The Saturday City: Austin

According to research, the phrase “Keep Austin Weird” was inspired by comments made by Red Wassenich in 2000 while giving a pledge to an Austin radio station. He later began printing bumper stickers and published a book called Keep Austin Weird: A Guide to the Odd Side of Town.

Now the phrase reflects the friendly, artistic, creative and a little offbeat culture that is a haven for varying LGBT, intellectual, naturalist, and environmentalist communities.

Austin, the state capital of Texas, is an island of blue in a sea of red. It’s a liberal city in a very conservative state. In Austin, you’ll find boutique food, bike lanes, alternative bars, hippies, openly gay people, food trucks, art, and culture. It’s a welcoming place where anyone who likes happy people, good food, and great music would find themselves at home.

For 10 days last month, I spent my time in Austin attending the SXSW music, film, and tech festival. This massive event is the outgrowth of what was once a small independent music festival. Now, it’s a corporate megashow. It was my second time at SXSW and my third time in Austin.

While I have mixed feelings on SXSW itself (I love and hate it all at once), what I don’t have mixed feelings about is Austin. I don’t think it’s weird at all. I think the rest of Texas is weird for not being more like Austin.

Which is why I love the city and do my part to keep the place “weird.” If it wasn’t for the fact that you really do need a car to travel around the city, it would be on my “I’d move to this city” list. Some of my favorite activities are:

Cathedral of Junk

One of the real highlights of my entire trip was checking out the Cathedral of Junk. The cathedral was built by Vince Hannemann, who sits around while people hang out with his stuff. The Cathedral of Junk is exactly that — a bunch of junk. There’s towers of TVs, bikes, old refrigerators, tires, hubcaps, and more. I found the place great for families. Talking to some locals, I found out that a lot of people come here with their kids; many were running all over the place and having a merry time playing make-believe. Kids + junk + pretend = an easy afternoon.

Museum of the Weird

This museum located on 6th Street is a typical penny arcade featuring weird oddities like a two-headed chicken, a “fish man,” a mummy, and even a sideshow. It’s one of those “step right up and see some weird shit” kind of places. It’s small, taking only 20 minutes to wander through, but it’s weird, Austin-like, and sort of fun. Admission is $5.

Taste of Joy
This hot sauce shop serves hundreds of different kinds of hot sauces and was the reason behind this video:

If you like hot sauce, come here. They offer free tastings for many of the sauces. If you want to go crazy, try all the sauces on the shelves aptly shaped like a coffin. They are for serious spicy addicts only.

Food Trucks

The food trucks in Austin are second only to those in Portland. You can’t say you ate in Austin if you don’t go food truck hopping around the city — you can get everything from sandwiches to Asian fusion. The South Austin Trailer Park and Eatery on S. 1st Street is really good. Definitely check that out.

Listen to music

Austin is famous for its music scene, and there are many opportunities here to listen to some world-class, independent music. Pretty much every bar in the city showcases music. The two big music festivals in the city are Austin City Limits and SXSW.

Visit Whole Foods

Whole Foods, the nationwide chain, started in Austin and the flagship store is located here in the city. This particular store features a wine bar, smoothie bar, beer locker, roof terrace, giant salad bars, and seemingly endless supplies of vegetables, food, and in-store restaurants. It’s a food heaven, and it might be my happy place, too.

Watch the bats on Congress

From mid-March until November, the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin is home to 1.5 million flying bats. Visit the waterfront at dusk to watch these beauties head out for their nightly foraging.

Get drunk on 6th Street

Sixth Street is the famous street in Austin that is home to all the bars and restaurants and offers a wild, Mardi Gras–style atmosphere during the weekends. This is a great place to meet people.

Jump into Barton Springs

Barton Springs Pool is the city’s main aquatic treasure. Located in Zilker Park (see below), the natural springs provide a great respite from the summertime heat. If you’re up to it, check out Hippie Hollow on Lake Travis, Austin’s nudist beach.

Zilker Park

Zilker Park is in the heart of south Austin. The park offers many different types of outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, jogging, and anything else you can do in a park. Barton Springs (see above) is here as well. And don’t forget to visit the statue park.

There is a lot to do in Austin, from the weird to the mundane. The unique and eclectic nature of the city makes it a great place to grab beer, listen to some music, and people-watch for days straight. You’ll find you can only be bored in this city if you try.