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IntroductionDeep in the heart of Texas lies a city that calls itself “The Live Music Capital of the World,” where bumper stickers say “Keep Austin Weird,” and more than a million insect-eating bats descend at twilight. University of Texas students thrive on the local music scene, and high-tech companies including Apple, IBM and Samsung provide another nickname, Silicon Hills. In Austin, you'll see well-worn cowboy boots with faded jeans or a business suit.
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Glass and steel office buildings back Lady Bird Lake, a reservoir on the Colorado River popular with rowing teams. Another prized natural asset is 351-acre Zilker Metropolitan Park, where man and his best friend can cool off in chilly Barton Springs.
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In DepthAustin combines the grandeur and air of consequence of a state capital, the youthful energy and Bohemian vibe of a college town and the economic optimism of a fast-growing Sun Belt city. You can see it all in the city’s skyline: the graceful dome of the Texas Capitol, taller even than the U.S. Capitol; the gilt-edged clock faces adorning University of Texas Tower; and the shiny new office and residential high rises springing up like wildflowers along Congress Avenue and the shores of Lady Bird Lake. Add to this eclectic mix some old-fashioned Western individualism and cowboy style, and you’ve got a city with a personality all its own.
While the Capitol and surrounding government office buildings form the heart of downtown Austin, it’s the more than 50,000-student University of Texas at Austin that provides the highly educated employees coveted by such tech companies as Facebook, Google, IBM and Dell, Inc., founded by former UT student Michael Dell. So many high-tech corporations have opened shop locally that the region’s been dubbed the “Silicon Hills.”
Austin’s skilled labor pool—along with its 300-plus days of sunny weather, diverse scenery and very supportive film commission—has attracted filmmakers, who have made it Texas’s most important movie and television production hub. More than 250 feature films and television series have been filmed here in the past four decades. If you have seen “The Alamo,” “Spy Kids,” "Boyhood," “Dazed and Confused,” “Slacker,” "Tree of Life,” "True Grit," "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," “Sin City,” "Transformers 4," "The Son" or “Friday Night Lights,” you’ve seen a made-in-Austin film.
The city’s economic growth hasn’t been without consequences. Since 1980 the population has more than doubled and with downtown real estate prices soaring and affluence on the upswing, gentrification has made incursions into some of Austin’s most famously offbeat neighborhoods. But the city hasn’t lost its counter-culture credentials thanks to the pride many Austinites take in their hippie past. And with each UT freshman class comes a regular infusion of youthful thinking and innovative ideas that are destined to keep Austin original and vibrant for years to come.
UT also played a big role in Austin’s genesis as “Live Music Capital of the World” in the 1960s and ‘70s. Back then, singer Willie Nelson helped popularize Austin’s country music scene, and former UT student Clifford Antone opened Antone’s, his legendary “Home of the Blues,” and one of the first music clubs along now club-crowded 6th Street. In 1975 Austin’s reputation for live music soared when “Austin City Limits” first aired on PBS, recorded live at KLRU on UT’s campus. Ever since then the nationally broadcast television show has introduced audiences to local musical groups as well as national and international acts.
Today young musicians flock to the city, eager to launch their careers in a community known for fostering new talent. And with more than 250 live venues, including stages at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, and major music events like the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival and the Austin City Limits Music Festival, Austin continues to welcome musicians and music lovers alike, justifying its “live music capital” claim.
Of course, Austin is literally a capital, and reminders of its long history at the center of Texas politics are everywhere. Strolling down Austin’s Congress Avenue, for example, you can’t miss a bronze statue of a woman heroically poised to light a cannon, her dress flowing backward as if in a strong wind, her face twisted in a defiant grimace. Meet Angelina Eberly, a fiery innkeeper who in 1842 helped thwart Sam Houston, President of the Republic of Texas, in his plans to relocate the new nation’s capital (Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836 but didn’t become a U.S. state until 1845) from Austin to a site he argued was less vulnerable to Mexican incursions.
Despite opposition from the legislature, Houston ordered a detachment of Texas Rangers to remove the government archives from Austin, which citizens feared would bring their town closer to permanently losing its capital status. When Eberly discovered Houston’s men loading wagons with the documents, she fired the town cannon, alerting her fellow citizens. They recovered the documents, entrusted them to the formidable Mrs. Eberly, and the episode known as the Archive War ended without bloodshed. Austin became the capital again in 1844 and has remained so ever since.
One feature of the city that hasn’t remained the same is the Colorado River, on the banks of which Austin, then known as Waterloo, was founded in the 1830s. Several dams have been built over the years, forming the Highland Lakes, a chain of reservoirs that stretches west 163 miles and includes lakes Austin, Travis, Marble Falls, LBJ, Inks and Buchanan.
In 2007, the Austin City Council renamed downtown’s Town Lake to honor Lady Bird Johnson, who had championed restoration of its natural beauty years before. Dividing Austin in half, Lady Bird Lake features the popular Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail, a 10-mile-long recreation trail lined with lush vegetation, benches, shelters and water fountains. A 1.3-mile section of the loop called the Boardwalk Trail provides skyline views and scenic overlooks along the south shore of the lake. On weekday evenings, joggers and bikers enjoying their post-workday workout crowd the trails, and collegiate rowing teams in training scull across the lake.
Whether on foot or riding a bike, visitors can veer off the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail in Zilker Metropolitan Park to reach Barton Creek Greenbelt, an additional 7.2 miles of pathway that twists and turns alongside a rocky creek past sheer cliff walls and abundant greenery. Another Zilker Park activity locals frequently recommend is a dip in Barton Springs Pool, which remains a constant 68 degrees even on the hottest summer day; phone (512) 867-3080.
During the Statesman Capitol 10K in late March or early April, more than 18,000 people traverse a 6.2-mile course from Barton Springs Road to Riverside Drive. Highlights include a timed run and a wheelchair race. In October, LIVESTRONG Challenge Ride for the Roses draws more than 6,000 bicyclists of varying experience levels participating in 20- to 100-mile courses.
For views of the city, mansion-lined Lake Austin and the surrounding Hill Country, Covert Park at Mount Bonnell, a mile past the west end of 35th Street, can't be beat. But be prepared for a bit of a climb: it takes 99 steps to reach the top. Another view of Austin that visitors shouldn’t miss is the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, or more specifically, the underside of the bridge. From early March through October, spectators assemble at sunset to witness more than a million Mexican free-tailed bats flood out from crevices beneath the bridge for their nightly insect feast.
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EssentialsYou simply can't go to “The Live Music Capital of the World” without experiencing its diverse music scene. Blues is the mainstay of Antone's, acoustic stylings fill the intimate Cactus Café, and honky-tonk singers round up crowds at the Broken Spoke.
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View Austinites in their natural habitat in the SoCo (South Congress Avenue) district. The area is rife with hipsters weaving in and out of coffee shops, funky clothing boutiques, beauty salons, antique emporiums, art galleries and trendy restaurants.
From early March through October, watch the nightly flight of more than a million bats from underneath the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge . The Mexican free-tails do their part to keep Austin weird while keeping the city's insect population to a minimum.
Hike to the top of Mount Bonnell in Covert Park at Mount Bonnell for a spectacular view of downtown, Lake Austin and Hill Country. Legend has it that on a couple's first climb, they'll fall in love.
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Listen as a life-size, automated figure of Lyndon B. Johnson tells amusing anecdotes at the LBJ Presidential Library . Exhibits include a reproduction of the Oval Office and the president's 1968 limousine.
Learn everything you wanted to know about Texas history—and then some—at The Bullock Texas State History Museum . Modern technology combines with historic artifacts to tell the story of the Lone Star State.
Photo submitted by Maria White / AAA
ShoppingFinding stores that live up to the city’s “Keep Austin Weird” motto means heading downtown where chain stores are the exception and not the rule. You’ll discover some of Austin’s best collection of offbeat shops in the South Congress district, an area along busy Congress Avenue south of Lady Bird Lake between Academy and Oltorf streets.
Standing tall among the health food stores, novelty shops, vintage clothing stores, folk art galleries and funky home furnishing emporiums is one of Austin’s venerable institutions, Allen’s Boots. Step beneath the big red boot above the door and come inside if only to breathe in the sweet smell of leather from all the shiny, beautifully crafted cowboy boots. And if you want to dress Western from toe to head, Allen’s Boots sells an assortment of cowboy hats as well.
Other South Congress landmarks you’ll want to poke your head into: Mi Casa Gallery, chock-full of high-end Mexican folk art including multiple images of Our Lady of Guadalupe as well as a few pieces by local artists; Tesoros Trading Co., an importer of international arts and crafts; and Monkey See, Monkey Do!, which sells diverse novelty items including retro toys, figurines representing obscure Japanese cartoon characters, joke books and scathing political commentary delivered in the form of refrigerator magnets.
On the first Thursday of each month, stores stay open until 10 p.m. On these nights galleries host art shows, street vendors sell crafts and bands jam out on improvised stages. Just be aware that parking on first Thursday nights can be challenging. Your best bet is to park at the free garage at 505 Barton Springs Rd. and ride the Metro bus south to where the stores are.
Among the bohemian businesses, you’ll notice a couple of relatively new shopping plazas with stores offering higher-end merchandise. Such retailers are the rule, not the exception, in the 2nd Street District just on the other side of Lady Bird Lake. Centered around Austin’s low-slung, copper-sheathed city hall, which opened in 2004 at 2nd and Lavaca streets, the district boasts several upscale boutiques, and as more of the planned high-rise developments are completed, that number will no doubt increase.
Along with 2nd Street’s outdoor cafes and fashionable restaurants, you’ll find shops selling all sorts of trendy clothing, pricey knick-knacks and stylish jewelry to Austin’s well-heeled professional class. Look for designer home furnishings, linens and bedding at Area, Inc. or Blue Dot.
The nearby Market District takes its name from the flagship store of Whole Foods Market, the national natural food supermarket chain established in Austin more than 35 years ago. You’ll find several interesting shopping plazas adjacent to Whole Foods, near the intersection of N. Lamar Boulevard and W. 6th Street. Local landmark Waterloo Records occupies the corner diagonally across from the supermarket. Inside is just about every genre of music you’d care to name along with a comprehensive collection of local recording artists as well as videos, used CDs and even an assortment of vinyl records.
BookPeople, on the same side of Lamar as Whole Foods, is Austin’s answer to the bookstore megachains although it doesn’t have anything close to the local character of its record store counterpart across the street. Whole Foods itself is worth a stop, if not for a quick snack then at least to see its outdoor café complete with shade-creating metal sculptures and a brook trickling through a rock-filled channel set in the flagstones at your feet.
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Anything but stodgy, the district on the western edge of the University of Texas along Guadalupe Street is affectionately called “The Drag.” Naturally, businesses here sell stuff college undergrads would buy, and foremost among these is the University Co-Op, where students can stock up on T-shirts, mouse pads, beer cozies, key chains, pens, notebooks, etc., all emblazoned with the Texas Longhorns logo. But you don’t have to be in the market for a used textbook to enjoy a stroll along The Drag; there are also sporting goods stores, independent booksellers, vintage clothing shops and retailers boasting all sorts of environmentally friendly goods, including the Whole Earth Provision Co.
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NightlifeAustin squeezes a surprising number of bars, lounges and restaurants into its compact and walkable downtown. Most feature live entertainment at some point during the week, while a few never take a night off. Musical styles on tap range from country and western to blues to rock to punk with just about everything in between. Austinites don’t call their hometown the “Live Music Capital of the World” for nothing.
You’ll find the heaviest concentration of clubs, pubs and watering holes along 6th Street just east of Congress in the shadow of Austin’s historic Driskill Hotel. The dignified landmark with its solemn white-columned porticos and arched windows contrasts starkly with the raucous carnival atmosphere prevailing here. If the 6th Street crowds get too rowdy, The Driskill Bar (604 Brazos St.) inside the hotel is a nice retreat. Leather sofas, Texas décor and live music six nights per week create a cozy vibe.
Outside on 6th Street, amplified music blares from speakers while barkers stationed at each entrance call out to passersby, announcing the night’s drink specials and featured acts. Walls of these 19th-century commercial buildings are typically brick and do nothing to dampen sound, which seems just fine with the throngs of revelers, who are for the most part under 30.
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With its weathered brick, stone walls and venerable neon sign, Stubb’s Bar-B-Q , 801 Red River St., looks every bit the Red River Street institution that it is. Stubb’s books an impressive lineup of hip-hop, rock, alternative and country acts at both its indoor stage and its popular outdoor amphitheater. Performers who have played Stubb’s include Willie Nelson, Joan Jett, Death Cab for Cutie, Spoon, Dwight Yoakam and Ludacris. The barbecue served here gets rave reviews, and Stubb’s combines a barbecue buffet with live music during its Sunday Gospel Brunch; phone (512) 480-8341.
Following 6th Street west across Congress Avenue brings you into the Warehouse District, distinguished by the stairs you’ll have to climb as you navigate its sidewalks. It’s easy to see that the raised entrances here once facilitated the unloading and loading of goods. The crowds here tend to be over 30 in contrast to the 6th Street and Red River districts, and restaurants are both more numerous and more upscale.
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Rainey Street—a mixed-use historic district sandwiched between I-35 and Lady Bird Lake on downtown's southeastern edge—has emerged as a favorite nightborhood for in-the-know Austinites. Dilapidated bungalows have been renovated into cozy, come-as-you-are bars with backyards, porches and a whole lot of character. Best-loved spots include Lucille Patio Lounge (77 Rainey St.), a dog-friendly bar with outdoor hammocks and games; Container Bar (90 Rainey St.), where patrons sip drinks in any of seven stacked shipping containers; and Clive Bar (609 Davis St.), whose dark wood paneling and white vinyl chairs help create a vintage vibe. Phone (512) 322-9270 for Lucille Patio Lounge, (512) 320-0820 for Container Bar and (512) 524-1623 for Clive Bar.
On the south side of Lady Bird Lake is the offbeat enclave centered around South Congress called, appropriately enough, SoCo. Better known for consignment shops, health food stores and folk art galleries, SoCo is where you’ll also find The Continental Club , 1315 S. Congress Ave., another bright star in Austin’s constellation of live music locales. This intimate establishment opened as a supper club in 1957, but since the 1970s its red-velvet curtained stage has seen all manner of country, rock, rockabilly and swing bands; phone (512) 441-2444.
Just a little ways down the road and across the street is Güero’s Taco Bar , 1412 S. Congress Ave. Not only is Güero’s a fun spot to people watch while enjoying Tex-Mex cuisine that includes a salsa bar, fresh-made tortillas and savory fish tacos, but the restaurant’s oak-shaded, picnic-table-filled outdoor area is the scene of concerts Wednesday through Sunday, too; phone (512) 447-7688.
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The 1970s also happens to have been the heyday of the Armadillo World Headquarters, one of Austin’s most important music clubs, where an “Austin sound” emerged that was somewhere between country and rock ‘n’ roll and where performers as diverse as Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Frank Zappa, B.B. King, Bruce Springsteen, The Charlie Daniels Band and hundreds of others played. The “’Dillo” was torn down in 1981, but Threadgill’s sits next door to the storied music hall’s former site, serving down-home Southern cooking and hosting bands in its beer garden most nights of the week. It also houses memorabilia from the '70's, including a piano that Jerry Lee Lewis and other performers played that's now suspended from the ceiling; phone (512) 472-9304.
Edgy live music can be found at Emo's Austin , 2015 E. Riverside Dr., which is open to all ages. Since the club has a reputation for cheap beer and the latest and greatest punk and alternative bands, the average age at Emo's skews toward the early 20s. Recently, Emo's has hosted such acts as The Airborne Toxic Event, ZZ Ward and Ani DiFranco; phone (512) 505-9999.
Courtesy of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation
You could easily miss the Broken Spoke at 3201 S. Lamar Blvd., which looks more like a rural grocery and feed store than one of Austin’s—and indeed Texas’s—best-known country music dance halls. A gravel parking lot, an old oil pump jack and a rusty vintage streamline bus advertising Lone Star beer greet visitors to this decidedly unpretentious honky-tonk. Yet despite the humble setting, a sign at the entrance proudly declares, “Through this door pass the best country music dancers in the world.” You can even learn to two-step and do the cotton-eyed joe on Wednesday through Saturday nights. The restaurant in front serves diner fare, including deliciously juicy hamburgers, and a couple of small rooms have been given over to mementos—concert posters, signed photos, album covers and sundry other items—representing the Broken Spoke’s 40-plus years as a music venue. Of course, the country music tradition continues with bands scheduled every Tuesday through Saturday nights; phone (512) 442-6189.
Self-guiding toursBrochures outlining historic areas are available from the Austin Visitor Center.
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Austin in 3 DaysThree days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Austin.
Day 1: MorningSip some joe in SoCo, a buzzing district where laptop-bearing caffeine junkies unite at cozy, Wi-Fi-zoned coffeehouses staffed by veteran baristas. If you're a coffee dunker, pick up a few marranitos (moist, pig-shaped pastries with flaky tops) at La Mexicana Bakery, an inexpensive First Street pit stop that also serves up delicious empanadas and breakfast tacos 24 hours a day; phone (512) 443-6369.
For a more substantial morning meal, silence your rumbling stomach at South Congress Café, 1600 S. Congress Ave. Brunch is served daily until 4 p.m., so even late risers can try the eggs benedict coupled with meaty crab cakes or the sinfully delicious, it's-worth-the-extra-trip-to-the-gym carrot cake French toast; phone (512) 447-3905.
While you'll find plenty of inviting eateries in SoCo, the area's main draw is its shopping. Doing their part to “Keep Austin Weird” are the kitschy stores lining South Congress Avenue. Mingle with flamboyant Austinites in boutiques crammed with retro frocks, or fool around at Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds, a huge costume emporium. After poking through Uncommon Objects' eclectic assemblage of items—1940s lamps, vintage belt buckles and funky lounge furniture—peruse neat rows of Texan must-haves at Allens Boots. Though it isn't the flashiest in stock, the big red boot marking the entrance has been directing shoppers to this neighborhood institution since the 1970s. Displaying more than 4,000 boots—from footwear embellished with stars and skulls to limited edition boots costing thousands of buckaroos—the retailer is a favorite among discriminating cowpokes.
Day 1: AfternoonThe aroma of curry and freshly baked naan fills the air at Clay Pit , a popular Indian restaurant housed in a historic limestone building. Try the khuroos-e-tursh, a tasty dish of spinach-, mushroom-, onion- and cheese-stuffed chicken breasts in a creamy cashew-almond sauce. From the aloo gobi (cauliflower and potato curry) to the vegetable jalfrezi (veggies stir-fried in masala gravy), options also abound for those with dietary restrictions. If you’re really hungry or really indecisive (Will it be the tikka masala or the bhindi masala? The goat curry or the goat saag?), you can’t go wrong with the lunch buffet. The buffet menu changes daily and includes basmati rice, naan, salad, soup, both meat and vegetarian entrees, and a dessert.
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Day 1: Evening
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Day 2: Morning
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Once your head stops spinning from perusing Kerbey Lane's extensive breakfast menu, check out the trendy furniture shops, alternative bookstores and offbeat clothing vendors along “The Drag.” This busy section of Guadalupe Street between 21st and 25th streets abuts the western edge of the University of Texas at Austin . Get your own “Keep Austin Weird” souvenirs from Tyler's, a locally owned sporting goods and clothing chain, then pore over the wide array of gear sold at the University Co-Op. Here, you'll find much of the merchandise stamped with a silhouette of a Texas longhorn known as Bevo, UT's mascot since 1916.
Day 2: AfternoonTake a walking tour of the University of Texas. (Departing from the visitor center on the second floor of Walter Webb Hall, the tours last about an hour and are offered Monday through Saturday; phone (512) 471-1000.) Dotting the grounds are Spanish Renaissance-style buildings, majestic oak trees sheltering studious coeds, and statues honoring such activists as César Chávez and Martin Luther King Jr. Snap a few pics of yourself brandishing the “Hook ‘em Horns” hand signal (extend the index and pinky fingers while grasping the second and third fingers with your thumb) in front of the landmark 307-foot UT Tower. If it's an especially warm day (a likely possibility in Austin, where summer temperatures sometimes climb above 100 F) duck indoors for a spell and examine the captivating exhibits displayed at the LBJ Presidential Library and the Texas Memorial Museum . Both museums are on campus, as is The Blanton Museum of Art . Here you can contemplate “Alone in Green,” featuring one of Antonio Henrique Amaral's iconic bananas; linger over Robert Henri's broad brushstrokes; and appreciate the genius of such Old World masters as Orazio Riminaldi and Giulio Cesare Amidano.
Follow the pack to a nondescript Guadalupe Street diner that's a favorite with UT undergrads. Though the original dirt floor is long gone, the finger-licking good grub served at Dirty Martin's Place hasn't changed much since the tiny restaurant's 1926 opening. Surrender to the greasy deliciousness of a Kum-Bak Burger (we like the O.T. Special, a double meat cheeseburger with bacon, mayo, lettuce and tomato), or pop a few corn nuggets while watching a Longhorns game; phone (512) 477-3173.
Day 2: EveningSpanning Lady Bird Lake, the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge shelters a colony of Mexican free-tail bats that emerge at dusk to grab a bite to eat. Every evening from early March through October, intrigued crowds gather by the bridge to watch as a spectacular black cloud comprising more than a million nocturnal, insect-hungry creatures cuts across the dimming Austin sky.
If the fêted bats are still south of the border while you're in town, check out the selection of vinyl at Waterloo Records , an integral part of Austin's music scene since the early '80s. Music connoisseurs worship the North Lamar Boulevard store for showcasing obscure albums by evocative singer-songwriters, local alternative rockers and New Age artists; however, even casual patrons appreciate the independent retailer's well-informed staff, quirky knickknacks and free live shows.
Experience love at first bite at The Driskill Grill , an elegant dining room inside The Driskill hotel. But, be warned: With chefs laboring over such succulent dishes as cinnamon-dusted duck, crispy red snapper and herb-crusted venison, cutting into such meticulously presented masterpieces can be heart-wrenching. Once the third course has been reduced to crumbs, mend your broken heart by savoring spoonfuls of the lemon custard cake with honey mascarpone cream.
Day 3: MorningSpend the morning discovering the “Story of Texas” at The Bullock Texas State History Museum . Three levels of interactive displays explore the themes of Land, Identity and Opportunity, while the special effects-laden Texas Spirit Theater whisks visitors back through time to witness significant events in the state's history.
Day 3: AfternoonPick up a few Cowboy Tacos (tortillas stuffed with grilled beef tenderloin, caramelized onions, grilled corn, roasted peppers, guacamole and queso cheese) from Tacodeli, 1500 Spyglass Rd., then head to 351-acre Zilker Metropolitan Park for a quick Tex-Mex picnic. If you're vacationing in Austin in March, explore the verdant grounds during the long-running Zilker Park Kite Festival , which takes place the first Sunday of the month. While kids compete in a 50-yard dash, judges scan mottled skies in search of the most unusual flying toy; awards also are handed out for the smallest and largest kites. Mesmerizing visitors year-round is tranquil Zilker Botanical Garden , where koi ponds and waterfalls intermingle with primrose bushes and prickly cacti. For a more interactive experience, unearth a few fossils at the on-site Austin Nature & Science Center , which highlights the fauna, flora and geology of central Texas.
Day 3: EveningReturn to SoCo for a scrumptious meal at chic Vespaio , one of the city's staple Italian eateries. With hawklike perception, eager guests watch from the warm, intimate dining room as chefs mold delicate raviolis in the open kitchen. Indulge yourself and gorge on the semolina-crusted calamari and beef carpaccio, but tough it out and leave the last slice of prosciutto-, fontina- and arugula-topped wood-fired pizza alone. Otherwise, you won't have room to savor a heavenly scoop from Amy's Ice Cream, where the selection of old standbys and seasonal specialties runs the gamut from Belgian Chocolate to Chipotle Peanut Butter to White Coffee Crunch.
The long line trailing out the Continental Club's entrance will catch your eye well before the establishment's signature neon sign comes into view. Refurbished muscle cars and tricked-out Chevys front the retro SoCo joint, while country twangs and rockabilly coifs take center stage inside. After the show, squeeze your way up to the bar, where packs of Bettie Page wannabes and tattooed cowboys down tequila shots in tandem; phone (512) 441-2444.
AttractionsIn a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
The University of Texas at Austin started with a single Victorian Gothic-style building in 1883. Today, it's one of the country's largest public universities, with more than 52,000 students regularly navigating its 430-acre campus. Walking tours take visitors past graceful live oaks and limestone buildings with red tile roofs. Following a 23-year closure, the observation deck of the school's landmark tower also is accessible via guided tour.
Several museums foster the analytical ideals of the university. Exhibits at the Texas Memorial Museum focus on biology, geology and paleontology and include mounted wildlife specimens, a 925-carat blue topaz crystal and the bones of a 30-foot-long prehistoric seagoing lizard.
Also on campus is the LBJ Presidential Library . Its extensive collection of exhibits and historical documents depict the life of the nation's 36th president. This AAA GEM attraction showcases an animatronic version of LBJ, more than 4,000 original editorial cartoons related to Johnson's political career, a photographic overview of the White House interior and a 7/8-scale replica of the Oval Office. The First Lady's Gallery pays tribute to Lady Bird Johnson, an alumna of the university.
European Old Master paintings, American and Latin American art, and prints and drawings are displayed at The Blanton Museum of Art , a AAA GEM attraction. Discover the technique favored by Peter Paul Rubens and other 17th-century painters; investigate Uruguayan artist Julio Alpuy's Universal Constructivism style; and survey Richard Long's “Summer Circle,” a 29.5-foot-wide sculpture formed out of Delabole slate.
Just across the street, The Bullock Texas State History Museum houses interactive exhibits and more than 700 artifacts beneath its copper dome. Such displays as a wooden oil rig, salvage from a 17th-century shipwreck and a lunar lander model are offered at this AAA GEM attraction. From a special effects-laden show highlighting local stories of perseverance to a presentation about the Texas Revolution, a range of multimedia illustrates the region's sweeping past.
Referencing the pen name of writer William Sydney Porter, the O. Henry Museum commemorates “the master of the short story.” From 1893 to 1895, the author known for his signature twist endings lived in this Queen Anne-style cottage, which now houses O. Henry memorabilia. Porter, an Austin resident for more than a decade, likely used his experiences in Texas as fodder for his prose.
Sursum, a Latin word meaning “uplift your heart,” conveys the artistic impact of the 19th-century sculptor recognized at the Elisabet Ney Museum . After emigrating from Germany, Ney built this building, where she carved life-size figures and portrait busts of Texas' most distinguished individuals. Her husband, philosopher Edmund Montgomery, wrote: “Her studio was a shrine to which people from all parts of Texas came to admire her works of art.”
Ney also created monuments found in Texas State Cemetery . The state's honored dead are interred there, including Stephen F. Austin, the “Father of Texas,” and Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, a hero in the Texas War for Independence. A limestone visitor center presents the history of the burial ground. The meticulously maintained facility also features striking memorials to Texan Medal of Honor recipients and the victims of Sept. 11.
“Sunset red” granite, round decorative skylights and original wainscoting distinguish the Renaissance Revival-style Texas State Capitol , a AAA GEM attraction. Atop the domed, 19th-century edifice, a goddess keeps watch over the city—the statue represents Athena, the Greek deity of wisdom and warfare. Seventeen other figures, including a miniature Statue of Liberty and a bronze monument honoring Texas' pioneer women, grace the nearly 22-acres of shady, landscaped grounds.
Focusing on modern and contemporary works, The Contemporary Austin—Laguna Gloria presents changing displays in a natural setting overlooking Lake Austin. This historic 12-acre estate consists of a 1916 Italianate-style villa, a sculpture garden and an art school.
Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum displays drawings, paintings and carvings by Charles Umlauf, a University of Texas professor emeritus whose work appeared in both the Smithsonian Institution and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Crisscrossed by gravel paths, the garden contains 56 statues, including a smaller version of the artist's “Spirit of Flight”; the actual 17-foot-tall monument marks the entrance to the Dallas Love Field airport.
The Mexic-Arte Museum features contemporary and traditional works by Mexican, Latin American and U.S.-born Latino artists. Changing exhibits offering photography, paintings and sculpture highlight both established and emerging artists.
A wide range of activities is available at Zilker Metropolitan Park , from leisurely strolls and picnics to more intense pastimes. Spirited yells abound on the sandy volleyball court, while giggles are constant passengers aboard the park's miniature train. Daring leaps into the natural, spring-fed pool stir sun-kissed waters, and dirt-splotched legs regularly sweep down soccer fields in pursuit of checkered spheres. As night falls, diverse singers croon at an amphitheater surrounded by pecan trees.
On the western edge of the park, visitors to the Austin Nature & Science Center gaze at the large, spotted owl perched above; the creature's round, puffy head twists casually as its dark brown eyes scan the fascinated crowd. More than 90 native animals are exhibited at the center, while hands-on activities convey information about amphibians, birds, mammals, minerals, plants, reptiles and rocks.
The centerpiece of the park is Zilker Botanical Garden , harboring native, hybrid and exotic vegetation. On site are butterfly, herb and rose gardens as well as a center with educational displays. A 2-acre plot features re-creations of plants that existed during the time of the dinosaurs. Serene ponds in the Isamu Taniguchi Oriental Garden spell out “AUSTIN,” and a Japanese teahouse provides breathtaking views of the city.
The goal of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is to protect and preserve North America's native plants and natural terrain through landscape restoration, plant conservation, and educational and horticultural programs. Sixteen gardens shelter such flora as evening primrose, purple coneflowers and Lindheimer daisies. Several walking trails invite exploration, including a 1-mile interpretive path educating visitors about land management.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
RestaurantsOur favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
Past a courtyard garden and babbling fountain, aromas of such staple Italian fare as chicken parmesan and veal Marsala welcome guests to Carmelo's Ristorante . Ideal for special occasions, this romantic, upscale eatery is housed in one of the state's oldest standing train depots. Starters include escargot, soft-shell crab topped by buttery lump crabmeat, and Portobello mushrooms with spinach and Gorgonzola. Imaginative recipes abound, from veal chops filled with lobster meat to grilled red snapper served with mango sauce and risotto pancakes.
Critics and patrons agree Eddie V's is one of the best seafood and steak restaurants in Texas. There are two locations, Eddie V's Prime Seafood , 301 E. 5th St. downtown, and the northwest enclave at Eddie V's Prime Seafood , 9400 Arboretum Blvd. Lemon sole, sea bass and tuna entrées are expertly prepared, and aged center cuts are shipped in from a prestigious Chicago-based beef supplier. Comprising colossal shrimp, oysters and New England Jonah crab claws, the chilled shellfish tower is perfect for sharing, as are jumbo sides of sugar snap peas, sautéed steak mushrooms and scalloped potatoes au gratin.
A stained glass ceiling, marble floors and three-story columns distinguish The Driskill , rivaling the hotel's architectural splendor is the sophisticated cuisine served at its renowned eatery. Utterly elegant, The Driskill Grill is often touted as Austin's finest dining establishment. A first-class waitstaff presents such items as pan-roasted veal, quail with orange curd and pistachio-crusted sea scallops. The culinary brilliance continues well beyond the third course; five- and seven-dish tasting menus are available, as are exquisite desserts.
There's no need to leave town if you're hankering for fresh Florida stone crab. Truluck's operates its own Sunshine State fisheries, transporting the meaty, black-tipped claws (when in season) to Austin in less than 24 hours. Red king crab is delivered from the icy Barents Sea year-round; other recipes emphasizing oceanic flavors include tuna tartare, baked Caribbean lobster tail and salmon drizzled with a jalapeño béarnaise sauce. The restaurant's noted parmesan mashed potatoes go well with a selection of aged Midwestern beef and a bottle from the extensive wine list.
Nestled in the trendy SoCo district just south of downtown, Vespaio imparts a casual ambiance accented by upscale amenities. From the mixed seafood grill to delicate veal medallions, the café's meticulously prepared foods yield robust flavors. Wait times are long at this brick-and-glass storefront trattoria, with diners frequently returning for oak-fired pizzas, handmade pastas and fine Italian wines. Reservations are scarce, and on Fridays and Saturdays, seating is first-come, first-served only.
Traditional Texan flavors merge with decades-old family recipes at Hoover's Cooking in northern Austin. The heaping platters of comfort food are reasonably priced, whether you're in the mood for a Cajun ham po'boy or fried chicken smothered in creamy homemade gravy. Choose from such sides as black-eyed peas, Caribbean rice, jalapeño creamed spinach and fried okra. The popular restaurant also offers a huge breakfast menu, freshly-squeezed lemonade and made-from-scratch desserts.
At Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa , the decorous atmosphere of the Hill Country Dining Room complements refined recipes for parsnip bisque, almond-crusted turbot and bourbon molasses-glazed quail. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, the restaurant offers views of the Fazio Foothills Golf Course and northwest Austin's lush, rolling landscape. On Sundays, brunch is available, and on Friday and Saturday evenings, a piano player provides light entertainment.
See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.
EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
Start the New Year with a Bloody Mary breakfast, followed by a friendly sailing competition. Presented by The Austin Yacht Club, the Red-Eye Regatta takes place on Lake Travis, where dramatic limestone bluffs surround emerald waters.
Several varieties of native trees are on sale at Tree Talk and Winter Walk , with experts relaying planting tips and basic care techniques. The January event at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center also offers organized walks and children's activities.
In early February, the pulsing drum beats of Brazilian dance music fill the Palmer Events Center during Carnaval Brasileiro . Swathed in masks, glitter, colorful feathers, beads and body paint, partygoers come to be seen, to samba and to abandon all inhibition.
Homemade kites take flight at the Zilker Park Kite Festival , vying for such titles as highest flying and most unusual. This March celebration began in the 1920s and features stunt demonstrations by a professional kite team, workshops and a mass launching.
Musicians, independent filmmakers and technology entrepreneurs showcase their work at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. The event attracts nearly 340,000 attendees in March with concerts, movie screenings, trade shows and seminars at venues throughout downtown Austin. By contrast, the Austin City Limits Music Festival takes place in one location and features more world-renowned bands. The festival spans 6 days over two weekends (Fri.-Sun.) in October and brings more than 225,000 rocking music lovers each year to Zilker Metropolitan Park .
During the Statesman Capitol 10K in late April, more than 22,000 people participate in a 6.2-mile run/walk from Barton Springs Road to Riverside Drive. The event includes a timed run and a wheelchair race, while creatively costumed participants enter the Fun Run & Walk.
More than 200,000 people enjoy arts and crafts displays, multicultural performances, plays and live music at the Old Pecan Street Spring Arts Festival . The May fair takes place on 6th Street, originally called Pecan Street when east-west streets were named after trees.
Held at Fiesta Gardens, the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival provides an extra dose of heat amid sizzling August temperatures. Along with celebrity chef judges, about 15,000 attendees decide the winners of this zesty contest.
Aspiring directors and writers mingle with industry professionals at October's Austin Film Festival . Movie screenings, creative competitions and interactive panels focus on the importance of narrative storytelling in film and television.
In late October, the more than 6,000 participants at the LIVESTRONG Challenge Ride for the Roses represent all experience levels and bike in a series of races ranging from 20 to 100 miles.
With first lady Laura Bush serving as its honorary chairperson, the Texas Book Festival includes readings, talks and panels with some of the nation's most distinguished authors. The November event promotes literacy and benefits the state's public library system.
During Chuy's Christmas Parade , crowds line Congress and 6th streets for glimpses of Santa Claus, festive floats, huge inflatable balloons, cartoon characters, marching bands and classic cars. Held in late November, the pageant amasses holiday gifts for needy children.
Shop for fine art and distinctive gifts at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar in December. Inside the Palmer Events Center, artists and craftspeople sell everything from herbal soaps to metal sculptures, while bands keep more than 35,000 patrons entertained.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
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Lights, Camera, Action!Austin's artistic spirit is reflected in its thriving movie industry. Film crews capture the essence of the city: resonating guitars and wailing saxophones, lush landscapes crowned by cerulean skies and passionate citizens with boundless imaginations. Diverse characters are brought to life here, from the cultural heroes of “The Alamo” to dejected “Office Space” employees. On the big screen, the region's varied backdrops—rolling hills, town squares, deserts, farmland, forests, lakes and prairies—double for such far-flung destinations as Morocco, Chicago, New York and Vietnam. Austin provides filmmakers with all the essentials, enabling them to craft fantasy lands, re-create history and examine American culture.
Heralded as one of the top U.S. cities to live and make motion pictures, this burgeoning creative paradise attracts a loyal following. Actors associated with Austin include Ethan Hawke, Renée Zellweger and Owen Wilson. Sandra Bullock, who owns a bistro on 6th Street, shot “Hope Floats,” “Miss Congeniality” and “Infamous” in the city. An active member of the community, she assisted Hurricane Katrina evacuees sheltered at the Austin Convention Center and helped fund a girls' school named after former governor Ann Richards.
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While permanent indoor sets are appealing, a semi-arid climate and mild winters allow for year-round shoots in a region offering an abundance of natural environs. In addition, few permits or fees are required for public shoots in Austin. The film commission provides information about city ordinances and assists with location scouting. It also distributes a comprehensive neighborhood guide listing everything from costume shops to aerial cinematographers to exotic reptile wranglers.
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