CREATIVE HUBS: AUSTIN
As a liberal enclave located in one of America’s most famously red states, the city of Austin has a spirit that runs wild and free. The place consistently ranks on lists of the coolest spots to live in the US, and has one of the youngest median ages in the land. So, what’s the secret behind all this open-minded energy?
Let’s start with the music: The likes of Janis Joplin, Willie Nelson and B.B. King all flocked to Austin in the ’60s and ’70s. And today, a kaleidoscopic blend of beats still holds the place together. There are gospel choirs, big bands, punk groups and country crooners, all taking turns to play at the city’s 200 venues. Austin is also home to some of the largest festivals in the world, including South by Southwest (SXSW) and Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL). It’s a small wonder that the place has become known as the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’.
And then there’s the food: Austin is arguably responsible for the rest of the planet’s obsessive love of food trucks, with many of such trailer enterprises going on to become fully fledged restaurants. There are over 2,000 across the city, and they serve cuisine that reflects Texas’ melting pot of cultures. Mexican food is the hot ticket – and in these parts, it’s totally acceptable to eat tacos for breakfast.
Visual art has a stronghold, too, with many of Austin’s galleries being dedicated to expanding discourse. Women and Their Work runs an extensive programme of exhibitions and workshops centred around contemporary art created by female artists, while Art on 5th features both established and contemporary artworks by Texans. Housed in a 100-year-old building, the Wally Workman Gallery is a citywide favourite, with openings known for attracting a cool crowd.
There’s more to Austin’s energy than creativity, mind. In recent years, the city has received a steady influx of tech workers who have upped sticks from Silicon Valley in search of more affordable pastures. Companies like Google, Facebook and Dropbox have put down roots, which has led Austinites to fiercely defend their creative culture. This tech boom birthed the city’s unofficial slogan, ‘Keep Austin Weird’. Today it is something of a mantra.
WHERE TO STAY
Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of music (and poetry), so it makes sense there’s a shrine to her in Austin. This rock n’ roll hotel does a good job of paying homage to the art – each of the 14 rooms takes inspiration from stars like Patti Smith and Jim Morrison, featuring popping colours, retro prints and, of course, turntables.
This 319-room hotel is part of the Kimpton group, but has managed to retain the charm of a boutique. Again, music is at play here – the property is named after a country music legend, so you’ll find lighting fixtures made from brass horns, sculptures made from vinyl, and an insane sound system at the bar.
Located amidst the bustle of Austin’s trendy South Congress (SoCo) Avenue, this hotel is perfect for travellers who like to be in the thick of it. There are 71 rooms, and all are light, airy and minimalist in design, featuring hardwood floors and floor-to-ceiling windows.
WHAT TO SEE
What started in 1987 as an indie gathering has boomed into a nine-day conference that draws over 150,000 guests to Austin every March. Hardly surprising when former speakers include Johnny Cash and Barack Obama…
Located just south of Downtown Austin, this iconic strip is full of organic markets, antique shops, taco stands and coffee bars. Don’t miss an Insta-worthy opportunity at the historic Austin motel, which is branded with the words, “so close yet so far out”.
Lady Bird Lake is a slow-moving stretch of the Colorado River that winds through the heart of downtown Austin. Banked with lush vegetation and wildlife, it offers peace and quiet in a city that’s all ‘go’. Hike, bike or paddleboard your way around it.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Food trucks are an absolute bastion of Austin’s culinary culture – and there’s almost too many to choose from: Veracruz – with quesadillas and breakfast tacos – is a well-loved Mexican; Ms P’s is best for fried chicken; Micklethwait Craft Meats is the one for lovers of barbecue.
This barbecue joint is the stuff of legends, and there’s almost always an eye-watering queue outside. In fact, so eager are people to try a taste of Franklin’s pulled pork, spare ribs and beef brisket that they’ve paid others to stand in line on their behalf!
A mix of blues, rock and country music sets the tone at this saloon, famous for its Two-Step cocktail (a shot of whiskey blended with a Lone Stor). The melange of music makes for an interesting clash of people, too – you’ll find hipsters, travellers and real-life honky-tonkers here.