- High rise meets rodeo country
- City life
- Barbecues and honky-tonk blues
Blur sang about Parklife – Austinites live the park life. All year round, throngs of locals lay down their picnic blankets beside the lakes in Texas’ sun-drenched capital, which boasts colour, character and kookiness aplenty.
Forget the Wild West, Austin is the mild West, with its relaxed pace of life, barbecue summers and colour-rich hills and parks. Cowboy charm endures, courtesy of honky-tonk bars, plaid-shirt-stuffed stores and Mexican-influenced eateries. For evidence of the city’s modern milieu, take a peek at its skyline: sleek skyscrapers looming in spiky clusters beside the lakes. SoCo, or South Congress Avenue, is now a magnet for cool cats. Austin is a city for the ears as much as the eyes: expect to hear the guitar-twanging, foot-stomping strains of country music, darkened with a dose of blues, wafting from 6th Street’s dance halls and bars. The Texan capital also hosts America’s largest music festival, South by Southwest, which has lured the likes of Bloc Party, Van Morrison, the Killers and the Fratellis. Characterful Austinites are as colourful as the scenery. Their unofficial slogan (plastered across bumpers and T-shirts) is, appropriately enough, ‘Keeping Austin weird’.
Gotham’s got nothing on this bat city, home to North America’s largest urban colony of bats (approximately 1.5 million, for the statisticians out there). Between late April and September, locals and visitors gather at dusk, to watch the winged wonders emerge from beneath the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. In September, the aptly named Bat Fest (www.roadwayevents.com) celebrates Austin’s resident critters, with tours, talks, carnival rides, bridge bungee jumping and, of course, barbecues.
- Cabs can be flagged in the street, although in this health-conscious, outdoorsy city, bicycles and pedestrians are more common sights. If finding a taxi is proving difficult, try American Yellow Cab (+1 512 452 9999) or Austin Cab (+1 512 478 2222).
- Packing tips
- Dancing shoes, a bolo tie and whirly skirts for two-stepping at honky-tonk hoedowns.
- Recommended reads
- The Talented Mr Ripley and Strangers on a Train are spine-tingling reads by Texan novelist, Patricia Highsmith. If you want a Wild-West-flavoured romp, opt for Larry McMurtry’s Pullitzer-prize-winning epic, Lonesome Dove. Texas has produced some famous faces (good, bad and ugly), including George W Bush, Buddy Holly and Janis Joplin, so dip into a biography or two.
- For Austinites, barbecues are more than just a means for men to prove their masculinity – they’re a way of life. Follow the smells of grilled meat, roll up your sleeves and feast upon smoked brisket, pulled pork and chicken fried steak.
- Regional specialities
- Do as the locals do and team your tucker with a Shiner Bock Beer, before finishing up with a Mary Louise Butter Brownie – even the name is drool-worthy. The native nectar, Texas Guajillo wild honey, and local wines (try the Bluebonnet Blush) should also be sampled.
- USD ($)
- Dialling codes
- Do go/don't go
- March sees the South by Southwest music festival hit the city, so flock here if you love music, or avoid if you don't like crowds.
Don't go home without...
Sampling Austin’s take on street food – southern-style treats served up from shiny silver Airstream trailers. Hey Cupcake! (www.heycupcake.com) at 1600 Block, at South Congress Avenue, is the go-to spot for sweet-toothed locals. If you’re more savoury-inclined, head to trailer-park style Torchy’s Tacos (www.torchystacos.com) at 2809 South 1st Street.