The Saturday City: Austin

questions for mattAccording to research, the phrase “Keep Austin Weird” was inspired by comments made by Red Wassenich in 2000 while giving a pledge to an Austin radio station. He later began printing bumper stickers and published a book called Keep Austin Weird: A Guide to the Odd Side of Town.

Now the phrase reflects the friendly, artistic, creative and a little offbeat culture that is a haven for varying LGBT, intellectual, naturalist and environmentalist communities.

Austin, the state capital of Texas, is an island of blue in a sea of red. It’s a liberal city in a very conservative state. In Austin, you’ll find boutique food, bike lanes, alternative bars, hippies, open homosexuality, food trucks, art, and culture. It’s a welcoming place where anyone who likes happy people, good food, and great music would find themselves at home.

For ten days last month, I spent my time in Austin attending the SXSW music, film, and tech festival. This massive event is the outgrowth of what was once a small independent music festival. Now, it’s a corporate megashow. It was my second time at SXSW and my third time in Austin.

While I have mixed feelings on SXSW itself (I love and hate it all at once), what I don’t have mixed feelings about is Austin. I don’t think it’s weird at all. I think the rest of Texas is weird for not being more like Austin.

Which is why I love the city and do my part to keep the place “weird.” If it wasn’t for the fact that you really do need a car to travel around the city, it would be on my “I’d move to this city” list. Some of my favorite activities are:

Cathedral of Junk
traveling alone doesn't mean you are alone
One of the real highlights of my entire tip was checking out the Cathedral of Junk. The cathedral was built by Vince Hannemann, who sits around while people hang out with his stuff. The Cathedral of Junk is exactly that – a bunch of junk. There’s towers of TVs, bikes, old refrigerators, tires, hubcaps, and more. I found the place great for families. Talking to some locals, I found out that a lot of people come here with their kids; many were running all over the place and having a merry time playing make-believe. Kids + junk + pretend = an easy afternoon.

Museum of the Weird
traveling alone doesn't mean you are alone
This museum located on 6th Street is a typical penny arcade featuring weird oddities like a two-headed chicken, a “fish man”, a mummy, and even a sideshow. It’s one of those “Step right up and see some weird shit” kind of places. It’s small, taking only 20 minutes to wander through, but it’s weird, Austin-like, and sort of fun. Admission is $5.

Taste of Joy
This hot sauce shop serves hundreds of different kinds of hot sauces and was the reason behind this video:

If you like hot sauce, come here. They offer free tastings for many of the sauces. If you want to go crazy, try all the sauces on the shelves aptly shaped like a coffin. They are for serious spicy addicts only.

Food Trucks
traveling alone doesn't mean you are alone
The food trucks in Austin are second only to those in Portland. You can’t say you ate in Austin if you don’t go food truck hopping around the city – you can get everything from sandwiches to Asian fusion. The South Austin Trailer Park and Eatery on S. 1st Street is really good. Definitely check that out.

Listen to music
traveling alone doesn't mean you are alone
Austin is famous for its music scene and there are many opportunities here to listen to some world-class, independent music. Pretty much every bar in the city showcases music. The two big music festivals in the city are Austin City Limits and SXSW.

Visit Whole Foods
traveling alone doesn't mean you are alone
Whole Foods, the nationwide chain, started in Austin and the flagship store is located here in the city. This particular store features a wine bar, smoothie bar, beer locker, roof terrace, giant salad bars, and endless supplies of vegetables, food, and restaurants. It’s a food heaven, and it might be my happy place, too.

Watch the bats on Congress
traveling alone doesn't mean you are alone
From mid-March until November, the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin is home to 1.5 million flying bats. Visit the waterfront at dusk to watch these beauties head out for their nightly foraging.

Jump into Barton Springs
traveling alone doesn't mean you are alone
Barton Springs Pool is the city’s main aquatic treasure. Located in Zilker Park, the natural springs provide a great respite from the summertime heat. If you’re up to it, check out Hippie Hollow on Lake Travis, Austin’s nudist beach.

Get drunk on 6th Street
traveling alone doesn't mean you are alone
Sixth Street is the famous street in Austin that is home to all the bars and restaurants and offers a wild, Mardi Gras-style atmosphere during the weekends. This is a fun street and a great place to meet people.

Zilker Park
traveling alone doesn't mean you are alone
Zilker Park is in the heart of south Austin. The park offers many different types of outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, jogging, and anything else you can do in a park. Barton Springs is here as well, and don’t forget to visit the statue park.

There is a lot to do in Austin from the weird to the mundane. The unique and eclectic nature of the city makes it a great place to grab beer, listen to some music, and people-watch for days straight. You’ll find you can only be bored in this city if you try.

  1. As a former Texan, my heart will forever be in San Antonio, but I try to make a trip up to Austin whenever I’m there. I think you captured some great highlights of the city. And my favorite places on 6th Street will always be Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar and the Elephant Room. Great memories from college!

  2. I enjoyed your post immensely as I love Austin! I was there all too briefly in February of last year and immediately fell in love. I could have moved into the Whole Foods Market. The farmers market downtown on Saturdays is small but really good with some unique food and products. Their airport is awesome as well – love the guitars at baggage claim (first time I’ve ever taken pictures of that area of an airport!). I had to get a ‘Keep Austin Weird’ t-shirt as well!! I loved the vibe of the place . I certainly hope my travels take me back there – when more food trucks are open and the bats are flying!!!

  3. Great post, Matt! Austin is such an amazing city. Whole Foods is my happy place too. You don’t need a car to live here though, that’s why everyone here rides bikes and are in such good shape (plus we have car2go).

  4. I’ve never been to Austin, but I only ever hear good things about it! I like that what jumped out to me about this post (besides your hot sauce video, hehe) is the Whole Foods! I didn’t know it started in Austin! That place is the Disneyland of healthy foods… love it!

  5. One of my best friends lives in Austin and I’m sad to say, I still haven’t gone to visit. It’s on our short list though of next places to visit. Looking forward to finally seeing the city so many say is like Portland, only with sunshine.

  6. The juxtaposition of this post and the most recent one (about tourists ruining places) made me laugh. I’ve lived in Austin the past 9 years (of my 26 on this earth) and it’s totally my home. We locals have a saying (and it’s even on a t-shirt): “Welcome to Austin! Please don’t move here. I hear Dallas is great!”

    This city is absolutely wonderful. No matter where I live in the world, I will always end up back here.

    Also, Keep Austin Weird came from the emphasis on going local. Most people here treasure our local businesses and do our best to stay away from Big Box.

  7. BC

    Austin friggin sucks. Yeah if you are just coming in for a few days to hang out, get drunk and listen to music. But trying living here day in and day out. Crowded! Traffic! High cost of living now with utilities, property taxes, inconsiderate arseholes. I am so sick of people saying damn great Austin is, not true.

    • NomadicMatt

      Well, I totally agree the traffic sucks but living somewhere is always different than traveling somewhere.

  8. Deb

    Great synopsis, Matt. Our suburbs are equally creative. Here in Pflugerville our motto is: Pflugerville -Between a Rock and a Weird place. (The Rock refers to our neighboring suburb of Round Rock)
    We will just miss one another in Europe. We arrive on May 23rd. Safe travels!

  9. Hi, Matt! I moved to Austin almost four years ago, and it’s the first place I’ve ever really been able to call “home.” As many fun things as there are to do in the city, what I love most are the people. Most everyone you meet is friendly and open. Hopefully, this has been your experience. :)
    I definitely agree with the food trucks! Every spring, I am so excited for the start of “food truck season” (they are open year round, but I’m not a huge fan of eating outside when it’s chilly). One of my favorites is Kebabalicious ( – check it out next time you’re in town! :)

  10. Austin is without doubt one of my favorite cities in the USA, I had more fun there than I did in either New York City or Los Angeles. The people are super friendly and the music is great, we saw this band called “The Spasmatics” who do nothing but 80’s one hit wonders whilst dressing up as nerds, a MUST SEE in my opinion

  11. Been through Amarillo twice and never thought about returning until I saw your post on Austin. 6th Street looks like a blast!

  12. I lived in Austin for many years before moving to Thailand. Sometimes when people ask me where I am from, and when I say from Austin, Texas, the answer is something like “Oh Texas – cowboys and guns”. That tells me right away that this person has never been in Austin which is about as far removed from those stereotypes as you can get. Actually Austin is not really part of Texas in many ways. It is more of an island in the middle of Texas, part of it, but distinct and different.

    • ProudTexan

      “Austin is not part of Texas in many ways”.
      That comment is so far from reality it makes me wonder if you ever ventured anywhere else in the state.
      All of Texas’ major cities are blue. Houston has an openly gay mayor and the same goes for Dallas’ Sheriff. Bike lanes are becoming more common place and Dallas is starting a bike share program.
      One of the most vibrant live music scenes in the state is located in N.Texas (Denton) which just voted to ban fracking while voting overwhelmingly republican on the rest of the ballot. This is just a few examples that Texans really can’t be stereotyped unless you are incredibly myopic. This state is a high melting pot and we are proud of that.

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