If you’re a fan of music festivals or just great live music in general, there’s a good chance that you may one day find yourself in Austin, Texas, dubbed the “Live Music Capital of the World,” and rightfully so. Boasting a diverse music scene of both local and touring musicians, a variety of eclectic venues to host events and a population proud to be labeled “weird,” once you arrive in Austin, you may never want to leave.
Austin is a smaller city when compared to other major American cities, with less than a million people living there, yet it has a very metropolitan feel. Though the hot sun and hearing “y’all” everywhere you go makes it tough to forget you’re in the south, Austin is not an embodiment of Texan stereotypes like cowboys and tumbleweeds. Austinites are nothing short of kind and charming. Maybe they realize how lucky they are to live in a fun city where the weather is always great, or maybe they are truly just nice people, either way, they’re very hospitable.
Navigating Austin’s downtown core is surprisingly easy due to the grid-like organization of the streets — not to mention that streets running east/west are numbered, so it doesn’t take long to become reasonably familiar with your surroundings. These numbered streets are especially helpful when you need to get back to your hotel after indulging in a few too many Blue Moons or Shiner Bocks on 6thStreet.
Historic 6th Street is probably Austin’s most well-known strip, often referred to by locals and UT college kids as, “Dirty 6th.” No one is trying to pretend 6th is some type of classy hangout, but anyone looking for good times and great music knows it’s a perfect place to start. The street is littered with intimate bars and venues you don’t want to miss, such as Emo’s, Maggie Mae’s, Dirty Dog Bar, Latitude 30 and The Belmont, to be brief. Every March, during South By South West, this street will be closed to automobile traffic and will become increasingly more congested with pedestrians and festival-goers alike, as the culminating weekend of the 3 week event nears.
6th Street is not to be missed, however many of Austin’s other gems are located elsewhere. Head north from 6th on Red River and you’ll find Red Eyed Fly, Club Deville, Stubb’s B-B-Q and Mowhawk. Other venues, such as La Zona Rosa, Scoot Inn, Antone’s, Lustre Pearl and Red 7 are scattered, though not far. It’s undeniably awesome seeing a great band in a small setting, yet some of the more popular acts necessitate a large facility; Moody Theatre and Austin Music Hall can take care of those. If you think this list is beginning to sound extensive, don’t forget that during SXSW any restaurant, warehouse, field, parking lot, street corner and more than a few churches can also double as a happening venue. Keeping track of them all can be exhausting!
It would be ill-advised to visit any region without sampling the local cuisine, so when in Texas, get some Tex-mex! Between breakfast tacos, burritos, fajitas, enchiladas and margaritas, there is never an inappropriate time for Tex-mex. It’s also incredibly easy to find in Austin. Whether you stumble upon a food truck, fast food joint or a full-service restaurant, you won’t be disappointed. Iron Cactus and Chupacabra Cantina (both located on their respective corners of 6th and Trinity) are both great choices if you’re looking to sit down and relax during your meal.
At this point, you may be thinking that Austin sounds like a fantastic city to see live music and party. You’re completely right, however should you tire of doing those things, there’s plenty more to experience. The Texas State Capitol, which houses the state government of Texas is located in downtown Austin and open for public visits. The Capitol is a national historic landmark, and the building itself is beautiful, as is the grounds. Heading further north you’ll find the University of Texas at Austin campus, home of many museums and libraries but, more importantly, the Texas Longhorns and countless students. If you prefer nature to architecture, you won’t want to miss the hundreds of thousands of bats that live under the Congress Avenue bridge. These bats comprise the largest urban bat colony in North America and if you’re hanging out nearby close to sunset you can see them take flight.
Whether its South By South West, Austin City Limits, Fun Fun Fun Fest, or just a regular vacation that brings you to Austin, there’s plenty to see and do. Austin may not have the reputation of many other North American urban centers, but it offers an atmosphere more unique. Whether you’re going for the music, the Tex-mex or the bats, be sure to see it all. You will find yourself planning your next trip back before you even make it home!
Leah Beresford is the Associate Editor of Blare Magazine in Toronto, ON.