Is Austin Really That Weird?

The tourism industry is important for any city and lots of cities are becoming more innovative in their marketing. Instead of focusing on a city's landmarks or points of interest, cities around the world are practically turning their cities into brands as if they're products to sell. But more than something to sell to outsiders, these branding strategies give locals a sense of identity and pride for their cities. This can be traced all the way back to Milton Glaser's "I Love New York" slogan created in 1977 for locals and tourists alike. Austin is a prime example as well, complete with their own branding slogan: Keep Austin Weird.

Texas is iconic for multiple cities. Growing up, Austin was just the Texas capital and nothing more. However, thanks to my own hometown attempting to brand itself as a musical and artsy hub, I began to hear about Austin as a city with a similar vibe. With music festivals like Austin City Limits and South By Southwest, graffiti walls, art museums, and quirky local businesses, Austin has definitely achieved its goal of becoming a hotspot for musicians and artists. As a result, Austin feels young and great for hipsters. In fact, Millennials make up slightly over 30% of the total population.

Local restaurants, bars, and clubs embody the “Keep Austin Weird” tagline. 6th Street is well-known for these locations and on weekends, it becomes pedestrian only. There is Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar, the VooDoo Room (a go-go dancing nightclub), The Museum of the Weird, and The Rooftop on 6th to name a few. Not to be confused with the VooDoo Room is VooDoo Doughnut. This bakery is open late into the night and features grape, bubblegum, and horchata doughnuts to name a few. 

A lesser known (but still rather crowded) hotspot for night life is Rainey Street. If you miss college (or are in college), this is the place to go. The street is lined with what look like houses converted into clubs and bars – not much different from frat houses, hence my reference to college life. You can basically go from one place to another like a trick-or-treater. There are restaurants in the bigger buildings with quite a variety of food. There is Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden, and a sign that just says Indian Food. The end of the street is a lot for food trucks including the Happy Lobster. Notable bars include UnBarlievable and Lucille. UnBarlievable is one of the converted houses. Again, sticking with the theme of “Keep Austin Weird,” it has a 10-feet-tall giraffe statue on the front lawn of the house. It feels more like a club than a bar on the inside, however. Lucille has a patio and backyard with hammocks, games like Giant Jenga, and lights strung over the décor. It is more relaxed than UnBarlievable. Rainey Street has plenty of live music at some of the bars and restaurants too.

If clubbing isn’t your thing, remember that Austin’s history goes back much further than its modern skyscrapers and large Yuppie population may suggest. Texas has a history as varied as Austin’s locals. It is the only state that was once its own country, and they won’t let you forget it. The Bullock Texas State History Museum is near the University of Texas and covers pretty much all of it. Austin itself was founded in 1839 and made the capital in 1846. Since then, it has been the seat of government for politicians who have gone much further than Texas, including George W. Bush and Rick Perry. A visit to the Texas Capitol in Austin shows all of these famous names in a granite and marble building that feels like an old movie. Whatever you may think about the current political noise coming out of the Capitol and the Texas’s federal reps, it feels pretty iconic to step into the Capitol of the (2nd) largest US state. The Capitol can be seen from multiple parts of town as well. Its juxtaposition against the dozens of modern skyscrapers further reminds everyone that Austin has been around for quite a while and holds some powerful people.

With so many skyscrapers, the skyline is gorgeous at any time of day. The Boardwalk just to the east of the Austin Harbor Bridge is a perfect way to see these buildings up close, yet far enough away to see the full picture. Other wide angle views are at Congress Avenue Bridge and the Statesman Bat Observation Center nearby. There really are bat colonies there!

Speaking of Congress Avenue, South Congress Avenue is another trendy street with expensive boutiques, restaurants, and influencer photo ops if you’re into that kind of thing. The popular section of the street starts right at the Capitol and goes a few miles past the Congress Avenue Bridge. You can spot the Capitol building even when going far south on this street. Amy’s Ice Creams is a cartoonish outdoor ice cream shop with unique flavors. Any time you can add cinnamon to one of their concoctions, definitely do so. Jo’s Coffee is less famous for its coffee and more famous for the “I love you so much” wall that faces West James Street. People literally line up to take pictures at this wall. Instagram has truly made fools of us all. But my friends and I didn’t miss it and I definitely posted the picture that we took on my own Instagram, @anna_robinson97 (shameless plug). Follow this link for more street art all over the city.

Austin is active and outdoorsy. This shouldn’t come as a surprise given the young, vibrant art and music scene. Botanical and other park areas line the Colorado River that runs just south of the Capitol. Zilker Park offers views of the skyscrapers from a massive field for dogs, disc golf, and picnics. Near the park is Barton Springs. It includes the Municipal Pool ($5 per person) sectioned off from the rest of the creek by the dam. The pool has a sloped lawn area with tree coverage as well. The other side of the dam has parking on the north and south sides of the creek. It includes canoe and kayak rentals, but swimming is free of charge. And you’ll want to swim. Austin is hot and humid during the summer. Keep in mind that if you pay to go to the Municipal Pool, there is not a way to access the other side of the creek. A fence separates the pool and its lawn area from the free part and boat rental area.

 If none of this sounds weird enough to you, then just keep your eyes out for little details. Details like funny posters, signs, or even people. You're bound to come across something unique. If Austin isn't on your radar right now, something in Texas likely will be. So why not add a day or two in Austin? At least for Instagram purposes and cinnamon ice cream ;)

Texas Capitol

Sixth Street

Bangers at Rainey Street

View from the Boardwalk

View from Congress Avenue Bridge

Amy's Ice Cream on South Congress Avenue

Jo's Coffee on South Congress Avenue

The "I Love You So Much" wall at Jo's

Zilker Park

Barton Springs

Municipal Pool