This proudly different Texas capital is home to thriving live music and culinary scenes, a rambunctious university, and a healthy share of fitness fanatics. In their efforts to “Keep Austin Weird,” locals embrace it all.
AUTHOR MARK HEALY
WEIRD. THAT’S HOW AUSTIN SEES ITSELF. It’s part of the local identity, a way for this proud city to distinguish itself from the Lone Star State’s other high-profile, large-personality towns. You see it on bumper stickers and in boutique storefronts, on University of Texas backpacks and affixed to the insides of cabs: “Keep Austin Weird.” It’s an effective battle cry and an admirable goal. And so far—if the Viking-costumed klezmer band you see dancing in the street is any indication—Austin seems to be doing a pretty good job.
Austin is Texas’ capital and in many ways a direct expression of the state’s rough-and-tumble Ranger spirit. But there are other forces at work in shaping the city’s character. There’s UT, a local tech industry and, perhaps most notably, it’s the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World,” with more venues per capita than any city in the U.S. It is also home to filmmakers and actors (Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, Sandra Bullock and King of the Hill creator Mike Judge, to name a few), along with hordes of chefs who’ve come to join a barbecue and Tex- Mex revolution. Austinites also embrace the skeletal aesthetic spilling over from Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration, reveling in their city’s haunted hotels, bizarre “moonlight” towers and appreciation for the occult. With all these overlapping quirks, weirdness abounds. May it stay that way.
Image – Blake Gordon
DAY ONE Start your day like a local. Have breakfast at Magnolia (1), a casual roadside restaurant, draped in Lone Star–Love Child décor, that spoons out a mean breakfast. Try the Love Migas, a scramble of eggs, peppers, onions, cheese, salsa and shards of tortilla cooked in a garlic and serrano concoction Magnolia calls “love butter.” Scrumptious, and just slightly better than the Frisbee-size whole-wheat blueberry pecan pancake you’ll want to order for dessert. (Already, you’re figuring out that Austin’s food is so delicious and varied you’ll have to wake up early and stay out late to squeeze in four meals a day.)
Now you’re ready to explore. The scrubbed-clean main strip of trendy South Congress, or SoCo, includes some of Austin’s best shopping, but you won’t find a Pottery Barn or Barnes and Noble. Austin has remained somewhat immune to massive chains, mostly because the local restaurants and shops are such tough competition. You’ll stroll past emporiums such as Uncommon Objects (2), which houses dozens of top notch vintage vendors, folk art and crafts stores, and Western wear mecca Allen’s Boots (3). Be sure to stop in Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds (4), a vintage costumer that leads you to ponder what kind of city can support an 8,000-square-foot store whose main business is renting and selling Elvis jumpsuits, elf costumes meant for adults and Queen Guinevere gowns. “Austin’s just a town that likes to dress up,” the woman at the counter tells you. “All part of keeping Austin weird. Everyone’s out there doing their part.”
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Image – Courtesy of Lamberts
All that eccentricity has worked up your appetite for some Tex-Mex. Just a few doors down is Guero’s (5), Austin’s best-respected purveyor of tacos, enchiladas and all things tortilla. You snag a spot on the patio, ideal for people-watching, and dig into tacos al pastor (marinated pork and pineapple on fresh corn tortillas).
Afterward, go for a stroll through the historic Bouldin Creek neighborhood, peering at the eclectic assortment of Victorian and Mission-style homes lining the streets. You slowly make your way across the river to the comfort of the Four Seasons (6). Take a minute on your balcony to enjoy the view of the Colorado River. Then get going. It’s happy hour downstairs at Trios, where the combination plates—beef carpaccio, truffled arugula and manchego, and steak fries in truffle aioli—are too refined to pass up. So are the scorched Padrón peppers. You watch the sun set over Lady Bird Lake before heading out for the evening.
Image – Courtesy of Magnolia Cafe
On any given night, there are upward of 100 good bands or solo artists on Austin’s many stages. A fixture since 1957, the Continental Club (7) just happens to be one of the oldest and best venues. The beer is cheap, and the crowd is feisty, attractive and happily on its feet for the cross-border groove of a local band called Charanga Cakewalk.
Before turning in, grab a cab to a nuevo Mexican restaurant called La Condesa (8) in the Warehouse District. With sleek light fixtures and cool concrete floors, this is a destination for the slick set. If you’re more interested in grabbing a stool at the bar, consider ordering one of more than 80 different tequilas and digging into a soft, crisp and utterly delicious huarache with pork belly and apple topping.