When you think of Texas, a number of images are conjured up in the mind’s eye; The Lone Star State – home of cowboy boots, cowboy hats and country music. The overall stereotypical image of Texas is of a rural state populated by god-fearing, gun loving conservatives. In actual fact, the state capital, Austin, couldn’t be much further from that. What Austin shares with the rest of the state is a fiercely independent spirit, but the values of the city are, otherwise, strikingly separate from the red republican heartlands surrounding it. It’s a college town that’s long been home to a thriving community of young artists and musicians, lauded as the live music capital of the world. There’s a completely different energy there. It’s a famously liberal and creative city and an exciting place to visit any time of year. Visitors will find no shortage of architectural, cultural and historical attractions, numerous bars where you can see some great live music and some superb places to eat.
Austin is home to some great architecture and you’ll want to do some sightseeing before you hit the town on a night out. A great place to go first is the Texas State Capitol. It’s a masterpiece of civic architecture and the biggest of its kind. Built in the Neoclassical style in 1888, the red granite structure creates an extremely imposing impression. The building is famous for its huge domed rotunda, the shape of which turns the space into a giant echo chamber. You can get tour booklets inside and even go there and check out the workings of the state government; the house of representatives and the senate are open to the public.
Austin offers a decent variety of different museums and art galleries for tourists. Of note in particular is the Harry Ransome Centre, where you can see, amongst other exhibits, an original Gutenberg Bible and the first photograph ever taken. At the Blanton Museum of Art visitors can see everything from modern art installations to baroque and renaissance masters. The Mondo Art gallery is attached to the famous Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, and has a collection of classic film posters that art lovers and cinephiles alike are sure to enjoy.
If you’d like to take in some of the history of Texas then the best place to do it is with a visit to the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. The exhibitions on site cover the whole story of the state from its habitation by native Americans through to its colonisation by Europeans and the economic boom brought about by the oil industry. The history of Texas as an economic and cultural giant in the 20th century is told compellingly an skilfully, but there’s also enough emphasis on the human scale and the experiences of the individuals who played a role in making the state great.
One of Austin’s best known outdoor sites is its botanical garden, the Zilker Botanical Garden. The 31 acre site features a number of different areas, including a beautiful herb garden. There’s also interesting curios to be found including grottoes, a pioneer cabin and an old bridge that used to be on Congress Avenue.
Austin is famous for its night-life and its music. The city has hundreds of great bars where the two come together with amazing live bands playing every genre of music under the sun, earning Austin the title of ‘The live music capital of the world’. The city also hosts the famous South by South-west music and arts festival every year – a massive event where you can see thousands of acts from all over the world. During the festival the streets and clubs are packed with people and the atmosphere is something really special. If you can’t make it for the festival though, there’s still more than enough great venues to check out. The White Horse is an example of everything an Austin music venue should be. It’s a one level shack big enough to turn into a massive party but small enough to feel intimate. They feature Cajun, country and rock gigs that typically turn loud, rowdy and sweaty as soon as they begin. There’s also some delicious Tacos available if you need to re-fuel after all the dancing. Another great similar dive venue is the Hole in the Wall. It’s been going since the 70’s, apparently with only minor adjustments in the decor. It’s a favourite student hangout and offers cheap drinks and decent music every night. If you’re looking for a more up-market place to see bands then there are several big halls and auditoriums, but when it comes to experiencing the Austin music scene, it’s the city’s many down-and-dirty bars where the real magic happens.
After trawling the city’s night-life, you’ll be in need of somewhere to get some good food; fortunately in Austin you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to top quality eateries. Southern cooking is heavy on barbeque. You can get some really good down-home style ribs at Franklin Barbecue on east 11th street. Make sure that you get there before 2pm, because the demand is so high that they’ll be jam-packed if you get there late. If you’re after something a bit different, then Uchiko serves some absolutely delicious Japanese food. They’ve got some exceptionally tasty sushi and some of the other seafood on the menu will have your mouth watering. If you want something on the go as you explore around the city, then Austin is unusually well stocked with snack vans. These are more like fully fledged, peripatetic restaurants than your usual burger van-type fare – Austin is one of the few places where street food is cheap, plentiful and as tasty as in restaurants, so don’t be afraid to explore and discover for yourself.
As you travel around Texas’ capital, you’ll see the slogan ‘Keep Austin Weird’ in shop windows and on car bumpers. The slogan is a statement of Austin’s character; it truly is one of the best, most exciting and yes, just plain weird of the USA’s state Capitals.
Content Credit TraveleZe Written by David Rogers