Austin is not only a place, but a way of describing the crazy combination of hipsters, hippies, cowboys and intellectuals that live here. If you've never been to the capital of Texas, then come for the live music but stay for the laid-back attitude.
Honestly, there is so much to say about Austin beyond the music scene that we could not come up with a short list of recommendations for visitors. Skim the guide below and you'll start to understand why Austin is considered one of the best small cities and why the UT grads never leave (even if it means waiting tables for a living).
Start with the B's: (first image)
Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park, minutes from downtown, is the best way to keep cool in the extreme summer heat. This Austin treasure is a natural spring fed pool that stays a chilly 68 degrees and that covers 3 acres.
The Bat Bridge (otherwise known as Congress Ave. bridge) houses the largest population of urban Mexican free-tailed bats and is a favorite place to be at dusk when the bats swoop out for feeding time. Try watching it from a boat on the water for the best view.
The bad-ass babes of the Texas Roller Girls are famous for their gutsy derby moves and eccentric personalities.
The Broken Spoke has been a beloved Austin honky- tonk since 1964 and has hosted everybody who's anybody in classic country music. It has been voted the best dance hall in the nation and is on every must-see list for Austin. Go to two-step, drink a Lonestar and eat a chicken fried steak. You might even see Willie (as in Nelson) eating one too.
Music, Movies and Such:
Austin isn't known as the Live Music Capital of the world for nothing. Go see a Texas swing band at the Continental Club, the blues at Antone's or a punk band at Emo's. The whole world comes to Austin in March to hear the amazing selection of bands at SXSW and to witness the film festival. Now the Austin City Limits Festival is almost as popular and stocked with just as much talent. If you come to Austin "off-music-season", there is still plenty o'music to hear. Pay a visit to one of the old-school dive bars like Donn's Depot and Little Ginny's Longhorn, which hosts Chicken Shit Bingo. And if you don't know where to start planning your music experience, consider taking the Cosmic Cowboy tour. When you wake up Sunday with a hangover, go to Threadgills or Hill's Café for Gospel Brunch.
We highly recommend a night out at the Highball, one of Austin's unique hot spots. The Highball is for adults what Chucky Cheese is for kids. It is fabulously decked out to resemble Las Vegas in the 60's. Along with the bar and restaurant are skee-ball lanes, a dance floor and a vintage bowling alley brought in from New Orleans. The best part is the private karaoke rooms that can be rented by the hour and each one is thematic. Last time we went, we sang in the country music Kenny Rogers room, complete with cowboy hats and tamborine.
There are several choices for outside-the-box movie viewing such as the classic movie series at the historic Paramount Theater, Splash Parties at Deep Eddy Pool and our favorite, Alamo Drafthouse. The Alamo is the genius combo of a movie house and a pub but with super fun events. They host quote-along movies like "The Princess Bride", themed movie/dinner date nights like "Harold and Maude" and Master Pancake Theater (bad movies and live comedy). They also have the most obscure and entertaining pre-movie shows that we've ever seen.
Shopping in Hoods:
SoCo, the South Congress area, is where the hipsters go for boutique shopping and snacking. There's lots of good stuff here, but make sure you visit Uncommon Objects for exactly that, Yard Dog for folk art, Parts and Labor for local craft, and Allen's Boots. The 2nd Street District is newer and sleeker with some noteworthy local stores for home goods including Mercury Design Studio, Finch, Kirk Gallery, and IF+D. Austin is home to two of the top indie stores in the country and they're right across the street from each other. At Lamar and Sixth, you'll find BookPeople for the book obsessed and Waterloo Records for vinyl lovers. You might as well have lunch at the Whole Foods Headquarters and grab some ice cream at Amy's while you're in the hood.
Stay and Eat:
As far as hotels go, there are many but three stand out. The modern, stylish San Jose is right in the middle of SoCo and the vintage, quirky Austin Motel is right down the street. For a high-class historical experience, stay at the Driskill Hotel and take in brunch at their 1886 Café and Bakery. When looking for dining in Austin, we suggest you pick up a copy of The Fearless Critic (maybe while browsing BookPeople?) Something must be said about two of Austin's eating addictions. One is the coveted breakfast taco which is an absolute staple and can be found at the likes of Taco Deli and La Mexicana. The other phenomenon is the abundance of food trailers peddling everything from crepes to cupcakes (but not in a yucky carnival food way).
Water and Weirdness:
Austin is considered an oasis in Texas for more than one reason (by the way, The Oasis restaurant is only good for the lake view). Yes, we have Lake Travis and Lake Austin for sailing and kayaking, as well as a number of watering holes along the Barton Springs Greenbelt. But Austin is also the progressive drop in a conservative bucket, and it has been that way since the days of the "cosmic cowboys" in the 70's. "Keep Austin Weird" is our slogan and we flaunt the unusual with pride. Leslie, a thong wearing homeless man, is the unofficial mayor and Hippie Hollow is the nude beach. There are countless festivals and events that are based on weirdness, including Drag Queen Bingo at Jo's Coffee and Esther's Follies. Esthers is a live variety show on 6th street that is always topical, always funny and always "Austin".
We didn't even talk about the art scene or the East Side or Casino El Camino, but we've probably exhausted your attention span by now. Thanks for hanging in there, by the way.
If you know and love Austin, what would you add to our must-do list?
Images: City of Austin Barton Springs Pool, Congress Bridge from Austin City Guide, Broken Spoke, Texas Roller Girls by Bill Smotrilla, Alamo Drafthouse from Sharing Travel Experiences, Driskill Hotel, Hamilton Pool from Jennifer Robenhaus, sign from Austin Motel, ACL Festival, Lake Austin from National Geographic, Continental Club, stores on SoCo from Austin City Guide, TX Sailing, Keep Austin Weird Festival from the Austin Statesman