25 Reasons We Love Austin
The quirky Texas capital sways to the strum of its own guitar.
1. Breakfast is a religion
Eight years ago, Taco Xpress owner Maria Corbalan invited the Harmonizers, a local gospel band, to entertain Sunday brunch patrons on the back patio. It was the first gathering of her hippie church, as she likes to call it. Now, an eclectic crowd of bikers, college students, and parents with flush-faced kids shows up each week to nosh on Corbalan's divine chicken tacos and listen to gospel. It's for a good cause, too: Once a month, in lieu of tips, the band collects donations for homeless and women's shelters. 2529 S. Lamar Blvd., 512/444-0261, tacoxpress.com, tacos $2.25.
2. You can always make a splash
When the summer heat hits, Austinites cool off in the dozens of watering holes around town. Among the most popular is Barton Springs, a three-acre pool set amid pecan trees in Zilker Park, where the water is 68 degrees year-round. 2101 Barton Springs Rd., 512/476-9044, www.ci.austin.tx.us/parks/bartonsprings.htm, $3.
3. The bands play on
Austin touts itself as the Live Music Capital of the World, with good reason—it has nearly 200 concert venues. Only in town for a night? Look no further than The Continental Club, a 1950s music hall that hosts every sort of band from rockabilly to punk (1315 S. Congress Ave., 512/441-2444, continentalclub.com, cover from $5). Not surprisingly, the city also has a beloved radio station, KGSR (107.1 FM, kgsr.com), which plays area artists like Patty Griffin and James McMurtry. When the DJ says, "Sounds like Austin," it's the tip-off that you just heard a local.
4. People don't honk their horns
Austin is consistently rated one of America's most livable cities because of its fast-growing economy, abundance of green space—and perhaps the fact that road rage is a rarity. Once, when a driver fell asleep at a red light on a busy street, a line of cars patiently waited for him to finish his nap.
5. Everybody's flexible
What accounts for Austin's deep calm? As all those I'D RATHER BE IN SAVASANA bumper stickers suggest, this is a yoga town. You'll find a place to unroll your mat on nearly every corner, but the granddaddy of studios is Yoga Yoga, which was started in 1998 by husband-and-wife team Mehtab and Guru Karam Benton, who used to teach out of their spare bedroom. They now have five locations around Austin and offer over 400 classes, including one for toddlers. 512/490-1200, yogayoga.com, single class $17.
6. Weirdness is a way of life
Librarian Red Wassenich coined the phrase Keep Austin Weird on a radio show in 2000. Ever since, it's been the rallying cry of residents bent on preserving the city's funky flavor. In addition to a book, Keep Austin Weird, Wassenich has a website that pays tribute to strange places around town, such as the Cathedral of Junk, a 60-ton sculpture of car parts, furniture, and bric-a-brac that a South Austin man has been amassing in his yard for 20 years (4422 Lareina Dr., 512/299-7413). "There's so much conservatism in the world," says Wassenich. "It's nice that weirdness is rewarded here." keepaustinweird.com.
7. The battle of the cupcakes
Some claim that the buttercream classics at Polkadots Cupcake Factory are tops (2826 Rio Grande St., 512/476-3687, polkadotscupcakefactory.com, from $2.50). Others insist the red velvets with cream-cheese icing at Hey Cupcake reign supreme (1600 block of S. Congress Ave., 512/476-2253, heycupcake.com, from $2). The great thing about a cupcake war? Everybody wins!
8. Rock stars sleep here
The best place to park your bags is the chic Hotel San José, a 1930s motor court transformed by owner Liz Lambert into a boutique hotel. A favorite hangout of visiting musicians, the San José has 40 rooms with reclaimed-pine platform beds and Frette linens, as well as a courtyard blossoming with jasmine. 1316 S. Congress Ave., 512/444-7322, sanjosehotel.com, from $95.
9. Great-great-grandpa's barbecue
The secret to the world-famous 'cue at The Salt Lick restaurant is the vinegar-based sauce recipe that owner Thurman Roberts's family has passed down for generations. The pork ribs, sausage, and brisket are also smoked for 20 hours before they land on a giant platter at your picnic table. 18300 FM 1826, Driftwood, 512/858-4959, saltlickbbq.com, barbecue plate $12.