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Don’t mess with Texas: Keep Austin Weird

view of Frost Bank Tower from the Headliners Club, Austin, Texas
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The landmark Frost Bank Tower was the first skyscraper to be built in the United States after the September 11 attacks.

Bumper stickers in this Texas capital read Keep Austin Weird, a slogan that draws attention to the unique small businesses and unconventional nature of this college town. A blue dot in a red state, Austin is known for quirky and colorful individualism. Home to one of our nation’s largest public universities, the 350 acre University of Texas, “Silicon Hills” is also headquarters to high-tech giants like Dell and organic and natural food leader Whole Foods. This city on the rise with a laid back lifestyle is one of our fastest growing cities, 16th largest in the USA.

bumper sticker, Austin, Texas
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Keep Austin Weird is a popular bumper sticker slogan that draws attention to the unique small businesses and unconventional nature of this Texas capital and colorful college town.

Catch the Texas Longhorns in action or a cutting-edge performance at the new Long Center. Watch millions of bats take flight at dusk from a double-decker paddle wheeler. It’s all within Austin city limits.

Good eatin’ and more

They say you’ll hear the best honky-tonk music in Texas at the Broken Spoke, where you can grab some grub and two-step in the last true Texas dance hall. Tex Ritter, Willie Nelson, and George Strait started out here. Willie still stops by for chicken fried steak. Country Line BBQ, in an old speakeasy, is a smokin’ place for legendary ribs. For fancier fare, try Lambert’s Downtown Barbeque in the historic Schneider Store (1873). Where else can you start with Crispy Wild Boar Ribs, munch Cold Smoked Bandera Quail “Lizzies”, and finish with fried blackberry pie?

For authentic Mexican food, locals flock to taquerias like Guero’s or Maria’s Taco Xpress. Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill serves comfort food like Texas flat iron steak or buffalo meatloaf. There are green chilies in the award-winning macaroni and cheese, jalapeno in the cornbread, and tortillas and jalapenos in Hoss’ migas, a scrambled eggs dish with tortilla strips and jalapenos. Dining experiences to suit the most discerning of palates are found at The Driskill Grill, where Executive Chef Jonathan Gelman’s culinary team has been named one of best in the nation.

The landmark Driskill Hotel is the historic grande dame of this state-of-the-art city. Built as a showplace in 1886 by cattle baron Jesse Driskill and restored to its original grandeur, it was a favorite of LBJ and is where he met his future bride. The casual, bistro-style 1886 Café and Bakery is the place for renowned pastries or a breakfast of ginger snap pancakes or Texas pecan waffles.

Craving a sweet treat? Head for the popular Hey, Cupcake! in a renovated snow cone stand. At Amy’s Ice Cream, the show is as much a part of the fun as the flavors.

Shopping

Find music by local artists at try-before-you-buy Waterloo Records and cross the street to browse Bookpeople, the largest independent bookstore in Texas. Explore the food emporiums–Central Market and Whole Foods’ flagship store.

Heritage Boots, Austin, Texas
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For the best in distinctive cowboy chic, stop at Jerry Ryan’s Heritage Boots on West 8th for custom designed hand-made classic boots.

Stroll SoCo’s (South Congress) galleries, and check out the costumes at Lucy in Disguise. For the best in distinctive cowboy chic, shop with locals in-the-know at Jerry Ryan’s Heritage Boots on West 8th for custom designed hand-made classic boots.

Music and entertainment

The Live Music Capital of the World is home to the Grammy winning Dixie Chicks and outlaw country style Willie Nelson. Austin City Limits is one of largest music festivals in the country. South by Southwest showcases music from around the world.

There are countless local bands, and on any given night, live music plays in nearly 200 venues. The hottest entertainment districts? Dance to the Mariachi beat in the turn of the century buildings at hotspots on 6th Street, swig a beer to country and western in Red River, or join the hip and artsy crowd for tapas or sushi at one of the trendy restaurants that rock in the upscale Warehouse District.

Art

The Austin Museum of Art—AMOA—now has two locations. It was originally in the recently restored 1916 Italianate Laguna Gloria, donated by rancher Clara Driscoll, legendary Savior of the Alamo. Changing exhibitions of 20th century and contemporary art and an intergenerational learning lab are now in new downtown digs –a strikingly transformed former bank lobby.

This is Texas, and we wouldn’t expect less than America’s largest university-owned collection at the 180,000 square foot Blanton, the University of Texas’ art museum. It has one of the most complete collections of contemporary Latin American art in the country, along with a fine collection of European masters and American Frontier art. The new gallery is named for novelist James Michener and his wife, whose donations included over 400 contemporary works.

The Bob Bullock State History Museum is across the street. The Harry Ransom Center, also on campus, features cultural artifacts and historical exhibits. Among its best known acquisitions are the Gutenberg Bible of 1455 and the world’s first photograph.

This IS Austin, and for those who prefer less conventional collections, there’s Vince Hanneman’s Cathedral of Junk, a multi-level back yard assemblage of tons of old bicycle parts, household items, toys, and whatever else he finds suitable from what people bring to him. It’s billed on his flyer by the gate as the “Best Shrine to Planned Obsolescence”. The Museum of Natural and Artificial Ephemerata is a home-based collection of curiosities and impermanent things.

Long Center for the Performing Arts,r Austin, Texas
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Long Center for the Performing Arts, Austin, Texas

The Long Center for the Performing Arts, overlooking Lady Bird Lake, is the newest cultural landmark and a world-class performance venue. There is a black box theater and an acoustically perfect concert hall that is home to the Austin Symphony, Ballet Austin, Austin Lyric Opera, and independent performance groups and theater companies. Care was taken in this environmentally-aware area to recycle much of the materials from old Coliseum, most noticeably the green tiles on the facade. And it should be noted that in this progressive city “potty parity” has been achieved. There are 67% more toilet facilities for women.

Turtles were among those enjoying the sunshine along Austin’s Hike and Bike Trail on Lady Bird Lake.
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Turtles were among those enjoying the sunshine along Austin’s Hike and Bike Trail on Lady Bird Lake.

Top rankings

With its low cost of living, a mild climate (300 days of sunshine a year and 68.5° average temperature), parks and exercise facilities–and no state income tax!–Austin was named the #1 city in America in which to live and play by National Geographic Adventure and one of AARP’s top four cities to watch as a retirement friendly community. It is one of the highest rated golf destinations in Golf Digest and Golf.com. Moody’s and Money Magazine rated it a Best Place for Business in the US and Forbes named it the 3rd best US city for jobs.

Ride the free ‘Dillo trolley, named for the state mammal, the armadillo. Austin was #2 in Prevention Magazine’s Top Ten Cities for Taking a Stroll. You may run into Matthew McConaughey on the ten mile Hike and Bike Trail along Lady Bird Lake. Pedal along the downtown Lance Armstrong Bikeway, named for cancer-stricken resident who won seven consecutive Tour de France races and became the top cyclist in the world.

“The stars at night are big and bright…. deep in the heart of Texas”  lyrics by June Hershey and music by Don Swander

Austin is a favorite of movie makers, and was the film site for movies ranging from Miss Congeniality to the Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Residents or frequent visitors include Sandra Bullock, Quentin Tarantino, Dennis Quaid, and brothers Luke and Owen Wilson.

Norwood Tower from the Headliners Club, Austin, Texas
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The Headliner’s Club, atop the tallest building in Austin, offers a bird’s eye view of the city, including the penthouse home of Luci Baines Johnson and her husband in the family-owned Norwood Tower (center foreground).

Luci Baines Johnson and her husband live in the penthouse of the nearby Norwood Tower, a family-owned property. LBJ’s Library and Museum is on 30 acres on the UT campus. Lady Bird’s Wildflower Center is in Southwest Austin.

Batty nights

 The Radisson Hotel overlooks the Congress Avenue Bridge and Hike and Bike Trail on Lady Bird Lake. As the sun begins to set, people gather around the bridge as  one and a half million female free-tailed bats fly out in formation at dusk in search of insects. In August, when babies begin to fly, the number doubles.

Hill Country Wines

Austin is in the heart of the Lone Star State, connected to San Antonio by scenic rolling terrain and sparkling lakes of Texas Hill Country. Top Texas wines can be sampled at award-winning vineyards along the way, and in springtime, signature bluebonnets and other wildflowers create a blanket of color. April’s Wildflower Days is in Johnson City, boyhood home of LBJ, named for an ancestor of the former President.

Special events

Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival, Austin, Texas
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Samples of Texas’ finest fare are offered during April’s Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival in Austin, Texas

Heidi and Kiki of Christina’s Sweets were among those offering some of Texas’ finest fare at Stars Across Texas Grand Tasting during April’s Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival, Austin, Texas
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Heidi and Kiki of Christina’s Sweets were among those offering some of Texas’ finest fare at Stars Across Texas Grand Tasting during April’s Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival, Austin, Texas

Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival, Austin, Texas
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Corks popped all over town in celebration of the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival. Stars Across Texas Grand Tasting is but one of the events featuring celebrated chefs and winemakers from Texas and around the world.

We visited in April as corks popped all over town in celebration of the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival, now known as the Austin Food & Wine Festival, with thirty events held over four days and nights. Stars Across Texas Grand Tasting is but one of the top entertaining events for meeting celebrated chefs and winemakers from Texas and around the world while sampling some of their best—foods like the Driskill’s truffled scallop topped with lingonberry.

MacMurray Wines, Austin, Texas
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Kate MacMurray spoke about her family ranch’s wine and her celebrated father at Film and Food: The Caine Mutiny in the popular movie theater, Alamo Drafthouse during the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival.

MacMurray ranch wines were featured at Film and Food: The Caine Mutiny in the popular movie theater, Alamo Drafthouse. Kate MacMurray, daughter of the late star best remembered for his role on My Three Sons, regaled the audience with anecdotes surrounding the featured film.

Meanwhile, some of the best in country and western music filled the air in the back yard at Threadgill’s world headquarters at Austin Uncorked and Acoustic. Threadgill’s, a former filling station-turned music mecca holds the county’s first beer license and is where traveling musicians were once paid in beer. Janis Joplin started out here and Count Basie, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Ray Charles played the piano on display.

The annual Art City, Austin’s longest-running art festival, was held the same weekend in its new downtown location by the award-winning City Hall and Lady Bird Lake.

Other events

The Congress Avenue Bridge closes in late August to make room for about 150 booths with arts, crafts, food and educational displays of Bat Fest.

Austin City Limits Music Festival in September is based on the long-running PBS concert series. 130 regional and national bands perform on 8 stages in Zilker Park.

While globalization homogenizes much of the world, Austin sticks to its slogan with unique experiences.
As the highway signs say, Don’t Mess With Texas. Keep Austin Weird.

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