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From BBQ To Live Music: The First-Timer’s Guide To Austin

It’s often hard to believe that Austin is part of Texas. A liberal oasis full of tattooed vegans, punk bands and anti-establishment attitudes, the city couldn’t feel more different to the rest of the conservative Lone Star State if it tried. Spend a few days here and you’ll probably forget you’re in Texas altogether – until you walk past a sign banning concealed weapons at certain establishments. (Cheers for that, Austin.)

So how do you make the most out of your trip to the South’s capital of cool? In keeping with the city’s spirit, the trick to doing Austin the right way is not following the crowds.

 

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You should definitely go check out Rainey St, but make sure you don’t get stuck there. The nightlife hub is a good place to bar-hop a night away (and ground zero for shows during SXSW), but it’s not Austin at its most charming. What’s a better option? Well…

Instead, go explore SoCo

 

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The heart of the “keep Austin weird” movement and the city’s coolest neighbourhood is just over the bridge from Rainey Street, and we’d advise making a beeline for it.

South Congress, called SoCo by locals, is the place to be for cult eats, vintage shopping, great bars and the best live music. The action stretches down South Congress Avenue, a busy strip that will take you about 20 minutes to walk from top to bottom (with no shortage of places to stop along the way). Grab a coffee and taco from Jo’s Coffee, sit down for some queso at Guero’s, then head on down to cult store Uncommon Objects.

A couple blocks over from South Congress on S 1st Street is the famous “Welcome to Austin” mural – go on, Instagram’s waiting.

It’s called the “Live Music Capital Of The World” for a reason

 

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Also found in SoCo is the Continental Club, Austin’s coolest music venue. If you have the opportunity to see a show there, be sure to – or hit one of the many other spaces showcasing the city’s incredible sound.

You can’t go wrong with Beerland (for punk shows), C-Boys Heart And Soul (for fans of blues, soul and country), The White Horse (to honky-tonk the night away), Charlie’s (for LGBTQI-friendly fun) or Mohawk (for everything). Do512.com has a comprehensive list of the events on in Austin every night.

And if you want the true Yee-haw experience? Hit the Broken Spoke, the legendary dancehall where couples go to two-step to country music all night long.

When in Rome, see the bats

 

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Fun fact: Austin is home to North America’s largest bat colony.

Every year, up to 1.5 million free-trailed bats make the platform beneath Congress Ave Bridge their home, swarming out in droves as sun sets to feed on nearby insects. And every night, Austinites turn out in droves to watch the bats do their thing, either from the grass of Lady Bird Lake (the best viewing spot) or from the foothpath of the bridge.

It’s a total trip to see the seemingly-endless cloud of bats pirouette into the sky and a definite Austin must-do.

To BBQ or not to BBQ, that is the question

 

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Tell someone you’re going to Austin and the first thing you’ll hear back is that you’ve got to go to Franklin BBQ.

And yes, the downtown barbecue joint is an institution – a delicious, delicious institution – but it’s one you’ll have to be willing to line up for. The food at Franklins runs out by or before 2pm every day so to ensure you get a slice of the brisket, you’ll need to be in line by 10am, or earlier on weekends.

The truth is Austin is full of delicious things to eat – Franklin isn’t the be all and end all. This is the city that made food trucks A Thing, where at any given moment chefs around the city are at work on Texas-Korean fusion plates (try Chi’Lantro) or world famous cupcakes (Hey Cupcakes). You won’t be short of incredible meals.

You’ll definitely want to hit Magnolia Café, the 24-hour diner selling quesadillas, burgers, pastas and more (hot tip: get the breakfast tacos). Home Slice Pizza is another cult favourite and it’s only a couple doors down from Amy’s Ice Creams, the desert joint that basically invented the concept of smashing a bunch of different toppings into your scoop. And if you really want BBQ but don’t have half a day to spare at Franklins, try Rudy’s Country Store BBQ or Terry Black’s – both are excellent.

Oh, and a heads up: you can even find California’s much-loved In-N-Out Burger in three different Austin locations. Bon appétit!

Don’t forget to head outside

 

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The one thing every Austin local will tell you to do while you’re in town is hit Barton Springs – you should listen to them.

The natural pools are where young hipsters, loved-up couples and families alike choose to wile away the summer days, cooling off in the water, grabbing a bite from the food trucks parked out front and soaking up the sun on the grass. Draped by trees and surrounded by the lush, 1.5 kilometre wide Zilker Park, Barton Springs is Austin at its loveliest.

If you’re keen to visit the Lone Star state, why not hit the road?

(Lead image: Tomek Baginski / Unsplash)