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Austin, Texas

By Rachel E Shimp

“The stars at night/Are big and bright/Deep in the heart of Texas”, goes the famous song about the Lone Star State, the country’s second largest and home to 20 million people. Many citizens of its capitol, Austin (pop. 700,000), are quick to point out that it is a city unlike any other in Texas, as most of the stars there will be found not in the sky but annotating the many fantastic hotels and restaurants, and representing the thriving music scene which unofficially crowns Austin the “Live Music Capital of the World.” Artistic sensibilities unite with a rich cultural heritage to give Austin a decided flair, making it one of the liveliest and most liberal cities in the Southwest.

Established by pioneer Stephen F. Austin in 1838, the city has become known as a center for the arts, contrasting the bustle of nearby metropolis Dallas and the more traditional Houston. Artists and musicians have found welcome audiences among the townspeople, for whom nightlife is a major draw to living within the city limits. Hundreds of bars and clubs convene on downtown’s busy 6th street, just a few miles from the University of Texas. The largest crowd is found during its spring break, which coincides with the annual South By Southwest music conference and festival held in March. Drawing thousands, the event is both welcomed by local merchants and tolerated by those residents seeking a bit more peace and quiet. During those two weeks, it’s quite possible to spot a famous musician stumbling from a bar, or enjoy a movie premiere with one of the starring actors in the next aisle.

 In addition to the sparkling nightlife, Austin offers exceptional dining options that cater to every palate and preference. Mexican flavor is alive in this bilingual city, served up from friendly cafes like Las Manitas (211 Congress Avenue) to taco stands throughout the city. Carnivores can get their fill of specialty hamburgers at the famous Hut’s (807 W. 6th St.), or indulge in healthy, meat-free delights and Asian “bubble drinks” at Veggie Heaven (1914 Guadalupe St. #A).

Before dinner, visitors may want to head to the Congress Avenue Bridge to sneak a peek at one of the area’s most unique attractions- the nightly flight of thousands of bats, set against fantastic sunsets. Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in North America, which appear from spring until fall, and the temperate climate welcomes citizens outdoors anytime.

Abundant shopping is found in Austin, and whether the items being pursued are traditional, modern or vintage, they will certainly be unique. Local artists display their handmade bags and rock and roll-inspired jewelry alongside authentic snap button shirts and other cowboy-tinged attire on South Congress (Town Lake to Olfort St.) and “The Drag”, which faces the university on Guadalupe. Rows of colorful independent coffeehouses are planted on the same streets as megastores like Urban Outfitters, illustrating once more a blend of the traditional and modern that truly brings Austin to life. 

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