A man standing with his arms open wide with Lake Austin in the background.

© Todd White Stills & Motion

The city of Austin is a crossroads—a place where hippies and cowboys commingle, where blackland prairie meets limestone hills, and where the eastern and western halves of the state collide. Texas’ capital city boasts new, inventive ideas about art, cuisine, and entertainment. Austin’s a big place, so we’ll tackle the city’s west side, where a Hill Country adventure awaits.

Mount Bonnell

Just east of Lake Austin, Mount Bonnell is one of the highest points of elevation inside Austin city limits. This is where you can see the Hill Country in all its glory. This “mountain” has been a tourist destination since the 1850s, when people started climbing the 102 stone steps to the top—775 feet above sea level. You may need to take a breather once you summit. But don’t worry—the amazing views of Lake Austin and the downtown skyline make the effort well worth it.

The County Line on the Lake

Before Texas barbecue was an international phenomenon, this Austin institution was smoking the good stuff on top of a hill in far west Austin. It occupies a remote, stone-built house that once was a speakeasy and private club far from the eyes of the law. The walls of the restaurant are plastered with photos of famous Texans and celebrities who’ve visited to order a plate. And should the mayor of Austin ever get hungry in the line of duty, there’s a permanently reserved spot.

The Contemporary Austin at Laguna Gloria

This is one of Austin’s best art museums—and it’s not even indoors. Mind-bending artwork interweaves with towering live oak and palm trees across 18 acres of historic land. You’ll find sculptures hanging from trees and a full-size car that sings. My favorite is a rogue telephone pole with a poster for a lost cat: Call the listed number, and you’ll be asked to leave a voicemail if you’ve seen the cat.

Bull Creek District Park

This city park is home to one of Austin’s best places to hike, and afterward, take a much-deserved dip. Also, on Bull Creek’s south end, you’ll find some of the best bouldering in the state. If you’re too squeamish to try it yourself, you can always just sit back and live vicariously through the daredevils.

Hula Hut

This Hawaiian-meets-Tex-Mex joint on the shores of Lake Austin blends flavors in the best ways. Here you can try creative dishes such as pineapple fajitas and “Mexonesian” shrimp flautas. The restaurant also offers plenty of staple Tex-Mex dishes that pair swimmingly with a margarita. Enjoy yourself as you watch the boats go by; boaters can even dock and come on dry land for a meal.

So whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path,
I hope to see you on the road.

Chet Garner is the host of The Daytripper® travel show on PBS.
To view the Mesquite episode, visit thedaytripper.com.
Follow along on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @chettripper.

From the July 2023 issue
The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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