Ninth in a series highlighting cities to which you can fly nonstop from Boston.
Engage an Austinite in a discussion about home and the conversation is apt to include a line like this: “Austin is the best/greatest/hippest city in the universe.’’ Followed, perhaps, by: “Please don’t move here.’’
That’s the Texas-sized rub. The locals, often transplants themselves, insist the city is being overrun by hordes of newcomers, spouting numbers such as 70 people moving here daily, or 100, or 150. And with them come Boston-like rush hours, long lines at favorite watering and noshing holes, and, worst of all, the potential that Austin will become, well, less quirky (Austinites prefer “weird”).
There’s a lot to attract newcomers to Austin, tagged the nation’s fastest-growing city by Forbes magazine. Restaurants, from high-end joints to trailers in barren lots, are a foodie’s delight. Parks are ample and inviting.
Then there’s the music. Performers in Austin are like slot machines in Vegas. You find them seemingly everywhere during festivals: in the airport, on a street corner, among the din and heat of a laundromat. And art begets art. Troupes such as Theatre en Bloc expand the boundaries of stage. Movie-crazed Austinites frequent quote-a-thons or dress as their favorite character at neighborhood screenings. Even the graffiti is first-class.
In a city so musically on-beat and attitudinally off-beat, the visitor can expect a warm welcome. And a hearty farewell.
2-3 p.m. Finding the best stores is like an urban safari. Fuel up at Torchy’s Tacos (1311 South First St., 512-366-0537, www.torchystacos.com , $3-$5), one of the best food trailer parks in a city renowned for them. Browse long enough to admire the golden, and a little creepy, wall sculpture of assorted misfit mannequins and vintage toys.
On the way to SoCo (South Congress Avenue, mecca of homemade wares and weirdness), stop by Casa De Los Muertos (1711 South First, 512-326-1802). Once the city morgue, it’s now a head and jewelry shop, with glassworks in back. Most stunningly, the shop is wrapped in vibrant, ghastly illustrations.
3-5 p.m. SoCo is grit chic. Here psychedelic doodlings and vertigo-inducing patterns pepper otherwise tired storefronts. Open the door of Allens Boots (1522 South Congress Ave., 512-447-1413, www.allensboots.com ), and stop, two beats, to allow the scent of leather to envelop and intoxicate. Row upon row of alligator, croc, lizard, ostrich boots — 4,500 of them on display — pack the store. The standard hide now is goat, says Erin Slade, a manager. The most unusual request? Cobra, the fanged head sutured atop the instep.
At the junction of chaos and commerce stands Uncommon Objects (1512 South Congress, 512-442-4000, www.uncommonobjects.com ), as vast a collection of Americana doodads as you’ll likely encounter. Random jewels of discovery frequent every other footstep — vintage dresses hang next to a table made of bottle caps of Labatt beer and over a box of horseshoes so rust-encrusted they seemed pried from carcasses at the Alamo.
Step into Lucy in Disguise next door (512-444-2002) for a dress-up fest (got to love a shop with a plaintive sign: “Please do not play in the boas”).
5-7 p.m. On to happy hour and eats on the patio at Perla’s Seafood and Oyster Bar (1400 South Congress, 512-291-7300, www.perlasaustin.com , $28-$45 entrees), a splash of the Gulf Coast, in bright blues and yellow and what many locals insist is the best seafood around. After dinner, walk to Amy’s Ice Creams or Hey Cupcake! Caloric heaven.
7-8 p.m. Start with a drink at the upstairs lounge at the Driskill (604 Brazos St., 512-439-1234, www.driskillhotel.com ). Think Fairmont Copley Plaza but with a longhorn’s head and vintage guns adorning the walls. Young Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird had their first date here and it’s where he watched the 1960 election results while on the line with JFK — an early “Austin-to-Boston’’ connection.
8 p.m. Walk a few blocks east on Sixth Street just to people watch. One club spills into the next, a half dozen stuffed per block, with live music pulsing out and mingling in the street. It has a New Orleans feel. Warning: Do not attempt this late night, when the scene can turn obnoxious. Instead, head to Rainey Street district. Pre-Depression bungalow homes are, one by one, being turned into restaurants and bars. Many offer patio seating, with banks of white lights providing a festive feel.
9-10 a.m. Austin is considered one of the healthiest cities in the country. So slap on sunscreen and do some stretches, this will be an outdoors day. A hearty breakfast is a must and Bouldin Creek Cafe (1900 South First, 512-416-1601, www.bouldincreek.com , $5-$9) fits the bill. Excelling in organic food, it’s crunchy, but with soul. For zing with your caffeine, try zeta zucchini eggs with jalapenos. Grab a hybrid bike from Barton Springs Bike Rental (1707 Barton Springs Road, 512-480-0200, www.bartonspringsbikerental.com , $34 a day).
10 a.m.-1 p.m. First stop is nearby Zilker Park and its Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum (605 Robert E. Lee Road, 512-445-5582, www.umlaufsculpture.org , $5, seniors $3, students $1), an engaging synthesis of sacred, sensual, and whimsical pieces. Head to Barton Springs, which neatly mixes the best of a municipal pool with a spring-fed swimming hole. Check out the adjacent “barker’s springs pool” where adventurous dogs and owners dive into rushing waters.
1-3 p.m. Dry off by strolling through the Zilker Botanical Garden (2220 Barton Springs Road, 512-477-8672, www.zilkergarden.org , $3, seniors and children $1). Its hills yield the traditional gardens of roses and Japanese designs plus exhibits on the state’s pioneer foundation (complete with a blacksmith shop) and its paleontological past (about 100 dinosaur tracks were found onsite).
3-5 p.m. Bike across the Colorado River to the Texas Rowing Center (1541 West Cesar Chavez St., 512-467-779, www.texasrowingcenter.com , kayak $10 an hour weekdays, $15 weekends) and rent a paddleboard or kayak. Watch for the hundreds of turtles sunning themselves on branches overhanging the river. Beware of Rambo swans.
5-7 p.m. Cross back over the river and spend a half hour people-watching at the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue. With the skyline and the river as the backdrop and in the foreground a parade of joggers, families, and folks with their dogs, this monument to the towering blues guy is perhaps the quintessential Austin site.
Double back to the South Congress Bridge to wait with hundreds of others for a one-of-a-kind extravaganza: bat mania. About a half hour before dusk in spring, summer, and early fall, tens of thousands of Mexican bats emerge from their home under the bridge and swoop in an aerial ballet of double-helix turns on their way to devouring up to 30,000 pounds of mosquitoes and other insects a night. This is not to be missed. Really.
7-9 p.m. You worked for it; you deserve a culinary event. Head to a squat building off busy Lamar Boulevard housing Barley Swine (2024 South Lamar, 512-394-8150, www.barleyswine.com , advance reservations essential, prix fixe menu $75). The two-hour-plus dinner features small, sumptuous courses imaginatively prepared from local ingredients and impeccably presented. Sit at the bar so you can watch the chefs — and buy them a beer.
9 p.m. Check the Austin Chronicle to see what musicians are in town (Elephant Room is often the best venue for jazz, Antone’s for blues, the Continental Club for dirt-caked honky tonk, Saxon Pub for local roots). If nothing pops out, go traditional and hit the Broken Spoke (3201 South Lamar, 512-442-6189, www.brokenspokeaustintx.com ), a landmark of live music, two steppin’, and cheap Lone Star draws in a Dixie cup. Two-step lessons start at 9. Check out the photo of the young Willie Nelson; his cowboy hat shares a shelf with LBJ’s.
8-9 a.m. A day for the sacred and the sublimely silly. First, it’s breakfast at 24 Diner (600 North Lamar, 512-472-5400, www.24diner.com , $10-$16). The site of an old ice house, 24 features postindustrial lines and lighting and a veggie hash that kicks. Feeling adventurous? Try fried chicken waffles. Work that off bopping two stores down to Waterloo Records to flip through vinyls and see when recording artists are stopping by.
9-10 a.m. Don’t spend time hunting for the holy water font at the Cathedral of Junk (4422 Lareina Drive, 512-299-7413, by appointment $10 per group). Though if one were discarded in Texas, it would surely end up here, tucked among the assorted Barbie body and chainsaw parts, wall of bicycle frames, and glass and concrete sculptures. Built in the backyard of an otherwise unassuming neighborhood, the three-story, 60-ton homage to Americana refuse is half giant jungle gym, half portal through blessed obsolescence. Suspended CDs twist in the breeze, splaying rays of sun into the dark recesses of detritus. It will have you both craning your neck and shaking your head.
10 a.m.-1 p.m. Just how badly do you want what aficionados call the greatest barbecue anywhere? Then grab a folding chair and a deck of cards and head to Franklin Barbecue (900 East 11th St., 512-653-1187, www.franklinbarbecue.com, $6-$16), where the lines outside start before 10, the doors open at 11, and the oak smoke stays with you for days. If you make it to the counter before Aaron Franklin runs out of meat, grab a half-pound each of fatty and lean brisket. Too hungry to wait? Go to Hopdoddy (1400 South Congress, 512-243-7505, www.hopdoddy.com , $7-$10) for local brews and chin-dripping-good burgers. They don’t bother with napkins; a roll of paper towels is on each table.
1-4 p.m. “Everything’s bigger in Texas’’? That motto, mercifully, does not hold true in Austin, but for one sizable exception: its state Capitol, the nation’s largest (1100 Congress Ave., 512-463-0063). Take the free tour but make sure you spend extra time exploring its subterranean addition. Bursting at the seams, the Capitol was doubled in size in the early 1990s — and a casual observer would not know the difference. That’s because instead of committing an architectural atrocity by trying to graft a modern wing to the building, the architects added four stories — under the building. Deftly using skylights and a remarkable “reverse” rotunda, the designers created a space that’s bathed in natural light.