Brit’s Summer Travel Series: Austin, Texas

Brit’s Summer Travel Series: Austin, Texas

For the third stop on Brit’s Summer Travel Series, we are heading to the Lone Star state! Until a few months ago, I was just a visitor to Austin, not a resident. Through my visits to Austin over the years and after living here for a while, I have learned a few things about the capital of Texas and am sharing them with you for your next visit!

I’ve always thought Austin is where Texas meets L.A., and it’s crazy to think that nestled in the rolling hills of Texas, there is a burgeoning tech hub with chic restaurants and more outdoor activities than you can imagine. The first thing to figure out for your trip is where to stay and Austin hotels do not disappoint.

The coolest hotel in my opinion is the Hotel Saint Cecilia. This boutique hotel is in the heart of the city, just off of South Congress and a quick jump across Lady Bird Lake from downtown. If you’re interested in proximity to town, the South Congress Hotel and W Austin are both great options.

The Commodore Perry Estate is brand new and I haven’t had a chance to visit yet, but it looks incredible! Auberge Resorts brought the nearly one hundred-year-old Commodore Perry mansion back to life and the storied estate looks better than ever.

Austin’s restaurants are as delicious as they are well designed. My absolute favorite restaurant has to be Clark’s Oyster Bar. It is my vibe to a tee and the food is SO good! If you are a seafood lover like me, then this is the place for you. My husband and I love going for dinner together and it’s also a wonderful brunch spot with your girlfriends! I’m not sure if there is anything better than a dozen oysters with Clark’s famous French fries and a glass of one of their many fabulous wines. Their sister-restaurant, Perla’s, is also fabulous and is a larger space if you’re looking for a group outing.

If you’re interested in Mexican food or TexMex, ATX Cocina and Matt’s el Rancho are my favorites. Matt’s el Rancho is more traditional and great for larger groups and families… you can’t leave without getting the Bob Armstrong Dip! ATX Cocina is a gorgeous restaurant in downtown and they serve modern Mexican food and delicious margaritas.

For sushi, we prefer Soto on South Lamar, we love going for happy hour and getting the Chef’s Choice–it’s five pieces of some of the most amazing and innovative sushi I’ve ever had! We also can’t get enough of Sway…I think about their Blue Crab Fried Rice all of the time and the design of all of their restaurants is just so cool.

For lighter fare with subtle French vibes, I highly recommend Launderette and June’s All Day. The food is incredible and again, the vibe will not disappoint. If you’re looking for the most romantic spot in Austin, I suggest Mattie’s. The food is described as southern and it is delicious. But the setting in out of this world. The restaurant is in an old mansion and the grounds have the most beautiful oak trees that have…Peacocks in them! It is so wonderful and perfect for a date night or special occasion.

Austin is known for its taco scene and for good reason. We are still working on this list, but trying out taco trucks and restaurants in Austin has been one of my favorite things to do with my husband since we’ve moved here. If you’re not interested in driving around to look for a taco-focused restaurant, but still want a taco, you’re in luck. I’ve noticed all of the coffee shops here also sell breakfast tacos, which is something I am more than okay with!

The activities in Austin are endless and if you love the outdoors, you will be in heaven here! Unlike many other parts of Texas, Austin is jam-packed with lakes, rivers, hiking trails and plenty of bike lanes!

Whether you’re a Texan looking for a weekend getaway or from out-of-state, Austin will be the perfect destination for you! Come back next week to see Brit’s next stop on the Summer Travel Series!

XO,

Brit

Brit’s Summer Travel Series: Santa Barbara

Brit’s Summer Travel Series: Santa Barbara

This week we are heading to the west coast for Brit’s Summer Travel Series! Known as the American Riviera for its nearly perfect climate and resemblance to the famed French Riviera, Santa Barbara is the ultimate summer vacation destination.

The Marina at Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara has a special place in my heart not only because I got married there, but also because I’ve been going for so many years, it feels like a second home to me. My father-in-law used to live in Santa Barbara so I was lucky enough to have a locals guide to this iconic coastal California town. But Santa Barbara is not your typical California beach town filled with surfer dudes and laid-back attitudes, it is incredibly chic and oozing with European charm. Situated between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, this quiet town is just 80 miles north of Los Angeles, and is packed with museums, vineyards, restaurants and some of the top-rated hotels in the world.

In addition to learning about the area from my father-in-law, I also spent two years planning my wedding in Santa Barbara. During that time, I researched and toured venues, resorts, restaurants and attractions extensively to determine where our dream wedding would take place. Because of this, I have compiled a tried-and-true list of where to stay, play, eat and drink along the American Riviera.

The hotels in Santa Barbara are some of the best in the world. I’m slightly biased, but my personal favorite is the Four Seasons. It is set on the most beautiful property over looking the Pacific Ocean and the gardens are truly stunning. As a guest of the hotel, you have access to the Coral Casino, which is a private social club across the street that has the most adorable pool and beach club. The level of service at the Four Seasons is unlike anything I have ever experienced at a hotel. Whether you’re hanging out at the Jungle Pool or the Coral Casino, lush chair coverings and towels are laid out for each guest and attendants bring around fun snacks like frozen grapes and peppermint patties throughout the day. The Spa and accommodations at the hotel are amazing and worth every penny of the hefty price tag.

If you’re interested in other high-end hotels in the area, the San Ysidro Ranch is an incredible choice (JFK and Jackie Kennedy Onassis honeymooned there) and offers a unique luxurious garden experience for their guests. I also love the Ritz-Carlton Bacara Santa Barbara although it is located quite a ways from the town of Santa Barbara. My dad and I stayed at the Bacara the week before my wedding and we had the best time. The resort is stunning and there is SO much to do–hiking, biking, golf, restaurants, several pools and an amazing spa.

While in Santa Barbara, there is no shortage of activities to do for people of all ages. My favorite place to go when I’m in town is Ganna Walska’s Lotusland. The story behind this stunning property is so fascinating and the grounds have been maintained to perfection since Ms. Walska’s death in 1984. Reservations are required for a visit so make sure to do that well in advance. With Lotusland’s proximity to San Ysidro Ranch, I would suggest a 10 a.m. reservation at Lotusland and brunch at the ranch after.

During the summer months and when COVID isn’t an issue, taking in a polo match is always a great experience or a hike to Cold Springs Tavern will make for a great day. If you prefer to stay in Santa Barbara proper, there are a number of wonderful wine tasting rooms, shopping and restaurants to enjoy. Two of my favorite tasting rooms in the downtown area are Au Bon Climat and Happy Canyon and The Funk Zone is a must-do for wine-lovers.

When you’re in Santa Barbara, Brophy Bros. is a must. I know, I know. It’s on the marina and looks like a tourist trap, but I promise you it is not. Locals love it and they have delicious oysters and clam chowder with one of the best views in the city. There are several fabulous Italian restaurants in the area as well. Our favorites are Ca’Dario and Olio e Limone and Lucky Penny for pizza.

If you’re looking for a casual vibe, Hillstone’s Honor Bar in Montecito is always a favorite as well as the Paradise Cafe and the Public Market in Santa Barbara…the Hangover Noodles at the Empty Bowl cannot be missed. If you’re looking for something fancier, the Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch and Lucky’s Steakhouse in Montecito are fabulous options.

For breakfast and brunch, Jeannine’s in Montecito is divine and McConnell’s Ice Cream is always a great way to end the night.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip to Santa Barbara with me and I hope we can all visit this beautiful city in person again soon. No matter where you go in Santa Barbara, you will not be disappointed. Come back next Tuesday to see where we will be traveling to next for Brit’s Summer Travel Series!

XO,

Brit

Brit’s Summer Travel Series: Watercolor, Florida

Brit’s Summer Travel Series: Watercolor, Florida

Travel has not been cancelled this summer in spite of rising coronavirus cases around the world. A record number of Americans are hitting the road this summer, favoring road trips to air travel and domestic locales to foreign destinations.

Growing up, my dad loved taking me and my sister on road trips around the U.S….from San Diego to Seattle, or Manhattan, Kansas to Montana and so many more stops over the years. This summer, I’ll be sharing my favorite U.S. summer destinations with you as part of my Summer Travel Series.

To kick things off, we’re going to Watercolor, Florida! Watercolor is a picture-perfect town nestled in between Destin and Panama City Beach along the scenic 30-A Highway. I’ve been going to Watercolor since 2010, but my husband and his family have gone since the 90s, around the time the town was developed. His mom has the most beautiful beach house there so we try to go a couple of times a year and it is just magical.

This beautiful beach town is a quick four-hour drive from New Orleans, Louisiana, a six-hour drive from Atlanta, Georgia and nine hours from Houston, Texas. There are also two airports nearby–Northwest Beaches Airport in Panama City and Pensacola International Airport that bring in flights from around the country.

Beach set-ups at Watercolor

Watercolor is a private resort community and it has its own beach, beach club, pools, tennis courts and miniature water park. The town has a hotel and homes that can be rented or owned. By staying at the hotel or one of these homes, you then have access to all of the town’s amenities.

Biking around Watercolor

Watercolor and the surrounding communities are connected by biking trails so you don’t have to drive once you get there if you don’t want to. Ubers are VERY limited in the area so I would recommend arranging rides to and from the airport and any dinners that are far away in advance because it is really hard to get a ride last-minute.

The restaurants in the area are some of my all-time favorites. Our family favorite and closest restaurant to our house is Cafe Thirty-A. It’s a very traditional restaurant and they have great fish, an incredible wine list and it is family-friendly. Next on our list is Basmati’s…I think they have the best cocktails and the food is so good! Borago is also a wonderful option if you are in the mood for Italian.

For lunch, I have to go to Shrimp Shack at least once every trip. They have the best lobster rolls–huge pieces of fresh lobster served on a simple bun with no sauce, but a side of melted butter…the best. And sometimes I get their gumbo too. The actual restaurant is really small, but they have patio-style seating that looks over the water and it makes for a great afternoon. My other lunch favorite is George’s at Alys Beach, but I have been told by most people I bring there that they don’t like it. I however, love it. The building looks like it has been dropped out of the Hamptons and delivered straight to 30A. The food is wonderful and the service is great.

We also try to go to the Big Bad Breakfast (BBB) at Inlet Beach on our trips–either right when we get in or before we fly out. BBB is originally from Oxford, Mississippi, the same town where my husband and I went to college at Ole Miss so we love going to the new BBB at Inlet Beach for a little bit of nostalgia and the food is amazing.

Reservations are always essential at these restaurants for dinner, but even more so now because of coronavirus restrictions. I will say our most recent trip was quite different than those in the past. The town was still busy, but the Watercolor Inn seemed really understaffed and over-occupied leading to crowding and nearly hour long wait times to even order a drink. If you’re at the beach club, I would just suggest packing a cooler and bringing your own drinks to the beach.

Other than the beach and beach club, there is also Camp Watercolor and the lake for guests to enjoy (in addition to smaller community pools and parks.) Camp Watercolor was just re-done and has a really fun lazy river, a slide and a pool for children of all ages.

Ready for a fun day at Camp Watercolor!

If you’re more interested in checking out the lake, they offer kayaking, paddle boarding and canoeing in a beautiful setting. But whatever you’re interested in doing during your vacation, Watercolor will almost certainly have you covered.

I hope you enjoyed this trip to Watercolor with me! Come back next week to see our next stop on Brit’s Summer Travel Series!

XO,

Brit

Travel during COVID-19

Travel during COVID-19

As an avid traveler, the past few months have been incredibly strange for me. In my pre-COVID life, my husband and I would fly somewhere at least twice a month, but until last week, we hadn’t stepped foot in an airport since March.

To be honest with you, I was a bit trepidatious about going to the airport and actually flying. I had so many questions and had heard horror stories about not being able to use the bathroom or not having access to get water or food. In the weeks leading up to our trip, I called the Austin-Bergstrom Airport a couple of times to see what it was like in the airport. They assured me that places like Starbucks and Jo’s Coffee were open and all of the bathrooms were open.

I had also heard stories about crazy-long lines to check bags and get through security, but in our experience, it took less than 10 minutes to check two bags and we got through security in under 15 minutes.

The line for security at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on June 7, 2020.

We flew from Austin, Texas to Panama City Beach, Florida for our first post-COVID vacation. There were no direct flights available so on the way to Florida we had a layover in Nashville, Tennessee and on our way home we had a layover in Houston, Texas. Our layover in Nashville was about 10 minutes so I can’t really speak to what that airport was like, but I would rate Austin’s airport as the cleanest and most efficient.

William P. Hobby Airport on June 14, 2020.

For our trip, we flew on Southwest Airlines and I have to give them such a major shoutout. Everyone from the people behind the counter checking bags to the people boarding you for the flight were so helpful. I think they are incredibly sensitive to the fact that people are nervous about flying again and they worked hard to make everyone comfortable and safe.

If you’re familiar with Southwest Airlines, you will know their boarding process is quite different than other airlines. You check in 24 hours before your flight and are assigned either an “A,” “B,” or “C” with a number between 1-50 behind the letter. That is still the same, but instead of calling passengers in groups of 30, the boarding agents now call passengers in groups of 10. I actually loved this aspect. It was much more civilized and I think it kept the bottle-neck of passengers way down. Until September 30th, Southwest says they are only booking flights at 60 percent capacity leaving the *dreaded* middle seats empty unless you are a family or group traveling together and want to sit in the same row. I loved this and on all four of our flights, there were empty seats and a lot of space between passengers.

None of our flights were completely full. The only people who sat in middle seats chose to sit in them or were traveling with their families.

I do think Southwest could improve the cleanliness of the planes. Our flight to Florida was around 6 a.m., so I believe the plane had been cleaned the night before and you could tell. Our seats were clean and the plane seemed fresh. Our flights home were a very different story. Our flight from Panama City to Houston had a quick turn-around time and there were still crumbs on my set when I boarded the plane. Same story on our flight from Houston to Austin. Luckily, I bring my own wipes and wiped down our seats, armrests, seatbelts and tray-tables, but I do think the airlines should be doing more to keep their planes clean. They were very focused on picking up trash and requested passengers hand them wipes people usually stuff behind the seats several times during the flight, but picking up trash alone does not equal cleanliness.

Passengers are required to wear masks while boarding the plane and during the entire flight unless they are eating or drinking, but while you are in the airport, you are not required to wear a mask. During our longer flights, Austin to Nashville and Panama City to Houston, we were offered a can of water and a snack, but I always bring my own water and snacks so I didn’t take any. On the shorter flights, Nashville to Panama City and Houston to Austin, beverage and snack services were not offered. We were able to use the bathrooms on all flights, but you are not allowed to form lines.

COVID or not, I always try to pack my own snacks. For our flight to Florida, I made Kodiak pancakes, and packed grapes and celery. I don’t usually like fast food and try to avoid buying salty snacks in the airport.

Overall, I really appreciate the changes airports and airlines have implemented and I think they actually make the process of flying less hectic. I do think sanitization efforts should be taken up a notch by sanitizing the buckets used for security, requiring passengers wear socks through security and that airplanes are cleaned AND sanitized thoroughly after each flight.

Up, Up and Away! Leaving Austin for the first time in three months to go to the beach!

Have you traveled during coronavirus recently or do you plan to soon? Leave me a comment and let me know your experience.

XO,

Brit