Note: This article is going up with a minimum of editing and care. I’ll go back and fix it/add links and such later, but now I have to get back to the big circus that is SXSW- Colin
I love Austin, but I don’t think I really love South by Southwest. Between the high pressure corporate guerrilla marketing (I get the sense you can pay your rent here just by answering those STREET TEAM NEEDED ads on Craigslist), the inexplicable hipster ridiculousness I witness everywhere (a guy panhandling for ipad money, a taco truck playing Vampire Weekend) and general crowd burnout, I yearn for some more low key things to do. That’s why I’ve made this list of things that you can do in Austin when you just have to get away from the crowds and the silliness. As an added bonus, most of these attractions are free or relatively cheap, so it leaves you more cash for $10 beers on sixth street. Ironic mustache optional.
Every night, Austinites and tourists gather at this bridge in central Austin to watch the largest urban bat colony in the world get up for dinner. At 750,000 bats, the Congress Avenue bridge boasts more bats than there are people in Austin proper. As the misunderstood weirdos of the mammal world, it makes sense that bats would congregate in Austin.
If you took the first two years of Lyndon Johnson’s presidential term and looked at them out of context, you might be convinced that he was one of the most progressive presidents we’ve had. Johnson presided over the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Great Society, and he used his vast stores of favors and political capital from his years as a senator to make it happen in a very short amount of time. After 1964, however, his legacy becomes murky as the Vietnam war escalated into a vast industrial scale slaughter. You can indulge in some contemplation of this strange and fascinating man at his presidential library on the UT campus, to my knowledge the only presidential library with an animatronic figure of it’s subject.
“I never trust a man unless I’ve got his pecker in my pocket.”- Lyndon Johnson
Open Daily, 9am to 5pm
Austinites are passionate about building crap and putting it in their yards. The finest example of this tendency is the magnificent Cathedral of Junk, which is exactly what you might imagine. Sadly some in city government don’t see the beauty of this tetanus shot inducing wonder and want to see it torn down and returned to the junk heap from which it sprang. For the record, the position of the aforementioned killjoys is: heap of junk made into something interesting and even beautiful: bad. Heap of junk piled horizontally in a landfill: good.
4. Texas State Capitol complex
Texas was once an independent nation and they will never let you forget it. The state capitol building and grounds are quite lovely, and in the event that the Texas nationalists ever get their way, they’ll be equipped with a fine, handsome seat of power to not mess with.
5. Esther’s Follies
I’m not sure what exactly Esther’s Follies is. No one is really sure. It defies description. I’ll give it a shot though, and say that it’s a nightly vaudeville comedy and magic show. That really doesn’t capture it. When people demand that you Keep Austin Weird, this is the sort of thing they mean.
6. Climb Mount Barton
Barton Springs State Park is a good place to go to escape the crowds and remind yourself that you aren’t in southern california or brooklyn.
7. Botanical Gardens
Often you can tell a lot about a city by their botanical gardens. OKC has the myriad gardens, whose starfleet academy style architecture reflects the optomism of our fair city. Albuquerque has the Rio Grande gardens, which are, for lack of a better term, crunchy granola. Austin’s zilker botanical gardens are sprawling, colorful, eclectic, and a little overwhelming. Just like Austin.
8. South Austin Museum of Popular Culture
In 2000, several South Austin zip codes registered more votes for Ralph Nader than for George W. Bush. That’s the sort of place South Austin is. This museum is a celebration of the city’s native arts scene, the weird and eccentric people who made this town a world class cultural destination.
Even in this capital of live entertainment, it’s good to take some time to relax and read a book. One of the great indie book stores in the region, BookPeople has things you’ve been looking for, things you’ve never heard of, and things you really need to get.
10. Explore UT
The University of Texas is the largest university in the nation (The Ohio State University begs to differ, but we’re not worried about them) and as such is worth a look. I’ve always liked college campuses because I dig landscaping and pretty buildings and cute girls. UT Austin has all of these things in abundance. Check out the famous (infamous) tower, audit a class or two, visit the many museums, stake out the library, or just wander around like you know where you’re going.
I think Austin has a lesson for OKC: Festivals don’t make a city, hype and marketing and Whole Foods don’t make a city. The culture of Austin is aggressively DIY, and if it weren’t we wouldn’t be here. No one would be here. Before SXSW became a huge, national event, before Austin was the new cool place to be, people worked hard to carve out some social space for The Other in what is still a very, very conservative state. I’m glad they did. Now back to the cool kid olympics.