There’s Lots To Do Deep in the Heart of Texas

Thinking about a three-day holiday in 2020? Consider Austin, Texas, the fastest-growing metropolis in the U.S. (population two-million-plus). Austin constantly changes while retaining an all-ages hipster vibe and a compactness perfectly suited for a weekend.

Food here is fun, especially BBQ. The big name for brisket, ribs and pulled pork is Franklin’s (900 E. 11th St.; lunch only). There’s also Stubb’s (801 Red River St.; lunch, dinner and late night) which hosts local musicians and touring acts. There’s so much good “Q” some of the tastiest is in the back of bars (such as the Johnny-Cash-themed Mean Eyed Cat, 1621 W. 5th St.) or any number of food trucks.

For easy sophistication try Mattie’s (811 W. Live Oak St.), in an expansive 1916 farmhouse. With a wide porch, vest-pocket bar, high-ceiling rooms and a menu with organic and sustainable ingredients, diners indulge in Mattie’s Fried Chicken, Pan Seared Texas Redfish or Wood Grilled Pork Tenderloin. The ambiance includes a flock of peacocks that roost at night high in the trees surrounding this gracious place.

For breakfast check out a bustling diner. Two of the best are 24 Diner (600 N. Lamar Blvd.; open late night) or Phoebe’s (533 W. Oltorf St.; breakfast & lunch only). No visit to Austin is complete without a taco from Torchy’s (multiple locations) or Guero’s (1412 S. Congress Ave.).

The Austin music scene is legendary. So many artists – from Willie Nelson to Gary Clark, Jr. – made their mark here. The annual 6-day ACL Festival (Oct. 2-4 & 9-11) is produced by the folks that do Chicago’s Lollapalooza. For more intimate shows there’s the Moody Theater, home of the long-running PBS TV series, “Austin City Limits.” 

The club scene thrives by showcasing local acts on the way up or already established. Two venues of note: Continental Club (1315 S. Congress Ave.), home to Dale Watson and his Lone Stars, and Antone’s (305 E. 5th St.) featuring mostly the blues by the likes of Buddy Guy, Billy Gibbons, Dr. John and Leon Russell.

For two-stepping there’s Donn’s Depot (1600 W. 5th St.).  Owner Donn Adelman fronts a band with a wide repertoire. A while back Donn’s was recognized as the “Best Place in Austin to See Your Granddad Cut a Rug.”

Lodging ranges from the gilded opulence of the downtown Four Seasons ($489) to the funky fun of Hotel San Jose ($166) on SoCo (South Congress Avenue). Shop websites for deals at places like the historic Stephen F. Austin (near the Texas State Capitol) or chain hotels like the Indigo (with rooftop pool and cabanas) near the boisterous Sixth Street entertainment district.

Austin’s a lively Airbnb town with tons of choices, whether high-rise apartment buildings or neighborhood cozy cute cottages; choose wisely and have fun.

An easy 40-minute drive from downtown is the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (4801 La Crosse Ave.), an arboretum with more than 900 species of native Texas plants in both garden and natural settings. It’s a wonderful tribute to the center’s namesake, wife to the 37th president and a force of nature herself.

Just north of the Texas State Capitol on the campus of UT is the Blanton Museum of Art (200 E Martin Luther King Jr Blvd.), home to one of the largest on-campus art collections in the country.

Ready for a dip in one of two natural (no-chlorine) swimming pools? In Zilker Park is Barton Springs Pool (2131 William Barton Dr.), a massive 900-foot long pool dating back to the 19th century. The water is a chilly 68 degrees and on sunny days nude sunbathers imbibe. A family-friendly cooling-off spot with slightly warmer water is Deep Eddy Pool (401 Deep Eddy Ave.).

On warm days the river downtown where closed to motorboats is full of paddlers  For walking, jogging and biking there are flat, easy trails.  Along the south river bank look for the memorial to guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, a native son who died in a 1990 helicopter crash after a performance in East Troy, WI.

This town has a real thing for erecting statues honoring musicians; there’s a larger-than-life Willie Nelson outside the Moody Theater. Thankfully, he’s alive and kicking, enjoying life in and around Austin.