Weird is a way of life in Austin. On any given day, you can visit a death-metal-themed pizza place, a cathedral made of garbage, and the Museum of Natural & Artificial Ephemerata, which displays an 1893 World’s Fair stereograph and one of Marilyn Monroe’s cigarette butts. Though it’s the capital of Texas, locals seem to revel in the "Keep Austin Weird" mentality that makes it stand apart from the rest of the state when it comes to politics and culture.
Austin is one of the best places for live music in the United States. Partly due to a ready-made audience of college students at the University of Texas, a bumper crop of beer-soaked venues sprang up in the 1960s and ‘70s, attracting blues-rock and outlaw country stars including Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Janis Joplin. Today, the scene is a wonderful mishmash of genres and independent artists—everything from cowpunk and samba to psychedelic rock and jazz.
- Festival central: The South by Southwest and Austin City Limits festivals are bigger than they’ve ever been, bringing in huge headliners—Lady Gaga, Coldplay, and Jack White have appeared in recent years—and millions of lanyard-wearing fans in the spring and fall. If you’re going, make sure you book accommodations far in advance.
- Artists based in Austin: Spoon, Gary Clark, Jr., Dixie Chicks, Explosions in the Sky, Shawn Colvin
- Great places to see a show: Stubb’s Bar-B-Q (blues, rock, country); Emo’s (punk, indie, metal); the Carousel Lounge (independent / experimental acts)
- Local gem: People of all ages dance to everything from salsa to Johnny Cash at Donn’s Depot, a piano bar located in a former train station.
Take a Bite Out of Austin
- Meals on wheels: Texas pioneered the food-truck concept in the 19th century with the chuckwagon. The tradition continues today in Austin. Some of the best food trucks hang out downtown and near the UT campus. Try the banh mi slider or pad thai taco at The Peached Tortilla, which has two roving units patrolling the city.
- Top-tier BBQ: The story goes that the best barbecue in town is actually out of town, in the small communities around Austin. It’s worth making a day trip to nearby Driftwood to get the all-you-can-eat brisket special at The Salt Lick. In the city proper, the ribs at Franklin Barbecue on 11th Street are worth their salt, too.
- Tex-Mex: Mexican fare gets a hearty twist in this classic fusion cuisine. Try the fried avocado taco at Torchy’s Tacos or the breakfast tacos at Tacodeli.
- Congress Avenue Bridge bats: The largest colony of Mexican free-tailed bats in North America makes its home under a bridge spanning Town Lake. From March to November, crowds gather at sundown to watch hundreds of thousands of the creatures emerge to search for food.
- Pack a picnic: For a pleasant afternoon, head to Zilker Park and set up shop next to Barton Springs, a spring-fed swimming pool open year-round. Zilker hosts several special events, including a kite festival and summer fireworks displays.
- Texas Hill Country has been compared to Tuscany for its rolling landscape and preponderance of wineries. If you have time and a car, consider driving about a half-hour west of the city for some great views.
- Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail: This 10-mile loop around a reservoir is one of the oldest incorporated trails in the state. It’s flat, well kept, and scenic.
Where to Stay
- For nightlife: The Hyatt Place Austin Downtown hotel is close to the many restaurants and clubs clustered around Sixth Street, the city’s major downtown thoroughfare.
- For luxury: It’s hard to top Hotel Ella, a boutique property set in a grand mansion with Romanesque pillars. A popular hotel for weddings and other swanky affairs.
- For families: Omni Barton Creek Resort and Spa takes full advantage of its picturesque location in Hill Country: there are beautiful views from the hotel’s veranda, a challenging golf course, and kid-friendly movies by the pool.