Chef Ben Ford traveled across America surveying the best barbecue to develop the menu at his new outpost of Ford’s Filling Station at JW Marriott at LA Live. One of his favorite research stops was Austin, Texas, both for the food and the outdoor lifestyle. Here, he shares his 5 favorite spots in the city.

Hamilton Pool Preserve
“Everyone knows of Barton Springs, but there is a lesser known and more impressive spot call Hamilton Pools that is worth a short drive to experience. Hamilton Pools was formed when the dome of an underground river collapsed leaving a gorgeous natural swimming grotto. Go on a warm spring day, before the summer crush and while the waterfalls are still active. Bring a pair of shoes and plenty of water for the quarter-mile hike down.”

East Side Barbecue
“One of my favorite things to do is go on a barbecue crawl on Austin’s East Side. There is a long list of folks doing barbeque proud: John Mueller Meat Co., La Barbecue, and the iconic Franklin are on the top of my list, and are separated by only a few blocks. If you have a little left in the tank, there are more just around the corner I know won’t disappoint. One warning, barbeque is filling and the good stuff goes quick. So get there early and don’t dare eat breakfast or you will spoil what is sure to be a true Austin experience.”

Red River District
“The Red River District is the epicenter for Austin’s world-renowned outdoor music scene with incredible venues to support it. Each venue offers great sound and a unique experience. Even the neighborhood seems to embrace the almost nightly intrusion and have found a way to coexist. For a great show under the stars check out Stubb’s, Mohawk, Scoot Inn as well as the more ruckus Red 7.”

Longhorn Caverns
“Distances are measured a little differently in a big state like Texas, so an hour drive still qualifies as local. Worth a trip in the pickup is Longhorn Caverns, which is truly a natural wonder. The caverns hold a ton of history. First formed by an underground river that carved away the limestone, the caverns have served has a home to Indians, a hideaway for outlaws, a speakeasy during prohibition and now as state park. If you are lucky enough to be there during the one of the few chamber music events, you will be treated to one of life’s great experiences. The acoustics are out of this world and so are the sights.”

Congress Avenue Bridge
“One of my favorite things to do with my kids is to take them to see bats exiting their caves to feed at dusk. Most of the time we venture out to the many caves located in the Texas Hill Country, but there is one place where the bats come to you, the Congress Bridge in the heart of Austin. The sight of 1.5 million Mexican Free-Tailed bats spilling out is an experience not to be missed.”

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