Throughout much of the United States and the world, Texas has a reputation of being a relatively conservative place. From social to financial and governmental issues, you will find much of this to be true during your time here, but when in Austin, the capital of the Lone Star State, you could be forgiven for thinking that you had stepped into a parallel universe.
You will quickly find that this smallish city serves as a cultural counterpoint to the general political attitudes of the population, as everything from the views of the younger student population to countless venues of personal artistic expression lend weight to the slogan “Keep Austin Weird”, a marketing effort that has transcended its original purpose into a rallying cry to make this burg an oasis in Red Texas for progressive, liberal and counterculture viewpoints and attractions.
Along with being home to one of America’s great presidents in the modern era and one of world’s most prestigious festivals for music, film and technology (SXSW in March), Austin is the tiny Texas city that could … don’t miss it on your travels!
Being the capital of Texas, it seems natural that a best place to learn about its backstory would be located here. The Bullock Texas State History Museum endeavors to do just this, as the halls of this institution focuses on the settlement and development across three floors.
The first one focuses on the settling of this globally young land, the second on the search for the Texan identity, and the third on the opportunities for a prosperous life that this state has granted all who has moved here over the years.
After the tragic assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, his vice president Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the 36th president of the United States. Charged with uniting and healing a shattered nation as well as representing one of the world’s superpowers at a moment’s notice, President Johnson went on get elected by the people properly to another term in 1964.
His achievements in office are detailed by the LBJ Presidential Library, covering his work on the Great Society, one of the most ambitious programs in the history of the American social safety net, and his involvement in ramping up the Vietnam War.
If you’re looking for a bit of artistic inspiration, then the Blanton Museum of Art is worth a visit. Located on the University of Texas campus, this collection of paintings and drawings counts as one of the largest galleries of its kind on an American college campus.
The 17,000 works found within have been sourced from Europe, Latin America and across the United States, making it a worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours.
Those looking to relax in Austin’s outdoors will find Lady Bird Lake to be the best place to recreate themselves in the city. Created as a reservoir when the Colorado River was bridged by the Longhorn Dam, this beloved greenspace is a popular place to paddle, fish, or go jogging along the shimmering waters of this man-made lake.
Be sure to hang around until dusk, when the largest colony of urban bats in the United States emerges from underneath the Ann Richards Bridge en masse to go feed on mosquitoes and other insects (not on human blood … we promise)
If the stifling heat of a Texas summer day is getting to you, join the locals in going for a dip in the Barton Springs Pool. Supplied by a natural spring and thus remaining at a constant temperature of 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit through the year (20-22 degrees Celsius) it is a popular place to go swimming in any season. While alcohol is not permitted to be consumed outdoors, women wishing to tan in a natural state are permitted to do so as per an Austin city ordinance.
Finally, no discussion regarding Austin tourism can be completed without talking about its weirdness. Always a hotbed of liberalism due to its high concentration of young college students, Austin has focused on this contrast from the social norms in the rest of Texas to promote itself.
From unique street food, to the Cathedral of Junk, the Museum of the Weird and much more, you’ll be doing a double take and saying “wow!” more times in a day than you’ve done in months.