South Congress Facebook

All Austinites have probably wondered about this at one point or another – just how expensive is it to live on South Congress, one of the busiest areas in the city? Apparently, it only takes an annual salary of just under $70,000 to live comfortably on the iconic street, according to a new analysis by international design magazine Architectural Digest.

AD's 2023 edition of "The Cost of Living in America’s Trendiest Neighborhoods," published October 2, examined 52 neighborhoods in the 100 most populated American cities, and shared data on the top 14 trendiest.

According to the report, South Congress ranked No. 13 on the list, with a resident needing to make an annual salary of $69,520. Using the 30 percent rule, a resident could comfortably afford a monthly rent cost of $1,738. The report further estimates a resident could easily spend $223 per week on their social expenses, or 16 percent of their monthly income.

The "weekly social cost" accounts for one person spending two nights out for a live show and museum or gallery event ($22 for the live show, and $5 for the museum or gallery event); eating out for dinner five times a week ($31.05 per meal), purchasing two alcoholic beverages per week ($8.60 per drink), and regularly grabbing a latte at their local coffee shop five times a week ($4.70 per latte).

Whoever that might be, they must be very busy.

The report's author explains residents wouldn't need to own a car to live in the surrounding neighborhood (much to our skepticism) thanks to the many local offerings within the shopping district.

"Full of coffee shops, top-notch restaurants, trendy cocktail bars, and live music venues, SoCo is a popular place to live in America’s fastest-growing metro," the report says. "It’s also nationally known for its 'eclectic retail offerings' and the legendary Continental Club music venue."

While South Congress landed No. 13 on the list, it was the New York neighborhood of Williamsburg that earned the No. 1 spot, with locals needing to surpass Austinites by more than $100,000 to live comfortably in the area. However, even with a $170,000 annual salary, the weekly social cost of living in Williamsburg is only estimated at $251 per week, which is not much more than South Congress. The regular outings ultimately take up around 19 percent of a resident's monthly income.

For individuals living in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, Florida (No. 7), a social life would cost 31 percent of their monthly income, assuming an annual salary of $97,200 a year. Monthly rent in Wynwood is much higher than South Congress, at $2,430 a month.

Architectural Digest's trendiest neighborhoods in America and the salaries needed to live there are:

  • No. 1 – Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York ($170,000)
  • No. 2 – South End in Boston, Massachusetts (163,920)
  • No. 3 – Greenwich Village in New York City, New York ($160,000)
  • No. 4 – Mission District in San Francisco, California ($155,320)
  • No. 5 – Venice in Los Angeles, California ($140,000)
  • No. 6 – Logan Circle in Washington, D.C. ($107,000)
  • No. 7 – Wynwood in Miami, Florida ($97,200)
  • No. 8 – Silver Lake in Los Angeles, California ($96,000)
  • No. 9 – West Loop in Chicago, Illinois ($95,160)
  • No. 10 – Capitol Hill in Seattle, Washington ($77,160)
  • No. 11 – River North Arts District in Denver, Colorado ($76,600)
  • No. 12 – Old Fourth Ward in Atlanta, Georgia ($70,7560)
  • No. 13 – South Congress in Austin, Texas ($69,520)
  • No. 14 – Fishtown in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ($59,800)

The full report and its methodology can be found on architecturaldigest.com.


City of Austin to implement paid parking on South Congress Avenue

Parking Pandemonium

In a bid to address parking availability and turnover issues along one of Austin's most iconic streets, the City of Austin began the process of implementing paid parking along South Congress Avenue on September 11. This is the second time in six months that Austin has seen a parking rate increase in a high-traffic destination.

According to the city's website, sign crews will spend the month of September installing paid parking signs, then focus on converting neighborhood streets. The rollout of the first phase of paid parking is tentatively planned for October.

It is not stated exactly how much the rates will be, but they will likely follow the City's standard pricing structure that also applies to areas like downtown and East Austin: $2 per hour for the first two hours, and more as the parking period grows longer.

"This strategy aims to create more parking space turnover in a high-demand district with more consistent enforcement," the website says.

Additionally, the City says paying for parking will be a "fully digital experience," and there will be no physical pay stations on the street. Visitors will have to download the Park ATX app in order to pay, or send a text to a designated phone number.

Paid parking on South Congress will be enforced from 8 am to midnight Mondays through Saturdays, and on Sundays from 1 pm to midnight.

Residents who live in the South Congress area can continue to park for free, as long as they register their vehicles and use visitor hang tags or daily passes. Once the rollout is complete, residential streets will be open for paid public parking from 8 am to 6 pm Mondays through Saturdays, and on Sundays from 1 pm to 6 pm. Parking is for residents or visitor permit-holders only outside of those hours.

A September 11 Austin Mobility newsletter states that once the paid parking implementation is complete, Austin parking enforcement will issue warnings to drivers parking along South Congress and adjacent streets for the first two weeks before issuing citations.

The city's website says all parking funds collected will be used for "infrastructure improvements" in the area.

KXAN first reported the paid parking signs being installed on September 12, pointing out that the City Council approved this change earlier this year in March 2023.

Photo by Nick Simonite

Boutique Austin hotel amplifies the vinyl bar scene with a moody new listening room

Moody Blues

There’s no shortage of cool places in Austin to hear curated tunes, but a new effort by Hotel Magdalena amplifies the imagination beyond the laid-back trend. Although many vinyl bars, listening rooms, or jazz lounges provide lovely venues to chat and check out of the active listening — if that’s a guest’s preference — Equipment Room is almost too intimate to invite any kind of distraction.

Bunkhouse Group, the hotel’s parent company (along with other boutique hotels like Hotel San José and Hotel Saint Cecilia) designed and operated the space; executive chairman Amar Lalvani collaborated with Mohawk owner James Moody and Breakaway Records owners Josh LaRue and Gabe Vaughn, who supply the records. Rather than hiring a couple of DJs to set the tone, the team is leaving it to Breakaway Records employees on a rotating schedule.

All it requires is good taste; These spinners will be taking a more curational than transformative approach, playing full albums so visitors can hear each “the way it was intended.” Cocktail waiters will pass out handwritten cards so patrons know what’s playing, and can listen more at home. (On March 1: The Cooker by Lee Morgan, 2006.)

Although Equipment Room is not quite a speakeasy (despite having a perfect name for it), the listening room is certainly covert. The front door, in a different building than the hotel lobby, is barely marked at all save for a little floating “E” sign.

Inside, a public-facing seat or a covetous corner are a guest’s choice. A long bar allows visitors to interface with staff and lean into the cocktail experience; plus, they get to sit closest to the main speakers and the turntables. The main room is further segmented with plush furniture in a variety of configurations. Some tables stand alone in the center of the room as if in a restaurant, serving as a point of connection; others on a raised platform around the edge of the room serve as a thin barrier between the cocktail sippers and the rest of the venue.

Some seating creates conversation circles, while other outward-facing couches are placed in command positions to either social or voyeuristic ends. A side room creates a small den for a bigger party to retreat to, or perhaps a few smaller ones to converge in, like a chill room at a rave — were the entire venue not already deeply chill.

Where a guest sits notably changes the experience. Besides inviting conversation, facilitating people watching, or concealing a romantic date, each part of the room sounds different thanks to different speaker configurations and a curved ceiling to spread out the acoustics.

Of course, besides the obscure and nonchalant implications of the name, the Equipment Room must be outfitted with the best audio tools LaRue and Vaughn could source, with the help of acoustic engineers at Klipsch. A full list of equipment on the venue’s website illuminates speakers, amps, and more, including a vintage cassette deck. Recording capabilities will come in handy on some special nights when the “guest selectors” record that night’s repertoire, and the especially high-fidelity equipment will be broken out for album releases and other more pointed listening events.

Audiophiles or otherwise, all do best with a cocktail and some snacks to settle into the space, and an eclectic menu delivers. Divided into A-sides and B-sides (classic and experimental drinks), it includes everything from a traditional French 75 to the ostentatious “Gold Dust Woman” with Still Austin gin, macadamia nut liqueur, Linie Aquavit, granny smith apple juice, spiced demerara, sparkling wine, and “ice gold leaf.”

Four virgin cocktails and seven sakes also grace the menu, along with snacks like a suspiciously tasty “caramel puffed cheese corn” (“like Pirate’s Booty,” explains a staff member, but with a sweet, glossy coating) and onigiri. The Japanese bites tie into the jazz kissaten, or Japanese vinyl cafes, that inspired this decidedly Western Austin treat.

Whatever’s on the audio menu that night — cowboy ballads, Afrobeat, or something psychedelic — every moment just gets tastier as visitors settle into the sensational space.

Equipment Room is open at 1101 Music Lane from Tuesday to Thursday 5-10 pm; Friday and Saturday, 5 pm to 2 am. More information including recommended albums is available at equipmentroom.com.

Hotel Magdalena's Equipment Room interior

Photo by Nick Simonite

Hotel Magdalena opened a chic listening room with speakeasy vibes, called Equipment Room.

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32 places to eat near major Austin venues during SXSW 2023

all eating, no parking

Austin changes fast. During South by Southwest (SXSW), even seasoned Austinites end up in parts of town they never visit; we try to impress friends who are visiting, follow the music, and avoid the crowds.

The first thing to do, if "new" and "evolving" are your favorite keywords in finding a restaurant, is check CultureMap's weekly food news column for inspiration. Next, if prestige makes your mouth water, consider getting to know some of the culinary favorites and change-bringers nominated for our 2023 Tastemaker Awards.

Thankfully, Austin's food scene is dense enough that if planning ahead is not your thing, all you have to do is scroll down. Here are CultureMap's recommended restaurants near popular SXSW venues and neighborhoods.

3TEN Austin City Limits Live/Violet Crown Cinema (Downtown, 2nd Street)
Austin is at your fingertips from this very central downtown location, but things are going to be very busy. But if you're visiting Austin and want as many Mexican meals as possible, stop by ATX Cocina, only about two blocks away. This upscale "modern Mexican" restaurant offers a unique take on traditional, yet adventurous Mexican food — harder to find in other U.S. cities.
Also consider: Quick to-go bites from Royal Blue Grocery (0.1 miles); Neapolitan pizza and bistro fare at Numero28 (0.1 miles); rustic Italian food at Red Ash (0.2 miles); some of the city's best, finest Southern dining at Hestia (0.3 miles); high-quality tacos at Veracruz All Natural (0.3 miles); several options in one food hall at Fareground Austin (0.3 miles).

Coconut Club/Neon Grotto (Downtown, 4th Street)
This is Austin's gay district, with closer access to the party side of town and its often-expensive foodie offerings. There are plenty of bars to pop into for snacks, but a memorable meal can be found at French restaurant and absinthe barPéché on the same block. This is a traditional offering in a very nontraditional city. Visitors love the happy hour, which offers half-off some food items.
Also consider: a classy-casual hotel stop at Perfect Strangers (0.1 miles), Southwestern game at Lonesome Dove (0.2 miles).

Paramount Theater (Downtown, Congress Ave)
As visitors start getting closer to the Capitol, they'll start to see older cultural institutions and tourist-minded dining. The stately Driskill hotel right around the block is a must-see for travelers, and a revitalized dining room offers a new experience for longtime Austinites. The café and bakery next to the lobby will likely be packed for its posh brunch, but also offers to-go pastries and drinks.
Also consider: Eclectic, gorgeous cocktail bar Higher Ground (right across the street), underground theater vibes at Hideout Coffee House (0.1 miles).

Augustine/The Stay Put (Rainey Street)
This being one of the busiest areas not just at the festival, but daily in Austin, flexibility is key. In a perfect world, Geraldine's at the Hotel Van Zandt is the place to be, and the rooftop restaurant does accept reservations. The Southern menu is creative but low-key, and the calendar is always full of local talent. The bar inside is better than the pool bar, but you can easily carry drinks out.
Also consider: upscale dive bar entertainment at Electric Shuffle (0.2 miles or less), leader in fine dining Emmer & Rye (0.1 miles or less).

Cheer Up Charlie's/Empire Garage and Control Room/Mohawk/Stubb’s (Red River Cultural District)
This is one of the best areas in the city for venue hopping, and there are plenty of food trucks around. But if a sit-down, less divey meal is the goal, Moonshine Grill makes excellent Southern comfort food, including some of the city's best chicken and waffles. Not more than half a mile from most Red River venues, this restaurant will likely have a wait, but it's in a decent location to explore.
Also consider: A very close and simple solution at Stubb's BBQ (0.1 miles), great burgers at Casino El Camino (0.3 miles).

Alamo Lamar (South Lamar Area)
This one is easy — Alamo Drafthouse is known for a fantastically well-rounded experience, including meals and drinks. You could just stay put. But if dinner and a show need to happen at separate venues, Odd Duck is right across the street. This understated, upscale new American eatery is well-respected and relatively casual — it feels like a treat without dominating the day's plans.
Also consider:Great ramen at Ramen Tatsu-ya (0.2 miles), vibrant Asian barbecue at Loro (0.9 miles).

Hotel Vegas (East Austin)
More modern Mexican food? Yes, get used to it. Suerte is one of Austin's most respected restaurants among industry players, and it is a James Beard semi-finalist for its wine and beverage program. About a quarter of a mile down East 6th Street, this path brings foot traffic past several bars and one of the most exciting stretches of businesses outside of the usual downtown drags.
Also consider: cult-favorite crispiness at Spicy Boys Fried Chicken (0.2 miles), top-of-the-line sushi at Fukumoto (0.3 miles).

Continental Club/Hotel San José (South Congress)
The South Congress area is another that was literally built for wandering. It's just not a good place to save money. Might as well lean into the upscale vibes a third of a mile away at Vespaio, one of the area's oldest restaurants, and the one that taught it how to do Italian food. If you're in a more Mexican mood, its new sister restaurant, Chapulín Cantina, is a fabulous place to sip tequila.
Also consider: New Yorker-approved pizza at Home Slice (0.1 miles), the supremely-Austin Torchy's Tacos (0.5 miles).

Zach Theater (Zilker)
This area is busy at all times of day thanks to the surrounding recreational areas. Everything is a bit of a hike in this area, but El Alma, half a mile away, offers a great mix of quality and accessibility. There will probably be a wait, but the frozen margaritas are perfection, and the food is delicious. The deck feels very Austin and is usually available sooner than the air conditioned interior.
Also consider: expensive, but gorgeous views nearby at Nido (0.1 miles), very fun Tex-Mex digs at Chuy's (0.5 miles).

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West Austin award winner among 10 most expensive Texas homes in November

texas' priciest purchases

Discerning Texas buyers only have one month left in the year to purchase that next dream home. Fortunately, the Lone Star State offers plenty of luxury, multi-million-dollar homes for savvy shoppers.

With that in mind, the Houston Association of Realtors has revealed the most expensive inventory (read: the 10 priciest properties) currently on the market from November onwards throughout Texas.

These posh properties range from new-build masterpieces and marvelously modern estates and astonishing abodes. Locals will want to check out the Jacobean-inspired mansion in River Oaks neighborhood and the a massive 10-acre, 40,000-square-foot retreat in Spring.

1. 319 Verna Trail N., Fort Worth
List price: $15.9 million

319 Verna Trail N., Fort Worth home for saleThe Lazy H ranch is located on 50 acres of land.Photo courtesy of HAR.com

The No. 1 most expensive home on the market in November was 319 Verna Trl. N. in western Fort Worth. Dubbed the Lazy H Ranch, this private property is located on 50 acres of sprawling land. Each of the four bedrooms in the main house have their own en-suites, with an additional two half baths elsewhere. The 6,500-square-foot main home also boasts a media room equipped with a 100-inch TV, and a state-of-the-art kitchen with Miele appliances. Outdoor features include a reverse osmosis pool, a gas fire pit, a climate-controlled patio (made possible by the home's GeoThermal system), and an infrared sauna in the pool bath.

Elsewhere on the property are two casitas, each boasting two bedrooms and two bathrooms with fenced patios and large backyards. The eight-stall stable barn contains a vet room with a commercial washer and dryer, refrigerator, office, a half bath, tack room, a separate saddle room, and two workshops. A stable caretaker's apartment is also located on the property. Additional amenities include a hay barn, equipment barn, eight pastures, and much more.

2. 862 Grape Creek Road, Fredericksburg
List price: $14.9 million

862 Grape Creek Road, Fredericksburg home for saleGrape Creek Estate is an ideal private compound for a family.Photo courtesy of HAR.com

Privacy is the central idea behind Texas' second most expensive real estate listing in November. 862 Grape Creek Road in Fredericksburg contains two estate homes and a guest house across 116 acres of wooded Hill Country land.

"The property is fully fenced, gated, a paved road system connecting all improvements, under ground utilities and 3 wells with large cisterns," the listing says. "The property was designed for a family compound offering privacy between the two main homes and guest house."

3. 4625 Walnut Hill Lane, Dallas
List price: $14.75 million

4625 Walnut Hill Lane, Dallas home for saleThe ceilings on the first floor range from 12 to 22 feet high.Photo courtesy of HAR.com

2502 Oestrick Lane Austin home for sale

Photo courtesy of HAR.com

The tenth most expensive home listed for sale in Texas last month was 2502 Oestrick Ln. in Austin.

A modern home at 4625 Walnut Hill Ln. in Dallas is the first new construction home that made it on HAR's list of the most expensive Texas listings last month. The listing brags that the 11,858-square-foot home is "Preston Hollow modern living at its finest" while also being priced at the lowest cost-per-square-foot in Dallas.

"The house is surrounded by over 70 evergreen trees coupled with a tall aluminum fence, establishing a very private sanctuary," the listing says. "[The fence's] automatic gates open to [the] granite driveway and leads to [a] five-car garage with aluminum doors featuring epoxy floors."

The house features five bedrooms, six full bathrooms, one half bath, high ceilings throughout the first floor, an open-concept living space, wood flooring, marble accents, and more.

4. 419 Lighthouse Drive, Horseshoe Bay
List price: $14.5 million

419 Lighthouse Drive, Horseshoe Bay home for saleThere are lake views from every room at 419 Lighthouse Dr. in Horseshoe Bay.Photo courtesy of HAR.com

While modernity has been a dominant design feature between the top three most expensive homes, 419 Lighthouse Dr. in Horseshoe Bay takes a much different approach. This grandiose Spanish Colonial lake home sits on two connected lots with waterfront access to Slickrock Creek which leads into the Colorado River.

The two-story home was built in 2015 with six bedrooms, seven full bathrooms, and three half baths. The house's exterior is constructed from solid, hand-cut limestone blocks that creates a distinguished appearance that also exhibits a timeless luxury. A few other defining characteristics of the home include multiple antiquely-carved 17th century doors, reclaimed ceiling beams, antique French limestone floors, French oak wood floors, and more.

5. 4231 W. Lawther Drive, Dallas
List price: $13.98 million

4231 W. Lawther Drive, Dallas home for salePhoto courtesy of HAR.com

Those who enjoy the coveted White Rock Lake area of Dallas will definitely covet this home on the sought-after Lawther Drive in Lakewood. Sitting more than 3.6+ acres of prime land along White Rock Lake, this property offers an unparalleled waterfront living experience. Five bedroom suites, 5 full baths, and 3 half bath soffers ample space and privacy; a gourmet kitchen with custom cabinetry and top-of-the-line Viking, Subzero, and Wolf appliances, perfect for master home chefs.

Three living areas, three suites, and a game room with a wet bar make for ideal gathering places for family, friends, and guests. Ideal for a getaway or party space, an 2,775 square-foot basement makes for even more community space. Car collectors and large groups can park it in the13-car covered parking area.

For privacy, guests can crash in the 785 square-foot full guest quarters, while a three-stall barn, pool house, an 820 square-foot workshop bring the outdoorsy lake life home. Take in the scenery at the 2735 square-foot of exterior patios and porches, which offer majestic lake views.

6. 3217 Del Monte Drive, Houston
List price: $13.5 million

3217 Del Monte Drive, Houston home for saleDespite still being under construction, 3217 Del Monte Dr. in Houston is already proving to be a beautiful masterpiece.Photo courtesy of HAR.com

This resplendent new construction home in Houston's River Oaks neighborhood was the only property in Greater Houston to make it onto HAR's list of the most expensive homes for sale in November. The home 3217 Del Monte Dr. is inspired by English Jacobean manors and was designed by local luxury home builders Fifty Seventh + 7th.

While the home isn't completely finished yet, architect Robert Dame has a grand vision for the final product, which includes a two-floor entryway, a personal library, a dining area with a show-stopping steel and glass wine room, a catering kitchen, a bar and tasting room, and much more. Once finished, the home will have six bedrooms, which includes a second-floor primary suite that opens to a terrace.

7. 4020 Glenwick Lane, University Park
List price: $13.4 million

4020 Glenwick Lane, University Park home for saleThe second floor balcony overlooks the turfed yard and pool.Photo courtesy of HAR.com

As of December 1, the luxuriously modern home at 4020 Glenwick Lane in University Park is under contract, but it was the seventh most expensive Texas real estate listing in November. The property is located on a .59 acre lot in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Dallas.

The 10,111-square-foot home features five bedrooms, five full bathrooms, two half baths, and a three-car oversized garage. Additional highlights include Italian-imported travertine tile throughout the home, Sky Frame phantom doors that connect the indoor and outdoor spaces for a perfectly seamless look, a turfed back yard, a marble waterfall wet bar, pool, fountain, and spa.

8. 2449 Mountain View Court, Cedar Hill
List price: $12.9 million

2449 Mountain View Court, Cedar Hill home for saleIt costs a pretty penny to have views like this 24/7.Photo courtesy of HAR.com

While guests may not find mountain views at 2449 Mountain View Ct. in Cedar Hill, they'll definitely be satisfied with the stunning panoramic visuals of Joe Pool Lake from the comfort of the backyard resort-style pool. This Dallas-Fort Worth paradise property boasts a 13,739-square-foot mansion on more than four acres of land.

The Mediterranean-style abode boasts eight bedrooms, eight full bathrooms, and two half baths. Three ornate floating stairways lead to the second floor, which showcases similar breathtaking views that reach hundreds of miles into Fort Worth and Las Colinas. The gourmet kitchen is equipped with quartz counters, Wolf and SubZero appliances, a butler's pantry, and a wine room. But the most impressive features of the property are located just outside the home.

"Designed for a luxurious lifestyle, the magnificent mansion features...a resort style pool featuring two grottos, waterfalls and water features, a sunken fire pit, fire sconces, and a cabana with outdoor kitchen and bath," the listing says.

9. 19525 Doerre Road, Spring
List price: $12.79 million

19525 Doerre Road, Spring home for sale19525 Doerre Rd. is perfectly suited to host retreats, vacation rentals, or can be turned into an assisted living center.Photo courtesy of HAR.com

November's penultimate priciest Texas real estate listing is none other than the gargantuan retreat center at 19525 Doerre Rd. in Spring. The property consists of one gargantuan main estate, and five separate estates on 10 perfectly-manicured acres of land.

Other features of the property include an attached five-car garage, a detached six-car garage with a garage apartment; a two-bay RV garage, a fitness center, resort-style pool, tennis court, and sand volleyball court. Huge families can look forward to a 40,000-plus-square-foot space offering anywhere from eight to 30 — yes, 30 — bedrooms.

10. 2502 Oestrick Lane, Austin
List price: $12.5 million

2502 Oestrick Lane, Austin home for saleFloor-to-ceiling windows display the entirety of the back yard, but ceiling curtain tracks surround the room to provide guests with the ultimate privacy.Photo courtesy of HAR.com

The final property that was among the most expensive Texas listings in November is a gorgeous award-winning home situated in the hills of West Austin. 2502 Oestrick Ln. is a five bedroom, five full bathroom and two half bath Hill Country paradise brimming with natural light and expertly-designed modernity. The home sits on a 3.7 acre estate and was originally built in 2014, according to the listing.

"The interior spaces are studies in the manipulation of natural light, achieved through the strategic placement of windows, skylights, and innovative ceiling geometries," the listing says. "The choice of warm, luminescent materials for cabinetry and walls juxtaposes the industrial simplicity of concrete floors, cultivating an atmosphere of calm sophistication."

With a list price of $12.5 million, it's no wonder how this innovative residence has earned its many accolades, including The 2018 Architecture Master Prize and the 2017 American Architecture Award.

Travel magazine names Texas Hill Country among the top 25 destinations in the world

to the hills

If you’re writing “travel more” on your list of New Year’s resolutions, you might not have to travel very far to visit one of the most sought-after travel spots across the globe: the Texas Hill Country.

Afar, a U.S.-based travel publication, just released its annual list of 25 recommended vacation spots around the world. It includes some of the obvious spots like Paris, Fiji, and Machu Picchu, as well as some more unexpected spots like Maldonado, Uruguay, and Brno, Czechia (as a Czech Texan, I’m adding this one to my list).

A few spots in the United States made the list: Philadelphia, Detroit, San Diego, Charleston, and a few others. But the Hill Country is the only Texas spot on the list, with Afar deeming it “arguably one of the prettiest places in Texas.” This isn’t exactly a secret: In 2022, the Hill Country saw more than 2.3 million visitors to its state parks. That's not even counting the many charming towns.

The main reason the Hill Country made the list? It’s in the path of totality for April’s solar eclipse. If you haven’t already made your eclipse travel plans, though, you might be out of luck.

Airbnbs in Fredericksburg, smack dab in the heart of the Hill Country, are listing for at least $1,000 a night on and around April 8. Some of the larger rental homes are going for as much as $2,700 a night.

But as Afar writes, there’s plenty of reason to stick around after the eclipse. There's the wine, for one thing; The Hill Country’s viticultural area spans 9 million square miles, the third-largest in the U.S. Then there's beer, with breweries like Jester King and Real Ale attracting visitors from far and wide.

Plus the unique lodging options are endless: yurts, shipping containers, treehouses and, yeah, you can even stay in a resort where giraffes will trot past your window. If the prices above are out of the question, you could always try camping or taking a road trip from an area with greater supply or less demand — both Austin and San Antonio are close enough for an easy day trip.

Afar’s article highlights some of the major locales – Fredericksburg and its peaches, of course – but also points out a few other less-trodden paths in the Hill Country, like Bandera (the Cowboy Capital of Texas) and Kerrville. But that barely scratches the surface.

According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, the Hill Country officially spans 25 Texas counties, though many Texans will tell you that the Hill Country is a state of mind (meaning, it’s west-ish of Austin and hilly). So the travel possibilities are endless.

Gift experiences this holiday and you might just win Blake Shelton tickets

Celebrate More, Waste Less

What do you get the person who has everything? Hint: It's not another "thing."

This holiday season, consider gifting experiences instead of items — and you won't even have to wrap them.

According to Take Care of Texas, a statewide campaign to conserve and protect our one and only Lone Star State, about 8,000 tons of wrapping paper is used each year. Most wrapping paper contains glitter or metallic materials —which means it can’t be recycled — and ribbons, bows, and gift tags also aren’t recyclable.

To help you get into this new holiday groove of gifting time together instead of stuff, TCOT has a pretty amazing experience to give away.

Sign the Take Care of Texas pledge this winter and you'll be entered to win two tickets to Blake Shelton's Back to the Honky Tonk Tour, presented by Kubota.

Shelton's only stop in Texas is at the world-class Moody Center on March 1, 2024, where he'll be backed by opening acts Dustin Lynch and Emily Ann Roberts. This is your chance to hear Shelton sing "Austin" in Austin!

The prize package also includes a one-night stay at the luxurious Thompson Hotel Austin, so you can return from the Friday night concert and sleep in style.

To enter, simply click here and take the pledge to help keep our air and water clean, conserve water and energy, and reduce waste.

The contest is open through December 31, and you only need one entry per person. The winner will be drawn on January 2, 2024.