25 Reasons We Love Austin
The quirky Texas capital sways to the strum of its own guitar.
10. You can read all about it
Any newcomer eager to get oriented should grab a copy of The Austin Chronicle, the free alternative weekly known for its liberal bent and in-depth reports on local politics. There's no better source for spotting what's hot, from the best 24-hour café to the hippest gay bar. austinchronicle.com.
11. The weekend starts on Thursday
A street party breaks out on South Congress Avenue on the First Thursday of each month, with restaurants, galleries, and shops staying open late and vendors selling tooled Western belts and onesies printed with armadillos. This being Austin, the festivities wouldn't be complete without music—there's always a band playing under the oaks at Güero's Taco Bar. firstthursday.info.
12. No need to leave empty-handed
The antiques, vintage duds, and curiosities at Uncommon Objects attract all manner of shoppers: "We have well-heeled congressmen browsing next to tattooed hipsters," says owner Steve Wiman. Among the attention getters are silver longhorn tie clips and 1920s cowboy boots adorned with the Texas star. 1512 S. Congress Ave., 512/442-4000, uncommonobjects.com.
13. Dogs rule
Nobody has it as good as a pooch in Austin: With all of its grassy preserves, this city is an off-leash paradise. Dogs have the run of 13-acre Red Bud Isle between Lake Austin and Lady Bird Lake, but there's plenty for their owners to do, too, including fishing, swimming, and walking the wooded trails. redbudisle.org.
14. Cowboys know how to dance
The Broken Spoke has been serving chicken-fried steaks and showcasing country acts since 1964. While owner James White holds court in a pearl-snap shirt, his daughter Terri teaches country dancing. "Ladies, let him lead!" she hollers. "Now fellas, dance her, dance her." After you learn to two-step, stay for singer Dale Watson's set to show off your moves. 3201 S. Lamar Blvd., 512/442-6189, brokenspokeaustintx.com, cover from $5, lessons $8.
15. The big house awaits
Built in the late 1800s, the 48-room Mansion at Judges' Hill, with its wraparound porch, four-poster beds, and granite-topped desks, is one of the city's most elegant hotels. But snooty it isn't. The snickerdoodles at the front desk are there to be devoured. 1900 Rio Grande St., 800/311-1619, mansionatjudgeshill.com, from $169.
16. Underdogs prevail
When Borders tried to open a mega store across the street from BookPeople (603 N. Lamar Blvd., 512/472-5050, bookpeople.com) and Waterloo Records & Video (600A N. Lamar Blvd., 512/474-2500, waterloorecords.com), the community raised a ruckus. Borders retreated with its tail between its legs, and both indie shops are going strong, championing the works of local talents, such as satirist Sarah Bird and fiddler-singer Carrie Rodriguez.
17. It's blooming wild
At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, cofounded by the former first lady to preserve North America's native flora, some 650 indigenous Texas species are spread across more than 20 gardens and meadows. Visit in spring when the bluebonnets are at their peak. 4801 La Crosse Ave., 512/232-0100, wildflower.org, $7.
18. The Austin diet
Barbecue and tacos may be the city's staples, but for a big meal out, there's Wink Restaurant & Wine Bar. Stewart Scruggs and Mark Paul, the chefs and co-owners, gather their ingredients from area farms and tinker with the menu daily. You might find antelope with white Siberian kale, or Gulf of Mexico triggerfish and littleneck clams over homemade pasta. 1014 N. Lamar Blvd., 512/482-8868, winkrestaurant.com, entrées from $18.
19. Art without pretension
Walking into Yard Dog, one of Texas's premier folk and outsider art galleries, is like entering a Eudora Welty story: The room is crowded with curious paintings, furniture, and constructions that celebrate Southern life. Owner Randy Franklin's collection spans from well-known figures like Mose Tolliver to his own discoveries, such as Ms. Wild, a transgendered painter he met at a homeless artists' show. 1510 S. Congress Ave., 512/912-1613, yarddog.com.