Austin’s unparalleled live music offerings and status as a state capitol may have put it on the map, but that merely hints at what makes this truly unique town tick. Situated amidst a breathtaking backdrop of scenic lakes, native wildflowers, undulating hills, and limestone formations, Austin offers no shortage of picturesque views or outdoor activities. As one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities, thanks in no small part to its reputation as a Southwestern Silicon Valley, Austin offers cosmopolitan comforts like fine dining, top-notch nightlife, premier designer shopping, and fascinating cultural options, all served up with a big dose of down-home charm. Locals take the legendary “Keep Austin Weird” mantra to heart, which means you won’t find a trace of big-city attitude, just a friendly, laid-back vibe with character to spare. Whether you’re stocking up on one-of-a-kind keepsakes on South Congress Avenue’s popular strip of funky vintage boutiques and gift shops; enjoying a fresh salt-rimmed margarita with chips and salsa at an outdoor café; tuning in to the next great up-andcoming band at a downtown bar; cheering on the Longhorns to victory amidst thousands of screaming burnt orange-adorned fans; or marveling over the majestic views from Mt. Bonnell, you’re guaranteed to have a wonderful, beyond-relaxing time in Austin. Though Austin offers an enviable selection of sightseeing opportunities and “can’t miss” experiences, visitors to the area shouldn’t hesitate to explore the tranquil beauty of Bastrop and the Lost Pines Region, home to the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa. Located approximately 30 miles southeast of Austin, Bastrop has been dubbed the “Most Historic Small Town in Texas,” thanks to its wealth of historic homes and landmarks. Visitors can head to the enticingly quaint Main Street for an afternoon of antiquing or sightseeing and a taste of that that legendary small-town Southern hospitality or treat themselves to a mouthwatering meal and a night at the theater. Nature enthusiasts will be taken in by the town’s lush surrounding pines and enchanting views of the Colorado River, while active types can make the most of the great outdoors by golfing, hiking, camping, bird-watching, cycling, and more. Between the Southern-accented bohemian bonhomie of Austin and the quiet, natural beauty of Bastrop, you will enjoy a not-soon-to-be-forgotten visit to both the Hill Country and Lost Pines regions of Texas. From hiking through pines and bat-watching to visiting a presidential museum, the attractions of Austin and the Bastrop area guarantee a Texas-sized good time. Attractions BASTROP BASTROP OPERA HOUSE, 711 Spring St., 512-321-6283. Built in 1889, this local landmark is home to two acclaimed community theater companies that stage new productions every month or so. BASTROP RIVERWALK. A 10-foot-wide lighted sidewalk stretches about a halfmile from Fisherman’s Park to Ferry Park in west Bastrop, along the Colorado. It’s a fine place for a relaxing stroll; the two parks offer picnic tables, a basketball court, tennis courts, a boat ramp and a fishing pier. BASTROP STATE PARK. One mile east of Bastrop on Highway 21. Home of the “Lost Pines” (a stand of loblolly pines more common to East Texas, nearly 100 miles away), the park offers many outdoor activities (hiking, fishing, swimming, bicycling, golf), but you don’t even have to leave your car for one of the most rewarding attractions: a scenic 12-mile drive through the Lost Pines between Bastrop and Buescher state parks. CENTRAL TEXAS MUSEUM OF AUTOMOTIVE HISTORY. Located on Highway 304 in Rosanky (12 miles south of Bastrop). This museum houses a large and impressive collection of rare American and European automobiles, vintage 1901 to 1988. Call 512-237-2635 to confirm opening hours, as the museum is often closed on weekdays. AUSTIN BATS of the ANN W. RICHARDS CONGRESS AVENUE BRIDGE, 10 blocks south of the Capitol Building. From March through October, hundreds of people gather nightly on and around the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge to watch a black cloud of 1.5 million bats stream out from under the bridge at dusk. When it was constructed over Lady Bird Lake (then Town Lake) in 1980, no one imagined that bats would consider crevices under the bridge to be a perfect roosting place, but the bridge now shelters the largest urban Mexican Free-Tailed Bat colony in North America. BLANTON MUSEUM OF ART, MLK and Congress Avenue, 512-471-7324. One of the country’s top university fine arts collections is showcased at the Blanton, located at the edge of the UT campus. The museum houses an impressive selection of European, contemporary, and Latin American art, and stays open late on the first Friday of each month for its B scene party, at which visitors can enjoy art with free tapas, live music, and a cash bar. BOB BULLOCK TEXAS STATE HISTORY MUSEUM, 1800 N. Congress Ave., 512- 936-8746. Named for a long-time Texas politician, the museum is a dynamic tribute To the multifaceted history of the state. The “Story of Texas” comes alive through interactive exhibits, rare artifacts, multimedia displays and special effects. The facility also houses Austin’s only IMAX theater. HARRY RANSOM CENTER, 21st and Guadalupe St., 512-471-8944. Within the University of Texas is the Harry Ransom Center, one of the world’s finest cultural archives. Browse through more than 36 million manuscripts, five million photographs (including the world’s first), a rare Gutenberg Bible, and the infamous Watergate papers. LADY BIRD JOHNSON WILDFLOWER CENTER, 4801 La Crosse Ave., 512-232- 0100. The Wildflower Center honors the late Lady Bird Johnson’s dedication to highway beautification by promoting research and the cultivation of native plants, wildflowers and landscapes. Linger on serene limestone porches or stroll through quiet paths that meander around gardens, waterfalls and open fields of flowers. LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON LIBRARY AND MUSEUM, 2313 Red River Street (on the UT campus), 512-721-0200. The Texas Hill Country spawned a political legend in LBJ, so it’s only fitting that Austin would host the nation’s most visited presidential library. In addition to chronicling the life and times of our 36th president, exhibits are also devoted to the influential Lady Bird Johnson. ZILKER PARK, 2100 Barton Springs Road. Spreading over 351 metropolitan acres, Zilker is truly a park with many activities for all seasons and all ages. A prime attraction is the Barton Springs Pool, a spring-fed swimming hole where locals come for dips year-round. SPORTS & RECREATION Austin is the gateway to the Texas Hill Country, a limestone-laced land of springfed creeks and rivers shaded by towering cypress trees. Bastrop is at the juncture of the Hill Country with three other ecological zones, giving visitors easy access to diverse natural attractions, ranging from pine forests and lakes to waterfalls tumbling over limestone ledges. PARKS AND WATER SPORTS/FISHING. In downtown Austin, 10 miles of hiking and biking trails weave their way around Lady Bird Lake, where visitors can rent kayaks and pedal boats or take a sunset dinner or bat-watching cruise. Other favorite Austin spots for chilling out are Barton Springs in Zilker Park and Deep Eddy Pool, the oldest swimming pool in Texas. Both Bastrop and Buescher state parks have small lakes for fishing, boating and canoeing. The much larger Lake Bastrop is stocked with bass and catfish and is also popular for sailing and waterskiing. Guided rafting, canoeing and kayaking trips on the Colorado River can be arranged through McKinney Roughs Nature Park or Rising Phoenix Adventures. At McKinney Falls State Park, two waterfalls tumble into picture-perfect swimming holes. SPECTATOR SPORTS. Watch the University of Texas Longhorns in Austin or catch the Round Rock Express (AAA affiliate of the Houston Astros) at the Dell Diamond, an attractive minor-league park in Round Rock. UT men’s basketball and the Lady Longhorns play at the Frank Erwin Center on Red River Street. Austin also offers minor-league hockey with the new Texas Stars in Cedar Park, an affiliate of the Dallas Stars; and semi-pro Basketball with the Austin Toros, an NBA Development League team owned by the San Antonio Spurs. RODEO. March is cowboy time in Austin at the Star of Texas Fair & Rodeo. The Smithville Jamboree celebrates spring with a livestock show held after Easter, and June brings the Elgin Western Days Festival. During the first weekend in August, Bastrop whoops it up at the Homecoming and Rodeo, its biggest annual party. GOLF AND TENNIS. As it winds through Bastrop, the Colorado River borders Pine Forest Golf Course, while the scenic Lost Pines course is located in Bastrop State Park. But it’s hard to top the Hyatt resort’s Wolfdancer course, as well as the tennis courts that are lighted at night SHOPPING Arty jewelry, funky ’50s decor, handmade quilts, tempting antiques, and cool boutiques make shopping in Austin and Bastrop a delightful form of discovery. In Austin, begin by browsing along Guadalupe Street, known locally as “The Drag,” at the edge of the UT campus. You can watch crafts in the Making at the nearby 23rd Street Artists’ Market, then head for South Congress Avenue, where little shops and galleries with personality offer lots of offbeat, oneof- a-kind treasures. Check out contemporary American folk art, vintage home furnishings, Elvis outfits, Mexican wrestling masks and crafts from around the world. A few blocks away, South First Street is an emerging shopping hot spot where you’ll find neon art, art jewelry, and who knows what else. These areas are also home to several hip boutiques featuring the wares of Austin’s many up-and-coming, independent fashion and jewelry designers. For more upscale shopping options, head northwest to Austin’s Arboretum area, a well-heeled neighborhood packed with brand-name shops, restaurants, movie theaters, and department stores showing the latest fashions. Fine dining and designer shopping can also be found at The Domain, the 700,000-square-foot luxury retail complex located off of North Mo-Pac (Loop 1). From top-dollar status handbags and hotoff- the-runway designer duds to exquisite diamond jewelry, this shopping paradise is the ultimate Austin destination for highend purchases. Looking for a taste of cowboy culture to take home with you? A pair of cowboy boots—whether vintage or brand new—is the perfect Southwestern souvenir. Texasmade salsa, chili mix, or pecan pralines also make for tasty reminders of your Texas vacation. What’s more, Austin is home to the largest flea market in Central Texas, located a few miles east of the I-35/Hwy. 290-E intersection. More than 500 vendors display their wares at this weekend market, giving shoppers a lot of ground to cover. Downtown Bastrop, Smithville, and Elgin are prime antiques territories. Artists are moving to these parts, too. Reasonably priced local art is displayed at the Bastrop Fine Arts Guild on Main Street, while Elgin’s local art galleries come together for Art Walk twice a year. Smithville is home to Interweavers, a gallery featuring folk art from Guatemala. And, on the first Saturday of each month, Smithville hosts an art show and sale, which features handmade wares, live music, and art projects. You’ll find it at the Gazebo on First and Main streets. Visitors who hit Bastrop on the second Saturday of the month snap up bargains during Pine Street Market Days, held April through December. Plus, every Tuesday and Saturday there’s a farmers’ market in Bastrop, as well as a Thursday market in Smithville and a seasonal market on Tuesdays in Elgin. Bastrop is also home of the Bastrop Producers Market, an indoor Farmers’ market open Wednesday to Sunday and located on Hwy. 71. Look for fresh fruit for picnics, as well as homemade jams, breads and other goodies. DINING IN CENTRAL TEXAS Offering everything from barbecue to tapas, Central Texas is a food lover’s delight. Visitors rarely go hungry for lack of finding what they want among Austin’s diverse restaurants, many of which are quite affordable due to the student influence. The first-rate cuisine one expects in any major American city is well represented, from exquisitely fresh seafood to East-meets-West fusion, but with a Tex-Mex twist. Texas downhome favorites—barbecue, chicken-fried steak, grilled steak, and Mexican food—are easy to come by, as well. The current “now” spot for Austin’s restaurant scene is SoCo—Austin-speak for South Congress Avenue across the river from downtown. Here you’ll find Italian fare in a fine dining environment, as well as a casual Tex-Mex-and-margaritas hangout for locals and celebrities alike. Downtown’s West Sixth Street and the Warehouse District have plenty of tried-and-true classics as well, along with global favorites that run the international gamut from sushi and tapas to Irish shepherd’s pie and Brazilian steaks. Located at the intersection of Lamar and Guadalupe streets around 45th Street, The Triangle serves as a buzz-worthy destination for sampling any number of cuisines, and hosts a farmers’ market on Wednesdays, to boot. For upscale cuisine—think sizzling steaks and fresh seafood—check out the many fine restaurants found at The Domain in North Austin. And for a tasty meal with a side dish of breathtaking Hill Country views, head to one of the many popular waterfront restaurants bordering Lake Austin or Lake Travis. Nothing beats overlooking the lake with a margarita in one hand and a fork in the other as the sun dips into the water. But don’t think that you have to hit a fancy four-star restaurant to find mouthwatering meals. From taco shacks and walk-up food stands to even Airstream trailers dishing out savory snacks, Austin diners can eat like kings on the cheap, and on the go. Vegetarians are also in luck—the city has several cafes catering to fans of vegetarian, vegan and organic food. What else would you expect from the birthplace of both Whole Foods and Central Market gourmet grocery chains? Visitors exploring the Bastrop area can find great meals, too, albeit in low-key surroundings. Superb Greek and Italian cuisine stars at Konstantinos Estiatorio on West Hwy. 71, and downtown Bastrop is the address for Baxters on Main for gourmet fare, Maxine’s Café for hearty home-cooking, and Green Chai Café for delicious pastries and vegetarian dishes. Other local favorites in Bastrop are Big Mouth Southwestern Grill, Grace Miller, and Anita’s Mexican Restaurant. For slow-smoked brisket and ribs, the “buckle of Texas’s barbecue belt” is Lockhart: Black’s Barbecue, Kreuz Market, Chisholm Trail, and Smitty’s Market are all renowned. The City Market in nearby Luling, as well as Southside Market & BBQ and Meyer’s in Elgin (the “sausage capital of Texas”) also rank among the best. In Bastrop, Cartwright’s Bar-B-Q and Billy’s Pit BBQ are good bets. Think the food in Austin is incredible? Just wait ‘til you try the wine. The city falls in the center of the Texas Wine Trail, which Maps out 24 Hill Country wineries. This Southwestern spin on Napa Valley’s tours makes for a fun day excursion in which wine aficionados can sample award-winning wines made with Texas grapes, all while basking in the beautiful Hill Country scenery. Many of the wineries also host special events like wine education classes, concert series, and wine dinners. In addition, oenophiles should mark their calendars for the annual Austin Wine Festival, where visitors can sample and purchase unique varietals to their hearts’ content, and the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival in April, which hosts around 30 mouthwatering events that always please local gourmets. Better bring your appetite! NIGHTLIFE Austin bills itself as the Live Music Capital of the World, a Texas-sized claim it backs up with countless bars, cafés, and restaurants offering live music on any given night of the week. Downtown is the epicenter of the music scene, with Sixth Street (east of Congress Avenue) clubs and restaurants ranging from student-jammed holes-in-the-wall to the swanky piano bar in the Driskill Hotel. On the west side of Congress Avenue, around Fourth Street, the sleek bistros and chic bars of the Warehouse District draw a more professional crowd with martinis and aged tequila. South Congress Avenue, or SoCo, is home to the 1950s-style Continental Club, where notables such as Toni Price, Wanda Jackson and James McMurtry have performed. Among the most popular established venues downtown and beyond are Antone’s, Austin’s “home of the blues”; The Broken Spoke, a classic honky-tonk where country superstars like Bob Wills and Willie Nelson have performed; Cedar Street Courtyard for cool martinis and hot music outdoors, and La Zona Rosa for everything from rock to world music. Folks who have too much fun Saturday night can redeem themselves with a Bloody Mary and rousing gospel groups during Sunday brunch at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q. Some trace Austin’s vibrant music scene back to an old filling-station-turned-roadhouse named Threadgill’s, where a young UT student jammed with owner Kenneth Threadgill and began her path to fame as Janis Joplin. Bastrop after dark offers live music on the weekends in charming small-town venues like the Grace Miller, Maxine’s, Baxter’s on Main, and the Lumberyard Music Hall. You may also want to check out the Bastrop Opera House for musicals and other performances. Families gravitate to Chestnut Square, an entertainment complex featuring miniature golf, bowling, billiards, a movie theater, and a food court. Plus, you can often find some sort of festival happening on weekends in these country towns. Austin takes its reputation as the Live Music Capital of the World very seriously and, luckily, so does the rest of the world. In March, the city welcomes thousands of musicians, industry bigwigs, rock journalists, and music fans to the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Conference and Festival, a five-day crush of concerts, industry events, parties, and general allout musical madness. If you don’t have a festival wristband, don’t fret; free, sometimes impromptu, performances abound. Big names like Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Tom Petty, Foo Fighters, Beck, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss have all turned up for the weekend-long Austin City Limits Music Festival, which fills tranquil Zilker Park in late September/early October with a moving throng of head-bobbing music enthusiasts. Of course, this being Austin, one doesn’t have to wait long to hear good music. Concerts occur nightly, ranging from aspiring singer-songwriters at “open mic night” and local musicians rocking out in a downtown bar to superstar bands playing to sold-out crowds. You might also catch assorted, more modest year-round festivals showcasing everything from urban grooves to bluegrass, jazz, and Celtic rhythms. Move over, Hollywood. Over the past decade Austin has also emerged as a prime location for film productions, in part because of its diverse topography, pleasant climate, and proximity to small towns that can easily be transformed according to a screenwriter’s vision. Recent productions filmed in and around Austin include “Friday Night Lights,” Fireflies in the Garden, and The Tree of Life, which was filmed in Smithville and Bastrop, causing a mild roar when star Brad Pitt showed up with Angelina Jolie in tow. Popular hits like Miss Congeniality, Waiting for Guffman, Dazed and Confused, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Michael, Courage Under Fire, Office Space, and Varsity Blues were also filmed in the area. With a film pedigree like this, it’s not unusual to spot a celebrity over at the next table—especially in March, when the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Conference and Festival gets underway. The Austin Film Festival in October also lures Hollywood Heavyweights south for a week of film screenings and premieres, networking parties, and panel discussions that put aspiring screenwriters and filmmakers in touch with the top professionals in the business. But that’s not all—the city plays host to screenings and events throughout the year, spanning everything from underground cinema and films that explore Latino and Caribbean culture to wacky late-night revivals of cult classics. REAL ESTATE Austin continues to be one of the fastestgrowing cities in the nation, spurred by its dynamic economy, educational opportunities, plentiful parks, and scenic natural setting on the Colorado River. The city’s population increased by nearly 50 percent during the 1990s. In 2007, metropolitan Austin’s population had grown to approximately 1. 6 million. With population growth has come widespread development. Recent real estate developments include the 5FiftyFive, residential floors at the Hilton Austin offering a variety of one-, two- and three-bedroom designs ranging from 800 to more than 5,000 square feet; The Milago, a 13-story, 240-unit condominium complex located just steps away from Lady Bird Lake; Red River Flats, a four-story, 124- unit multi-family project in the Red River Entertainment District; the AMLI II, an ecominded high-rise of 18 stories containing 231 residential units located in the Second Street District; and The Shore, designed to be a hub of Austin’s new waterfront district at Davis and Red River streets, with twin 22-story towers containing 192 condominium units. Potential residents will soon have several more options to consider downtown, including Spring, a 42-story, 248-unit condominium tower in the southwest quadrant, set to open in 2010. In Bastrop, there’s still demand for historic homes to restore. Home prices are a bit below those in other parts of Texas, especially Austin. Bastrop’s residential developments include The Colony and Hunters Crossing, with plans in the works for a 10,000-acre development called XS Ranch. Erin Donnelly is a freelance writer who specializes in travel and style. A native of Texas, she has written and edited guidebooks for destinations all around the world. She also regularly contributes to Lemondrop.com, Refinery29.com, and SingleMindedWomen.com.
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