I spent this past weekend in Austin, Texas, filling up on lots of Tex-Mex and seeing more cowboy boots in two days than I usually see in a year. The temperature was in the high-80s and it was sunny, which was a little shock to the system in late October – I’d already been bracing myself for fall weather in DC. I’ve always heard good things about Austin and found it to be a pretty cool city. Although it has a higher population than DC proper, Austin is larger so things are more spread out. It also has a smaller surrounding metro area – less than a third the size of the Washington, DC metro area. This lack of density made parts of the city core feel somewhat empty at times. There are a few buses but not much other public transit to speak of. Didn’t see as many bicycles as I’d expected, either. I’d say most people drive.
Austin has a lot of colorful murals, a constant schedule of events, and some interesting architecture (check out the Arthouse at the Jones Center, right in downtown). Muted tones under the hot Texan sun and fun art deco touches on buildings made up the unique aesthetic of the city. The bars are kind of quirky – we went to a dive bar with a huge jackalope replica that you could sit on and another place with a mechanical bull and an extensive list of shooters. South Congress Street has a row of boutiques and antique shops, including Uncommon Objects, the best antique store I’ve ever stepped inside. And the University of Texas at Austin has the largest college football campus I’ve seen in my life.
One highlight of our visit to Austin was seeing the incredible display of 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats flying out from the Congress Street Bridge to catch their dinner. We watched them from the bridge, but there’s also a park nearby where many Austinites and visitors gathered to watch the nightly ritual. Some others opted to take a tour boat, kayak, or paddle-bike on the river, which looked fun too.
Despite its slogan as the live music capital of the world, we unfortunately didn’t make the time to catch any shows. The streets (especially Sixth Street) are lively, though – you hear music streaming out from the bars onto the sidewalks. Since most of the bars have live music, it’d definitely be feasible to hear a band every night if you wanted to. Austin is also home to a couple of the most popular music festivals, including South by Southwest (SXSW) and Austin City Limits (ACL). The Austin Film Festival was ongoing while we were in town, and the city has several beautiful historic theatres.
But really, if you need one reason other than the music to visit Austin, it’s the food. Austin is at the top of the heap when it comes to Tex-Mex and BBQ. Most Tex-Mex restaurants had veggie options; one taco joint on South Congress even had a vegan menu. We ate so well – and so much. Everything’s bigger in Texas.