Exploring Austin, a different kind of Texas
Austin may be the capital of the Lone Star State, but it has its own unique personality and many, many fans. If you're visiting for the first time, you might be surprised at Austin's friendly, open-minded personality and the quirky but fun adventures that await you there.
Q: What is Austin known for?
A: Austin is the capital of the state of Texas, but it's also self-described as the "Live Music Capital of the World." The city picked that motto in 1991 when it was discovered that Austin had the highest number of music venues per capita. Austin hosts a variety of major music festivals. South by Southwest is perhaps first among equals, but others include the Austin City Limits Music Festival and the Fun Fun Fun Fest. Other famous aspects of this town include the University of Texas at Austin, an abundance of top-notch Texas-barbecue joints and the city's liberal spirit.
Q: Where is Austin City Limits?
A: Austin City Limits is the name of the longest running music show on television, but it has also spawned a music festival that attracts throngs to the city. The festival, inspired by the PBS concert series, happens in Zilker Park in Austin. It's held on two consecutive three-day weekends in October and includes over 100 bands on eight stages.
Q: What river runs through Austin, Texas?
A: The Colorado River runs through the heart of Austin. This Colorado River starts and ends in Texas, and it should not be confused with the Colorado River that carved out the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
Q: How many airports are in Austin?
A: Austin has one airport, and it only opened in 1999. It is called the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, served by many airlines including Alaska Airlines, American, British Airways, United, Air Canada, Frontier, Southwest, Allegiant, JetBlue and Delta. You'll arrive about 10 miles from downtown. Keep in mind that no lockers are available at the airport, so bring only what you can take with you.
Q: How do I get around in Austin?
A: Lot's of people drive in Austin, but it's not as easy as it might be. Downtown has more than its fair share of one-way streets and streets without legible road signs, and visitors run the risk of being blindsided by the numerous "Left lane must turn left" or "Right lane must turn right" signs that appear suddenly on the highways, often when it's too late to comfortably navigate into another lane. If you want to rent a car to explore town, obtain a map and study up before driving in Austin.
Options to consider include trains and buses. The town's public transit system, Capital Metro, runs a light rail service that whisks you from downtown to the northern neighborhoods at a very reasonable rate, but the trains run only during commuting times. Buses might be a better choice. Capital Metro offers low fares on over 50 bus lines. Buy a day pass instead of a round-trip fare to ride as many buses as you like for the same price. Just tell the driver what you want to buy before you put your money into the machine.
Q: What should I do in downtown Austin?
A: Downtown Austin has a lot to offer. The Texas State Capitol is worth a visit, constructed over a century ago of rose-colored granite. It's the largest state capitol building in the country. Don't miss the famous Austin bat colony that resides under the Congress Avenue Bridge, just on the southern edge of downtown. It's the largest urban bat colony in North America. Walk there at dusk, or watch the bats from the grassy area on the edge of Lady Bird Lake.
The Mexic-Arte Museum is also located in downtown Austin. Interesting and eclectic, the museum has rotating exhibits featuring work from Mexican and Mexican-American artists. Go on a Sunday if you can for free admission. One of the two sites of the Contemporary Austin Museum is located downtown, and it features new work from emerging artists. While you're there, get up to the open-air event space on the roof for a terrific view.
Q: When is the Trail of Lights in Austin?
A: Austin's Trail of Lights is a local Yule festival held in the Christmas season, from early December through December 23. Zilker Park is transformed into the Trail of Lights with the addition of over 2 million lights. There are also displays, food trucks and entertainment stages.
Q: When do the bats fly in Austin?
A: Over a million Mexican bats live on the platform below the Congress Avenue Bridge. Every night at dusk, you'll see a chittering river of bats as they fly out seeking bugs for dinner. For the best viewing, visit in August, but you are likely to see more bats than you have ever seen no matter when you go.
Q: What can I do in Austin when it rains?
A: Austin gets about 34 inches of rain every year. May and June get more than any other month, while July gets the least. If the skies open up during your visit to Austin, head to any of the museums or other indoor attractions. This would be a good time to visit the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, which contains mementos of his presidency. An interesting exhibit on his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, is on the eighth floor. If you are in central Austin, pop into the Bullock Texas State History Museum, a big, glitzy presentation of Texas' history, including fun interactive exhibits.
Q: Does it snow in Austin, Texas?
A: It doesn't snow every year in Austin, and when it does snow, it rarely hangs around for long. Although a few years have seen several inches of snow, the annual average is just 0.6 inches.