An afternoon in Memphis

A few weekends ago we drove from Austin, Texas, to Nashville, Tennessee, and stopped in Memphis for the afternoon.

I’m sure the first thing you think of when you hear Memphis is not “wilderness sporting goods store.” But! When driving to the city from Arkansas, the first thing we noticed across the river was a gigantic pyramid! Then we spotted the Bass Pro Shop logo, and thought maybe they were a sponsor. It turns out the entire pyramid is a store and hotel! The inside looks like a bayou, complete with fishing boats on a river. It’s also home to the “nation’s tallest freestanding glass elevator,” which takes you up to a glass floor observation deck around the top of the pyramid. The skies were overcast, but we had a nice view of the river and downtown Memphis.

Ok, now we can get to the hotspots: How about Beale Street, Sun Studio, and Graceland? We hit ’em all! First up was Beale Street for lunch, and yes, the BBQ is a good as the rumors (from my mom and dad, who gave us very specific instructions to find the Elvis statue and then eat at the restaurant diagonally across the street).

Next was a tour at Sun Studio, which includes a visit to the jam-packed exhibit room and the recording studio. It’s a small place, but the guide was enthusiastic and told great stories about the records made there.

Sun Studio, Memphis

Sun Studio microphone

We then headed over to Graceland to continue our music history lesson. There’s much more to see there than I expected. Besides the house tour, there are 2 airplanes and a museum with cars, clothing, and other memorabilia. (And pricey ticket packages for each.) We chose the house tour, which begins with a short movie at the welcome center. From the outside, the house looks like a normal, southern home, but the inside is extravagant, to say the least. iPads with self-guided audio tours take you through the rooms and other buildings and tell you about Elvis’ career and family history. Fun fact: Elvis learned that LBJ had 3 tv’s (one each for the major networks), so he had 3 installed in his entertainment room.

Graceland

Graceland

Thanks for reading! Or I suppose I should say, “Thank you. Thank you very much.” 

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Austin

You’ve heard the slogan, right? “Keep Austin weird.” I thought Austin was really fun, but I wouldn’t necessary call it weird. Except for those stuffed animal snakes wrapped around the electric poles on 1st Avenue. And that time a white peacock crossed the street in front of us. But otherwise, it’s a totally normal town!

Austin, TX

Zilker Park, Austin TX

Bullock Texas State History Museum

We were lucky to get expert insider tips from our friends Gina and Ian who live in Austin and our friendly Airbnb hosts. Wildflowers? Check. Live music? Check. Educational day trips? Check. BBQ, donuts, and breakfast tacos? Check, check, and check!

Texas wildflowers

We hit most of the popular spots in Austin: the murals, bat watching at the Congress Street bridge, Blanton art museum, Zilker Park, Sixth Street, the university, and the state history museum.

Skyspace

University of Texas at Austin

We went on the free tours at the O. Henry house (very small, but very knowledgeable staff!) and the Texas State Capitol (very large, and also very informative). Fun fact: O. Henry worked at the General Land Office building, which is now the visitor center for the Capitol.

O. Henry's house, Austin TX

Texas State Capitol

Not too far outside the city is the LBJ Ranch, now a national park. There’s a long winding drive through the ranch with several interpretive signs that describe the history of the land, LBJ’s life, and his beloved cows. We took a guided tour of the Texas White House, which includes the family’s original furnishings from the 60s.

LBJ Ranch

LBJ Ranch

Another fun day trip took us to Waco, Texas, home of Magnolia Market! Fixer Upper is a popular show, but we were really surprised at just how crowded this place was!

Magnolia Market, Waco TX

Magnolia Market, Waco TX

And, yes, those cupcakes are worth the wait!

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Space Center Houston

So we’ve seen a lot of rockets this year, and have been to Kennedy several times in the past. But still, a trip to Space Center Houston was in order. (What else do you expect from a girl who has a tattoo of the space shuttle?!) We had such a good time, we went twice. And we were only in Houston for one week!

Space Center Houston

Space Center Houston

Space Center Houston

My first tip: buy a membership online before you go. It’s only about $5 more than regular admission, which you’d have to pay for parking anyway. We showed the parking attendant a PDF receipt on the iPhone and it worked just fine. Then at the entrance, you can skip the ticket lines and show that same PDF at the turnstiles inside. Visit the Membership desk to get your membership card, and use that for a discount at the shops and cafe. And now you can visit again and again, all year long!

Space Center Houston

My second tip: reserve timed tickets for the tram tours, which take you over to Johnson Space Center. We visited on a Sunday and a weekday, and both days had long lines for the tours. The timed ticket is like a Disney FastPass and pushes you to the front of the line. You can reserve them online for free! While the exhibits and presentations in the main galleries are fantastic, the tram tours offer a unique connection to the history of JSC and an awesome behind-the-scenes look at modern space missions. Don’t skip the tours, they are amazing! Dare I say it…they are stellar!

Space Center Houston

Space Center Houston

Space Center Houston

We took all 3 tours. One goes to historic mission control, one to modern mission control, and one to an astronaut training center. All three tours conclude with a stop at Rocket Park, which features a Saturn V rocket. A neat thing about visiting the mission control rooms: the galleries you sit in were not built for tourists — these are the same galleries used by astronauts’ families, heads of state, and other VIPs during launches and missions!

Space Center Houston

Space Center Houston

Space Center Houston

Space Center Houston

Space Center Houston

Padre Island

Did you know you can drive on the beach in Texas? You can! Well, on Padre Island at least. People just drove right on to the sand, and pulled up to the water. I guess it beats lugging around a bunch of gear!

A ranger talk at Padre Island National Seashore taught us about the Gulf currents and how loads of stuff washes onto the shores there. Not just trash, although there is sadly a ton of it, but also fish bones, and sea beans from the Caribbean and South America. We were very proud to find a hamburger seed and a sea heart bean (it floated all the way from Brazil!). On the way out of the park we passed a controlled burn, which was a little too close to the road in my opinion!

Padre Island National Seashore

Padre Island National Seashore

Padre Island National Seashore

Padre Island National Seashore

Padre Balli beach was about a 10 minute walk from our Airbnb. It was a quiet and relaxing beach, with a fishing pier at one end. A good spot for pretty sunsets. On one of our walks we watched a Coast Guard drill. Another weekend, the beach hosted the Barefoot Mardi Gras Festival, with a parade on the beach! I think this gave us a small glimpse of how crazy spring break can get (but we left town just before the crowds arrived).

Padre Island

Padre Island

Padre Island

Birding in Port Aransas

Amanda — we went bird watching! I have no idea what we saw. I just remember one lady was very excited about some kiskadees. We intended to see some whooping cranes, since it was the Whooping Crane Festival after all, but we didn’t have any luck. We did end up on a meandering adventure around Port Aransas that took us to the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center, Port Aransas South Jetty, Port Aransas Nature Preserve, and the Joan and Scott Holt Paradise Pond.

Port Aransas Birding

Port Aransas Birding

Me, backing away toward car: Uh…that signs says there’s alligators. Maybe we shouldn’t go. We probably shouldn’t go down there.
Kenan: It’s fine. Other people are on the trail. There probably aren’t any alligators anyways.
Two minutes later (right under the boardwalk!)…

Port Aransas Birding

Port Aransas Birding

Port Aransas Birding

Port Aransas Birding

USS Lexington

We knew it would take a bit of time to see the USS Lexington, also known as The Blue Ghost, but I think we were both surprised that we ended up spending 5 hours there! We saw it all — and there is a lot to see!

USS Lexington

We went on the self-guided tours, listened to a presentation on the flight deck, watched the 3-D movie, had lunch at the mess deck cafe, sat in the ready room chairs…you get my point.

USS Lexington

The self-guided tours take you all through the guts of the ship, down skinny, steep stairs, up and over thresholds, through zig-zagging corridors, with almost every room set up as a museum exhibit. There are tons of artifacts from the ship’s fighting days in WWII. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in Corpus Christi.

USS Lexington

USS Lexington

San Antonio

We only spent a few hours in San Antonio, but it was a fun afternoon. We strolled along the river walk, listened to the history of the city on a boat ride, and walked around the Alamo (while the building is smaller than I imagined, there are some great exhibits on the grounds).

San Antonio

San Antonio

San Antonio