AUSTIN, Texas -- As you read this, Austin's South by Southwest festival is over for 2012. The "Welcome SXSW!" signs have been peeled from club facades, movie marquees, hotels and gas stations. |
The streets around the Austin Convention Center are reopened to traffic. There are parking spaces. There are be parks. Austin, Texas, is just plain Austin, Texas, again. In other words, it's safe to book your vacation.
Just plain Austin is anything but just plain. It is, as it claims, the Live Music Capital of the World. It's also a city of beautiful parks, great food, cool hotels, neat museums, architecture and vintage signs, and some traits that quite simply are no-place-but-Austin.
It took me a while to decide to come to Austin -- though I'd heard about it for years. It's in the middle of Texas. Even if, as some friends and others who loved Austin were quick to tell me, "it's not really Texas," could I really spend a whole vacation just in Austin?
Then I heard about the famous bat population that lives under a bridge. And I was looking for a good destination that had a lot of culture, and was offbeat.
After more than a week in the city, I realized that even with another week, I would have seen only the tip of the iceberg that is Austin. It may be only a tiny oasis in the great state of Texas, but you know Texas: Everything is bigger here. So this one oasis - which also is the capital of Texas - has more to visit than you could shake a strand of tumbleweed at.
- See Austin's bats take flight
The Mexican free-tailed bats were back in town and hanging out under the Congress Avenue Bridge (aka The Bat Bridge). They make up Austin's record-breaking urban population of 1.5 million bats.
Mexican free-tailed bats make their nightly departure from under the bridge from March to early November. Peak season is late July through mid-August.
Viewing tips: The bats generally emerge before dark, but may fly late if conditions are not favorable. For best viewing, watch from the Austin American-Statesman's Bat Observation Center on the lawn next to the bridge -- there's no admission fee.
The center has free parking, educational kiosks and Bat Conservation International Bat Interpreters Thursday through Sunday, June through August. You might want to bring an umbrella because droppings are inevitable when hundreds of thousands of bats are flying around.
- Music-related attractions
With all the Austin-related music notables, most any club in Austin has a claim to fame of some sort. But a couple of attractions are especially dedicated to Austin music.
One of the newer ones is the Austin Music Memorial. On the expansive patio of the Long Center, which features concerts, movies and performances, you'll find round markers commemorating people who made music in Austin or in some way promoted music here: from Janis Joplin to Christopher B. Stubblefield, aka Stubbs, who started as a chef, mastered the art of barbecue and finally opened his own restaurant in the 1970s.
Stubb's became a central venue in the exploding Austin music scene, with local performers such as Joe Ely and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Other famous musicians who would "play for their supper" included Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Robert Cray, George Thorogood, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Linda Ronstadt and the Fabulous Thunderbirds.
Across from the monument, beside the lake in the Auditorium Shores park, is a statue of Vaughan, where folks line up and wait their turn to have their photo taken with the Texas legend.
Just opened at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum is the Texas Music Roadtrip exhibit, the largest museum exhibition ever curated to tell the story of Texas music and its impact on American music in general.
If you go
Where to eat:
-Guero's Taco Bar, 1412 South Congress; guerostacobar.com
- Parkside Austin, 301 E. Sixth St., parkside-austin.com
-Clay Pit, great Indian food, 1601 Guadalupe St., claypit.com
-Mother's Cafe, 4215 Duval St., motherscafeaustin.com
-Casa de Luz: 1701 Toomey Road, casadeluz.org/Austin
-For information on food trailers/carts in Austin, visit austinfoodcarts.com, which has a link to a guide to food carts downtown, and an app you can download on your iPhone/iPad.
- Austin City Limits: Tapings of the TV show are at Austin City Limits Live at The Moody Theater, 310 W. Willie Nelson Blvd. Tickets are free, but distributed by lottery. Tours of KLRU's Austin City Limits studio are usually offered at 10:30 a.m. Fridays. Information about tapings: acltv.com/upcoming-tapings.
One-hour tours of the theater are offered at 11 a.m. weekdays (arrive at 10:45); tickets are $8, available at the venue or the Austin Visitors Center, 209 E. Sixth St. More info: acl-live.com.
- Stubb's Bar-B-Q: 801 Red River St. Music most nights; also check out its gospel music brunch on Sundays. stubbsaustin.com.
- Broken Spoke: 3201 S. Lamar, brokenspokeaustintx.com.
- Threadgill's: Threadgill's Old No. 1, 6416 N. Lamar Blvd.; Thread- gill's World Headquarters, 301 W. Riverside Drive; threadgills.com.
Where to stay:
-The Driskill Hotel, 604 Brazos St., driskillhotel.com
-Travaasa Austin, travaasa.com/Austin.
-Austin Overtures, tours start at the Austin Visitors Center, 209 E. Sixth St.; 90-minute tour is $25. austinovertures.com.
- Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau, austintexas.org.
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