10 Things I Learned in Austin, Texas

Six flags beneath the State Capitol dome

1. The first Six Flags amusement park was Six Flags over Texas, named for the historical six flags that have flown over the state: Spain, France, Mexico, the Texas Republic, the Confederate States of America and the United States of America. In town, you can see these nations’ seals beneath the State Capitol dome.

"Dirty Sixth"

2. Austin bills itself as Live Music Capital of America and claims some 200 performance venues. Many of them line 6th Street on the east side of downtown, although you’ll have to run a gantlet of inebriated college partiers (all 21 and over, we presume). Not your scene? There are juke joints all over town, or an itinerant guitaristo might just start strummin’ at the supermarket.

3. To be twentysomething and an Austinite apparently requires a fully tattooed right arm. If you’re male, start growing the beard now. Think of Austin as Southwest Brooklyn, South Madison or Southeast Berkeley, and you’ll get the idea. Good T-shirts help too:

Davy Crockett, sans coonskin cap

4. The Anglos lost at the Alamo. Not having known this might not make me a bad American, but it would certainly make me a bad Texan – everyone seems to know their history. The Alamo was a former Spanish mission in San Antonio where forces of the Republic of Texas made their stand against the Mexican army. Davy Crockett died at the Alamo. I didn’t know that either. 

5. Beer served Michelada style: the most world-rocking drink discovery in years. Salt the rim of a glass, mix a Bloody Mary minus the vodka and tomato juice (Tabasco, black pepper, soy sauce, lime juice and Worcestershire sauce), add ice and pour in a lighter beer like lager or pilsner. It tastes best outdoors on a patio, of which there are plenty in Austin.

(Possibly) found objects in the flagship Whole Foods

6. To understand Austin’s design sense, you need look no further than the flagship Whole Foods supermarket. The chain was founded and is headquartered here. First, it confirms that everything’s big in Texas. Second, it’s elevated the re-use of found objects to art. Like the studied humility of Japanese wabi-sabi, it says “We’re too cool to worry about how we look.” There’s outdoor seating here too, complete with water and rock features. Instead of trash bins is a landfill and recycle station with separate bins for waste, plastic, paper and compostables.

Kayaking on Town Lake

7. The Austin River separates downtown Austin from hip South Congress Avenue, and the river has been dammed to create Lake Austin. The park surrounding it goes by several names (Zilker Park, Lady Bird Johnson Park, Town Lake, etc.), but whatever you call it, it’s a fantastic destressor. Bicyclists, runners and walkers of the human and canine varieties circle the lake on dirt paths, while kayakers and canoers course along the water below. 

Food trailer, South Congress Ave, Austin

8. If LA’s hipster culinary trend is food trucks, Austin’s is food trailers. Clusters of trailers fill empty lots around town, wtih picnic table seating and offerings from sausages to ice cream, Thai food to shaved ice. There are even bacon and chicken ice cream cones for dogs.

Fried avocado taco (left), migas taco (right)

9. Breakfast tacos. Who knew?  The classic way to get them is migas, a concoction of eggs, tomato and onion salsa, pico de gallo, sliced avocado and green chili salsa. I had mine at Torchy’s, a trailer just south of downtown. I also sprung for their non-breakfast avocado taco. Deep frying the sliced avocado in corn meal leaves it crunchy outside and creamy dreamy inside, made all the more so by the sour cream and jalapeno sauce it comes with.

10. Bats! Millions of ’em! I saw estimates that between 1.5 and 2.5 million bats form America’s largest urban bat colony, under the Congress Avenue Bridge. At dusk between about late March and October, they leave their nests at dusk to feed, creating a cloud that shows up on weather radar. Don’t worry; they eat bugs. You’re good. Click here for video