered by Rudy’s, and the creamed corn is oooh soooo good! And the barbecue is also really good, just not “best in Texas” when you’re surrounded by places like Franklin’s.
Best Food in Austin
Non-BBQ food in Austin is also terrific, and the city itself focuses on homegrown eateries over regional or national chains.
As a student, hotspots were Hopdoddy Burger Bar (big fan myself of the El Diablo, and their milkshakes are also bueno), G’Raj Mahal for unpretentious but delicious Indian food (BYOB or W welcome!) under a tent outside, Torchy’s Tacos, legit tacos, fairly priced – and relatively cheap, all things considered; an Austin institution, Home Slice Pizza, fresh made with big ricotta dollops, & Trudy’s for specialty and house Mexican martinis & frozen margaritas (voted “best in Texas”).
I’d recommend a night devoted to grabbing food on South Congress Avenue – Hopdoddy, or Enoteca for relaxed Italian with outdoor seating (no need to splurge next door at the upscale Vespaio) – walking around (lots of interesting stores, and just a cool nighttime vibe in the “SoCo District”), and ending the night at Amy’s Ice Cream. Just be sure to enunciate if you have an allergy, lest ‘purnurple’ sound like ‘peanut butter’.
South Congress is also home to the “i love you so much” mural where everyone stops for pictures. Austin is known well for its breakfast tacos; skip the crowded at Juan in a Million of Man v. Food fame and try Veracruz All Natural.
Also well known for its myriad food trucks, I always loved stopping in the lot on SoCo; today, they’re scattered about town, but a quick internet search can lead you in the right direction for whatever strikes your fancy. On the upscale side, Uchi / Uchiko serve highly-rated Japanese cuisine; I never quite made it to either, but they’re both led by James Beard winner for “best chef, Southwest” in Tyler Cole, and my friends have raved on both.
For Tex-Mex, head to Polvo’s or Chuy’s – or, a personal favorite and definite hole-in-the-wall, Habanero Mexican Café.
Kerbey Lane is popular among students, especially after football games or late nights (or I recall a Gosling-McConaughey craze for a week when female coeds camped here to catch a sighting). Lastly, Gourdough’s is a must. I’m not particularly a donut fan but, oh man, the warm, delicious balls of dough are something you want sitting in your mouth over and over again.
Best Bars and Nightlife in Austin
For drinks and nightlife, Austin again exceeds the bar at most places (<– that was a pun!).
There’s “Dirty” Sixth Street with feels of Bourbon Street minus *most* of the debauchery, loved by undergrads looking to grind and grad students out for a stress-free night dancing. We found our way to Maggie Mae’s rooftop most often, but this stretch is ‘decked’ out with open rooftops – and, for your Austin initiation, start the night at Cheers with a round of Blue Waves.
East 6th for a more laid back time; Easy Tiger being a must here. Rainey Street, with an even more relaxed and hipster feel – packed but a lot quieter by volume, and a top destination for grad students and working professionals. Catch dinner first at G’Raj Mahal, then head to Lustre Pearl and work your way down the block.
West Sixth is a mix of everything, but more upscale, classy, and older young adults to the ‘wiser’ crowd. Start at the Brew Exchange, where prices vary by popularity, then head to The Dogwood, Kung Fu Saloon, Key Bar, or Little Woodrow’s, which also features Thursday turtle racing!
I’ve also heard about a Warehouse District, but I have no suggestions. Lastly, if you have a car and will to drive to the outskirts of the city limits, The Oasis on Lake Travis serves cocktails overlooking the namesake lake; renowned among Austinites for brilliant sunsets, it is pricy, but you’re paying for the view… and hey, you’re on holiday!
Krummel’s Ultimate Guide for Austin Texas