Austin beckons the tourist with its carefully maintained natural beauty, historic buildings, art museums and galleries, and vibrant night life. On a walking tour of the downtown area, highlights include the Texas State Capitol, a pink granite structure with a magnificent rotunda, and the ante-bellum Greek Revival Governor's Mansion. Early Texas history is reflected in the French Legation, a French provincial cottage built in 1841 for the French Charge d'Affaires to the Republic of Texas. Visitors may take guided tours of all three attractions. The State Cemetery, considered the Arlington of Texas, is the final resting place of many notable historical figures. The Umlauf Sculpture Gardens display 130 sculptures by Charles Umlauf. Both the curious and the lover of wildlife may appreciate seeing the largest colony of urban bats in North America. More than one million Mexican free-tailed bats—the namesake of the Austin Ice Bats hockey team—live under the Congress Avenue Bridge between April and September.
Other facets of Austin's past and present are reflected in the landmarks on the University of Texas at Austin campus. In addition to several museums, notable sights include the Center for American History, containing the most extensive collection of Texas history ever assembled; 1893 Little-field House; and one of only five Gutenberg Bibles in the United States.
Zilker Park, the city's largest, is a popular destination for Austinites wanting to go for a swim, take a canoe ride, play soccer with friends, or just stroll through the gardens. Just a few minutes from downtown, it features Barton Springs, fed by natural spring water, as well as a nature center, a fanciful playground, several specialized gardens, a miniature train, large picnic and play areas, and a theater. Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve's 227 acres offer hiking and educational opportunities. Also within the city limits is the 744-acre McKinney Falls State Park.
Austin is hailed as the "Live Music Capital of the World," and has more than 120 live music venues (including the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport). The PBS television program "Austin City Limits" has brought the city nationwide attention as a major center for progressive country music, popularized by such entertainers as Willie Nelson, a native Austinite. This is only part of a cultural scene that includes private theaters, two ballet companies, a symphony orchestra, an opera company, dozens of film theaters, and numerous art galleries and museums. The University of Texas Cultural Entertainment Committee hosts a constant stream of visiting entertainers, many of whom perform at the lavish University of Texas at Austin Performing Arts Center, comprised of Bass Concert Hall, Hogg Auditorium, Bates Recital Hall, B. Iden Payne Theatre, McCullough Theatre, and Oscar G. Brockett Theatre. Construction began in 2005 on the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Center for the Performing Arts, which will serve 250 performing groups including the Austin Symphony, Ballet Austin, and the Austin Lyric Opera. Other classical groups in the city include the Austin Vocal Arts Ensemble and the Austin Civic Orchestra.
Aficionados of the stage may choose from traditional or more avant-garde fare presented by Austin's 35 independent theater companies. The Paramount Theatre, a restored 1915 vaudeville house, hosts traveling and children's productions. Repertory venues include Live Oak Theater, Capitol City Playhouse, and Zachary Scott Theatre. The city supports Shakespearean productions and a children's troupe. Musical theater is the forte of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, which stages an annual "grand production" and free monthly musicales. Satirical performances are staged by Esther's Follies.
Austin claims to be home to the highest number of artists per capita of any city in Texas, and offers a wide variety of art galleries. Among Austin's 35 galleries and museums is the Elisabet Ney Museum, which displays the work of the state's first important sculptress in her former home. One of the world's largest collections of Latin American art is on display at the two locations of the Huntington Art Gallery on the University of Texas at Austin campus, while the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art at the university has a large collection of Old Master paintings and drawings.
Austin's other museums celebrate Texas history and some of its notable citizens. For instance, the General Land Office Building, where William Sydney Porter, better known as O. Henry, once worked, was used as the setting for one of his stories and is open for tours. The O. Henry Home and Museum exhibits the writer's personal effects, and on the first Sunday of May, is the site of the O. Henry Pun-Off. The collections of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas are on view at the Republic of Texas Museum. The George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Art Center is Texas' first African American history museum. The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum maintains a collection of the late president's documents and displays memorabilia and a re-creation of his White House Oval Office. The state's natural history is the focus of the Texas Memorial Museum. Old and young alike enjoy Discovery Hall, a hands-on science museum, and the Austin Children's Museum.
Austin hosts several major events throughout the year, the largest of which are centered on the arts. The South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film, and media festival is an internationally acclaimed, 10-day extravaganza held each March. Spring brings the Old Settler's Music Festival, the Austin International Poetry Festival, and the Austin Fine Arts Festival. The Austin City Limits Music Festival, an extension of the popular "Austin City Limits" television show, has been held each September since its 2002 debut. The following month is the Austin Film Festival, a showcase of commercial and independent films. Festivals with an ethnic flavor include the Carnival Brasiliero, a celebration of Brazilian culture and music held each February, and Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) and Diez y Seis (September 16th), which honor Mexican Independence. The Star of Texas Fair & Rodeo takes place over two weeks in March at the Travis County Exposition Center, which is also the site of the Republic of Texas Biker Rally in June. Numerous holiday celebrations, including Chuy's Christmas Parade, enliven the winter.
Austin's first professional sports team was the Ice Bats of the Western Professional Hockey League. Named for the world-famous bats that live under the Congress Avenue Bridge, the team plays at the Travis County Exposition and Heritage Center. The Round Rock Express, a AA baseball affiliate of the Houston Astros, began play in the nearby city of Round Rock after relocating there from Mississippi in 2000. Four years later the city added another professional team, the Austin Wranglers, the nineteenth franchise of the Arena Football League. Spectators can watch the Dallas Cowboys at their pre-season football training camp at St. Edward's University in July and August. Professional basketball fans can view the National Basketball Association's San Antonio Spurs train at the University of Texas at Austin Rec Center.
In college action, the city is gripped with football fever each fall as the University of Texas at Austin Longhorns take on the Big 12 Conference at Memorial Stadium. University athletes engage in a full range of other sports as well, including volleyball, baseball, basketball, cross country, golf, track, tennis, swimming, rowing, diving, and women's soccer.
Amateur athletes delight in Austin's extensive sports facilities. The city's 208 parks and playgrounds total about 16,800 acres, and the city boasts numerous municipal golf courses and more than 28 miles of hiking and biking trails. The 150-mile chain that makes up Highland Lakes offers opportunities for swimming, canoeing, fishing, and boating. Austin has earned a reputation as one of the best tennis and golf environments in the nation.
Annual sporting events invite residents and visitors to put their best foot forward. The Freescale Marathon, a 26.2 mile race from Northwest Austin to Auditorium Shores, draws more than 7,000 participants each February. Texas' largest footrace, the Capitol 10,000, takes place in April and attracts approximately 10,000 runners on a 10K course between Congress Avenue and Auditorium Shores.
The infusion of wealthy high tech, film, and music professionals into Austin has turned it into a retail boom town. Austin offers residents and visitors a variety of shopping experiences. Downtown, for example, the streets around the capitol and other government buildings feature a wide array of upscale shops. One of the city's liveliest areas for both shopping and other forms of entertainment is Old Pecan Street, also known as Sixth Street, a seven-block strip of renovated Victorian and native stone buildings. Sporting more than 70 shops, restaurants, and clubs, Old Pecan Street displays a Bourbon Street flair in the evening. Adjacent to the University of Texas at Austin campus—especially along a street known as "The Drag"—are dozens of small clothing boutiques and bookstores; on weekends, sidewalk vendors sell handcrafted items. More traditional mall shopping is common in the fast-growing northern part of the city.
Austin has more fine restaurants and clubs per capita than any other city in the nation. The city's restaurants feature everything from down-home Texas barbecue to the most elegant continental cuisine. Mexican restaurants are particularly abundant, and Asian restaurants have been proliferating.
Visitor Information: Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau, 301 Congress Ave., Ste. 200, Austin, TX 78701; telephone (512)474-5171; toll-free 800-926-2282; email firstname.lastname@example.org