Austin through a reluctant Texan's eyes

I recently signed up for a virtual blogging project called Blogtrotting. It's a wonderful idea and I've enjoyed visiting the other cities featured so far, but am I really qualified to feature Austin?? I've always had one foot out the door and have generally appreciated what it's done for me, but openly admitted it's not where I want my Forever Home: it's too hot, surrounded by politics I don't agree with, too small, land-locked, and is no where near a mountain.

However, I also readily admit to its virtues (and they are many). I would never have been able to survive here as a Bay Area transplant 14 1/2 years ago if there weren't at least a few redeemable qualities here.

First of all, let me start by saying when you leave Austin, you enter Texas.

Austin is weird and very, very proud of it. We were a "blue" county in the last three presidential elections. This is where the hippies and tree-huggers make their base camp. It's where art cars and nudists blend in with their surroundings. It's where students and politicians share a 25 block area and rub elbows in the local pubs. Blue-jeans and flip flops are the general dress code no matter where you go. And it's where you can eat to your heart's content and listen to live music any night of the week.

Austin is in the heart of Texas, literally, in an area called Central Texas and is the state capital. The Colorado River splits our city into North and South and I-35 into East and West. More affluent families live downtown, on the lake and in the "hill country" all to the west. Matthew McConaughey famously banged his bongos in a west-Austin neighborhood called Tarrytown. And the Bushes (yes, the Bushes) belong to an exclusive country club in that same neighborhood. Sandra Bullock, Tommy Lee Jones, Bob Schneider, Andy Roddick, and Michael Dell also call Austin home.

And it's not what you think, either. When I first moved here I had never set foot in Texas. My first experience was of flying in from California for junior orientation at the University of Texas, Austin (aka "Texas").

This is what I thought Austin was:

This is what it really is:

My jaw dropped as we sailed over miles of rolling, green hills and a meandering river. It was lush, and technically, it's a humid subtropical climate, which basically means it's hot as hell and never all that cold. Rainy season is in June and July and you should never go anywhere without an umbrella during the summer in general, just to be on the safe side. Not only that, but over the years I discovered amazing natural gems such as Hamilton Pool. I mean, look at this gorgeousness:

And because Austin has always seemed to attract the tree-hugger type, Lady Bird Johnson herself beautified the riverbank property running through downtown and created the Townlake Trail. It's a loop running right through downtown where you can rent canoes, jog, feed the ducks, ride the Zilker Zephyr, and savor the beauty of the skyline.

At first you think this dude is just serenading peeps cuz he loves it, then you notice he's selling his CDs. He's there ALL THE TIME.

A very recent shot - TONS of downtown residential development. That really tall building in the middle is the 5th largest residential building in the country. You should move here!

Natural beauty aside, Austin has wooed me like a bad boyfriend with her restaurants and bars. There are, literally, thousands of choices, and depending on what you read we're anywhere from #1 to #5 in restaurants per capita. We take our food seriously here.

And our drinking. Sixth Street is famous for being closed down weekly for a bar-crawl block party scene. Did you catch that?: EVERY WEEKEND. And when there's a holiday, forget it: it's blocked off like Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras. There's something for everyone on 6th Street, especially the newly minted 21 year olds. If a more demure vibe is what you're after, head down to the Warehouse District or the the brand new 2nd Street District. There's an amazing scene for gay and lesbian bars peppered in the Warehouse District, as well, and a slew of hipster bars in the gentrified parts of East Austin.

And finally, I'd be totally remiss in not mentioning the things that you all probably know Austin for: SXSW, ACL, and the Longhorns.

First of all, locals call SXSW "South-by." If you have no idea what that is it's a week long music festival featuring thousands of bands from all around the world in private venues throughout town, but mostly centered in the downtown/6th St. areas. Some places start shows as early as 11 am and hundreds of thousands of tourists pour into our city. There's also a week-long film festival and an interactive feature.

ACL, or Austin City Limits, is a festival that started just a few years ago and is 3 days of music on several featured stages in Zilker Park. Last I heard, they capped attendance at 60,000. It's cuh-razy and brings even more people to our fair town. God only knows why you'd want to stand around in a million degree weather - and when I say "stand" I mean STAND - for hours to to barely see some gig, but to each his own. I did it once and was overwhelmed by the hordes of people, but that's me...

You see these EVERYWHERE around here. On pacifiers, purses, shoes, tattoos and cars.

The Longhorns are like royalty here. You can always tell when there's a game because everywhere you go you see "burnt orange," the offical Texas color. It's not a past time here, it's a religion. And I can respect that. Finally, after 15 years I think it's kinda cool and I vow that if I ever leave, I'll "bleed orange" with the best of them.

And last, but not least, Austin is home to the flagship store of Whole Foods. It's where it was born, where it is nurtured, and this store is beyond perfect. You park underground, take two escalators up and are ensconced in hippie heaven. When you're done perusing the 80,000 square feet of organic goodness you ride down two sloped escalators with really neat grocery-cart-wheel-locking technology.

Can you hear the angels singing? Ahhhhhhhhh!

There you have it. Austin, Texas in a nutshell. I'm sure I'm forgetting a ton of things, but this is a terrific start. It's an amazing place to visit and a pretty groovy place to live. I really don't mind calling it home. Not one bit.


  1. You said Dagobah! And spelled it correctly! You win the internet!

    Ok, maybe you just win my comment. Also, you've made me want to visit Austin. I'm up here in Plano, north of Dallas, and Plano isn't exactly shouting TEXAS either - it's like this little midwest oasis surrounded by Dallas. People here don't have Texas accents, mostly.

    Anyhow, I don't think Austin would be my forever home, either, but I sure do want to visit. Thanks for the gorgeous photos and the vivid descriptions. :)

  2. I'm totally posting this for all my Arkansas friends to see and understand why I'm not going back there

  3. clarification - these are all reasons why I love Austin and won't be moving back to Arkansas :)

    I posted this to my facebook wall for all to see and be jealous

  4. You are now officially one of my favorite people for your Dagobah comment! (Star Wars geek here.)

    Great tour of Austin! I have several friends who have or do live there but I have never been. I confess I have always pictured it the way you originally did. I had no idea it was so green and lush!

    Any town that has that much food is definitely my kind of place!

  5. Congratulations on being the featured blogger today on Blog-Trotting. I officially want to visit your city now. I especially love the river and the loop right in downtown. That would be wicked awesome. I kind of like the idea of having live music too.
    This was a great post about your city, you did em proud.

  6. Me, me, me . . . I want to go to Austin! Your tour was fantastic! I had no idea about all the natural beauty Austin had to offer, and I love the walking trail, perfect for burning off all the calories I assume I'd eat in Austin.

  7. If Plano still has those problems, they're hidden from the casual eye. As in all towns above a certain size, there are some seedier areas, but overall I'd say they're getting it right. There are a lot more cheerful, fun, safe, pleasant areas than the seedy section of town.

  8. I've always wanted to visit Austin but have never had the chance. I do enjoy some Stubb's BBQ sauce though! :)

  9. You ARE qualified to feature Austin!! A great job indeed! Love that you showed Hamilton Pool... such a wonderful natural beauty. :)

  10. I clicked the "nudists" link, and will now be forever scarred by the massive schlong I spotted on an older fellow in the far, left hand corner.

    I dare you to look for him. 8-/

    Despite that, I want to come to Austin. It's just weird enough for me. And beautiful, to boot.

    Thank you for the tour!

    *going to scrub my eyeballs now*

  11. Linked here through a friend's Facebook post. I am a native Austinite, and I must say, you have crafted a nice intro to Austin here. Of course, you could blog every day about all the fantabulous places in our beautiful city!

    Readers, do not underestimate the brutality of Summer here. I recommend you visit, not move here. Okay, okay, maybe I'm just trying to keep Austin the cute, quaint, "weird" town I grew up in from changing too much.... :-)

  12. That is a great post. Looks lovely, almost lovely enough to visit.

  13. As a life long Austinite this post makes me heart sing! I love this city so much , I really don't/can't imagine living anywhere else. I agree about not visiting during the summer. Come in those few amazing glorious weeks of spring weather we have! Fall and winter aren't so bad either. I LOVE my city! HOOK'EM!

  14. Thanks for sharing (sorry I'm a bit late). I would love to visit Austin! I totally understand the football being a religion...I'm from Alabama. and no, not a bama fan (War Eagle) I was pulling for Texas :-). Enjoyed reading!

  15. You should be the official spokesperson! I loved this. I didn't know anything about Austin before. Looks great to me:)

  16. Visiting you through Blogtrotting, from France (at the moment). I'm so pleased to read this post because all you ever hear/see in connection with Texas are cowboys and skyscrapers. And the occasional oil well. I've always thought there must be more to it, and you have confirmed my suspicions. :) Thank you!

  17. I'm so glad you like it! I was raised in Austin and ALL of my immediate family is still there. I'm the only one who ever left (at 18, for college). I'm sure I could live there again and I do LOVE to visit, it really is a great town. Great post!

  18. I was in San Antonio last week and we drove up to Austin for the day. We visted the Capital, walked around 6th street and stuffed our guts at The Spaghetti Warehouse. I had no idea there was so much more to see and do. I can't wait to go back and check the places you mentioned.

    Great Post!! :)