Austin, Texas is probably best known as “The Live Music Capital of the World” – a moniker it earns 365 days a year. The nightlife, though, is only part of the city’s charm. The Texas capital is also a wonderland for super fit foodies, offering a world of cuisine to satisfy any palate and outdoor activities enough to keep you moving around the clock.
Here are just few reasons to love Austin’s food, music and outdoors:
1. Lady Bird Lake
Austin is a central Texas oasis, made so by Lady Bird Lake. From its staggering limestone cliffs to the glow of highrises standing sentinel over downtown, the 468-acre (189-hectare) lower Colorado River reservoir marks the epicenter of Austin’s outdoor action. Canoeing, kayaking, rowing, stand-up paddling (SUP) and even kayak polo matches can all be found year-round.
The lake’s waters and wooded banks are alive with birds, turtles, deer, squirrels and other wildlife. Paddling is a great way to take that in. And, Lady Bird Lake is an angling hotspot. In March 1993, Morris Boyd caught a 45.5 pound (21 kilogram) striped bass from Lady Bird Lake, one of the largest in Texas history. Fishing for largemouth bass, carp and panfish is also quite good.
The Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail offers some 10.2 miles (16.4 kilometers) of scenic lake side trail that winds through the urban outdoors. From dads jogging with high-tech strollers to professional athletes and celebrities zipping laps, there is room for every stripe of walker, runner, cyclist, naturalist and wanderer. With some 1.5 million visitors per year, the trail is alive from sunrise to well after dark. Local businesses provide complementary watering stations for the trail community.
The trail has nine main access points: Auditorium Shores, Butler Shores, Festival Beach, Holly Shores, Lakeshore, Lamar Beach, Longhorn Shores, Shoal Beach and Waller Beach.
2. Zilker Metropolitan Park
Zilker Park offers all manner of leisure, from lazing to learning. From first light until late night, the 351-acre (142-hectare) park is alive with folks flying kites and model airplanes, swimming, playing football, cycling, sniffing flowers and following bugs, walking dogs, snapping photos and so on.
For those looking for a little enlightenment with their leisure, Zilker Park is home to the Austin Nature and Science Center, Zilker Botanical Gardens, the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and the Splash Education Center. Kids, in particular, enjoy the Zilker Zephyr miniature train.
3. Barton Springs Pool
The Barton Springs three-acre pool is one of the most important and popular places in Austin. The natural spring wells up from the Edwards Aquifer to form a natural pool with 900 feet (274 meters) of shoreline for Austin aquaphiles. And there is nothing like the pristine 68o F (20o C) water to cure a 104-degree F (40o C) ache.
Food, drinks and public facilities are available, so it is easy to pass a full day there. Known affectionately as “The Soul of Austin,” the pool is a sacred space for all types of people, from artists and politicos to students, mechanics and poets. Kids and families gather on the shallow end of the pool. Floaters, lappers, water treaders and toe dippers dot the rest of the spring. At the diving boards in the middle of Barton Springs Pool, everyone gathers to show their best cannonball, belly buster, or acrobatic originals like Austinite Mike Murphy’s patented “flying squirrel.”
Barton Springs Pool is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. It is closed Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. for maintenance. Adults pay $3 for a day pass. Children and seniors have discounted rates. There is no charge for night swimming.
When you go, keep an eye out for the pool’s lone permanent resident: the endangered Barton Springs salamander.
4. Live Music Venues
Austin breathes live music: one-man-bands stomp tambourines, strum guitars, blow harmonicas, sing and howl on corners. Banjo players pick out rolls on the Barton Creek banks. Irish pubs offer fish tacos and live blues. Moody Theatre draws the most famous acts. All types of musicians want to play Austin. So, the city air is full of the melodies to sooth what ails you.
Here are a few live music venues worth visiting:
Threadgill’s World Headquarters is host to Jessie Scott’s The School Night Sessions, which features artists from 8:00p.m. to 10:00 p.m. So, there is time to get everyone full of good music and home early for bed on school nights.
Flipnotics is a great coffee spot with one of the best and most intimate rooms Austin has to offer. It will only cost you a cup of coffee and tips for the band.
Frank markets themselves as “Purveyors of artisan sausage.” They also have a good selection of beer and a great sound system. They began hosting music events 2011 and quickly became a notable music venue. Whether you go for the traditional chili cheese dog or the Notorious P.I.G – which comes smothered in macaroni and cheese and Texas barbecue sauce– the food, music and beer offer a taste of Austin in miniature.
Moody Theatre is the new home of the KLRU-TV produced PBS program Austin City Limits, America’s longest running music series. The 2,700-person venue hosts more than 60 concerts a year in addition to the Austin City Limits broadcasts. There is not a single bad seat in the house.
5. Good Eats
Austinites play hard whether dancing the Texas-swing, getting down on 6th Street, or riding, rowing or running a blur through the Bat City outdoors. Fortunately, when it is time to recharge, Austin has more good food than any one town deserves.
By food truck alone, Austin diners can eat their way around the world. Austin’s food trucks include local fare and food from France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, the Philippines, Thailand, Venezuela, Vietnam and many combinations thereof. One of Austin’s best food trucks is Biscuits & Groovy. If you have taste buds and a soul, do not miss this place. The Aretha Franklin with a cup French-pressed-before-your-eyes coffee is as good as it gets.
Here are a few more places that are really worth a visit:
Rudy’s claims to be the “worst barbecue in Texas,” but President Obama feels otherwise— in 2010 he awarded the Texas barbecue chain the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Rudy’s is a must every time their doors open. A favorite is the breakfast taco. Try it this way: spicy chopped, cheese and egg with extra salsa. You will not regret it.
Jeffrey’s, according to customers, was one of Austin’s first fine-dining establishments. It remains at the top of the list. Menu highlights include crispy oysters and grilled Texas quail. They have an impressive wine selection and a creative specialty drink menu.
6. Austin is Weird – and Proud of It
As the “Keep Austin Weird” campaign suggests, Austin has room for absolutely everyone. People fly-fish under 6th Street. One couple pedals 15-foot unicycles. A cowboy rides his horse down Congress Avenue. You will see it all. And unlike many cities where you find this group here and that group there, Austinites play together.
At venues like Don’s Depot, octogenarians, college students, expats and locals of every occupation gather to drink Lone Star or Topo Chico and dance two-step and Texas swing. As for the waters and woodlands that make up the Bat City outdoors— well, Austinites from every walk of life meet there as well to reconnect with nature, with one another and with themselves.
7. World’s Largest Urban Bat Colony
San Juan Capistrano has swallows. Austin has the beloved bats. Most years, 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats arrive by March, settling under the Congress Avenue Bridge and forming the world’s largest urban bat colony. The colony gives Austin the moniker, Bat City. Most are females that will give birth to pink hairless pups in June. After five weeks of nursing, the pups join the colony to eat as much as 30,000 pounds (14,000 kilograms) of moths, beetles and agricultural pests each night. They depart by November to winter in Mexico.
If you would like to view the bats’ exodus from under the bridge, park at the Austin American Statesman lot just south of the river. It is free after 6:00 p.m. Along the eastern side of the bridge, you’ll see an open knoll, bat memorabilia vendors and an information kiosk dedicated to the bats. Families lounge on blankets, ice cream vendors ring bells, and at dusk, plumes of bats pour from the belly of the Congress Avenue Bridge and out across Austin’s awakening neon skyline.
The Bat Hot Line (512-416-5700, extension 3636), which is hosted by the Austin American-Statesman, provides accurate information about emersion times and available tours. To learn more about Bat City’s Mexican Free-tailed visitors, see Bat Conservation International.
8. Festivals, Races, Outdoor Events
If Austin is live music, food and outdoors, then festivals are the quintessential Austin experience. Many people know about the Austin City Limits festival. Even more have heard of South by Southwest, which drew some 278,000 attendees in 2012. But Austin is ever abuzz with much smaller but equally wonderful festivals.
At Eeyore’s Birthday Party, which has been held for the past 48 years in Austin, visitors are treated to live music, expansive drum circles, costume contests, face painting, Maypoles, and a day of general revelry to celebrate the birth of Eeyore – the forlorn donkey from A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. Free-spirited adults, children, and families alike attend the free April event in Austin’s 42-acre (17-hectare) Pease Park, which is located on Shoal Creek Greenbelt at 1100 Kingsbury Street.
Bats, books, kites and runs, Celts, blues, hot sauce and puns – Austin has festivals for most everything. See the list here.
Read more about things to do in Texas
- Shane Townsend