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Photo courtesy of Circuit of The Americas

Circuit of The Americas is ready to roll with its Peppermint Parkway holiday extravaganza, bringing back the holiday favorite for its third year with all-new activations, including the chance to pick up your own Christmas tree to take home.

“We cannot wait to welcome Central Texans back to Peppermint Parkway. This is truly a special event for us and we love being able to be part of the holiday traditions our community celebrates every year,” says COTA chief experience officer Courtney Young. ”We are bringing back beloved favorites including the Grinch and the Mistletoe Kissing Booth, and offering a couple of exciting new attractions. We encourage guests to put on their coziest sweaters and head to Peppermint Parkway for a memorable holiday experience.”

Hop in
Peppermint Parkway is "a one-mile display of lights, music, and joy" that runs from November 25-December 30. More than 6 million lights will illuminate the path as guests follow the event's mascots, Pepper and Mint, down COTA's Tunnel Road to deliver their letters to Santa.

Dozens of live characters, including dancing gingerbread men and everyone’s favorite holiday grump, the Grinch, will interact with your vehicle, creating an immersive holiday experience not found anywhere else.

Tree time
New this year is Wonder Woods, the most cost-effective tree lot in Austin. Circuit of The Americas will be getting in the holiday spirit by giving away free Christmas trees to families in need, too.

Smile bright
Guests can share a kiss with loved ones in the Mistletoe Kissing Booth for an unforgettable photo opp that's perfect for your holiday card. Families can take a photo with Pepper and Mint, write a letter to Santa, and travel to the top of the COTA Candy Cane, the 251-foot-tall observation tower that offers an amazing view of the Parkway and illuminated Austin skyline.

To the Plaza we go
Before or after your drive, step out of your car and walk through Peppermint Plaza. Guests can take a spin on one of the eight-plus rides (perfect for kids and thrill-seekers alike), write a letter to Santa, meet Pepper and Mint, grab treats at the food trucks, and shop at the all-new Holiday Market and Sweet Shoppe.

Pause for the pub
Attendees can also escape to the swanky Peppermint Pub, complete with velvet couches and an awe-inspiring tree. Kids can sip on cocoa while adults have the option to join them, while adding a splash of something special.

Christmas cruisin'
Race fans can enjoy the Candy Cane Cruise, an exclusive opportunity to take your own car for a parade lap on COTA's world-famous, 3.41-mile, FIA-grade Formula 1 track, where many world champions have raced.

Ticket info
Ticket packages start at $40 per car and are on sale now onsite and at PeppermintParkway.com.

Travel to the top of the COTA Candy Cane and look out over downtown.

Photo courtesy of Circuit of The Americas

Travel to the top of the COTA Candy Cane and look out over downtown.

Photo courtesy of RVshare

Head out on a fall haul in a luxe RV to experience the Hill Country

On the Road

It’s the season of tailgates and football, parties and potlucks, changing leaves and twinkling lights — and, of course, pumpkin spice.

But these last two months of the year in Texas are also prime time for getting back in touch with nature after a long, hot summer.

Reward yourself for surviving the swelter with the ultimate Hill Country glamping getaway. And don’t you worry if that Instagrammable teepee or yurt you’ve hearted is all booked up. There’s another way to make a resy at any of mother nature’s Texas gems: via luxury RV.

This transportable luxe accommodation means you can road-trip it to any number of places, and RVshare has your fall haul handled. The RV rental company brings more than 100,000 high-end models to the table, each boasting a range of styles, amenities, and sizes.

They even have a delivery option, where they’ll drive your RV of choice to your destination and set the whole thing up. Because glamping shouldn’t involve a single ounce of elbow grease.

Need some travel inspo? Check out this short list of the Hill Country’s gifts to Texas and hit the road.

Canyon Lake
Recognized as “The Jewel” of the Texas Hill Country, Canyon Lake is located along the Guadalupe River and is known for its superior water recreation options. But there are plenty of hiking trails and parks, too, along with a golf course.

When you go, you’ll want to book some space at Mystic Quarry Resort, which is a mod Texas glamping and RV destination. In addition to super-cool surrounds, you’ll find all the little luxuries there like an onsite shuttle bus, fitness center, yard games, dog parks, special events, and more.

Lake Pointe RV Resort and Condominiums is another hidden oasis in the area, with 50-plus acres of boating, water skiing, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing within easy reach. Many of the RV sites come with lake views, too.

Lost Maples State Natural Area
Celebrated for its changing fall colors, Los Maples State Natural Area is a sight to behold. While there, you’ll also see steep canyon walls and the scenic Sabinal River along 10 miles of trails, including a loop that takes you along the top of a 2,200-foot cliff.

Thirty campsites are available in the natural area, or you can set up camp in the Utopia Oaks RV Park, which boasts inspiring scenery, mountain views, and wildlife, too.

While in Utopia, head to The Laurel Tree to savor a glorious menu every Saturday. You can also reserve their treehouse for a one-of-a-kind private dinner. Or stop in for classic diner fare at Lost Maples Café — don’t skip their sky-high meringue pies.

Texas Wine Trail
The Hill Country also lays claim to more than 50 wineries and vineyards — dubbed the Texas Wine Trail — and Fredericksburg is home base for many of them.

Leave the RV at Bending Oaks Ranch RV Resort — a 21-and-over, tree-saturated haven complete with Longhorn cattle and local music performances — and check out the town’s quaint German architecture, cuisine, and shopping before hitting the trail.

Also nearby is the Texas Wine Country Jellystone Park, a family-friendly option with mini golf, a jumping pillow, and more. And the Vineyards of Fredericksburg is a new outpost to park that RV, and it comes with a side of incredible views along with amenities like fire pits on every site, disc golf, and more.

Hill Country Craft Beer Trail
The hopheads can also get their fill on the Beer Trail. New Braunfels is your starting point — and don’t miss Texas’s oldest dance hall, Gruene Hall, while you’re in town. They have live music every night.

Park your RV at the quirky-cool resort called Camp Fimfo, where you have direct access to the Guadalupe River, which is year-round hot spot for fly fishing. Or set out on one of the river’s paddling trails. When you’re not on the water, check out Fimfo’s onsite activities, including mini golf, gem mining, retro yard games, and sports courts.

Lake Bastrop North Shore and South Shore State Park
Surrounding the 900-acre Lake Bastrop on the north shore and south shore, both of these Lake Bastrop park outposts come correct for RVs. They’re the perfect places to pull in for fishing and water recreation, and canoe, kayak, and SUP rentals are readily available. By land, there are miles of hike and bike trails where you can experience the beauty of the Lost Pines region firsthand.

At the North Shore, swing by Base Camp Deli for curated picnic bundles. And on the South Shore, you’ll find mini golf and a volleyball court, too.

If you’re looking for a few other dining and entertainment options in nearby Bastrop, you’re not far from several breweries and taprooms. Also, Neighbor's Kitchen & Yard and the Iron Bridge Icehouse (open weekends only!) are both on the banks of the Colorado River and serve great food, craft beer and cocktails, and live music.

McKinney Falls State Park
For a rural-meets-urban vibe, McKinney Falls State Park is within Austin city limits but you’ll still feel fully immersed in nature, with nearly nine miles of trails as well the background sounds of Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges and splashing into pools.

Campsites are fully equipped and ready to go in the park. Plus, you can always head into downtown Austin for dinner and live music if you need a break from all that nature.

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Founded in 2013, RVshare is the largest peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace and can help you secure everything from a travel trailer to a luxury motorhome, all backed with extraordinary customer service from the RVshare team. Renters get payment and fraud protection, plus 24/7 emergency roadside service and even free delivery where available. Pets are welcome in specified vehicles. To rent an RV for your next glamping trip, click here.

Photo courtesy of Kodiak Robotics

IKEA to test-drive robot deliveries between 2 Texas stores

Trucking news

A California-based, self-driving trucking company is partnering with IKEA to pilot autonomous freight deliveries in Texas.Kodiak Robotics and IKEA has agreed on a pilot program that will transport IKEA products seven days a week between the IKEA Distribution Center in Baytown, near Houston, and the IKEA Store in Frisco.

"We are proud to be working with Kodiak to achieve our ambitious goals of being at the forefront of innovation and building capabilities for future transportation," says Dariusz Mroczek, category area transport manager of IKEA Supply Chain Operations, in a news release. "Kodiak's technology will contribute towards our objective to put the driver in focus in the transition towards automated transportation and towards our road safety agenda."

The pilot program will flesh out Kodiak's technology, and each vehicle will have a professional safety truck driver behind the wheel to oversee the autonomous delivery.

"IKEA and Kodiak share a commitment to putting safety first," says Don Burnette, founder and CEO of Kodiak Robotics, in the release. "Together we can enhance safety, improve working conditions for drivers, and create a more sustainable freight transportation system. Adopting autonomous trucking technology can improve drivers' quality of life by focusing on the local driving jobs most prefer to do. We look forward to working with the IKEA carrier partners to bring these benefits to the IKEA supply chain."

Founded in 2018, Kodiak has been delivering freight daily in Texas since mid-2019, which includes a Dallas to San Antonio route.

"Dallas will be our home base for testing and operations for the foreseeable future," Burnette said in 2019. "Kodiak plans to continue refining and testing its trucks until the last truck-involved accident happens on public roads."

The company picked Texas for its truck tests, in part, because of the "warm welcome" extended by Gov. Greg Abbott, TxDOT, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, and other segments of the public sector, Burnette told InnovationMap.

In addition, Burnette says, Kodiak chose Texas "because of its great people, freight-rich economy, reasonable regulatory structure, and robust infrastructure."

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This article originally appeared on our sister site InnovationMap.

Photo courtesy of COTA

Leave the driving to the pros during COTA F1 weekend with this shuttle info

Get In

Going to Formula 1 weekend October 21-23 at Circuit of The Americas? If so, you're in for a heck of a good time with Green Day, Ed Sheeran, and even famed fictional NASCAR superstar Ricky Bobby all set to appear.

But stars won't be the only thing competing for your attention. To help Circuit of The Americas celebrate its 10th year of Formula 1 at the track, fans can indulge in free birthday cake and take a dip in the Museum of Ice Cream’s 50-foot sprinkle pool.

There's also plenty of off-track entertainment, ranging from live ice sculpting to axe throwing to lucha libre wrestling. Pick out a temporary (or permanent!) tattoo before posing for pics with such famous cars as the Batmobile, Bumblebee, a DeLorean, and Ghostbusters' Ecto-1.

If that all sounds great, remember that hundreds of thousands of other folks think so too. Be smart and plan your race weekend transportation now.

Unless you already have a parking pass, shuttles are the quickest and easiest way to get to and from COTA.

Shuttle buses will conveniently pick up guests from various spots throughout Austin and drop them off at dedicated areas at COTA reserved exclusively for buses.

Tickets for the three different shuttle options start at $35 and are on sale now, though space is limited. Pick up locations include:

  • Downtown (Trinity St./Waterloo Park)
  • Travis County Expo Center
  • Barton Creek Square Mall

Downtown
Round-trip price: $130 for a three-day weekend pass or $45 a day with advance purchase
Same-day: $55 per person, per day

Get the party started and roll right up to the Grand Plaza in style. Primarily comprised of luxury motor coaches, this shuttle route is the closest available drop-off point to the Circuit entrance. The Waterloo Park shuttle hub is the only shuttle with direct drop-off and pick-up at the Grand Plaza Gates. Park your car for $20 a day at the garages between Trinity and San Jacinto.

Travis County Expo Center
Round-trip price: $100 for a three-day weekend pass or $35 a day with advance purchase
Same-day: $45 per person, per day

Located near the intersections of Hwy. 290/US 183 and the 130 Tollway, the Travis County Expo Center shuttle hub is a free parking lot with service in primarily air-conditioned school buses. Please enter and exit this facility at Gate 1, located off Decker Lane.

Barton Creek Square Mall (Saturday and Sunday only)
Round trip price: $45 per day with advance purchase
Same-day: $55 per person, per day

Located near the intersection of Loop 1 and Hwy. 360 (Capital of Texas Highway), the Barton Creek Square Mall shuttle hub is a free parking lot with a mix of air-conditioned school buses and motor coaches. Shuttle pick-up and drop-off is located near JCPenny. This hub is not available on Friday of race weekend.

Rideshare
If Uber or Lyft is your plan, be prepared. Rideshare patrons will be dropped off and picked up at Del Valle High School, where they will then take a shuttle to the McAngus Lot. The walk to the rideshare lot is approximately 15-20 minutes and wait times can be very long. Surge pricing tends to be exceptionally high.

Photo courtesy of COTA

Keep the driving on the track.

For more information on shuttles and to book your tickets, click here.

To ensure the safety of its guests, COTA suggests buying shuttle passes directly from its site instead of purchasing a parking pass for an unauthorized parking lot near the race track.

Courtesy of Camp Margaritaville

Camp Margaritaville RV resort revs up at Texas' Crystal Beach

Wastin' away

An RV resort near Galveston Island is getting a major upgrade. After a comprehensive series of renovations, the property currently known as Bolivar Beach Club & RV Resort will become Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Crystal Beach.

Located on Bolivar Peninsula, the 150-acre property features ocean views and over 200 RV parking spots. The facility also features a concert venue, "Texas-sized" pool with swim-up bar pool-side cabanas, and a turf playing field. Upgrades will include the addition of the Fins Bar & Grill restaurant and a bar called License to Chill.

RV drivers will find amenities such as electric, water and sewer hookups, complimentary Wi-Fi, dog parks, a gym, and facilities for showering and doing laundry. The location gives visitors close proximity to 27 miles of beaches along the peninsula.

"We’ve seen incredible success and excitement around our existing Camp Margaritaville RV Resort locations and are thrilled to expand our presence in the state of Texas,” Margaritaville COO Brad Schwaeble said in a statement. “As more and more people are finding new ways to travel and explore, Camp Margaritaville Crystal Beach will provide everything needed for a getaway for all ages.”

Camp Margaritaville joins the company's existing Margaritaville Lake Resort, Lake Conroe. Opened in the summer of 2020, it features 335 suites, an 18-hole golf course, a three-acre waterpark with a lazy river and outdoor pools, and more.

American Airlines unveils loaded new suite seats for long-haul flights out of Austin

AN AIR OF REFINEMENT

American Airlines will be debuting fancy new premium seating for its long-haul flights that will include privacy doors, more storage space, and even an optional chaise lounge.

The new seating will be part of the airline's Airbus A321XLR and Boeing 787-9 aircraft, in the premium cabin only, with availability beginning in 2024.

American’s Vice President of Customer Experience Julie Rath says that "the arrival of new long-haul aircraft and the customized seat design of the Flagship Suite seats will offer customers a truly private premium experience on our long-haul fleet.”

The Premium Economy seat will afford more privacy and double the amount of in-seat storage space.

Premium seating on American’s long-haul fleet will grow more than 45 percent by 2026: American’s Boeing 787-9 aircraft will have 51 Flagship Suite seats and 32 Premium Economy seats, and the airline’s Airbus A321XLR aircraft will feature 20 Flagship Suite seats and 12 Premium Economy seats.

American will also retrofit its fleet of 20 Boeing 777-300ER aircraft to include Flagship Suite seats, as well as its 16 Airbus A321T fleet, and will continue to offer lie-flat seats on transcontinental routes departing New York and Boston along with its Northeast Alliance partner, JetBlue Airways.

Customers can share personal space can on the Boeing 787-9. The Boeing 787-9 Premium Economy seats feature headrest wings to increase privacy and larger in-seat entertainment screens.

The Flagship Suite on the Boeing 787-9 offers more comfort with lie-flat seating and can also convert to a chaise lounge position.

The Airbus A321XLR will have 20 Flagship Suite seats when it is delivered in 2024.

Premium customers are getting perks galore such as newly redesigned Admirals Club lounges, the first of which will open at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport this fall. They'll feature branded elements and sustainable wood designs created by design company Teague that will be echoed on the aircraft for a seamless aesthetic experience. Because if there's one thing you don't want, it's to leave the scrumptious sustainable wood designs of your premium lounge only to enter a premium cabin bereft of all wood.

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H-E-B unveils merch for super fans, plus more hot Austin headlines

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. H-E-B unveils merchandise for brand super fans, available exclusively at one store. Kerrville was chosen to launch the company's new line of H-E-B-branded merchandise in celebration of its 117th anniversary.

2. Austin bar transforms into a magical winter wonderland this holiday season. Don your favorite elf socks and meet the lovely citizens of “Tinseltown.”

3. Draft 'Vision Plan' for Zilker Park unveils land bridge and more possibilities. Austinites are invited to comment on a vision plan that will inform the future of Zilker Park.

4. Austin ranks among world’s 100 best cities in prestigious new report. Austin is the No. 43 best city in the world, according to a new study. (And yes, we beat Dallas.)

5. Austin airport launches new SkySquad travel assistants in time for the holiday rush. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is keeping lines moving during a period of heavy travel with a new team of airport assistants.

Steven Spielberg opens up personal history in The Fabelmans

Movie Review

For over 40 years, director Steven Spielberg has been delivering some of the most popular blockbuster movies of all time as well as a bevy of Oscar-quality dramas, a combination that’s unique to him. For his latest, The Fabelmans, he’s decided to go more personal than ever, telling a thinly-veiled version of his own childhood.

Sammy (played mostly by Gabriel LaBelle) is one of four children – and the only son – of Mitzi (Michelle Williams), a concert pianist, and Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano), a computer engineer. From an early age, Sammy is enthralled by the art of filmmaking, first remaking a train crash sequence from The Greatest Show on Earth, and gradually moving on to more adventurous stories.

Burt’s advancing career, which moves the family from New Jersey to Arizona to California, causes stress for various members of the family, most notably Sammy and Mitzi. Sammy must deal with anti-Semitic bullies, while Mitzi falls deeper into a mental health crisis. Sammy’s movies continually offer a respite for the family, though, giving him a creative outlet and the rest of them a chance to forget their troubles for a while.

Written by Spielberg – his first writing effort since 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence – and Tony Kushner, the film is heavy on emotions but presented in a way that those feelings don’t always translate. Spielberg is no stranger to depicting fraught family situations in his long career, but in showing ones from his own family, it feels like he pulled back, not wanting the scenes to be overwrought or schmaltzy.

The result is a story that isn’t as universal as some of his other films. As the film is told from Sammy’s perspective, it’s easy to get caught up in his pursuits and various discoveries as he gets older. The mindsets of the rest of the family are less clear, even though his parents and sisters are ever-present. Mitzi’s state of mind is a concern from the start, but it’s not always treated as such by other important characters.

Just as Sammy’s movies are an escape for his family, so too are they some of the best parts of the film. Sammy figuring out the process and secrets of filmmaking is informative and often thrilling, especially if you’re a cinephile. Spielberg has been considered a master for so long that watching him revisit the days when he was learning as he went is catnip for movie lovers.

In addition to being a dead ringer for a teenage Spielberg, LaBelle is a fantastic actor. It’s no easy feat to carry a movie on your shoulders, and LaBelle makes the assignment look easy. Williams’ performance will likely be more polarizing; she employs a very mannered speech pattern that works in some situations, but not all. The film also includes memorable short appearances by Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch, and David Lynch.

Spielberg has provided the moviegoing public with such pleasure over the years that he deserves to have a movie that’s mostly for him. The initial viewing of The Fabelmans left this critic wanting, but perhaps it will gain more traction on a second screening.

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The Fabelmans is now playing in theaters.

Photo by Merie Weismuller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Gabriel LaBelle in The Fabelmans

Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta acquires award-winning California resort

tilman goes laguna

Fans of Tilman Fertitta's nationwide hospitality brands are in for a treat. The Billion Dollar Buyer has just secured an award-winning, 30-acre resort in sunny Southern California.

Fertitta has purchased the acclaimed Montage Laguna Beach Resort Hotel, a premier beachfront property in the sunny SoCal getaway destination. Notably, the Montage Laguna Beach Resort Hotel is one of only six hotels in the U.S. to score the Forbes Triple Five-Star hotel status. The Montage has also been included among Travel + Leisure’s Top Hotels in the World.

Image courtesy of Montage Laguna Beach

Fertitta's newest purchase overlooks the ocean in Laguna Beach.

“I am truly thrilled to acquire this world-renowned property and add one of America’s most iconic trophy resorts to our luxury hotel portfolio,” Fertitta noted in a statement. “I have been traveling to Laguna Beach for over 30 years. It is one of my favorite places to visit and one of the most beautiful areas in the world. The Montage is a stunning oceanfront property and one of the premier hotel brands in the world.”

Press materials didn't list the property purchase price, but Law360 reports that the deal is in excess of $660 million.

The Craftsman-style resort sits on a coastal bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Impressive amenities are highlighted by the 20,000-square-foot Spa Montage, which offers eucalyptus steam rooms, dry redwood saunas, ocean air whirlpools, fireplace lounges, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a movement studio, and a lap pool.

More outdoor fun includes two pools and direct beach access, a museum-quality fine art collection, and more than 20,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, per press materials.

Every resident space — the 260 guestrooms, including 60 suites, beach bungalow-style rooms, and multi-bedroom villas — boast stunning views of the Pacific.

Dining destinations offer chef-driven interpretations of coastal California flavors inspired by region. The property is designated and included in the distinctive Legend Collection of Preferred Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

“We are thrilled that Tilman is the new owner of this one-of-a-kind property and welcome him into the Montage family,” said Alan Fuerstman, founder, CEO, and chairman of Montage International. Mary Rogers, the Montage's GM added, “The staff is thrilled to be working with Tilman. Everyone here at the property is tremendously excited about his purchase and look forward to continuing to provide a world-class experience to all of our guests."

Aside from his palatial Post Oak Hotel in Houston, Fertitta also owns 14 other hotel properties around the country, including the award-winning San Luis Resort in Galveston, plus five popular Golden Nugget casino and hotel locations.

Another feather in Fertitta’s luxury portfolio cap is the iconic Huntting Inn, one of the most charming and historic locales in East Hampton, New York.

No stranger to California, Fertitta's presence there includes Catch Seafood and Catch Steak, Mastro’s Ocean Club and Mastro’s Steakhouse, Morton’s The Steakhouse, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, The Palm, and more — all part of his 60 brands and more than 600 concepts nationwide.