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Austin: Football's worst-kept secret

You know you're deep in the heart of Austin when the band spells out a script "Texas" at halftime. Photo © University of Texas Athletics

Buy tickets for the Texas Tech-Texas tilt | Passport: Log your game

Austin is the university town no one wants to leave. It's also a capital, for state politics and music, with a proud, diverse, open-minded local base that strives to ever "Keep Austin Weird" and opt for -- as Matthew McConaughey's Wooderson says in "Dazed and Confused" -- a life of "L-I-V-I-N." Add to that hills and natural springs in which you can swim in January. Wait, are we still Texas?

Yes indeed we are, as evidenced by the Texas-Texas Tech rivalry game Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

More for the road

Plan the rest of your Texas stay by checking out Lonely Planet's online Austin coverage or downloading Lonely Planet's Texas travel planner for $3.90.

Why go?

The Longhorns' home is, as cities go, one of the country's worst-kept secrets. Few haven't heard of its great food, laid-back bars, Internet millionaires in jeans, and so much live music it's hard to know where to begin -- or stop. But that doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed. Its music festivals -- the Austin City Limits festival and, in particular, South by Southwest (SXSW) -- showcase where music will be going next.

Nightlife districts are many and varied. You'll want to at least peek at the best-known district, downtown's East Sixth Street, lined with bars and music venues that are most popular with visitors, as well as the frat folk of campus.
It's only one of a few downtown areas, including Red River, the Warehouse District and East Second Street.

Despite the heat, Austin loves its outdoors. It's worth biking around Town Lake, south of downtown, and swimming in natural springs at nearby Barton Springs. Those with wheels chase wildflowers in the Hill Country -- particularly around Fredericksburg, 80 miles west of town -- and stop in authentic honky-tonks in the hills, like Gruene Hall, 45 miles south. (Click here for more dance halls.)

Seeing the game

The newly expanded Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium now holds 101,000 fans -- the biggest stadium in a state full of big stadiums. Pick up tickets at StubHub!

You'll find parking lots and state-run parking garages to the south and east of the stadium, though only a few are open to the general public. (Check here for a parking-lot map.)

Austin's tailgating scene pales when compared to some college towns. "Austin is more the wine-and-cheese crowd than the SEC," said Marc Hoenig of ESPN 1530AM.

If roaming about pregame, try Scholz Garten (founded in 1866 and supposedly the oldest bar in Texas; with outdoor tables, food, beer and big screens) and "Bevo Boulevard," a closed-off street of food, beer and ballyhoo a block north on 18th Street.

Sports enthusiast's calendar

Saturday: 9 a.m., "College GameDay" at Mike A. Myers Track & Soccer Stadium, east of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium
7 p.m. kickoff, Texas Tech at No. 2 Texas, Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium

Five must-sees in Austin

  • • Um, live music anyone? Austin has a couple of hundred venues to choose from.

    • • See one and a half million Mexican bats take flight at dusk along Town Lake from the Congress Avenue Bridge south of downtown

      • • Mexican food

        • • Climb Mount Bonnell at sunrise for surprisingly Texas-size views of hill country

          • • Swim in Barton Springs Pool, a clear natural spring (with turtles)

          What locals say

          • • "There's no place in Texas like Austin. We have trees. We have hills. And the swimming at Barton Springs blew my mind." -- Liz Nguyen, Dallas native and engineering student at the University of Texas

            • • "Texas is an incredible cultural crossroads for food and music -- black, white, Mexican, Southern, Cajun, blues, conjunto, Tejano, rock, blues, bluegrass, country -- it's all there." -- Boo Resnick , a member of the local band Austin Lounge Lizards

              • • "Some people hate the Texas marching band's uniform. The problem is the tassels. People say it's very girly and frilly. When you move, they move with you. You either love it or hate it. And I love it." -- Jeremy Gue, former flag bearer in the UT band

                • • "Austin's OK. I'd rather live in Lubbock, to be honest. Less traffic, also good restaurants and nightlife, and the people there make the town." Tech alum and Austin resident, Duane Mayer (who predicts a 48-45 Tech win, by the way)

                Did you know?

                Many say the Longhorns' bovine mascot Bevo was named after Texas A&M pranksters branded the longhorn "13-0" a couple of years after a 1915 Aggies shutout win, then Texas students cleverly re-fashioned it as "Bevo." The branding incident happened, but "Bevo" already had his name. Speaking of rival infiltration, Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium is named for a star Oklahoma football player (later a Texas coach).

                Game-day planner

                Austin locals often tout the city's natural side more than the bands and queso dip. So after Lee Corso holds up the "Hook 'Em Horns" sign at Mike A. Myers Track & Soccer Stadium during the 9 a.m. "College GameDay" broadcast (and, honestly, no one's picking Tech this weekend), you can mill about campus, check out tailgates and get some grub on UT's student-oriented "Drag" -- north-south-running Guadalupe Street, a few blocks west of the stadium. The heart of the tailgate scene is off-campus to the south, around "Bevo Boulevard" on 18th Street. The culturally inclined can pop into the nearby domed Bill Bullock Texas State History Museum.

                A completely different day-filler before the 7 p.m. kickoff takes in Austin's greens and blues -- its more natural side, composed of parks and rivers. You're best off keeping your car wherever it's parked and taking a taxi or bus (No. 3 south on Nueces Street, two short blocks west of Guadalupe) to Austin's "78704" -- the Lamar area of south-central Austin. Start with lunch on the patio of the homey Shady Grove, where the catfish comes fried in a tortilla crust and bathed in queso. Have a margarita, then work off the intake by bike.

                Rent a cruiser or mountain bike at the nearby Bicycle Sport Shop and pedal along the 10-mile loop around Austin's beloved but skinny Town Lake, made from the dammed Colorado River. The easygoing path is flat and passes swans, the Stevie Ray Vaughn statue and the "bat bridge" (where more than a million bats take flight at dusk, from March through November). You can see it all easily in less than two hours' time. (Click here for more information.)

                Afterward, have a quick dip in Austin's year-round swimming hole in Zilker Park, a short walk west. The Barton Springs Pool is a natural spring that stays a comfortable 68 degrees all year. Hurry back for a pregame beer with the hordes in burnt orange. Get a taxi or bus No. 3, which goes up Lamar Street and weaves its way through downtown.

                Wait till the final gun of the game is fired to see the Texas team (win or lose) sing "The Eyes of Texas" along with the student crowd. Then hit downtown. A fun way to get out is on the stream of pedicabs that go down San Jacinto Boulevard to East Sixth Street's bars from the east side of the stadium.

                Another option is following Willie Nelson and George Strait's boot steps to the Broken Spoke, a honky-tonk with a sand-covered wood floor and shows starting at 9:30 p.m. It's south of Town Lake; you can get there via bus No. 3 from Nueces Street, four blocks west of the stadium.

                Sunday chaser

                A good way to shake the aftereffects of Saturday night is with a plate of migas or huevos rancheros at the covered sidewalk seats at Guero's, featured in Quentin Tarantino's film "Death Proof."

                This Sunday is Austin Museum Day, when many attractions open their doors with free admission. There's Chuck Close's eerie black-and-white photos of wide-eyed faces at the Austin Museum of Art downtown and Tex-style storytelling for the kids. Or check out Texas history in the huge, domed Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, just south of campus.

                To get real local, tuck away the iPod while in Austin, which considers itself the world capital of vinyl. The twice-annual Austin Record Convention (next scheduled for another Longhorns weekend, Oct. 9-11) is a giant wax exchange, while Waterloo Records is an everyday Texas-size record store with free in-store concerts (Living Color plays at 5 p.m. Friday).

                During the afternoon or night, see what's happening at Alamo Drafthouse on Sixth Street. It's an Austin institution: an indie movie house, with beer, food and films like the doc of the "real Spinal Tap" ("Anvil! The Story of Anvil") at 4:20 p.m. Sunday, or the raucous Pancake Theater troupe, openly mocking Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Total Recall" sci-fi fantasy from 1990 at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.

                As dusk comes, head out to climb Austin's highest point, 775-foot Mount Bonnell, on Mount Bonnell Drive west of U.S. Highway 1 (via West 35th Street). Easy-to-climb steps lead up to a pavilion looking over Lake Austin and distant Hill Country to the dipping sun to the west.

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