Austin is in for an early start to what is threatening to be an unseasonably hot summer.
So far, this month has been the hottest May on record with Camp Mabry reporting an average temperature of 82 degrees, compared to the National Weather Service’s recorded average of 74 degrees from May 1-10.
Austin has been an average of 8 degrees hotter than normal this month—the hottest May since 1898. NWS meteorologist Keith White told Austonia that Austinites have La Niña to thank for this sweaty summer.
What is causing the heatwave?
A phenomenon characterized by cooling waters across the central and eastern pacific oceans, La Niña tends to cause cooler and wetter conditions in the northern U.S. but warmer and drier conditions across Central Texas. We would typically be on our way out of La Niña at this time of year, according to White, but the heat can be turned around with a little rain.
White explained that the sun is able to heat dry ground—due to the drought and La Niña—more efficiently than wet ground. West Austinites might be feeling more of the heat, as the drought has been worse west of town.
Austin is entering its rainy season, which tends to fall between May and October. The last 30 days have seen about 2-4 inches of rain, which is just a touch below average, but White said the end of May is looking rainy, which could quell the heat.
“There will be some dependency on if we're able to pick up some more beneficial rains here,” White said. “While at least over the course of the next week it looks likely to remain dry, there may be some rain chances returning toward the end of May.”
Does a record-breaking May mean a record-breaking summer?
Not necessarily, though in part due to climate change, all of the top five hottest summers have been recorded since 2008 with the hottest to date in 2011. Meanwhile, 2021 was only the 38th hottest summer on record.
White said that means climate variability is superimposed against climate change, meaning temperatures are gradually rising, but the amount of rain we receive could make a huge difference.
While 2011 saw more than 90 100-degree days, 2021 only saw 12 100-degree days.
“As our climate warms, the risk of excessive heat will increase because you're taking the average temperature and moving it up,” White said.
How to stay safe and cool
With rising temperatures, there is always a risk of heat-related illness. In fact, White said last weekend there were 29 heat-related illness calls to Austin EMS.
The best way to avoid getting sick in the hot Texas summer is to wear light clothing, drink lots of water, take breaks in air-conditioned areas and familiarize yourself with symptoms of hyperthermia.
And prepare yourself for the first half of August, which is traditionally the hottest time of year.
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Paxton Smith’s 2021 valedictory speech at Lake Highlands High School in Dallas wasn’t the same speech she had previously shared with school administrators. She dropped the approved speech and made a case for women’s reproductive rights after lawmakers passed the Texas "Heartbeat Bill.”
Her advocacy made news on NPR, YouTubeTV and in The Guardian. Just over a year later, the “war on (women’s) rights” she forewarned has come to a head as the U.S. Supreme Court voted Friday morning to overturn Roe v. Wade, ending constitutional protection for abortion access.
“It is up to the people to show up and show the courts and the politicians that we won’t sit back and let this happen,” Smith told Austonia Friday morning. “We will show up, we will fight back. Before, we were scared of them, now they should be scared of us.”
Now a University of Texas sophomore and abortion rights activist, 19-year-old Smith said she wanted to give the same speech in the “the most public way possible” to reach “as many people as possible who don't agree that I deserve this right.”
However, she says the response was “actually overwhelmingly positive” and supportive of her cause. According to a recent UT poll, 78% of Texas voters support abortion access in most cases.
The speech opened up further opportunities for activism: she advocated for reproductive rights at the International Forum on Human Rights in Geneva, interviewed with Variety magazine and spoke to tens of thousands at Austin’s Bans Off Our Bodies protest at the Texas Capitol in May.
Smith also serves on the board of directors for the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project, a national nonprofit organization that helps fund abortions or emergency contraceptives—like Plan C pills—in all 50 states. Most recently, Smith has been attending protests in Washington, D.C. leading up to the ruling.
“This is land of the free. This is where you get to choose how you live your life,” Smith said. “Overturning Roe v. Wade violates everything that we have come to believe about what it means to live in this country. I think a lot of people aren't willing to accept that this is a human right that is most likely just going to be gone for over half of the country within the next couple of weeks.”
Bracing for the next steps, Smith gave some tips for supporters:
- Find a protest to attend.
- “I would say invite somebody to go to those protests with you, invite a couple of friends, invite people into the movement,” Smith said.
- Talk about the issue on social media—use the platform you have.
- “Have these kinds of conversations where people can just talk about their fears and then find ways to go and advocate for yourself,” Smith said.
- Volunteer at a nonprofit near you.
“I feel like a lot of the reason things have gotten as bad as they have within the abortion rights world is that people are not making a scene, not protesting, not putting the effort into ensuring that the government doesn't take away this right,” Smith said. “I want to emphasize that if you're not doing anything, don't expect the best scenario, expect the worst because that's the direction that we're going in.”
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Like Austin, Santa Barbara transcends being a geographic place and has become an aspirational lifestyle brand. While Austin’s lifestyle, at its best, is casually hip, Santa Barbara is casually luxurious on the California coast.
What’s so special about Santa Barbara?
There’s probably nowhere in the United States more beautiful than Santa Barbara. A ribbon of a city tucked between a coastal mountain range and the Pacific Ocean, it looks southward toward a chain of islands that rise out of the sea 30 miles away and paint a perfect backdrop. The city itself is primarily Spanish architecture with red tile roofs. It’s easy to believe you’re in Europe. The landscapes, which in their original, pre-settlement state were much like the Texas Hill Country–live oaks and native grasses–are now lush, well-watered plantings of palm trees, roses, birds of paradise and agapanthus.
The Mediterranean climate in Santa Barbara is close to perfect. Average highs range from 60s in winter to high 70s in summer. In the last few years, summer temperatures have spiked higher. Wintertime lows are in the 40s. Summer is nice and fall is glorious—crisp and clear with low humidity.
The chance of summer rain is 0%. Rain comes, when it comes, in the winter.
Late spring and early summer can be foggy, especially in the mornings. The locals call it “June Gloom.”
Santa Barbara has beautiful beaches, from El Capitan in the west to Fernald Point in the east. All of them are a place to pack your cooler, set up your chairs and lather up with sunscreen. But here the beaches are more of a setting than an experience. A place to get some sun, take a walk or let your dog loose. The water is cold, mostly braved by young children splashing in the surf and by wetsuit-clad surfers. Walk the beach, or sit and look in the early morning or late afternoon, and you’ll see a passing parade of dolphins and pelicans, and sea lions frolicking and foraging in the kelp forests beyond the breakers.
It’s hard to turn away from the ocean, but when you do, there’s a range of 4,000-foot mountains just behind. Spidered with hiking trails and greened with chaparral brush and trees, the mountains are a crinkled, photo-friendly backdrop, especially in the moments before sunset when the hills glow softly in what’s called “the pink moment.” Invisible from below, the upper canyons conceal big predators like bears and mountain lions.
Here’s a rule of thumb: where wine grapes grow, life is good. And lucky for us, wine grapes grow here. Warm, sunny, summer days and cool nights with occasional foggy mornings are a recipe for world-class wines. Santa Barbara is full of tasting rooms and the nearby Santa Ynez Valley is packed with vineyards and low-key, world-class wineries.
The famous and the wealthy discovered Santa Barbara 100 years ago and they never forgot it. Keep your eyes open and you might see the Duke of Sussex walking his dogs on the beaches of Summerland, Ellen and Portia watching Brandi Carlile perform at the Santa Barbara Bowl, or maybe Oprah and Stedman getting coffees to go at Pierre Lafond.
It’s so easy to be healthy here. A list of daily activities:
- walk the beach
- mountain hike
- ebike ride
In one morning, you can splash your feet in the Pacific, walk on the beach, ride your bike in the mountains, and have time to clean up and have a leisurely wine-soaked lunch. The climate and soil will grow anything, and there are farmer’s markets almost every day. Any kind of bodywork or spiritual help you can think of, it’s here. Namaste.
Other things to do
What to do depends on you. If you’re traveling with someone special, or with small children, or if you’re a surfer or kiteboarder, your activities will be different. But here are a few for everyone to consider.
- Visit the Mission and the Rose Garden
- Santa Barbara Courthouse (self-guided tour, climb stairs to clock tower for view)
- Stearns Wharf (touristy but fun, with beautiful views)
- Funk Zone and Harbor (for visitors it’s the heart of the city)
- Santa Barbara Bowl (outdoor amphitheater with ocean views)
- Montecito (wealthy community of celebrities, tycoons and trust funders)
- Wine tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley (one hour drive, numerous wineries and the charming town of Los Olivos)
Where to eat
This and the other recommendations are just samplings. There are lots of great places, and you’ll have fun finding your own special spots.
- Clark’s (coming soon, Montecito. This is Clark’s, the McGuire Moorman Lambert oyster bar on Austin’s 6th St. They expanded to Aspen and now to Santa Barbara)
- Shoreline Beach Cafe (at the beach, some tables are in the sand)
- Brophy Bros. (harbor seafood house with bar and great views)
- Carazon Cocina (downtown, tacos)
- Santa Barbara Public Market (casual, various)
- Shalhoob’s Funk Zone Patio (casual, funk zone)
- Finney’s Crafthouse (bar/restaurant, funk zone)
- Arigato (sushi, downtown)
- Ca’Dario (Italian)
- The Lark (LA style, funk zone)
- Bouchon (fine dining, downtown)
- The Stonehouse (fine dining, Montecito style)
Coffee & breakfast
- Jeannine’s (breakfast and lunch, two locations)
- Handlebar Coffee Roasters (coffee shop, two locations)
- Caje (coffee shop, Haley Street)
- Tre Lune (known for dinner, but serves an outstanding full breakfast)
Beer, wine & cocktails
- Figueroa Mountain Brewing (beer, funk zone)
- Melville Winery Tasting Room (wine, downtown)
- Riviera Bar (cocktails, downtown)
- Santo Mezcal (cocktails, downtown)
- The Pickle Room (cocktails, downtown)
- Harry’s Plaza Cafe (cocktails and food, locals place, Loreto Plaza)
- Lucky’s (Cocktails and steakhouse, Montecito)
- Test Pilot (never been but want to try it!)
Where to stay
You’re not going to spend much time in your room, so keep that in mind when choosing your accommodations. Any of the big hotels along the beach, or the boutique hotels in town, are worth a look. And some spectacular places are available on Vrbo and Airbnb. Just be sure the location works for you. What’s called “Santa Barbara” could be a 20-30 minute drive from downtown. That can get you something really special, so it can be worth it.
A few recommendations:
- Hotel Californian (perfect location—walk anywhere)
- El Encanto (tranquil, beautiful views)
- San Ysidro Ranch (laid back luxury, Montecito)
- Rosewood Miramar Beach (seaside luxury, Montecito)
- Motel 6 (the first-ever Motel 6, some rooms have ocean views)
Flying: There are no direct flights to Santa Barbara. Fly private if you can. For the rest of us, here are your best choices:
- Southwest Airlines via Las Vegas
- American Airlines via Phoenix or Dallas
- United Airlines via Denver or San Francisco
Driving: Another option, fun for some and not for others, is to drive.
1. Measured from Austin’s Steve Ray Vaughn statue to Santa Barbara’s Dolphin Family sculpture at Stearns Wharf, the trip is 1,474 miles and takes about 22 hours.
2. Driving up from Los Angeles can be fun if you avoid morning and afternoon rush hours. Rent a car and drive through Santa Monica and up the Pacific Coast Highway. Stop in Malibu and get a cup of coffee, a drink or some lunch. Distance: 96 miles. Time: 2 hours+.
3. Driving down from San Francisco on the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most beautiful drives in the USA. It’s 7 ½ hours on Google Maps, but don’t go if you’re in a hurry. Take two days and spend the night in Carmel, or further south, along the Big Sur coast. At Pismo Beach, take the 101 and when you get to the wine country town of Los Olivos, switch to highway 154 for a spectacular first view of Santa Barbara as you crest San Marcos pass and glimpse the ocean, and soon after, the city of Santa Barbara on its shore.
If you go, let us know how it went, and pass along any recommendations you think we should add (or subtract). Enjoy your trip!