City Guide: Take A Tour Of Austin, TX

One-of-a-kind doesn’t quite do a city like Austin true justice, but it comes pretty close. The city’s unofficial slogan says it all: “Keep Austin Weird.” From breakfast tacos to the Cathedral of Junk, you can expect the unexpected from this capital city of the Lone Star State. 

Great Outdoors

Austin visitors who like to stay active will have no shortage of options in the city that Forbes Magazine ranked as one of the top 10 fittest cities in the country. A bike-friendly destination, Austin offers a diverse topography for two-wheeled enthusiasts of varying abilities. From gently rolling hills to seriously challenging mountainous terrain, this Lone Star capital city has it all.

Texas summers can be brutal. Luckily, you can spend an entire day out on the water in Austin without running out of things to do. Lady Bird Lake is a popular hot weather destination where you can rent traditional or stand-up paddle boards, as well as kayaks and canoes, and even register for a rowing lesson or two. Only boats powered by electric motors (no more than five horsepower) are allowed on the lake to keep noise level and water pollution under control. So you can have a great time - and stay cool - without damaging the environment. 

Live Music Lives on in Austin

There’s almost always a live music festival going on in Austin at any time of the year. The Urban Music Festival in April, the Pecan Street Festival in May (and again in September), the Austin City Limits Music Festival in October … you get the drift. As fantastic as these music festivals are, Austin residents don’t have to wait for these events to snap their fingers or tap their feet to live music. There are more than 200 live music venues scattered all over the city. From the airport to grocery stores, pubs, bars, coffeehouses – all teem with the intoxicating strains of live bands playing any and all kinds of music. Just follow your ears when you’re walking down the streets of the city – you’ll hear great music playing almost anywhere you turn.

Breakfast Tacos and Food Trailers

Locals will tell you, a visit to Austin won’t be complete without diving into a breakfast taco – the quintessential Austin culinary treat. Take typical breakfast food – eggs, cheese, and sausage - or even steak, stuff them in a tortilla and you’re good to go. Breakfast tacos are available all over the city – from hole-in-the-wall taquerias and cantinas to fancy hotel lobby restaurants. To accommodate varying taste preferences (and widen their customer base), some enterprising cooks have added ingredients such as tofu, avocados, beans, and chilies. 

With over 300 days of sunshine throughout the year, Austin residents love to eat under the sun. It’s a great way to soak up essential vitamin D and tuck into a hearty meal at the same time. Food trucks and trailers are ubiquitous in the city, serving everything from Frito pies to meaty Monte Cristo sandwiches to giant donuts topped with bacon strips. Slather on some sunblock and you’re good to go.

Retail Therapy

Shopaholic visitors will be glad to know that Austin malls and shopping districts carry the latest items from famous international luxury brands as well as well-known nationwide chains. However, several independent and decidedly local designer labels can be found holding their own beside some of the biggest names in the retail industry. Clearly, despite the fact that Austin is recognized as a world-class city, its residents still believe in supporting their local retailers. It’s part and parcel of the inclusive culture of the city. An Austin shopping spree will just as likely fill your closet with one-of-kind vintage items from a little-known but extremely talented designer, as with the latest styles from London and Paris. 

Austin’s Culture Scene

When you’re ready to soak up some culture, or you just want to escape the Texas heat, head on over to one (or two) of the city’s dozen museums and get a healthy dose of art and history. Just a few blocks down from the State Capitol, the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum is a great place to start. A kid-friendly place, with two theaters (one a six-story IMAX Theater), the museum covers well-known Texas history, such as cowboys and Indians, and the oil industry. However, it also presents lesser-known facts about the state, such as the role the Buffalo soldiers, an all-black regiment, played during the post-civil war era in Texas. 

The Blanton Museum of Art houses Renaissance and Baroque pieces as well as contemporary American and (this being Texas) Latin art. If your tastes run more along the kitsch and the avant-garde, the Yard Dog Art Gallery is the place to go. It’s both a gallery space and a print store, so you can pick up a few souvenirs while you browse the exhibits.

Skinny Dipping in the Cathedral of Junk

Okay, so you can’t really skinny dip in the cathedral and it’s not even a real cathedral at all. The Cathedral of Junk is a private museum located in the backyard of a typical house in a quiet south Austin neighborhood. Looking deceivingly small from the outside, it’s filled from floor to ceiling with the debris of human existence – bottles, car parts, wheels, kitchen appliances, and hundreds of other items, not all of them identifiable. Joined and twisted together in no particular order or specific shape, they nevertheless exert an appeal on the senses, as if in their nothing-ness, they somehow coalesce into some sensible whole. The profound and the profane under one roof.

If you’re curious about the skinny-dipping part, yes, you can actually do that when you’re in Austin. Hippie Hollow on Lake Travis is a clothing-optional beach, just 20 minutes from downtown Austin. You have to be at least 18 years old to get in. 

Clearly, Austin has so much to offer the curious and adventurous visitor. Come with an open mind, a hearty appetite, and your dancing shoes – all the better to sway to the music that fills the city. Austin will not disappoint.