Family Fun in Central Texas, Part 1: Austin

I've been traveling for the past 12 days. There were two distinct parts to my travel. First, Steve, Trevor, and I met up with Steve's parents and sister in Texas Hill Country to view the total solar eclipse. I went directly from Texas to Utah to attend a conference alone. I've added the new cities I visited in red to the map of places I've been

As always, we packed in as many educational attractions as we could: museums, tours, historic sites, and more. We tried the local specialties and learned about the area. We had a great time and I'm really excited to tell you all about it!

Because I blog about educational travel, I was given admission tickets, media rates, discounts, and other benefits for some of the places we visited during our trip. A few places we went are free for everyone. We paid full price for the rest. This has no bearing on my reviews. Everything I'm sharing is something that I recommend without hesitation. If you see any gaps in my narrative, it is because I didn't love that particular attraction, restaurant, or hotel enough to recommend it to you, regardless of how much I paid or didn't pay.


Sacramento, California to Austin, Texas

On Friday, April 5 the three of us flew nonstop from Sacramento to Austin. A week earlier, Steve had brought all of his telescope and camera equipment to his parents, who traveled to Texas in their RV. Steve has a serious telescope (more on this in a future post) and it would have been a nightmare to try to fly with it, so we were really grateful that Dave and Pat drove it for us. 

We checked into our Austin hotel, Embassy Suites Austin Downtown. During our last Austin trip, we stayed close to the Texas State Capitol. We loved the location and our hotel, but this time I intentionally chose to stay south of the river so that we'd have different attractions nearby. 

We dropped our stuff in our room, then headed out for lunch. Or dinner. What do you call the meal you eat at 3:30 pm when you've crossed two time zones and your stomach thinks it's 1:30? We chose Aussie's Grill and Beach Bar and it was an excellent choice. 

Inside, it's heavily themed with all sorts of things from Australian surf and beach culture. 

Outside, there are beach volleyball courts!

In this picture, you can see Trevor (in the grey sweatshirt) headed into the restaurant. You can choose to eat inside, under the covered patio area that you see just to his right, or beyond that in the sun next to the volleyball courts. Most people were outside watching the action. Aussie's has regular league play and hosts tournaments. Or you can reserve the courts during public sessions.   

We had an excellent meal. Then we headed back to the Embassy Suites to relax with a drink during their Happy Hour. 

Then we headed to Lone Star Riverboat. They offer affordable daily bat watching sunset cruises during bat season in Austin. Last time we visited after the bats had left Austin to migrate to Mexico. I was really excited that this trip fell when the bats had already arrived!

This wasn't our first time witnessing a bat flyout. We live 25 miles from the largest colony of Mexican free-tail bats in California. We have seen them emerge during an official tour, as well as several times that we happened to be driving over the Yolo Causeway in the summer at sunset!  

Our Lone Star Riverboat voyage started with very interesting 40-minute narrated cruise in Lady Bird Lake and a short distance up the Colorado River. We learned a lot about the history of Austin, as well as what it is like today. 

Austin's Owl Building

Coincidentally, X marks the spot where we'd be viewing the bat flyout!

See all the birds? There were hundreds of snowy egrets along the riverbank. 

When we floated under the Congress Avenue Bridge, we could hear the squeaks of approximately 750,000 bats. They spend the daylight hours in those little 1.5" wide cracks. 

Austin proudly advertises an estimated 1.5 million bats (the largest urban colony in North America), so why were there "only" 750,000 there in early April? Because they are all pregnant females who have not given birth yet. In the late summer and early fall, there will be 1.5 million bats coming out at night to feed. 

An enormous crowd of people comes out each night to watch the bat flyout. The bridge is packed, as are the shores. 

A lot of people view the bats from the lake. There were tons of kayaks...

... other riverboats like ours...

... and even some swan boats. 

As it got darker, our guide expressed concern because it was quite windy. Apparently, bats (especially pregnant ones) will skip dinner (or head out later) if it's too windy out. They don't like rain, nor cold;  fortunately it was warm and clear. But the wind might prevent us from seeing them.

As the sun was almost at the horizon, we saw a few scout bats come out and look around (checking for predators and weather conditions), but they went back in and no more bats came out. 

Over the next 20 minutes, the wind slowed down and we did see many bats come out. But by then it was completely dark. Our guide shone a red light onto the bridge, which let us see them (and doesn't affect the bats' vision). Unfortunately, our cameras didn't catch the bats. 

But we did see them! It wasn't nearly as spectacular as the ribbons of bats we saw here in California, but it was still super cool. And we heard so much squeaking that we hadn't heard back home when we've seen the ribbons of bats. If you're in Austin in the spring, summer, or early fall, go see the bats. If you have control over when you'll be in Austin, choose late summer or early fall, on a warm, clear, wind-free day. And enjoy. Bats are awesome. And so is Austin. 

Tomorrow I'll tell you what else we did in Austin, as well as where we went next. 

1 comment:

  1. Glad you got to see the bats. Bat watching seems quite interesting.:)


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