The Austin Experience by Laura Faulkner, Austin UPA 2007 Conference liaison
Classic Austin Experiences
Bats at the Congress Avenue Bridge
1.4 million of them leaving at dusk right in the middle of town! The lovely little Mexican Freetail bats are much beloved Summer residents under the Congress Avenue bridge – every night, no charge.
Sunset on Mt. Bonnell
On a high central/westside cliff overlooking the Hill Country and the Colorado River, Mt. Bonnell at sunset is Austin at it’s best. A favorite of contemplative solos, romancing couples, and small groups who cluster and talk into the night, you will see the countryside in all its changes from the expansive day to twinkling lights at night.
Kayak and row, hike and bike. In the evening, walk along a semi-paved walk, lighted in most areas, partially through park areas, around and over the lake at the beautiful pedestrian walk across at Lamar Boulevard.
Go down to Sixth Street in early evening and see if you can catch a glipse of "Leslie." He is our single most colorful human institution in Austin. He's a homeless sometime-transvestite, easily spotted by a large storage contraption built on top of a shopping cart, usually with a large sign on it of some sort, but most especially by his own delightful self. If he's not toting the cart or is take a break from it, he's easy enough to spot on the street corner: general attire is a women's bathing suit top, tight bottoms, sometimes garters, and a sheer, frilly shrug about the shoulders. Mix that with the long frizzy redish hair, mustache and sometimes beard, and you have undoubtedly, unquestionably seen Leslie.
He knows more about Austin that almost anyone, and occasionally (seriously and in a suit) runs for mayor. He lives on the streets largely by choice. Give him a dollar--it's worth it and he'll make good use of it. Austin has great affection for him; almost as much as our Congress bridge bats.
His celebrity has recently extended both within and beyond Austin with the release of the "dress Leslie" refrigerator magnets. The local altnerative bookstore Bookpeople regularly stocks them (and regularly sells out due to demand). They're now being offered on the web. But magnets or no, seeing him is a memorable experience--seeing him more than once a privilege.
You can eat out for weeks in Austin and never hit a chain restaurant; but at ½ million people in the city alone, you can find almost any cuisine or national favorite you like. Some of the top ones from recent Austin polls (partial source, Alcade, Jan/Feb 2007):
- The County Line (classic, excellent Bar-B-Q; some go just for the homemade bread)
- The Salt Lick (best bar-b-q, bar none)
- Stubbs Bar-B-Q
- Kerbey Lane (go here at least once – eat breakfast food any time of day ; Southern and other traditional foods done well)
- Dirty Martin’s Place (classic handmade burgers; the best fries and onion rings in town)
- Hut’s (a consistent favorite for unique, indulgent, homemade burgers and fries)
- El Arroyo (good Mexican, good atmosphere)
- Fonda San Miguel (perhaps the best restaurant in town; authentic interior Mexican cuisine; pricey and worth every penny; go for a full-meal experience, great to share with friends)
- Guero’s Taco Bar ("cool and funky part of town", try Happy Hour tamales at an amazing price)
- Hula Hut (fajitas, tortillas, built out over Town Lake – great view)
- Manuel’s (called "awesome" by locals; perfect Mexican food)
- Matt’s El Rancho (the most authentic Mexican experience in town; a family tradition; don’t miss it!)
- Castle Hill (extraordinary cuisine at mid-range prices; pleasant, relaxed atmosphere)
- Magnolia Cafe (relaxed Austin place, hip Austin food, cool Austin servers; good food, good prices; carry-over from Austin’s old, and continuing, hippie days)
- Shady Grove (an Austin experience; sit on the shady patio, yes even in Summer, and enjoy great, cheap food. Try the Hippie Chick sandwich)
- Chuy’s (classic Tex-Mex; delicious)
- El Patio (landmark Tex-Mex)
- Trudy’s (excellent Tex-Mex; best Mexican Martini in town; great margueritas)
- Mother’s (all fresh vegetarian restaurant; best veg location in Austin; relaxed and good prices)
- Sullivan’s (classic, oversized, beautifully cooked Texas steak)
- Z-Tejas (Southwest cuisine)
- Eastside Cafe (good food, great price, unique dishes)
- Jeffrey’s (special occasion, gourmet cuisine)
- Hyde Park Grill (bistro environment; delicious, relaxed gourment food; great conversation and lingering place)
6th Street club district
- Antones (blues, plus)
- Back Room (hip hop, classic rock, headbanger)
- The Backyard (a little farther out – carpool with some friends! It’s worth it to get to the best concert venue in Austin; A-list performers in an informal setting.
- Broken Spoke (class country roadhouse – great food)
- Cactus Cafe (alternative, country)
- Cheatham Street Warehouse
- Continental Club (rock to rockabilly)
- Donn’s Depot (in an old box car; an authentic Texas honky-tonk)
- Emo’s (premier punk, plus)
- Flamingo Cantina (reggae, ska)
- Gruene Hall (out in the country south of Austin, on the lovely Guadalupe river; classic country western – learn to dance like a Texan!)
- Hole in the Wall (a favorite of regulars; wide range of live performers in the most ‘intimate’ of settings)
- Longbranch Inn (one of the coolest R&B, mixed race-favorite venues in town; said to have some of the best cocktails and interesting trapezoidal-shaped room)
- Lucky Lounge (contemporary)
- One World Theatre (jazz, classical, and world music; a small concert venue, alternative to the more common club environment)
- Paramount Theatre (restored Victorian theatre, with A-List theatric and music presentations year-round, and Summer classic movie series—see those oldies on a screen that saw them first!)
- The Parish (most critically acclaimed music venue in Austin; modern, experimental, alternative, singer-songwriters)
- Saxon Pub (half bar, half music venue, just north of downtown; loyal fans, good music)
- Speakeasy (best cabaret stage in town; roof deck allows great view of downtown)
- Stubb’s (terrific barbeque, and even better outdoor concert venue, in the middle of downtown; great acts)
Bats at the Congress Avenue Bridge
Tour any of the many caves in the area such as Inner Space Caverns in Georgetown or Longhorn Caverns, near Inks Lake; or Natural Bridge Caverns near San Antonio (day trip)
There’s no better place to experience the Texas Hill Country than Enchanted Rock. About an hour’s drive west from Austin (not so far, in Texas terms), it’s a local favorite for a day hike. Walk up the Big Rock—a beautiful, bare hill rising up from the trees and brush, that is, itself a single rock—or walk through a low lying glade, then scramble through its protecting boulders. Find the little cave niches in the back of the Big Rock and the Small Rock.
Walk up and picnic.
Water, water, water
Summers are hot in Austin, and can even be quite humid, yet nature has made things pleasant by providing some of the most delightful natural water activities in Texas. Central Texas is also home to one of the largest and highest rated waterparks in the world, the legendary Schlitterbahn. Don’t like how you look in a bathing suit? It’s Austin – nobody cares; wear denim and a t-shirt or your most daring attire; however you appear, you’ll fit right in with the locals.
- Guadalupe and Comal Rivers
- Hamilton Pool – Hamilton Pool nature preserve. Historic swimming hole, with a narrow but dramatic 50 foot waterfall, and fun little pools and eddys, delicate maiden hair fern peeking from under the waterfall. One of the loveliest natural swimming holes in Texas.
- Deep Eddy Pool – Cold, central Austin pool; built like a "regular" swimming pool, but naturally fed by acquifer springs. Weekend movie nights in Summer let you float while enjoying a family film on a large portable, theater-size screen at the end – a great time for all.
- Barton Springs Pool – Austin’s most popular swimming destination. Enjoy the large and varied main pool (small, all-day entrance fee), or splash in the rocky overflow just beneath for free. 68 degrees year-round, it can be a welcome respite to the heat in the Summer, and even something warmer than air in the winter! Located in the midst of Austin’s Zilker Park.
- Schlitterbahn Water Park – Well worth a day trip (or even two!), Schlitterbahn is one of the single most fun places to be.
- Barton Springs pool
- Great for picnics
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
Enjoy good food, wine, and beer, and watch your movie too! An all-time favorite Austin activity, the Alamo cinemas offer two different movie-going experiences: 1) Central Austin hosts a bizarre array of eclectic films and combination theme events, such as the annual Austin Air Guitar championships (one of the most hysterically entertaining events around); and 2) first-run movies at the South Lamar and North Village locations, each of which is preceded by a compilation of vintage film, TV and commercial clips in keeping with the theme of the film. A great, evening get-away.
Bars & Live Music
Blanton Art Museum
Austin’s newest cultural addition.
Texas History Museum
Tour / IMAX show.
Welch Hall (UT)
Painter Hall Telescope, The University of Texas at Austin - Fridays and Saturdays, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m, whenever UT-Austin is in session.
- South Congress
- Second Street
- West 6th Street
- WholeFoods flagship store (located with corporate headquarters)
- 6th & Lamar – variety of Austin-style eclectic shops in a four-block radius, including Waterloo Records (classic Austin music shop), gifts and oddities, clothing, shoes and accessories, antiques and imports, outdoor, Bookpeople (one of the best bookstores; great gift and novelty items as well)
- Vintage, thrift and second-hand shops – an Austin staple! They’re everywhere, often scattered within other shopping areas listed above.