February 15, 2023

“Keep Austin Weird”

Ronald B. King ©2023

A big Texas HOWDY Y’ALL ! Welcome all you judges, bankruptcy professionals, spouses, and significant others to Austin for the NCBJ Annual Conference ! We can’t wait to host you.

“Keep Austin Weird” is the unofficial slogan of the capital city of Texas. It began in 2000 when Red Wassenich called in to a local radio station fund raiser and stated he was donating “because it keeps Austin weird.” The slogan morphed into bumper stickers, tee shirts, hats, and all kinds of memorabilia about Austin. Other cities have subsequently tried to adopt the slogan but Austin was first.

Perhaps the best description of Austin is that it is eclectic. It is the capital city of Texas, the home of the University of Texas, and until a few decades ago was a small, sleepy college town and the seat of state government at the edge of the Texas Hill Country. It has mushroomed in recent years to over one million people and is now the eleventh largest city in the United States. It is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States and the downtown has been transformed from a modest skyline of the Texas Capitol, the University of Texas Tower, and a few office buildings, to a morass of downtown high rise office, residential condominiums, and apartments. The suburbs are booming and growing just as fast. Real estates prices are sky high. High tech companies are opening offices in Austin. Californians and others are relocating to Austin in droves.

Austin is also known as the “live music capital of the world.” Country music has always had a home in Texas with “Willie, Waylon and the boys,” and Austin has more than its share. But all kinds of live rock, jazz, and even classical music emanate from Austin music venues, clubs, bars, and honky-tonks.

There are so many sights to see and things to do that it is hard to narrow the list for fear of omitting things near and dear to the hearts of Austinites. But with some trepidation, here is a list of the top twenty and the means of travel:

  1. The Texas Capitol: The Texas Capitol building was completed in 1888. The rotunda, columns, and other classical architectural details are in the Renaissance Revival style, reminiscent of Greek and Roman government buildings. It took 1,000 engineers, contractors, laborers, and craftsmen seven years to complete it. The capitol was intentionally built to be a few feet taller than the national capitol building in Washington, D.C. The granite was quarried at first by prisoners, and later by experienced Scottish granite cutters. The granite came from Marble Falls, Texas, about 48 miles northwest of Austin, and was brought in by rail. The capitol originally housed all of the Texas government and its agencies, but through the years it has been expanded, renovated, and many more state buildings have been built in the .complex to house Texas government. The capitol was declared a national historic landmark in 1986. Tours are available on a daily basis. (.7 miles from J.W. Marriott Hotel; walking)

  2. The University of Texas: One of the premier public research academic institutions in the nation is located in Austin just a few blocks north of the capitol. The University (“UT”) was founded in 1883 and has grown to a student body of over 52,000 students. In addition, it is the flagship university of the University of Texas System, which includes 13 academic and health institutions. UT is well known for its engineering, science, law, medical, and liberal arts programs, as well as its often nationally ranked sports programs. The 307 foot UT Tower is the symbol of the university and is often lit in orange on special occasions such as winning a national championship. (1.5 miles from J.W. Marriott Hotel; walking or Uber)

  3. LBJ Presidential Library: Lyndon Baines Johnson grew up about 50 miles west of Austin in Johnson City, Texas. He served as United States President during a turbulent period from 1963 until 1969. The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library opened in 1971 on the UT campus. It was the first presidential library to be located on a college campus. It houses many historical artifacts from the presidency of LBJ, plus memorabilia from his years in the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. There is a replica of the Oval Office that reflects its appearance in the 1960s. American history buffs love it. (2.5 miles from J.W. Marriott Hotel; Uber)

  4. The Texas Governor’s Mansion: The Governor’s Mansion was completed in 1854 and has been occupied by every Texas Governor since 1856. It is the fourth oldest governor’s mansion in the United States that has been continuously occupied by the chief executive. It was built in the Greek Revival style and currently contains 8920 square feet. It is located across the street west of the Texas Capitol grounds. The mansion has been expanded and renovated a number of times and was declared a national historic landmark in 1974. (.8 miles from J.W.Marriott Hotel; walking)

  5. Sixth Street and Rainey Street: Located a few blocks south of the Texas Capitol are Sixth Street and its younger sister, Rainey Street. These are essential components of the “adult playground” that Austin has in many ways become. They are well known among college students, hipsters, twenty-somethings, and imbibers of all ages. Just east of Congress Avenue, East Sixth Street is full of restaurants and bars that are entertaining for the college and younger crowd, but tend to get somewhat rowdy. Just west of Congress Avenue, West Sixth Street is a bit calmer and has an older clientele of professionals in its restaurants and bars. Rainey Street is perhaps the latest hot area for restaurants and bar hopping for the younger crowd. All are a lot of fun but require caution and traveling in groups at night. Unless you are within walking distance, you should definitely call Uber or Lyft for a ride home because the Austin police are always watching for DWI candidates. (4 – 12 blocks from J.W. Marriott Hotel; walking)

  6. The Bullock Texas History Museum: Named after the late Bob Bullock, a former lieutenant governor of Texas, the museum explores over 16,000 years of Texas history. It includes early native American civilizations that preceded the European arrival; European colonization of parts of Texas; and the history of politics in Texas. In addition, there is an exhibit that shows the history of the PBS television show “Austin City Limits” with video excerpts. There are sections that show the history of science, technology, oil and gas, the space program, civil rights, as well as music and sports in Texas. (1.5 miles from J.W. Marriott Hotel: walking or Uber)

  7. Lady Bird Lake, Lake Austin, and Lake Travis: The Highland Lakes were created by the construction of a series of dams on the Colorado River. Two of those lakes are located in the Austin area: Lake Travis is west of Austin and Lake Austin is in west Austin. Lady Bird Lake was created in 1960 by construction of Longhorn Dam as a cooling pond for a city power plant. It is located downstream from Lake Austin in downtown Austin. Lady Bird Lake is about 15 blocks south of the Texas Capitol. It provides a beautiful view for the many hotels, office buildings, and residential towers in the downtown area. There are stand up paddle boards, kayaks, and paddle boats that can be rented to explore Lady Bird Lake. It was named after Lady Bird Johnson because of her efforts to beautify the lake and its surroundings. (2 blocks from J.W. Marriott Hotel; walking)

  8. Zilker Park and Barton Springs: Zilker Park and Barton Springs are located just south and west of Lady Bird Lake near downtown Austin. The 350 acre tract was donated to the City of Austin in 1917 and became a city park. Zilker Park annually hosts the Austin City Limits Music Festival. This year’s festival is October 6 – 15, so check on the dates and artists if you are interested. The park also includes the Zilker Botanical Center and the Austin Nature and Science Center, as well as the Zilker Hillside Theater. Barton Springs is a spring fed swimming pool located in the park that is open year-round, but the water stays below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, even in July – not recommended in the fall unless you are a polar bear. (1.9 miles from J.W. Marriott Hotel; Uber)

  9. The Congress Street Bridge and its one million bats: The Ann Richards Congress Street Bridge crosses Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin. Besides providing downtown access for vehicular traffic, the bridge hosts one and a half million Mexican freetail bats who live under the bridge from March through November. Every evening before sundown, the bats blanket the sky en masse to forage for food. Onlookers line up every night and every morning to view the bats. There are also cruises and riverboats on which to watch the bats. This nightly event is one of the most spectacular and unusual tourist attractions in Austin. (.3 miles from J.W. Marriott Hotel; walking)

  10.  The Treaty Oak: The Treaty Oak is located downtown in Treaty Oak Park, on Baylor Street between 5th and 6th Streets, in Austin’s West Line Historic District. Native American legend holds that it was the location of the launching of war and peace parties. Women of the Tejas tribe would drink a tea made from the acorns of the oak to ensure the safety of their warriors. Legend also states that Stephen F. Austin met with Native American leaders to negotiate treaties and Sam Houston rested under the Treaty Oak after his expulsion from the governor’s office at the start of the Civil War. (1.2 miles from J.W. Marriott Hotel; walking or Uber)

  11. O. Henry Museum, Blanton Museum, and Elizabet Ney Museum: If museums are your interest, these three are special. The O. Henry Museum was the residence of William Sydney Porter, also known as O. Henry. It is located in downtown Austin at 409 East 5th Street. (.4 miles; walking) O. Henry was the short story writer who wrote such classics as The Gift of the Magi, The Ransom of Red Chief, and The Last Leaf. The Blanton Museum is located on the University of Texas campus and contains many American and Latin American, Renaissance Italian, and Baroque paintings, prints, and drawings. (1.5 miles; walking or Uber) The Elizabet Ney Museum is named after the iconoclastic German sculptor who immigrated to Austin from Germany in 1892. Her former home in the Hyde Park area of Austin is home to a large quantity of art created by women. The museum is located at 304 East 44th Street in Austin. (4.9 miles; Uber)

  12.  The “Trail”: Surrounding Lady Bird Lake is a hiking and biking trail that is quite popular and scenic. Many locals and visitors run or walk on the trail on a daily basis. Former Governors George W. Bush and Rick Perry were among the many runners on the trail. The entrances are along Cesar Chavez Boulevard at the southern edge of downtown. (2 blocks from J.W. Marriott Hotel; walking)

  13. The “Drag”: Guadalupe Street is part of the West Campus area of the University of Texas and has the usual college-oriented strip of retail outlets, including bookstores, fast food restaurants, and various shops. The Drag is a campus meeting place and is famous for the presence of numerous panhandlers as well as various small street vendors. (1.8 miles from J.W. Marriott Hotel; Uber)

  14. Salt Lick: Austin is known for its barbeque cuisine. The Salt Lick is an iconic barbeque restaurant in Driftwood, a small town southwest of Austin. The Salt Lick also has a location in Round Rock and at the Austin airport. There are many other fine barbeque restaurants in Austin that will be described in the restaurant information. (24 miles from J.W. Marriott Hotel; by car)

  15. The Broken Spoke: The Broken Spoke is an iconic honky-tonk saloon and restaurant on South Lamar boulevard in Austin that has been a dancehall and bar since 1964. It has hosted the likes of Bob Wills, Dolly Parton, Ray Price, Roy Acuff, Kris Kristofferson, George Strait, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, and many others. After over 50 years of country music memories, they are still “keeping it country.” (7.2 miles from J.W. Marriott Hotel; Uber or car)

  16. Saint Mary Cathedral: Located downtown just blocks from the Capitol at 203 East 10th Street, the Cathedral was established in 1866 and the cornerstone was laid in 1872. It is the cathedral parish for over 450,000 Catholics in the Austin Diocese. (.8 miles from J.W. Marriott Hotel; walking)

  17. Paramount Theater: Established in 1915, the Austin Paramount Theatre has been home to iconic films and performances, including Harry Houdini, Katherine Hepburn, and Miles Davis. Vaudeville shows were the rage in the 1920s. The Paramount continues to bring legends to the stage. Check the schedule for October performances. (.4 miles from J.W. Marriott Hotel; walking)

  18. Ranch 616: Ranch 616 is one of those West Sixth Street watering holes and restaurants that the Capitol crowd might frequent. The specialty of the house is Tequila Ranch Water with Topo Chico that Ranch 616 made famous. It is located at 616 Nueces Street near West 6th Street. (.7 miles from J.W. Marriott Hotel; walking)

  19. The Oasis on Lake Travis: As the name suggests, the Oasis overlooks Lake Travis with a panoramic view. It declares itself the Sunset Capital of Texas and is the largest outdoor restaurant in Texas. Opened in 1982, it was destroyed by lightning in 2005, but it has rebuilt and is still going strong with seating for over 2,000 customers. The 30,000 square feet of restaurant has many antiques and pieces of art on display. (16.9 miles from J.W. Marriott Hotel; car)

  20. The Texas Hill Country: The Texas Hill Country begins in west Austin and extends many miles to the west and northwest. Like Austin, the Texas Hill Country is booming and growing rapidly. Fredericksburg, Luckenbach, New Braunfels, Gruene, Boerne, Comfort, Bandera, Llano, Mason, and many other others are quaint hill country towns that have appeal to young families, retirees, big city slickers, and rural folks. There are six lakes in the Highland Lakes chain, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, vineyards, wineries, craft beer breweries, antique shops, resorts, and entertainment venues in the Texas Hill Country. It has become a popular place for destination weddings with bucolic scenery and reasonably priced accommodations. If you have a car, the Hill Country is a great place to take a drive to see, among other things, the LBJ Ranch, Fredericksburg, Gruene, the Nimitz World War II Museum, the Enchanted Rock, local wineries, or the fabled town of Luckenbach. (45 – 100 miles from J.W. Marriott Hotel; car)