Photo courtesy of Natural Bridge Caverns

Caving for the first time may have adventurers praying to their saint of choice (that would be Barbara, FYI, patron saint of miners), but guides on a new tour at Texas' Natural Bridge Caverns are ready to shepherd newbies from a more earthly perspective.

The new St. Mary’s Adventure Tour is an expansion of the offerings at the iconic Texas attraction and perfect for people who have never tried their hand at caving. It also offers access to parts of the caverns never before seen by guests.

“This wild area in our cavern has always been one of our favorites,” says Natural Bridge Caverns president Brad Wuest in a press release. “The challenge has been that experiencing it also requires some specialized equipment and training. Now … we have the equipment and rigging in place to make the experience accessible to guests who are ready for adventure.”

The existing expedition, called the Discovery Adventure Tour, is more of a challenge, with “muddy and tight crawl ways” (stomach churn) that take two-and-a-half to three hours to explore. The St. Mary’s tour is more upright, with no crawling and a little more climbing, for an hour less of total exploring. The company says both are good for beginners, who will wear protective equipment that can be hooked up to safety lines anchored to the rock.

Sections of the new tour have never been seen by modern guests of Natural Bridge Caverns, but this cave isn’t newly explored. The team estimates, from evidence in this area of the cave, that explorers have been visiting as early as the 1950s. Visitors can see crystals, curtains of sediment called flowstone, and spiderwebby “boxwork” from ancient water erosion.

“Experiencing these passages just expands your appreciation for the astonishing wonder of the natural world,” says vice president and expedition team member Travis Wuest. “Our hope is these experiences will inspire our guests to learn about and then advocate for protection and responsible stewardship of these delicate environments.”

Super enthusiastic cavers are invited to join the St. Mary’s tour in the morning, break for lunch, and continue on to the Discovery tour. Yours truly at CultureMap will cheer you on from the sidelines. (Do caves have sidelines?)

For more information and links to book both above and below-ground tours, visit naturalbridgecaverns.com.

Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Austin

Classic Austin hotel occupies spot among Texas’ most lucrative properties

Keying in on revenue

The Four Seasons Austin once again checks in among the top moneymaking hotels in Texas, according to a new report. The classic downtown haunt joins six other Capital City hotels among the top 10.

The report, issued by San Antonio-based Source Strategies Inc., shows that based on revenue per available room (RevPAR) — a key financial indicator in the hotel industry — the Four Seasons ranked as the No. 2 most lucrative Texas hotel in the first quarter of 2019. The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas took the top spot.

Among the top moneymaking hotels in Texas, the Four Seasons Hotel Austin remained at No. 2 from the fourth quarter of last year to the first quarter of this year.

The 291-room Four Seasons saw its RevPAR slip from $345.95 in the first quarter of 2018 to $344.48 to the first quarter of 2019. (The first-quarter figure for the Four Seasons is not even $1 less than The Ritz-Carlton’s comparable number of $345.36.)

The Four Seasons “just underwent a three-year renovation,” Vaughn says, “so it looks like they’re getting some good demand out of the recent improvements.”

Even though Dallas’ 218-room Ritz-Carlton reigned as the revenue king of Texas in the first quarter, Austin boasted seven of the state’s 10 most lucrative hotels. Aside from the Four Seasons, they are:

  • The Driskill at No. 4, with RevPAR of $304.58.
  • Hotel San Jose at No. 5, with RevPAR of $287.22.
  • Hotel Van Zandt at No. 6, with RevPAR of $283.77.
  • South Congress Hotel at No. 7, with RevPAR of $271.35.
  • JW Marriott Austin at No. 8, with RevPAR of $257.23.
  • InterContinental Stephen F. Austin at No. 9, with RevPAR of $248.72.

Vaughn credits SXSW and the recently concluded state legislative session with helping pump up Austin’s hotel performance in the first quarter of this year.

Meanwhile in Dallas, the only other local hotel in the top 10 was Hotel Crescent Court (No. 10), with RevPAR of $248.54. That’s up significantly from $183.28 in the first quarter of 2018, when the hotel ranked 49th in the state for RevPAR. Vaughn says Hotel Crescent Court got a revenue boost from its recent $33 million overhaul.

In San Antonio, Hotel Emma stood its ground, remaining in the No. 3 spot for revenue. In the first quarter of this year, RevPAR reached $304.58, up from $289.52 during the same period last year, according to Source Strategies.

Hotel Emma, a 146-room boutique property at the popular Pearl District, continues to draw accolades from reviewers. For instance, the hotel in January earned a coveted Five Diamond Award from AAA.

The highest-ranking hotel in Houston was the JW Marriott Downtown Houston, at No. 29. RevPAR in the first quarter of this year was $206.37, up slightly from $205.32 during the same period in 2018.

Source Strategies says the Houston hotel market is still struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

“The Houston metro continues to see revenues recede after the strong emergency demand from the end of 2017 and in early 2018,” Todd Walker, president of Source Strategies, says in a release. “Some areas of the metro are performing well, but others have experienced sharp declines in demand, occupancy, and revenues.”

Vaughn says that after Hurricane Harvey hit in August 2017, some hotels in the Houston area “were taken out of service and are slowly filtering back into the market.”

Photo by Lime

These trendy Austin ZIP codes are among nation's hot spots for millennials

In-demand districts

Austin's Hyde Park is a bona fide magnet for millennials. A new study from apartment search website RentCafé ranks the historic hood as one of the top ZIP codes in the U.S. for millennial residents.

U.S. Census Bureau data gathered by RentCafé indicates 61 percent of the residents in Hyde Park's 78751 ZIP code, or about 8,900 people, were millennials in 2016. That makes it the No. 2 millennial hot spot in Texas and the No. 16 millennial hot spot in the U.S.

Other Texas ZIP codes that made the list are:

  • 75201 in Dallas. The Arts District is comprised of 65 percent millennials, or about 8,800 people. National rank: No. 8.
  • 75202 in Dallas. Downtown in the Big D has a 61 percent share of millennials — about 1,400 residents — and a national rank of No. 15
  • 77054 in Houston. The neighborhood around the Astrodome has a 63 percent share of millennials, or about 14,400 residents. National rank: No. 12.

RentCafé also ranked ZIP codes in the 30 biggest U.S. cities by the biggest increases in millennial population over a five-year period, the largest share of millennials, and the largest total number of millennials. The study excluded ZIP codes with fewer than 1,000 millennial residents, as well as ZIP codes overlapping with college campuses, military bases, and prisons.

In terms of the fastest-growing ZIP codes for young adults, 78756 in Austin was the only Texas ZIP code in the top 20.

The share of millennials in 78756 — which includes the Brentwood and Rosedale neighborhoods — jumped 34.3 percent from 2011 to 2016, according to RentCafé. In 2016, it was home to about 4,000 millennials.

John Crowe, a broker Realtor with Austin’s Juice Real Estate, says the Burnet Road corridor in 78756 is gaining popularity among millennials due, in part, to its abundance of “charming” updated homes dating back to the 1940s. The Burnet corridor also has seen explosive growth in the number of apartments, restaurants, and bars.

Crowe says that these days in the 78756 ZIP code, a resident “can jump on a Bird scooter, take a short walk or bike to meet friends and family on the deck of the burger-and-beer joint, spend evenings enjoying the high-end sushi or Mexican restaurants, or settle in at the various food trailers and local coffee shops.”

“A gourmet grocery store, plus-sized yards, great schools, green spaces like Ramsey Park, and a solid local library serve as a foundation for young residents, many of whom, live and work in the area and plan to stay as long as the original owners of those 1940s homes did,” he adds.

Photo courtesy of HomeAway

Tech company unlocks massive headquarters in Austin's new 'uptown'

Heading north

On July 31, Austin-based vacation rental giant HomeAway unveiled a new 20,000-square-foot office in the Domain. HomeAway executives say this office will be a “living laboratory” for design concepts being evaluated for its eventual 16-story office tower currently under construction.

Though the new offices will only house 140 employees to start, the vacation rental giant's eventual tower, set to open 2019, will complement the company’s current five-story office in Domain Northside. Together, the three North Austin offices will serve as the global headquarters of HomeAway, an Expedia subsidiary. The 315,000-square-foot tower alone will contain room for more than 2,000 HomeAway employees.

“Simply put, we can’t build offices fast enough to accommodate the number of employees we’re hiring,” says Tina Weyand, chief product officer at HomeAway.

“After we outgrew our former headquarters within three years of opening its doors, we decided to look in North Austin for a place where we could build a true HomeAway campus to serve us for years to come,” Weyand adds. “With its ample space, welcoming vibe and great places to live, work and play, the Domain was a natural fit for our rapidly growing team.”

Attracting high-profile tenants like HomeAway is further evolving this North Austin neighborhood into what’s been dubbed Austin’s “second downtown” or, more recently, Austin’s “uptown.” And like it or not, the Domain and its “uptown” neighbors are looking and feeling more like Silicon Valley these days.

The area encompassing the Domain, the adjacent Domain Northside and the nearby Broadmoor office complex — whose key arteries include Burnet Road, West Braker Lane and North MoPac Expressway — is an ever-strengthening magnet for growing operations of major employers like HomeAway, Amazon, Facebook, IBM, and Indeed.

“Better than most developments, the Domain excels at providing options for many demographic types — young, old, millennial, single, married, families,” says William Mellor, vice president of Austin-based economic development consulting firm AngelouEconomics. “Quite simply, the Domain is an easy place to be. That has enabled the Domain to become as successful as it has at attracting major companies.”

Another Austin company in a similar growth mode is Indeed. To hold some of the thousands of employees being added in Austin, the job website will occupy an entire 11-story office tower that’s being built at the Domain. Indeed is expected to move into the building later this year.

As it stands now, the Domain, Domain Northside, and Broadmoor offer more than 2.7 million square feet of office space, according to the Austin Business Journal. But millions more square feet of offices are on the way, including a plan by Broadmoor owner Brandywine Realty Trust to add close to 5 million square feet of mixed-use space — including about 2 million more square feet of offices — to the 66-acre site.

Brandywine has promoted Broadmoor as a potential site for the second headquarters of Amazon. Austin is one of 20 finalists for the $5 billion HQ2 project, which envisions employing as many as 50,000 people.

Adjacent to the Broadmoor complex is Charles Schwab’s new 50-acre campus. In the not-too-distant future, the campus will be home to 2,600 Charles Schwab employees.

“As the labor market continues to tighten in Austin,” Mellor says, “companies need every angle to be able to attract top talent, and being located in developments like the Domain presents the perfect opportunity.”

The new space serves as a "living lab" for future offices.

Homeaway domain offices
Photo courtesy of HomeAway
The new space serves as a "living lab" for future offices.
Photo courtesy of Doc B's

Fresh restaurant from Chicago moves into hot North Austin district

Dining News

A Chicago-based restaurant has designs on Texas, with locations planned in North Austin and two of Dallas-Fort Worth's hottest areas.

Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen will open in Domain Northside in spring 2017. There are also locations coming to Uptown Dallas at McKinney & Olive and Fort Worth’s Shops at Clearfork in spring and fall 2017, respectively.

The “fresh casual” restaurant offers burgers and sandwiches, salads, pizza, and what they call Wok Out bowls. Those are kale, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, and chopped cashews with salmon, chicken, shrimp, tuna, tofu, or steak, as well as your choice sticky brown rice, lo mein, or quinoa with sesame teriyaki or spicy Thai sauce.

Among the “very special” entrées are center-cut filet mignon, Tennessee hot chicken, and Cajun crusted trout. Doc B’s sources ingredients from farmers and small purveyors, and meats are vegetarian-fed and hormone- and antibiotic-free.

The restaurant also serves craft beer, wine, and spirits.

The Domain Northside location will feature an open-air concept with a sophisticated, minimalist design. A communal fire pit and patio with a retractable canopy promise year-round dining al fresco. Gotta have a patio.

Founded in 2013, Doc B’s now has locations Chicago and Tampa, Florida, with locations underway in Fort Lauderdale and Coral Gables, in addition to those in Texas.

Photo courtesy of The Contemporary Austin

3 Austin neighborhoods amble past others as the most walkable in Texas

Hometown Glory

A lot has been said about traffic in Texas, but we rarely give as much thought to getting around here on foot. Redfin remedied that by taking a look at the Walk Scores for major Texas cities and chatting with real estate agents to determine the most walkable neighborhoods in Texas, and Austin makes a strong showing.

Downtown Austin nabs second place overall. The neighborhood has a Walk Score of 88 thanks largely to recent programs like the Great Streets project, which spiffed up public spaces along the roadways, updated sidewalks, put in ample lighting for night-time activities, and encouraged streetside cafes to give residents easy access to the heart of the city. That, frankly, sounds like the state’s most walkable neighborhood.

West Campus ranks third, with a Walk Score of 87. Most of the 'hood's 15,000 students are without cars, writes Redfin, so it's a good thing all those coffee shops and bars are in proximity.

East Austin, with a Walk Score of 81, ranks the eighth best. "This neighborhood is full of interesting shops, bars, restaurants, stores and public spaces in close proximity to the quiet residential streets," says Redfin agent Lauren Johnson.

Three areas in Dallas (downtown, Oak Lawn, and Knox/Henderson); two in Houston (Midtown and Neartown/Montrose); and one each in San Antonio (downtown) and El Paso (Virginia) complete the top 10.

Downtown Dallas struts its stuff as the most walkable of them all.

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Julia Louis-Dreyfus navigates marriage pitfalls in You Hurt My Feelings

Movie Review

Anybody who’s been married or in a long-term relationship knows that it’s almost impossible to be completely honest with his or her partner. There are always going to be moments – whether for the sake of expediency, in a show of support, or other reasons – when one person withholds their true opinion so as not to hurt the other person’s feelings.

That idea is the central tension point of You Hurt My Feelings, which follows Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a writer/teacher, and her husband, Don (Tobias Menzies), a therapist. Beth is in the middle of trying to get her first fiction book published, a process that is causing her unceasing anxiety. Don sees a series of patients, including a constantly-bickering couple (played by real-life husband and wife David Cross and Amber Tamblyn), and a few lapses cause him to question his commitment to the profession.

When Beth and her sister, Sarah (Michaela Watkins), accidentally overhear Don telling his brother-in-law, Mark (Arian Moayed), that he doesn’t like Sarah’s new book and is exhausted having to tell her otherwise, it sends Beth into an emotional spiral. The aftermath winds up pulling in not just the two couples, but also Beth and Don’s son, Eliot (Owen Teague), dredging up feelings that all of them normally try to keep hidden.

Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, the film is a funny and genuine look at how even the best couples can run into pitfalls. By most measures, Beth and Don get along fantastically well, supporting each other unwaveringly and showing their love in a variety of ways. When the story puts them at odds with each other, there’s never a question that they belong together, as even their arguments are tinged with exasperation instead of anger.

Holofcener complements the story of Beth and Don with a nice variety of side plots, including Eliot trying to start his own writing career while working at a weed store; Beth and Sarah’s mom, Georgia (Jeannie Berlin), offering up support and criticism in equal measures; and more. Don’s patients and Beth’s students offer an opportunity to expand the two characters’ personalities outside of their marriage while also adding a few other funny roles.

While perhaps not the most insightful film about marriage that’s ever been made, it is still highly enjoyable thanks to Holofcener’s writing and the strong performances. Filmed in New York City, the particular feel of that urban landscape and the way it affects the lives of the characters also plays a big part in the success of the film.

Louis-Dreyfus, as always, is a delight to watch. A kind of spiritual sequel to her previous collaboration with Holofcener, 2013’s Enough Said, the film gives her plenty of room to show off both her comedic and dramatic skills. Menzies makes for a steady presence, showing good chemistry with Louis-Dreyfus and a preternatural calm in therapy sessions. Watkins, Moayed, Teague, and Berlin all fit in seamlessly.

You Hurt My Feelings is not a world-changing kind of movie, but rather a solidly-told story about how relationships can be complicated. With actors who are easy to like and Holofcener’s reliably great filmmaking, it’s a movie for adults that’s nice counter-programming to the glut of summer blockbusters.


You Hurt My Feelings is now playing in theaters.

Tobias Menzies and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in You Hurt My Feelings

Photo courtesy of A24

Tobias Menzies and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in You Hurt My Feelings.

CEO of nonprofit that heads Amplify Austin steps down for more family time

She lives here, she gives here

If Austinites love anything, it's local businesses, and one nonprofit does more than any other on getting customers and their favorite businesses together to give back. I Live Here I Give Here (ILHIGH), the organization that heads Amplify Austin and supports fundraising efforts for Austin nonprofits, has announced that its CEO, Courtney Manuel, will be stepping down from her position effective June 30, 2023.

Manuel has been the CEO for five years and has been instrumental in driving the expansion of the nonprofit's other programs, like Giving Tuesday and the Big Give She is staying involved in some capacity, but stepping down to spend more time with her family.

The nonprofit amplifies giving in Central Texas by connecting individual donors and volunteers with local causes they support. The community-wide programs make giving possible for everyone, often by driving donations through purchases at favorite local businesses.

During her tenure, Manuel led I Live Here I Give Here in raising $118.9 million cumulatively since 2007. The strategic partnerships she built in corporate giving led to more transparency in the process with the creation of Growing Good — a corporate giving tracker — and a partnership with the City of Austin's Corporate Engagement Council. She also set a diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging strategy and grew BIPoC representation within the organization.

Manuel shared a sense of achievement in the non-profit’s accomplishments during her tenure in a press release, saying, "I am incredibly proud … especially [of] surpassing $118 million raised for the Central Texas nonprofit community."

She also expressed gratitude for the opportunity to lead I Live Here I Give Here through a pandemic. “I love this organization and foresee a bright future ahead for it and the next leader lucky enough to serve at the helm.”

The ILHIGH board has initiated a thorough search process to identify a new leader who will continue to advance the nonprofit's mission. Manuel will serve as a consultant to assist with this transitional period. The board of directors, staff, and volunteers expressed their deepest gratitude to Courtney Manuel for her remarkable service.

"We are in a stronger place today due to Courtney’s time as CEO, and we are grateful for her fearless leadership over the last five years," said board chair Jackie Sekiguchi. “Courtney’s commitment to a smooth transition will ensure the continued success of this organization and the communities who rely on our programs.”

This departure shouldn’t change much about the organization itself. The board of directors, staff, and volunteers of I Live Here I Give Here remain committed to advancing the organization's mission and building on the foundation that Manuel has established over the past five years.

More information about I Live Here I Give Here is available at ilivehereigivehere.org.

Breathtaking Hill Country hideaway is one of Vrbo's top 10 vacation homes in the country


A magnificently hidden home located just an hour away from Austin has been chosen as one of Vrbo's "Vacation Homes of the Year" for 2023. It was the only Texas home chosen out hundreds of thousands of private residences on the vacation rental site.

The Vacation Homes of the Year showcases several popular homes throughout the country (with the occasional international spot) that range from "idyllic lakeside escapes to cozy mountain retreats and desert paradises." In all, two homes are based in California, and one each in Arizona, North Carolina, Oregon, New York, Florida, South Carolina, Idaho, Colorado, and Mexico.

Texas' Hill Country Riverfront Hideaway is tucked away on five acres of land bordering the Pedernales River in Dripping Springs. The home spans 2,150 square feet with an open-concept living area, three spacious bedrooms, two lavish bathrooms, a modern chef's kitchen, fireplace, and a breathtaking wrap-around terrace.

Floor-to-ceiling windows complete the space, allowing guests to take in all of the tranquility the Hill Country has to offer. With the home's 430 feet of river access, visitors can enjoy escaping the city and relax into the views of the vast canyon below.

Dripping Springs Riverfront HideawayImagine a getaway to this Hill Country paradise. Photo courtesy of Vrbo

The property is within a half hour drive to many of the finest wineries, breweries, and must-see outdoor recreation spots in nearby Dripping Springs. Fredericksburg is only an hour's drive west for those wanting to put a greater distance between them and downtown Austin.

The average nightly cost for the riverfront oasis is $475, making it an ideal destination for small groups, a family trip, or a couple's getaway.

Dripping Springs Riverfront Hideaway

Photo courtesy of Vrbo

The Hill Country Riverfront Hideaway was the only Texas home chosen on Vrbo's list.

Expedia Brands president Jon Gieselman shared in a press release that there were plenty of eye-catching homes to wade through for the report.

"This year’s Vacation Homes of the Year range from an urban oasis and a cozy ranch home under $400 a night to a beachfront estate that can sleep the whole family and more," said Gieselman. "Every single Vacation Home of the Year has a beautiful view, and combined boast seven private pools and fire pits, eight hot tubs and even five putting greens."

The full list of Vrbo's 2023 Vacation Homes of the Year are:

  • No. 1 – The Oasis Estate in Palm Springs, California
  • No. 2 – The Happy Roadrunner in Phoenix, Arizona
  • No. 3 – The Chasestone in Lake Norman, North Carolina
  • No. 4 – The Contemporary Gem in Manzanita, Oregon
  • No. 5 – Ocean View Oasis in Montauk, New York
  • No. 6 – The Riverfront Hideaway in Dripping Springs, Texas
  • No. 7 – 30A My Way in Rosemary Beach, Florida
  • No. 8 – Port of Call in Isle of Palms, South Carolina
  • No. 9 – Salmonfly Lodge in Victor, Idaho
  • No. 10 – Trestle House in Winter Park, Colorado
  • No. 11 – Villa Luna Nueva in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
More information about Vrbo's 2023 Vacation Homes of the Year can be found on their website.