The number of times I’ve represented myself as a Texan abroad and instantly been told “well, I don’t know much about Texas, but I’d love to visit Austin” is staggering. It’s not as though Texas itself has a bad reputation; we’re still fighting the stereotype of the gun-toting good ol’ boy, but there’s definitely a romantic side to thinking about the Lone Star State for those who have never stepped foot on our soil. Austin, on the other hand, has an image all its own, embodying a weirdness and culture residents of the rest of Texas can’t hope to achieve in ten generations.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of good universities in Texas – Rice, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, SMU – but none of them are built around a city like the University of Texas at Austin. In addition to being one of the largest schools in the country, the UT Tower is usually the first landmark travelers see when coming from the north, rising even higher than the capitol dome.
Dallas and Houston may have bigger arenas and be better equipped to get people in and out, but Austin attracts the biggest names in entertainment. As the live music capital of the world and the host of festivals like SXSW and ACL, this city is where you go when you want comedy, music, and motivational speakers.
3. Keep Austin Weird
The origins of what makes Austin truly unique are muddied at best, but it’s not a stretch to say it’s become a bit of a magnet for those disenchanted with conservative parts of Texas. It’s not the only liberal bastion in the south anymore, but it’s certainly one of the most prominent ones. Where else can you have a whole festival surrounding Eeyore, or attend services under a cathedral made from garbage?
Suckers go to Cinemark. Real Austinites have been getting their movie fix with gourmet food and beer at the Alamo Drafthouse since 1997. Unlike other theaters in Texas and across the country, the drafthouse stands out for rigorously enforcing its etiquette: no calls, no texting, not even babies are allowed except on certain nights. When one customer complained about their rules, they actually turned her voicemail into a viral commercial.
Dallas actually has a decent running community with its famous White Rock Marathon and 8-mile Turkey Trot, but nothing compares to how Austin is built on exercise. Lady Bird Lake Trail, a 10-mile stretch of dirt and pavement catering to runners and cyclists, has outdoor gyms scattered along the route with views of downtown Austin. On a warm day, you’ll probably even see yoga instructors holding classes in Zilker Park.
Speaking of exercise, the whole city of Austin is a monument to helping pedestrians survive. I wouldn’t go so far as to compare it to cities in Europe, but looking at downtown Dallas or Houston doesn’t make visitors scream “I want to walk through that!” Austin, on the other hand, makes it easy and fun to amble down Congress from the capitol to Auditorium Shores without being sideswiped. Time it right, and you might even see the bats coming out from under the bridge.
Everyone in Texas wants somewhere cool to swim when the temperature starts going over 100 degrees. It’s not as though there aren’t natural springs in the west or decent swimming pools in the big cities, but in terms of quality and uniqueness, Austin triumphs over the rest of Texas. Barton Springs Pool is massive enough to satisfy everyone wanting a soak in June. Some might try to go clothing optional at Hamilton Pool or Krause Springs — public nudity is legal in Texas — but Hippie Hollow is the only place in Travis County where you won’t attract too many stares for doing so.
8. Breakfast Tacos
Enough said. Texans can have their buttermilk pancakes and bacon. We’ll take them as well, but nothing beats this tasty concoction after a late night out.