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  Published Sept/Oct 2005

New Age meets the Old West in Austin, the Lone Star state’s laid-back capital city.
By Ben Sandmel

For an easy getaway to the best of all worlds, consider a jaunt to Austin, Texas. The laid-back capital of the Lone Star State is a progressive, cosmopolitan city where New Age meets the Old West in unhurried harmony.

A haven for visual artists and writers, Austin’s sun-belt sophistication is further enhanced by the University of Texas, with its fine museums and rich schedule of concerts and lectures. Diverse landscape provides easy access to outdoor activities such as hiking, canoeing and horseback riding. Nightfall offers one of America’s most well-known live music scenes. Great food abounds, from cutting-edge cuisine to health-conscious fare and the time-honored tastes of barbecue and Tex-Mex.

This city of 650,000 is easy to navigate, despite suburban sprawl and heavy congestion on Interstate 35. Driving to Austin offers scenic routes from every direction. The approach from the east traverses the Cajun/Creole parishes of western Louisiana and Texas bluebonnet country. The glorious Texas hill country surrounds Austin in a westward arc.

Where to stay, what to do

Lodging is the first order of business. For a centrally located splurge, settle in at the historic Driskill Hotel (604 Brazos St.), an ornate relic from 1886 with a AAA four diamond rating and an innovative gourmet restaurant. The plush Four Seasons (98 San Jacinto Blvd.) sits next to the Colorado River in downtown Austin. The Lazy Oak Bed-and-Breakfast (211 W. Live Oak) south of the river comes highly recommended. The economical Austin Motel (1220 S. Congress) is on the hip strip along South Congress Avenue, known as SoCo. But SoCo is only one of Austin’s must-see neighborhoods.

En route to many others on the north side of the river, stop for a moment beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge. This is the nesting place for 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats that roost there from October through April. As daylight fades, these nocturnal hunters emerge en masse to feed on insects, and their nightly exodus is the best free show in town.

North of downtown, the Texas Capitol building (1100 Congress Ave.) soars 14 feet taller than its counterpart in Washington. The domed structure is open for tours, as is the adjacent governor’s mansion (1010 Colorado St.), with advance reservations.

North of the legislative complex lies the vast University of Texas. Take time to visit the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum (2313 Red River St.), a comprehensive archive devoted to the life and times of America’s 36th president, a hill country native.

The beat goes on

Downtown, the Sixth Street area and nearby Warehouse District are home to many live music venues, including Stubb’s Bar-B-Q (801 Red River St.); jazz, blues and more at La Zona Rosa (612 W. Fourth St.), equally famous for creative Tex-Mex cuisine and its art collection; and the famous blues club Antone’s (213 W. Fifth St.).

An important center of American music since the mid-1970s, Austin is a place where stylistic boundaries dissolve into creative hybrids. Live music thrives outside of downtown, too, and one of Austin’s most legendary nightclubs is a dancehall called The Broken Spoke (3201 S. Lamar). A classic honky-tonk and country music time capsule, the Broken Spoke was built in 1964.

Another revered music spot is Threadgill’s (6416 N. Lamar), which has been in business since 1934 and is an important site in Austin’s “cosmic cowboy” movement of the 1970s. That tradition is beamed worldwide on “Austin City Limits,” the acclaimed PBS television show that’s been broadcasting for 30 years.

The annual Austin City Limits Music Festival will be Sept. 23–25. During the gathering, more than 130 bands will perform on eight stages.

Sixth Street’s clubs are quiet by day, which is a fine time to take in Austin’s active visual arts scene. The Wally Workman Gallery (1202 W. Sixth St.) features the work of painter Gordon Fowler and photographer Burton Wilson. Nearby, the O. Henry Museum (409 E. Fifth St.) honors a masterful writer of short stories.

Get outdoors

But you can’t stay indoors too long in such glorious environs. In town, Zilker Park (2100 Barton Springs Road) offers swimming in Barton Springs Pool, canoeing on Town Lake and hiking on the Barton Creek Greenbelt Trail.

Farther outside the city are such gorgeous hill country sites as Hamilton Pool Preserve (off state Highway 71 on FM Road 3238), with its 45-foot waterfall, the dramatic view atop Enchanted Rock State Natural Area (16710 Ranch Road 965 in Fredericksburg), canoe trails on the Guadalupe River and horseback riding at a number of ranches.

Come springtime, the countryside grows even prettier when the bluebonnets burst into bloom–and that’s just one more reason to gas up and head for Austin.

But you can’t stay indoors too long in such glorious environs. In town, Zilker Park (2100 Barton Springs Road) offers swimming in Barton Springs Pool, canoeing on Town Lake and hiking on the Barton Creek Greenbelt Trail.

Farther outside the city are such gorgeous hill country sites as Hamilton Pool Preserve (off state Highway 71 on FM Road 3238), with its 45-foot waterfall. Come springtime, the countryside grows even prettier when the bluebonnets burst into bloom–and that’s just one more reason to gas up and head for Austin.

Ben Sandmel is a contributor from New Orleans, La.



Above: Austin’s live music scene and vibrant nightlife make for an exciting weekend getaway. Austin CVB photo

Left: Sixth Street buzzes with nightlife in Austin. Austin CVB photo


Before You Go
For more information, contact the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1-866-GO-AUSTIN (462-8784), or online at www.austintexas.org.

Stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides. View a list of offices.

Order free information through the Reader Service Card online. Click on Reader Resources.

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