Winter in Texas | Austin, San Antonio, and Waco

Happy New Year, y’all. It’s the season of goal-setting and what better time for me to start on one of my personal goals for the year: blogging more consistently. I had high hopes that I’d be able to balance blogging and law school, but once fall semester started last August, I realized I had to put blogging on the backburner for a while. Now that I have one semester under my belt, I’m hoping everything will be a little more manageable and I’ll find time to write again, but I figured I might as well take advantage of this time before spring semester starts to get at least one blog post in.

The week before Christmas, my parents and I decided to fly out to Austin, Texas, for the weekend. I was born and raised in Austin for 3 years before we moved to San Diego, and we hadn’t been back in 20 years. The winter season tends to invoke a sense of nostalgia, so it was the perfect time to revisit our old home and relive some old memories. We even looked through our old photo albums for pictures to recreate during our trip, including the ones below—taken outside our old apartment, 22 years apart. 

Aside from driving around our old neighborhood and visiting my mom’s old workplace (which also happens to be my birthplace), we also wanted to go to some of the touristy locations we had seen long ago but since forgotten. We went to the Lyndon B. Johnson Library, but unfortunately with only 5 minutes left until closing, so we weren’t able to see much. With the sun setting, we were worried we wouldn’t be able to see the Texas Capitol Building in time, but it turns out it’s surrounded by dozens of floodlights to ensure a well-lit picture any time of day.

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Since we arrived in Austin in the afternoon, there wasn’t enough time to do everything on our agenda. We ended up just grabbing dinner at Torchy’s Tacos, which showed up frequently on lists of places to eat in Austin (and Texas, overall). As someone who grew up on San Diegan Mexican food, I can’t say Torchy’s Tacos are amazing. They’re good, but not worth the price. Also, we went to the South Congress Ave location and the parking was terrible, so I’d recommend going to another location or during a less busy time of day. 

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After dinner, we stopped by the Four Seasons for the Gingerbread Village. We had planned on going to the Gingerbread Village in Seattle last year, but weren’t able to find parking, so we were excited to find out Austin also had one. However, the display wasn’t as elaborate as I was expecting based on the pictures I had seen of the one in Seattle. I was a little disappointed, but we managed to get some photos with all the beautiful Christmas decorations around the hotel before heading in for the night.

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We started the next day with mass at St. Ignatius, the church I was baptized in, before heading to San Antonio. But the much-Instagrammed Greetings from Austin mural was just a few minutes away from the church, so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get the quintessential tourist photo.

San Antonio was just under 2 hours south of Austin, which makes for the perfect day trip if you’re visiting. Our first stop in San Antonio was Mission San Jose. Founded in 1720, it remains an operating church to this day. In fact, there was a sign that stated only mass attendees are permitted to enter the church before 1pm, after which tourists are allowed to enter. However, a tour guide informed us that some tourists are able to sneak in just after mass ends to get a look inside, which is what we did.

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We also stopped by Mission Concepción, which was unfortunately under construction, before heading to Downtown San Antonio for lunch. From our experience, San Antonio is a walkable city; we paid $20 for parking just behind the Alamo and easily got around the city on foot. We dined at Landry’s Seafood on the Riverwalk, just a few blocks from the Alamo; their garlic bread and crawfish etouffee were delicious.

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After lunch, we walked back to the Alamo to take a look inside. The building was established in 1718 originally as Mission San Antonio de Valero, and it later became a military outpost for the Mexican army, Texans, and later Americans. Photography and videography aren’t allowed inside, so I was only able to get a shot of the exterior with the famous bell-curve top, which a guide informed us was added long after the actual Battle of the Alamo. Admission is free and it’s a lot smaller than we were expecting, so it’s a quick stop to add to your itinerary if you’re pressed for time in the city.

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We then went on a boat ride along the San Antonio River, which we purchased tickets for at a booth at the Shops at Rivercenter. It was about 30 minutes of narration about the history of San Antonio, which was very informative. But even if you’re not all that interested in the history, it’s a nice way to take a break from walking and just enjoy the scenery.

After that, we stopped by the San Marcos Outlets before heading back to Austin for dinner. We figured we couldn’t go to Texas and not eat some barbecue. Some of the more popular spots like la Barbecue and Franklin Barbecue close and sell out earlier in the day, so we settled on Terry Black’s Barbecue. We were a little confused by the process—you pick your own sides buffet style, then order the meats by 1/3, 1/2, or a whole pound. We didn’t really know how much we’d be able to eat, so we went with 1/3 pounds of brisket, sausage, and ribs, along with sides of Mexican rice, potato salad, and mac and cheese. Plus, they have slices of white bread available for free to make your own sandwiches. It was all so delicious I forgot to take a photo before eating (oops!). I’d highly recommend Terry Black’s if you’re unable to make it to some of the more famous barbecue spots.

On our final full day in Texas, we drove out to Waco, just an hour and a half north of Austin. My mom and I are huge fans of Chip and Joanna Gaines, and we had seen Magnolia Market at the Silos featured on HGTV’s Fixer Upper, so we just had to see it for ourselves.

We had brunch at Magnolia Table around 10:30am. I was expecting a long waitlist, as per reviews and Google Maps’ “Popular Times,” but since it was a Monday morning, we didn’t even have to wait to be seated. It did get pretty crowded by the time we left, so keep that in mind if you plan on having lunch at the restaurant. 

We shared a bowl of tomato basil soup, which was delicious and perfect for the gloomy weather that day, and a side of tater tots (which I highly recommend). I also had some avocado toast, which was a great light lunch to pair with the soup. At the end of our meal, our server gave us some salted caramels with our check, which was such a sweet touch.

From Magnolia Table, Magnolia Market was just about a 6-minute drive. There’s free parking on site, and it surprisingly wasn’t too hard to find parking considering it was the middle of the day. But if you plan on going on a weekend, when it tends to be busier, there’s a free shuttle that runs every 15-20 minutes and stops right in front of Magnolia Market.

The grounds were decorated for Christmas, and their theme this year was “A Thrill of Hope.” There were areas specifically designed for photo-ops, such as a little sitting area in the garden outside the Seed + Supply store. There were also plenty of food trucks, including one that sold food from Magnolia Table, as well as a large grassy area for children to play in.

But our main concern was Magnolia Market, which was just as beautiful inside as I imagined. I tend to spend a lot of time perusing the Magnolia collection at Target, and this was that times a hundred. Every corner of the store has a touch unique to Chip and Joanna. I will admit, a lot of the items are pricey; I picked up a lot of items and quickly put them down after seeing the price. But we still did some damage: a couple of Magnolia t-shirts, a set of holiday candles for 30% off, and a few other souvenirs.

Before leaving, we stopped by the Silos Bakery for some treats. We ended up getting Lemon Lavender, Campfire, and The Chocolatier cupcakes, and a Cranberry Chocolate Chip cookie. We were just going to eat one and save the rest for the road, but ended up eating all the cupcakes there! The Campfire Cupcake and Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookie were seasonal flavors, but I’d recommend the Lemon Lavender cupcake any time of year.

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As we were leaving the parking lot, we noticed that Jimmy Don was just across the street selling his metal work that is often featured on Fixer Upper. My mom had looked at some of his work in Magnolia Market, but none of them were quite to her liking, but she luckily found something at the booth across the street—a sign that says “Home Sweet Home”—and Jimmy Don even signed it for her. It was sheer luck that he happened to be there that day, but I believe they’re opening a permanent store at that location, so keep an eye out for that if you plan on visiting.

The staff at Magnolia Market informed us that they were having a 40% off sale at their warehouse, which was actually their original location before moving to the Silos. A lot of the items at the warehouse are either items that are slightly damaged or discontinued. There wasn’t too much inside, but we did pick up some home decor, so it’s worth a quick stop if you’re in the market for home goods.

Next up, we stopped by St. Francis on the Brazos. I had seen its beautifully elaborate artwork via Google Maps, but I was blown away by the large scale of the paintings in person, in addition to the vast amount of poinsettia decorating virtually every inch of the space. If you’re Catholic, I recommend stopping by this church, even if just to take a quick look inside.

Our last stop in Waco was the Waco Mammoth Monument. Two boys had come across these fossils in the late 70s or early 80s, which turned out to be a herd of Colombian mammoths. The fossils here represent the first and only evidence of a nursery herd of such Mammoths.

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It was getting dark on our walk back from the excavation site, so we decided to drive back to Austin just in time for the Trail of Lights, miles of Christmas light displays that span across Zilker Park. 

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There was a lot more we wish we could have done, but for a short weekend trip, it was more than enough. Have you been to Austin, San Antonio, or Waco? What were your experiences like? Let me know in the comments below!

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