I don’t know how it took me so long to get out to Lake Austin Spa Resort. As a lifelong Austinite and a travel writer, it’s been on my list of places to go — for work or for fun — for years. And yet, until this week, I had never set foot on the property.
I knew a little bit about the resort before my stay, but I was surprised to learn that it has a fascinating history. Here are five things you may not know about Lake Austin Spa Resort.
It started in the 1940s as a fishing camp called Lake Austin Lodges. There were 10 guest rooms and 36 boat slips, and you could do everything from boating and swimming to deer and turkey hunting.
It was once a nudist camp. Yes, it’s true. In the early 1970s, it was home to the Sunshine Nudist Camp, followed by the Steiner Ranch Rodeo Camp, which lodged and trained cowboys and rodeo clowns, in the mid-1970s.
In 1997, friends Michael McAdams and William Rucks purchased the resort. Since then, the focus has been on finding balance through “healthful eating, moderate exercise, therapeutic spa treatments and relaxation.”
Many celebrities have stayed there. They include Gayle King, George H.W. Bush and Sara Moulton, who will return on May 15 to teach a pizza-themed cooking class.
In part thanks to its 25,000-square-foot spa, it gets lots of awards. It was recently named the No. 6 wellness retreat in the world by Conde Nast Traveler and a Top 10 spa in Travel + Leisure.
It’s about the journey, not the destination, right? With spring just around the corner, there’s no better time for a Texas road trip, and no matter where you’re going, there’s a roadside attraction to consider. Here are five favorite road-trip stops around the state.
Weikel’s Bakery, La Grange
Texans are passionate about their kolache shops – and even the use of the word itself – but if you’re heading to Houston, Weikel’s is a sure bet. They’ve been cranking out made-from-scratch Czech pastries in La Grange for decades, with flavors that include blueberry cream, lemon and poppy seed. The bakery also serves pigs-in-a-blanket, cinnamon rolls, cakes, pies, cupcakes and muffins. weikels.com
The Big Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo
You’ve seen videos of people attempting to finish this famous restaurant’s 72-ounce steak, and if you’re a true Texan, you’ve even put it on your bucket list — after all, if you finish the entire thing in under an hour, you get it for free. Anyone driving to New Mexico would be remiss not to stop here, especially once the current renovations — which include a 1,000-capacity music hall and an indoor water park and hotel — are complete. bigtexan.com
Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo, New Braunfels
You may think you want to see the Alamo, but before you get to San Antonio, make a pit stop in New Braunfels to take in the nothing-like-it Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo. This fascinating property just off I-35 offers a surprising variety of animals, including lions, porcupines, alligators, zebras, sloths, peacocks and, of course, snakes. awsfzoo.com
King’s Inn, Riviera
No trip to South Padre Island is complete without a meal at King’s Inn, a seafood restaurant where there’s no printed menu and the tartar sauce recipe is a closely guarded family secret. You may have to wait for the succulent shrimp, oysters and sliced avocado salad, but trust me, it’s worth it. There’s no website, but call ahead to make a reservation if you can. 361-297-5265
Waco Mammoth National Monument, Waco
Like dinosaurs? You’ll love Waco Mammoth National Monument. Next time you head to Dallas, plan to take a quick detour at this site, which features sub-fossil remains of six Columbian mammoths and several other Ice Age animals. Also recommended in Waco: Cameron Park Zoo, a Health Camp shake and Magnolia Market. nps.gov/waco/index.htm
A few weeks ago, Lake Charles’ Crying Eagle Brewing Company got a call from the band Foreigner saying, essentially: I want to know what beer is. I want you to show me.
The band was heading to Lake Charles for a sold-out show on Jan. 27, and two of its members, Michael Bluestein and Bruce Watson, both craft beer aficionados, were interested in coming by to learn more about the brewing process.
“It was very surprising to have people of celebrity be as excited to be part of this process as we were to have them here,” said Stephen Tyson, general manager of Crying Eagle, adding that the brewery will soon release a new Hop Blooded IPA in honor of the friendship. “You expect them to sprinkle some stuff around and be here for a photo op, but everything we asked them to do they were like, ‘Oh, yeah, absolutely!’ They were loving it.”
Crying Eagle is a rough translation of the Atakapa Indian word “Calcasieu” (pronounced KAL-ka-shoo), which is also the name of the parish where Lake Charles is located. The brewery, the brainchild of president Eric Avery, opened in July with a mission of bringing something to the Lake Charles community that they’d never seen before. But despite their recent celebrity following, opening a craft brewery in a market where only 2 percent of beer sales are craft has provided some challenges.
“So much of our mission is education,” Tyson said. “We are in a Michelob Ultra-dominated market. It definitely influences what we do and the styles we choose.”
The brewery currently has three beers — the Chuck, Ready to Mingle and Calcasieu Common — available in stores in parts of Louisiana as well as about a dozen on tap in-house. They hope to be available in some capacity in Texas by the end of the year.
Brewmaster Bill Mungai moved to Lake Charles from Pittsburgh more than a decade ago and was solely a homebrewer for several years. Even after he married his wife and moved in with her, he kept his two-bedroom apartment for brewing. Eventually they added a room onto their house for that purpose.
“I moved down here and didn’t have any friends or know anybody, so I started making beer,” said Mungai, adding that it was always his dream to open a brewery. “Then I made a lot of friends. When you have good, free alcohol, people start turning up.”
The brewery itself is sleek and modern yet inviting, with a sprawling outdoor light-strung patio and textured walls that incorporate wooden pallets.
”The pallets really came about because we were looking for a way to add texture to walls that were huge and blank,” Tyson said. “I did a lot of looking on Pinterest, to be honest with you. I had a great Pinterest experience, to the point where I keep it on my phone and look at stuff sometimes. There’s a lot of smart people on there.”
Mungai added that the brewery hopes to become a destination for beer lovers from around the country in the coming years.
“Every time we travel we plan around what breweries and what beer bars we want to go to,” Mungai said. “We wanted to have a destination kind of place to come and check out. We have a great outdoor beer garden space, we’re dog-friendly and kid-friendly. We’re trying to encourage the community and anyone visiting to come by and spend an afternoon.”
Info: The taproom is open from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, with live music on Fridays and Saturdays. 1165 E. McNeese St. in Lake Charles. 337-990-4871, cryingeagle.com.
If you’ve ever dreamed of walking into a store and ordering a scoop of your favorite raw cookie dough for dessert, now you can, thanks to a new shop in New York City’s Greenwich Village.
Do (pronounced “dough”) Cookie Dough Confections is kind of like an ice cream shop, if, that is, you swapped out the ice cream for scoops of delicious, raw, safe-to-eat cookie dough. Classic flavors include chocolate chip, brownie batter and oatmeal M&M — you decide how many scoops, what toppings you’d like and if you want it to come in a cup or a cone. There are also signature flavors such as Nuts for Nuts (peanut butter, Reese’s cups and Reese’s Pieces) and the Heavenly (sugar cookie dough with Nutella, chocolate chips, caramel bits and sea salt).
“I have relentlessly researched, tested and tried ingredients to perfect the recipes of my favorite cookie flavors,” owner Kristen Tomlan writes on the Do website. “I want everyone — regardless of dietary restrictions — to enjoy delicious cookies and cookie dough, brought to you by Do.”
See, dreams really do, er, dough, come true. It even says so inside the store.
There are also gluten-free, vegan and grain-free options, as well as a special cookie dough treat for dogs. The shop also serves ice cream sandwiches, milkshakes and sundaes. It’s open every day except Mondays at 10 a.m.; the earlier you go, the better.
If you’ve always thought you should be on the Travel Channel, today’s your day.
The Travel Channel show “Food Paradise” will be filming all day at Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden, 79 Rainey St. The restaurant, known for its craft beer, specialty meats and, of course, sausage, will be offering discounts on food and drink this afternoon in honor of the occasion.
“We haven’t been on a ton of national TV stuff,” said owner Ben Siegel. “It’s really exciting and flattering.”
Show producers couldn’t give details on the topic of this particular episode but did say it will likely air in spring or summer. The show always airs on Sunday night.
“We think Austin is a fun town,” said Christopher Kramer, senior producer of “Food Paradise. “We did some research and they seemed like fun guys so we gave them a call.”
Siegel said he first heard that the show wanted to film at Banger’s earlier this year and received the firm date for the shoot about a month ago.
“They said they wanted to come down and film and we said awesome,” Siegel said.
Sausage, beer and a side of stardom? Sign us up. But hurry — shooting began around 6 a.m. and will end this evening.
That heart-clogging chicken-fried steak. That well-worn dance floor. Those old-soul country crooners. What’s not to like?
Now, our beloved Austin gem has caught the attention of nationally known Travel Channel host Samantha Brown, who wrote a glowing essay about the dance hall on her website last week.
“On my last trip to Austin, I had the pleasure of getting a tour of the place from (owner/founder) James White himself. So much history, heart and soul in this place. You gotta check out the photo gallery of country music’s greatest legends. The photos of Willie Nelson are incredible. I can’t recommend a trip here enough!”
Brown, who profiled Austin in 2008 for an episode of her Travel Channel show, “Samantha Brown: Passport To Great Weekends,” has been a network staple for more than 15 years.
Especially, it turns out, when that travel includes cowboy boots and gravy.
“Take the best dance lessons in Texas Wednesday through Saturday nights from 8:30-9:30 p.m.,” Brown wrote about the Broken Spoke on her website last week. “There’s really no excuse to not get your butt out on that dance floor.”
If you listen to what a lot of popular travel websites are saying, now through Monday is the absolute best time to book your flights for holiday travel.
According to a calendar released by Orbitz.com, Thanksgiving travelers will find the lowest fares by booking either today or Oct. 30 or 31. Christmas travelers should book Oct. 28, and New Year’s Eve travelers should book on either Oct. 28 or Oct. 31. According to Orbitz, you can also find discounted fares on certain dates through early November.
The Orbitz data also outlines the busiest airports for Thanksgiving travel, which are:
Chicago O’Hare International
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International
Los Angeles International
Dallas-Fort Worth International
Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental comes in at No. 7.
So what kind of fares can you find if you book your Thanksgiving flight right now? Let’s take a look at some sample fares I found this morning out of Austin.
Austin to Las Vegas, Nov. 23-29, $89.20 round-trip on Frontier
Austin to Fort Lauderdale, Nov. 24-29, $191.20 round-trip on JetBlue
Austin to San Francisco, Nov. 24-29, $275.96 round-trip on Southwest
Austin to Monterrey, Mexico, Nov. 23-30, $286.25 on United
Yes, you have to wade through lots of blackout dates and sometimes fly at weird times, but if you have a little flexibility there are some solid options. Frankly, compared to some years, the current Thanksgiving flight landscape isn’t bad.
Note: This is part of a series about weekend trips to take from Austin.
I lived in Houston for eight years before moving back home to Austin, and even when I lived there, there was always something I loved about The Woodlands. This master-planned community about 40 minutes from downtown Houston just seemed to have so much going on.
This summer, eager to get out of town but short on time for an extended vacation, my daughters and I headed to The Woodlands for a one-night trip. Our time there confirmed what I had always suspected: It’s filled with family-friendly fun.
We had dinner at Tommy Bahama — yes, it’s a chain, but the food was great and the kids loved the tropical theme, especially the miniature umbrellas and plastic monkeys that accompanied their lemonades. The restaurant is located on Market Street and overlooks a fountain and a park with excellent people-watching that kept the kids entertained our entire dinner.
Then came the highlight of our trip: “Star Wars & More: A Tribute to John Williams,” performed by the Houston Symphony with free mezzanine and lawn seating at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. My Star Wars-loving girls were thrilled to pose for pictures with Darth Vader and Kylo Ren, who were on hand to greet incoming guests, but they loved meeting Houston Symphony principal harpist Megan Conley even more.
Conley, who was warming up as we took a quick pre-show tour of the stage, was enthusiastic and welcoming, even letting the girls try out her harp.
“I just walked back from dinner and there were lines of people around, which is really exciting for us because we always want to reach as many people as we can,” Conley said. “It’s great to see people excited about the concerts that we’re about to play.”
The concert included a number of familiar John Williams’ tunes from movies including “Harry Potter,” “Born on the Fourth of July” and, of course, “Star Wars.”
Some of our other favorite places in The Woodlands include Crave Cupcakes, the Goose’s Acre and Black Walnut Cafe. We’re already excited for our next trip.
Cheap Flight Day has arrived, and with it, so have some deals. What’s Cheap Flight Day, you ask? It’s the day that marks the start of the fall travel season, when airlines typically lower prices on many if not most of their routes. Fares for both domestic and international flights can drop by 20 percent or more and stay low through early November.
A quick search shows some strong deals out of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
Here’s a sample of what’s available in terms of domestic flights:
Frontier Airlines is offering $29 one-way fares to Denver and Las Vegas. The offer is for Saturday-Wednesday travel between Aug. 30 and Feb. 8 and excludes holidays, but if you play with your dates you can find some excellent availability. For example, I found a round-trip Saturday-Tuesday flight to Denver Dec. 10-13 — ski season — for $94.20. (Remember, however, that Frontier charges extra for certain seating and baggage, so the cost could be higher depending on your specifications.) The airline is also promoting $89 one-way fares to Orlando and $94 one-way fares to Philadelphia. Click here to view all deals.
Southwest Airlines also has deals to numerous cities from Austin, including $97 one-way fares to New York (Newark), $129 one-way fares to Seattle and $119 one-way fares to Nashville. Click here for the full list.
JetBlue is another airline to consider, with $99 one-way fares from Austin to Long Beach, Calif., and $83 one-way fares from Austin to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The airline is also advertising $92 one-way fares from New York to Bermuda. Click here for a complete list.
There are also plenty of strong deals for international travel:
Among the flights I found out of Austin for international travel: $620.36 round-trip to Beijing on Delta (traveling Sept. 8-15); $322 round-trip to Montreal on American (traveling Sept. 7-13); and $312 round-trip to Mexico City on American (traveling Sept. 17-21).
Wow Air, which has gained a reputation for its super low fares to ever-popular Iceland as well as some other European destinations, has some excellent fares to Europe. For example, I found a round-trip fare from Boston to Stockholm Nov. 27-Dec. 2 for $298.99. Sure, you have to get to Boston, but that can be done from Austin on many airlines for under $200. Wow Air and Icelandair are both excellent low-cost options if you’re considering a trip to Iceland.
That’s just a sample of what I found during a quick search. If you do a little digging, chances are good you’ll find even more. Happy Cheap Flight Day!