One thing everyone should do is subscribe to newsletters of happenings in your city or town, it’s the best way to find out about super cool stuff. DO512 has a really great newsletter, filled with events, new restaurants, best patios and all sorts of neat things I would never have known about all around Austin – and that’s how I learned about this amazing ghost tour.
I’m a ghost tour fanatic. Since I was young it’s something I’ve experienced with family members on vacations and something that I’ve continued on with John as we have our adventures together. I’ve done many different types of ghost tours all over but I’ve never had my own PRIVATE HEARSE until I came across Haunted ATX in a newsletter! I’ve also never really had a ghost tour in Austin before either so I was excited for the whole experience! We started the night off first with sushi happy hour at Uchi which is definitely one of our favorite things to do.
After filling up with sashimi we had a spooky beverage at the Halloween themed bar Gibson Street, where Sarah the Hearse driver picked us up. The amazing thing about the private tour is that they pick you up and drop you off anywhere in Austin (within a 15-20 minute radius) AND you can bring your own booze and snacks! She scooped us up and off to the notorious Driskill Hotel we went! We heard all about Jesse and the child who plummeted to their death down a flight of stairs, and even had access to parts of the hotel that were blocked off to guests. Our guide was amazingly animated and thorough so I knew we were going to have a great experience. Also, many years ago I stayed in the bridal suite with my sisters before a Longhorn game and we had a haunted night (there’s even a ghost bride here).
Afterwards we visited the Clay Pit, an Indian restaurant in a historic old general store (called the Bertram building) from the 1800’s. Apparently there were underground tunnels from the general store to the capitol building where folks used to hide gold. The tunnels also kept gentlemen discreet as they visited brothels. Apparently in the late 1800’s the family lived above the store upstairs and some children fell ill with typhoid fever and one died. There is reported paranormal activity here and also the basement where supposedly a prostitute was strangled to death. I captured a weird figure in my mirror shot, above, and generally felt that this was absolutely haunted.
We made a pit stop at the Tavern on Lamar, where I used to frequent and have their delicious wings back in the day. I had no idea it was one of the most haunted spots in town! By a ghost named Emily nonetheless who plays pranks on people upstairs. Maybe she left me alone because we share the same name? Reminds me that I need to go back to the Tavern to have some of those tasty wings….
Of course we had to stop at the Littlefield house on UT campus, which was always talked about as being the scariest place at UT. Funny enough, there was another ghost tour there as well discussing a famous murder that happened while I was at UT all those years ago- so they asked me to share my memories! I felt so old but also it was neat to provide context for the piano teacher Danielle Martin, who was murdered in 2003 by her TA who believed she had a microchip in her brain. He used a meat clever to “get it out” – which resulted in her unfortunate death.
We discussed many other strange events along the way throughout our hearse ride, from other murderers like Colton Pitonyak to ghosts that taunted our tour guide Sarah, to our favorite bars in town. It was one of the most thorough ghost adventures I’ve been on and I 10/10 recommend to even the most skeptical people out there. It’s a little discouraging to do ghost tours where you live because you think you’ve heard them all, but this super interesting twist of an experience was well worth it. Plus we got some coupons to use at the Clay Pit and we want to go back and see if we can see anything else in the mirrors upstairs! (and also want some delish curry)
If you ever find yourself wondering if you should book a private hearse ghost tour, the answer is yes – yes you should. Haunted ATX also provides tours by van that fits upwards of 11-13 people, and hearse tours fit max of 6. Go out there and explore the ghosts, people!
Have a safe Halloween! Stay tuned for our costumes…
After living in the Bay Area for over 12 years, this summer is the first real hot one I’ve had in over a dozen years. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the weather of San Francisco – most people complain about the fog and constant 55 degree coastal breeze. I miss it very much each and everyday. However, having a summer where I can wear shorts and swim regularly has been a really nice change!
John and I took advantage of the summer sun and swimming whenever we could, and I’m the tannest I’ve been since I was 23. Here is a list of our favorite outdoor activities this season.
Day passes to this hip hotel on the East Side are about $40 per person for half day, either 12-4pm or 4-8pm. We decided to stay the night and take full advantage of this pool, so we got a last minute deal on Hotel Tonight for $100 for a badass room and view. Parking was free and we swam both days for only $20 extra of what would have been a half day activity. It was right after we got engaged and felt like continuing to celebrate, and a much better deal IMO. I love this hotel!
2. Lake Travis
Everyone needs to experience a boat day at Lake Travis at least ONCE throughout their life! I remember doing party boats back in the day when I was a college student at UT. This summer our pals rented out a lake house with a view from AirBnb for the month of June. We had lovely swimming day together where I got completely burnt for the first time in YEARS. Definitely make friends with the neighbors – they gave us a free evening boat ride to catch the sunset!
3. Barton Creek Greenbelt
Although I lived in Austin throughout the 00’s while in college, I never swam in the Greenbelt! HOW is this possible?! Most of the time I was too busy with school or work, or it was super dry without much water. This summer we finally made it happen and it was awesome! John loved it and had never experienced anything like this natural wonder out in CA (though there’s lots of swimming holes outside of Sacramento close to Auburn!)
4. Tubing the Guadalupe Horseshoe Bend
In central Texas, you TUBE in the summer. I grew up tubing the Guadalupe horseshoe regularly. My dad wrote a murder mystery eco-thriller about a death along the river when I was in high school. I took John on this river trip the first time he came to Texas back in 2014, but we haven’t been since. We decided to go with our friends Jen and Ian who we regularly explore with one Saturday afternoon. It was so crowded! The water was pretty low and took us about 2 hours to float the shoe. The part that always bothers me is getting stuck in a whirlpool while the rest of your party swirls past you, but luckily it’s pretty quick. Also when the water is low your butt hits the rocks so it’s great to have a tube with a hard bottom.
I still laugh about our first trip down the river; we recently visited Shiner brewery and John wore a Shiner trucker hat he purchased. With a 6 pack of Lonestar in tow, some dudes who tubed next to us took one look at John and said “That man there- this isn’t his first rodeo! He’s a true Texan” – and I corrected them and said “Actually it IS his first rodeo, and he’s from San Francisco!” – the LOOK on their faces was priceless. But John is great like that – he fits in wherever he goes ❤
5. Barton Springs Pool
Barton Springs is THEE quintessential natural pool in Austin. There is a small fee to enter the park but there is a “free” side on the other side of the barrier where folks bring their dogs, coolers, and party. The natural pool has tons of algae so it’s a bit slippery and some adjustment if you aren’t used to it, but the cold refreshing water in a unique setting is beautiful and a great experience! Plus you can canoe or kayak out into Town Lake.
6. Port Aransas Beach
We originally got the cutest Airbnb in Port Aransas for John and I’s birthday week this past February, but decided to postpone until summer to celebrate my sister Bryana’s birthday instead and take full advantage of summer activites. This was the ultimate place to stay not far from the water, with a private pool and John and I had our own private suite!
It was so fun! I enjoyed getting in the pool multiple times a day – I was so incredibly tan after this trip and all the other swimming outings we’ve had. We had our own private golf cart that we drove all around the island which was fun and something I’ve never done before. It had a lot of Weekend at Bernie’s vibes.
I remember going to this shark beach tourist store when I was a kid, so naturally my sister and I had to get a pic.
This was also John’s first true beach weekend in warm water. Every time I’ve tried to take him to the beach in the past my family has stepped in and said he wouldn’t like it because he’s from California and the Pacific Ocean is gorgeous (which it IS). But the gulf also has its own natural beauty as well!
Also there was a school of baby crabs that floated in the water and freaked out my niece, it was super bizarre. We had a lot of fun with our family making memories!
7. Austin Motel Pool
I’ve never swam at the pool at Austin Motel but we bought passes for the Purple Rain night and it was adorable! They also have evenings where they show movies and you can float in the pool all night. It’s definitely something you need to get in advance because of the size (especially during COVID).
As summer 2021 comes to a close, I’m very thankful for creating new memories with John and our family and friends. I admit I can’t wait for the fall weather and we all know that Halloween is my favorite! I’m already planning for our Halloween costume reveal 🙂
On our 8th anniversary of our first date, John and I got engaged!
I sorta had a feeling something was different when John decided to plan a weekend getaway for our anniversary, the weekend after we came home from New Orleans. I am the planner in this household – not because I have control issues, but John doesn’t really have strong opinions about where we stay or what we do, he’s so open and go with the flow. Someone has to plan! And it *normally* ain’t him… 😉
He booked us this beautiful remote cabin in the countryside of Wimberley, TX. If you aren’t familiar, Wimberley is a very cute artsy small town between Austin and New Braunfels located on the river with the most gorgeous scenery. A lot of people get married here or come for the big flea markets or antique shopping or craft fairs. It’s a sweetie place and super unique.
The first night we decided to head down to Gruene for dinner and drinks at Gruene Hall. This was the first place I took John to when he came to Texas to meet my family way back in 2014, we floated the river here, and we have fond memories. We initially talked about floating the river that weekend but we had so much rain that I didn’t feel safe (and it was overcast the entire time!).
After wining and dining in Gruene and shopping at the general store (where we got THEE CUTEST ornament of Gruene Hall – yes I am obsessed with Christmas tree ornaments) we opted to head home to enjoy our cabin. It was already getting late and more rain was en route. I had Google maps take us the most direct way back through the back roads which was entirely pitch black! If you are familiar with the weather in Texas you know that it can flash flood at a moments notice. We were about 5 minutes from the house and our last crossing was “Slime Bridge” – and we couldn’t cross at all! After getting out of the car to look at the water directly in front of our car (which I can see how other cars can get swept away!) we decided to turn around and head back a different way – which was another 40 minutes! On the flip side, John became obsessed with this bridge and loved that we crossed paths, who names a bridge “Slime Bridge”?!
After safely returning to our cabin, we enjoyed some wine in the hot tub before watching a documentary on Roku about pasta. Named, The Shape of Pasta, Chef Evan Funke visits small towns in Italy and receives training from Nonnas on how to create the town pasta shape. He provides a thorough history lesson into each shape and brings them all back to his award winning restaurant, Felix, in Los Angeles. I love pasta so much I was purely fascinated by this! (AND – the next time I’m in LA I am eating at Felix!!!)
The next morning, we enjoyed our coffee in the hot tub, got ready for our day, and headed out for lunch when…John proposed! He tricked me into thinking that we were taking a timed selfie under the Live Oak tree, when he set it up as a video. So here I am, posing, asking how many seconds we have until the timer goes off….when John got down on one knee. While the video is ours and we are not making it public (not even with our family), I will share he did say that he loved me an incredible amount and couldn’t imagine life without me. It was very sweet and totally caught me off guard in the moment.
The ring is custom made from Avant Garde. John brought them his family diamonds, passed down from his mom (jewels from his Grandmother’s side of the family, some as old as the late 1800’s!). I love that it is a modern take on a vintage look. It’s totally me!
It felt like an out of body experience! We didn’t know what to do but we were hungry, so we went over to Creekside Cookers for BBQ and beers to celebrate. Afterwards, we went back to the cabin to drink champagne on the wrap around porch that John was saving. It was so sweet and special. We decided immediately that we didn’t want to tell anyone or talk to family for a full 24 hours so we could be with each other and soak it all in. Ahhh take me back…
After basking in each other’s love and arms for the afternoon, we got dolled up and headed to Trattoria Lisina for drinks and pasta. I felt so beautiful! We had so much fun at this cutesy spot. And we decided we would get very small matching pasta tattoos! And that we wanted to visit Italy during our honeymoon (at least part of it 🙂 )
Our final day together before we broke the news to our family and friends was spent in downtown Wimberley walking along the river, having brunch at Ino’z, and doing some shopping.
We literally stared at the cabin with precious memories in our hearts, kissed, and parted ways to tell our families the news! John shared with me that he actually called my dad before our trip to ask his permission, which of course he said yes, and then told him not to share with anyone else. So when we called all of my sisters – they 100% had no idea and were all shocked! Everyone was thrilled for us, and in just a few short weeks we would be in California to celebrate with John’s family and our friends in SF! While I am not a super traditional person, my entire family is so it was nice to see that John talked to my dad beforehand.
A few days later my parents came into town to take us to dinner at Eberly and gave us beautiful crystal champagne flutes. We had champagne FOR DAYSSSS ❤
John and I were never in a rush to get married but we always knew it would happen for us someday. We are not having our own children. We plan on being together as a couple and should years down the road we want to adopt, we will cross that path. I have never felt that biological clock ticking and do not feel the pressure that I know so many of my friends have in regards to having kids before a certain age. Because of this, we were always happy being together no matter what “status” we were. Honestly we are sorta married in a way because we are already registered domestic partners in the state of California (this happened last year, when I lost my job due to COVID and got on John’s insurance). We are just happy to have found each other – where we can completely be ourselves. There’s never been any games or drama, we just are who we are. I am so happy to have met John, he is the perfect yin to my yang and we make a good team! I can’t wait to see what adventures life brings us together.
We are currently planning our wedding for next summer in Carmel Valley, CA. We are excited! And enjoying every moment.
An old gal pal of mine from college, Alyssa, is a writer for Southern Travel & Lifestyles. We actually met in the dorms of Kinsolving way back in 2003 and we’ve stayed in touch on social media ever since. She commented on how much she enjoyed my photos of Texas and asked if I would be willing to publish a few and I said absolutely! I handed her a folder of photos from our recent camping trip and here is how they turned out:
When I get the hard copy I’ll share more on my Instagram – @djemils
I am so proud of myself! I love traveling and exploring new places – and I love sharing what I find through photos and writing. There is so much out there waiting for us! I can only hope that this is the beginning of many collaborations with travel groups, publications, blogs, etc in the future.
We’ve been in quarantine for over a year, and I’ve spent six months of quarantine in California and the second six months in Texas. As a Texan who grew up here for most of my life, with 12 years living in San Francisco, recently moving back – here are my thoughts on both experiences.
We lived on the corner of Alamo Square, so each morning I took my walks in this park and had easy access to crisp fresh air. Well, not at first. Truth be told, the first 3 weeks of quarantine in March 2020 I barely left my house, only to go to the grocery store once a week. I was super paranoid about COVID and not quite sure how it was spreading or what was going on (and I lost my job and was needless to say, depressed). Little by little my confidence in being able to go on daily walks and runs increased and soon I spent the majority of my outside time in this park. I miss this park so much!
As quarantine went on in San Francisco, I spent a fair amount of my time running and walking in Golden Gate Park. I walked to places I had never seen before! I usually clocked upwards of 7-10K steps daily and listened to all sorts of creepy podcasts along the way. The weather of course is always so amazing in California, perfect for long walks and hikes.
Hiking in California was relatively easy, because there are so many trails and land is available for public use outside of state and federal parks. You didn’t have to plan (unless the areas were closed from COVID) and it was easy to pick a trail and go. It was, however, much busier since so many people were stuck inside – but we were always able to hike whenever we wanted.
The thing that made everything even more depressing was that businesses were closing left and right in SF. Everything was boarded up. Few business were essential enough to be open, you couldn’t get a haircut for a very long time, and outdoor eating and drinking was on and off allowed, and monitored very heavily. Really the only thing you could do is sit 6 feet away from friends in the park. And we definitely did that a lot. But it was just incredibly sad. I had been in San Francisco for 12 years of my life. Of course cities change a lot over time when people move in and out and dynamics and economy changes the environment. SF was already different 2 years in vs. 6 years in vs. 12 years in of my experience. But it really was not the same city at all that I moved to.
Artists and locals were struggling to live there because of the cost of living, which is understandable, and many were forced out long before the pandemic. And in the years leading up to COVID, my favorite local hot spots, night clubs, dive bars were already on their way out. Musicians and DJs left for places like Berlin or Brooklyn or LA. SF was becoming more consumed with the tech community. I had worked in ad-tech before but for my last 2-3 years in the city I worked in entertainment marketing for the Curran theater, so I lost my job at the beginning of COVID because large theaters were a no-no, tech companies declared everyone could work from home, and the companies that had headquarters in SF laid off 20% of their workers – which was basically their marketing and advertising teams. So yeah, even more and more depressing. I’ve mentioned this before being one of the main reasons behind our decision to leave. And leaving was, VERY very hard for me. But, I know it would have been even harder for me if I stayed and watched the city that I loved dramatically change before my eyes without me being able to keep up.
I miss the coastline. Trees. The forest. Hiking. The amazing weather. Access to wine country and mountains and Tahoe. And of course our friends and John’s family. Being in nature during COVID is 100% better in California.
But, after a dozen years away from Texas, it’s a whole new adventure!
I still spend my run/walks in either the park closest to my house (5 minute drive) or downtown around Town Lake which is about 15 minutes away. Of course we miss the walk-ability of a city like SF. But having a car and being able to quickly get from point A to B is also incredibly nice. Plus the lakes here have their own unique environments, like the turtles that are around every bend, or the bats that live under the Congress bridge. Lake culture is also really fun!
The weather is obviously not as nice as California, but actually it hasn’t been as hot as I feared it would (though we are approaching summer months and I’m sure I’ll hate it). Weather in Texas can be completely unpredictable. We’ve had crazy thunderstorms, golf ball sized hail, triple digit heat, light snow flurries, AND an insane snowstorm that literally almost broke the grid and uprooted civilization for more than a week!
It keeps things very interesting! We’ve also been able to go on a lot of roadtrips and explore new places and small towns. Mostly with family, but we’ve stayed out on the lake and went on a boat adventure, stayed in a cozy AirBnb in the Hill Country and did some distant wine tasting, and also stayed in a haunted hotel in San Antonio. People in Texas are much more open about traveling and visiting areas than in California. They are a bit more independent from government and like to do what they want. I’m not saying it’s bad or good either way, just different. I would say that of my friends in California, John and I are more comfortable with traveling safely during COVID, always sanitizing along the way, sticking to ourselves, and never eating inside a restaurant. But compared to people in Texas, we are the ones who are more cautious about following the rules. We always wear a mask no matter what and constantly sanitize. To me that makes sense, and I know Californians follow those protocols because it’s what scientists have said to do. Not everyone feels that way here, but at least we are in Austin which is the most liberal part of the state, some parts of it feel MORE liberal to me than parts of the Bay Area. With that said, going on local travel and exploration during COVID is 100% more fun in Texas.
While restaurants in California are closed inside, and only available for takeout or outdoor dining when allowed, everything is open in Texas. That really struck me as weird when we first moved. People still eat inside like nothing is wrong. We are patio people 100%. However the good news is that most businesses have patios! Something not as available in San Francisco due to space restrictions. So yes, we go out to eat about once or twice a week and sit on a lovely patio and support our local restaurants. And we only drink at bars with patios. I enjoy this about our current living situation, and knowing Austin is the most strict of all places in Texas makes me feel safer. So eating and drinking out is 100% better in Austin. You can be safe and there is space to be distant outside, making you feel like there is still some semblance of normality. Also, Texas has HEB grocery stores and that is definitely better here than in CA – I love HEB so much! ( AND our local HEB around the corner has an outdoor bar patio, which is double amazing)
Swimming is something I’m super excited to do again! I rarely ever got in a bathing suit in CA outside of yearly Tahoe visits, and most of that time was for hot tubs. While there aren’t shaded forests, Texas has a lot of interesting geology, greenbelts, swimming holes, and batholiths. I’m excited to explore more in the summer and SWIM – something I feel I haven’t done much of the last twelve years. We will see how I handle the summer months.
Hiking in Texas is very different than in California. You need reservations everywhere you go, and must book them out weeks in advance. This is similar to how camping in California is, the best spots need to be booked out months in advance, so I understand that. But hiking was never an issue. Here, most of the land is privately owned so there isn’t as much available for people to just go hike. And with COVID, reservations are required. It’s kinda crazy to me that we can’t just go outside when we want and explore. But there are definitely places that don’t require reservations. There also aren’t as many hiking trails with elevation changes, so it can feel more like walking. But despite those differences there are some amazingly beautiful hikes we’ve explored. Overall, California is 100% better for hiking.
There are pros and cons to both experiences, and I love California and Texas in different ways. They make up different parts of my personality, and it’s ok that I feel connected to both. I really don’t understand the judgements folks have for both sides. Extreme Californians can’t stand people from red states, and won’t even listen to someone from Texas (this happened to me when I first moved to California during a business meeting) and people who have never left Texas think Californians are coming for their guns. LMAO. But also, it’s incredibly infuriating. I am a 5th generation Texan. My whole entire family is Texan. I mostly grew up here (alongside living outside of Yellow Springs in Ohio for my childhood) and there are some things I really love and admire about Texas. Not everything of course – I am very liberal and lived in San Francisco for 12 years! And obviously there are many things I love and admire about California, especially for me to uproot my life and independently move across country and stay for 1/3 of my life. I can feel connected to part of my heritage in Texas and also feel connected to the west coast life – you don’t have to be one or the other. You can be both. I am both. I am an incredibly independent, free thinking, ambitious hard working woman who believes we are all connected and everyone should have equal rights and access to free health care!
All I am saying here is, never judge someone based on where they live, you don’t know their story.
Before we officially made the move across country, our good pals Jen and Ian (who also moved from SF to Austin about 6 months before us) asked us if we would join them in Big Bend National Park for a week in November. I never visited before so of course we said YES PLEASE and let them do all the planning. You know how it goes, things book up 6-8 months in advance and especially during COVID everyone wants their fair share of exploring the outdoors, so they jumped on an awesome campsite for part of our travels, and also successfully secured us a two night stay at the newly finished Basecamp Terlingua bubbles 🙂 . Read along to hear how this group of new Texans navigated West Texas!
To break up the trip we decided to spend about 5 hours driving on our first day and stayed in a hotel in Fort Stockton. There wasn’t anything particularly special about this except that we had some of the most bomb dot com Mexican food since we moved. After a fresh night of rest we drove through Marathon down to our campsite at the Rio Grande Village, where we met up with another couple friends. This campsite is the closest one to the actual bend in the Rio Grande river and was definitely a different experience than California camping. Like for example, the wild javalinas (otherwise known as wild hogs), roadrunners and endless amounts of spiders present. One would never hear 2 wild hogs mating in the wild in the redwood forest!
After checking out the visitor center, talking to the rangers and seeing dinosaur fossils on display, we explored the quick trail at the river and were practically in Mexico! There were lots of local folks along the way selling cute art and cold coke-a-colas. I totally got both on our way back as the roadrunner figurine was adorable and as it was hot AF in mid-November, I needed a cold refreshing Mexican coke (which are the best cokes out there IMO).
We also experienced the most breathtaking sunset hike just a short walk from our campsite. It was so nice, John and I did it TWICE.
It was a bit strange to not be able to have a camp fire as we’ve pretty much always done so in California, but we still had a blast and saw the stars like never before! I was actually surprised at how chilly it got because it was very hot earlier. How do people camp here in the spring or summer? I have no idea – but if I were you I would book a fall/winter trip.
The next day we hiked the famous Lost Mine Trail, which is just under 5 miles roundtrip and one of the few moderate options in the park. There are tons of hard and easy hikes, but not a lot of middle of the road options, so this trail has a lot of traffic. We went after breakfast and completed the trail in about 3 hours. I had no idea we were basically hiking to the tip top of the viewing point, so the first 75% of the hike seemed totally normal to me but the top was very steep and a bit nerve wrecking, but once I made it all the way it was so awesome! I am getting better about handling my anxiety around heights and “falling off a mountain top” but each and every hike like this where I push myself outside of my comfort zone only makes me stronger. And like Miley Cyrus sings, “it’s the climb” – both literally and figuratively.
After dinner, we drove off road to see Ernst Tinaja, a geological formation and walk that a Park Ranger told us was a must see for geology lovers. After taking about an hour to actually drive there off road (it was only 6 miles!) John and I ran out to see it RIGHT before the sun went down and man we are so glad we made it happen! We were able to spend about 20 minutes before it was total darkness and another 45 minutes to an hour drive back. If you have a great car for off roading, do it!
It was an incredible day of seeing new things and exploring a whole new side of Texas with our best friends.
After our last night camping we packed up and drove across the park to the famous divide. We had planned to do some light hiking but we got a late start and we didn’t have a lot of food on hand so we opted to save our energy. We still explored tons of rocks and found boundless quartz and rock crystals without having to venture too far out. It was so cool to see upclose and personal.
And after we left the park we drove to Terlingua and made it to our famous bubble!
It was incredible to be able to see the stars and actually capture them with a camera. We used our Canon DSLR via long exposure and had a few great selects.
The town of Terlingua is so cute and small but just the perfect vibe to spend a few night glamping after tent camping in the park. The bubble was interesting, it had a small room outside of the bubble with two doors and a whole system of opening one door and closing the other because if both doors closed, the bubble would deflate. And yep it happened on accident! However, once we figured it out the bubble quickly filled up with air again. It was quite comical but amazing the time we live in.
Our last day was spent exploring Terlingua and Lajitas where we had more delish Mexican food and did some boutique shopping and graveyard exploring before spending the last night in the HOT TUB, drinking wine and watching the stars.
I was a bit sad when we came to the end of our trip out West. I had never experienced West Texas before in my previous life as a Texan. I think it was just so far away from everything at the time, my family didn’t plan trips that way since our relatives were always east of us (being in San Antonio). But I would definitely go back and want to explore more parts of Texas that I’ve never been!
We drove off back towards Austin through Alpine where we got one of the last photos of the Alpine Target. It was demolished a few weeks after our visit because it was found structurally unsafe (eeee!) but at least we got to see it. We decided not to go to Marfa because it was out of the way and our trip was already so long, plus we heard that it’s not much different than Alpine or surrounding areas – it just has this hipster art label and a fake Prada. Maybe one day we will go back and see it, but unless it’s along the way of something else we are doing I don’t think I would go out of my way.
Next on our list is Palo Duro, Sam Houston State Park, Garner State Park and Guadalupe Mountains (and hoping for Carlsbad Caverns if we’re out there). Hoping we can get 1-2 of those off our list by end of year!
I hope you get the chance to explore Big Bend National Park and West Texas at some point in your life, it’s such a unique place and charming vibe. I also threw up some shots into my store so if you’re interested in having a little piece of West Texas in your home ❤
We knew we wanted to ship about 60% of our stuff, specific furniture that we loved that had sentimental value, all of our art (we own TONS of nicely framed unique artwork), clothes (again, MANY boxes were comprised of clothes, shoes, and jackets alone), and random nick-knacks and things we couldn’t part with. We also knew that we didn’t personally want to drive our stuff across multiple states via U-haul. While we wanted to do a cross country drive with our cat Beatrix, the pressure and stress of tugging our stuff was not appealing and we quickly decided on a pod type move. I made a few calls and got quotes, both from PODS and UPack, and we decided to use UPack because they were a bit cheaper and quicker. While on the phone to both companies, representatives at each place told me that this was the last reservation available for 6 weeks out and that the #1 place they were moving people to was…Austin. Interesting! My intuition was correct. Folks were leaving SF by the droves and also heading to Texas.
After we sold off the stuff we could and gave the rest away to Goodwill, we packed our things very tightly, literally putting EVERYTHING in bubble-wrap. You see, UPack is just a storage container-shipping service, so packing is completely left to you (and you can’t claim breakage if you packed poorly). You also have to hire movers separately if you need and because our SF apartment was on the 2nd floor with a winding staircase, we opted to pay movers to help lug our stuff down into the containers. Boy were they especially quick and experienced! The next day, UPack came to pick up our stuff and it was en route to Texas, we would see it in about 7-10 business days. The rest of the week we slept on an air mattress and worked from our folding camping chairs, and stayed a few nights with friends.
The morning of our big departure we walked through Alamo Square for the last time. The air was thick and foggy, and also incredibly smokey from the wildfires – making it hard to breathe. I cried and felt incredibly grateful for my time here and very hopeful for our future. But I also had so much adrenaline to get going – and get to Texas! We threw our last remaining items out, tidied up the apartment, got our rental car, and packed up with Bea and were off!
We chose a one-way car rental from SFO airport to the Austin airport over about 5 days. We already had plans to buy our friend’s car in Texas, so this was the most efficient way for us to move across country. Our car was packed with a few suitcases of clothes, our computers and camera, a handful of items we wanted to personally hang onto (like paperwork and family heirlooms) and of course our baby cat. The plan was to drive down the 5 to Bakersfield and hit Las Vegas, then through Utah to stay in Moab, cross into Colorado and stay in Denver, drive down through Colorado Springs, cross New Mexico and into Texas to stay in Amarillo the final night, with the last day driving through until we reached Austin. We did this route because both of us recently spent time in New Mexico (and I in Arizona) and neither of us have really explored Utah or Colorado – so we wanted to go where we could explore more things, even if it did take a little longer.
I didn’t book us any hotels in advance. And luckily, we drove through states where they weren’t implementing quarantine for COVID (another reason we didn’t stay in New Mexico, they were more strict in the pandemic). We took turns driving our fun Hyundai Sante Fe mid-size SUV which was perfect for us. Keep in mind, I haven’t owned a car in 12 years and I didn’t drive much in California, so I wanted something that I felt comfortable in and this car was amazing. We agreed in the future if we ever saw a good deal on this vehicle we would get it! So smooth and safe. Two thumbs up from us!
The first day of the trip was the WORST. I knew it was going to suck hard, not only because of being emotional saying goodbye, but it was the longest drive of the whole trip, it was hot en route to Bakersfield which also isn’t a super interesting landscape, and we knew Bea was going to have a really hard time. For about 2 months before we left, John practiced taking Beatrix for drives around the city, although in shorter spurts of 30 minutes. It got a lot easier for her after a few times, but that was no where close to being in the car for 8 hours or so. We had a flexible cat carrier and I put a sweater of mine down that she loves to sleep on, and brought toys and treats. We had a travel liter box as well and kept her in a cat harness the whole time she was in the car. Initially we wanted to keep her in the middle seat, but she cried way too much and I put her on my lap. It was a LONG drive. We passed through burn scars from the fires on the 5, only 2 days after it was put out! It was a chaotic time to leave and the energy was crazy. Bea wouldn’t stop crying and once we made it to Bakersfield, we decided to stop to let her walk outside in the park on her leash – she did NOT like this at all and immediately ran back into her cat carrier, and we didn’t hear a peep from her the rest of the drive.
We finally made it to Vegas. I booked us a room at the La Quinta over by Red Rock Canyon because they are pet friendly with no additional charges (other hotels wanted anywhere from $20-$100 extra and half of the hotels didn’t even allow animals). The first night I really questioned our driving plan. I seriously thought about just going through Arizona and NM and getting to Austin ASAP because Bea had such a hard time and I was worried about her. John assured me everything was going to be ok, and once I had a good night of rest I would want to proceed with our plans. Boy was he right! The next morning, we left Bea in the hotel so we could go explore Red Rock Canyon on our own and enjoy what we could while she felt safe. It was so beautiful! It took about 45 minutes for us to do the scenic drive and we were only about 5 minutes from our hotel. We decided to keep this strategy for the rest of the trip: pick a place we want to explore in our destination, find a La Quinta nearby that location, leave Bea in the room and go explore in the morning, checkout by noon, and onward to the next location. This was AMAZING for us and worked well. And Beatrix was in much better spirits on the second day, she loved exploring the hotel room.
I really wanted to see the Hoover Dam while we left Vegas but it was closed due to COVID. I looked up if we could see anything driving by, but others had attempted the same thing on TripAdvisor and confirmed no dice. So I just drove us straight out of Vegas, through the corner of Arizona (for about 30 minutes, hey at least we saw the backside of the Grand Canyon!) and into Utah. I visited Salt Lake City in high school once but never spent time in southern Utah. Man, it was GORGEOUS! Wow. We stopped almost every 30 minutes to take pictures because the geology was so unique and constantly changing. It was the best part of our drive, the most mesmerizing and gorgeous.
We made our way to Moab and checked in to La Quinta, dropped off Bea, and went to a lovely dinner on an Italian patio on the main strip. The food was good but the atmosphere of Moab was amazing. What a cute place!
While Bea was curled up by the window, we spent the next morning at the Arches National Park, just a 10 minute drive from our hotel! If you are ever in Utah, this is a MUST DO! It was INCREDIBLE. Words can’t describe being surrounded by the beautiful GINORMOUS red rocks. You stayed in the car (hey, a great COVID activity!) and drove to each point of interest where you could get out for photos. It was one of our favorite things we have ever done together. It really felt like Land Before Time.
After the park we grabbed some delish quesadillas and did a little shopping on the main street for some cute Moab shirts, souvenirs for family, and an ornament before packing up and making our way to Denver. We also saw that there were fires in western Utah and eastern CO, so they were basically everywhere this point in the summer (hey climate change is real)! We left behind red rocks and arches for trees and mountains, and lots of super windy roads.
An old college roommate of mine lives in Denver and we made plans to meet up for a beer at the local brewery, so we opted to stay at the La Quinta in Lakewood. It was great to see Jessica and her beautiful family! And the beer was as good as they say it is in Denver. 🙂
The next morning we explored downtown and Sloan’s Lake. We got coffee and vegan donuts and walked around Confluence Park and saw the city before making our way to the peaceful lake. This was the only time we were able to see views of downtown and they were really nice. I also felt a bit out of place because I was dressed up a bit in boots and a skirt, while literally everyone around me wore workout clothes by North Face or Patagonia, LMAO.
We packed up Denver and made our way to Colorado Springs for a picnic lunch in the park and some boutique shopping. I always heard the best things about Colorado Springs and it didn’t disappoint – I actually liked the vibe more than Denver, personally. The shops were adorable and I scored a few things like a crystal candle, moon earrings, and a tie dye scrunchie. And just look at our adventure cat enjoying the town square!
I drove the next stretch down southern Colorado, across New Mexico and into Texas. It was extremely flat in the panhandle and I had never seen that part of Texas before! Crossing the state line made it the more real that yes, we are Texans now.
We were on a mission to get to Amarillo (by mornin’…) to check into our final La Quinta and grab a chicken fried steak. And FANTASTIC chicken fried steak we had! Bea even got accustomed to hotel living, she was a real great indoor house cat on our journey.
Our last night was spent on the west side, 10 minutes away from Cadillac Ranch. John brought his own spray paint just so we could tag the cars. I had no idea how many people actually tagged this art installation every day! Less than 2 weeks before we went, Rhianna was there and left a tag that said “Fuck Trump” and put a picture of it on her Instagram. All of the local Trump supporters immediately went and painted all the cars red with pro Trump slogans. By the time we got there, everything was completely covered with various tags – you would have no idea that this even happened. (also SO MANY spray paint cans on the ground which I wasn’t a fan of, we took ours with us)
After breakfast we loaded up and began our journey to Austin. We had to stop in Lubbock though because John’s dad has a romanticized view of Lubbock from previous work history and we needed to send him photos. I went to Lubbock only two times before, once for a UT football game where I got hit in the head with a dried up tortilla (yes, Texas Tech does this and it makes no sense) and the other time was to visit a friend after college. John’s reaction was “that’s Lubbock?” – LOL.
The last day was another hard one for Bea. At this point in the trip she was over the car. And we were about 7 hours away from Austin so it was almost as bad as day 1. But we persevered! I had never driven through that part of Texas before and wasn’t used to the rolling hills. That’s not the Texas that I am familiar with, but it was cool to see! What WASN’T cool to see were the buttload of Trump signs. But as we got closer to Austin those became less frequent. Our last pit stop was in the town of Ballenger where I grabbed us amazing Mexican food to go, and we ate in the town gazebo with Bea. (man I SO WISH I got a picture of this moment!) Our new home was so close!
Five days and 7 states later, we arrived! We dropped off our things at our new house, returned the rental car, and stayed the next few days with our friends Jen and Ian until our stuff arrived from UPack. What an incredible journey! Looking back, I can’t believe how quickly we made everything happen. And Bea loves the new place! She has more rooms to explore, more windows, and more sunlight (which she LOVES to bathe in and never really got to do much in SF as we didn’t have much natural light in our place). She watches the grackles chirp each and everyday from her cat tower and the back kitchen door, peering into our backyard. Being in the car for multiple days in a row is a very distant memory for her.
There will be more posts from my new perspective in Texas in the coming months. I loved our time across country and will cherish those memories forever. But to be back, see family, and have new energy and state of mind is such a great feeling! It was DEF the right move. Texas, Texas…yeehaw!
I moved to San Francisco in 2008, shortly after my 23rd birthday. I only visited once and decided then and there I was moving, and three months later I arrived. I had only intended on living in the Bay for 2 years. I assumed I would have my fun (with a time limit) and then come back to Austin. Boy, was I way wrong!
In California I really came into my own. The longer time went on, the more extroverted I became. The more I found myself confident in my opinions, speaking up when I could. My style was OFF THE HOOK (I take pride in this!!). I made the best friends! Ones I know that I will be in touch with forever. I developed amazing skills and tried new hobbies – hello DJ world, improv performing community, hiking and watercolor times! I fell in LOVE. I found myself. So why decide to leave?
Truth by told, as much as I love San Francisco and cherished my time in the Bay, I had been feeling for a few years that I was ready for a new adventure somewhere else. John and I had been talking about trying something new together for a while and couldn’t ever really decide. When I started working in marketing for the Curran theater, I knew that I would be tied to SF as long as I had this job. I grew my skill-set so much! I planned so many amazing parties, red carpet events, after parties and beyond. I was an avid part of the VIBE of the city. (I want to address my career separately, so am only touching on it here). But when COVID first came around I lost my job pretty immediately, and all of entertainment went cold, I felt the time came to make a big change.
I know I am a super intuitive person. I was the first person in our group of family and friends that realized, very early on, how big of a deal COVID would be. I envisioned losing my job immediately, industries shutting down, flocks of people moving out of cities – things closing for months on end. Despite feeling this way, I persevered. Everyone was let go, letting go of more people, and places were on hiring freezes. Businesses were closing left and right. It felt hopeless. I tried everything I could everyday to get a new job. I brushed up on my skills and got 3 additional marketing certifications. I didn’t feel confident that the job market had my back in SF, with remote work blooming everywhere and everything described above. John’s work was always remote, so we decided it was time. From a career perspective, Austin felt right because I knew companies would be moving work with all of the tax breaks and cheaper cost of living, so all of the opportunities I once had in SF were now relocated as well.
I ended up going back to work for a previous employer, remotely, and an old amazing (and very chill) boss who confirmed I could move anywhere I wanted. This was so exciting because I knew what I was getting into when all of the rest of the world felt scary. I was going to have a reliable source of income with great work-life balance, and could live anywhere I wanted…
You see, John wants to go to grad school….in Edinburgh! He likes the program at the university and has connections through his work. It would be a 1 year plan and we intend to go in a year from now, when vaccines are administered to everyone and travel is opened up. So in the meantime, we decided, it was the time to be closer to my family. Hence, preparations for Texas were en route.
Telling our family and friends was the hardest part, but for the most part everyone was pretty supportive and excited for us. Austin is a really rad town, it was where I went to college 15 years ago and the first city I fell in love with. I was excited and nervous at the same time. I spent the last 12 years building myself up to be this person, a West Coast performer who loves nature and the great outdoors – how could this person exist in Texas? Where it’s HOT and the views don’t always align with my own?
I grieved. A LOT. I cried. EVEN MORE. But after everything is said and done, I knew deep down this was what we were supposed to do. My parents are in their 70s and I’ve been gone a long time. If anything, COVID has taught us that we are not promised tomorrow. So make memories while you can, NOW.
I loved my apartment on Alamo Square so much. I lived there for 10 years, and the park was on my front doorstep! It did me well, and later on, John moved in and it did him well too 🙂 . I am forever grateful for the memories we created with our friends and families who visited us and spent time in our home. The backyard BBQs, charades, dance parties to records in the living room, Tuesday Night Dinner club, and more! While I knew I could stay there as long as I wanted, I was ready to grow and that entailed being uncomfortable.
We packed our belongings, sent them off to Texas, and said our final goodbyes with tears in our eyes. It was very painful leaving, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I feel so connected to California. We want to move back and settle down when we are ready to do so – but we have more adventures ahead (in Texas and Edinburgh and maybe somewhere else along the way).
We drove across country with Beatrix in tow and stopped at some unique places along the way (I’ll write about that as a separate post). After navigating Las Vegas, Moab Utah, Denver Colorado, Amarillo and New Mexico, we eventually made our way to our new home in Austin. We have been here a few short months and it finally feels like we’ve settled into our new surroundings. And merging old Texas Emily with current California Emily is a lot easier than I thought. I am the best version of me yet! I am so excited for what is in store this coming year – I feel very grounded and have had lots of time to reflect and plan goals.
Throughout everything, John and I are lucky and happy to have each other in this crazy time. We both have steady remote jobs that allow us the flexibility to explore our surroundings. We have our cute cat who snuggles us everyday. We have close friends down the street, who also moved from SF just 6 months prior to us! My family is only a 2 hour drive away. And we frequently zoom and facetime with his family and our friends back home. Who knows where our future will take us, but for now – we are taking it one step at a time.
Happy 2021, may it bring you health, wealth, and happiness!