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Travel Talk – Austin offers taste of south in diversity (April 22, 2015 issue)

Austin, Texas is known by some as the “Seattle of the South.” It’s a quirky and diverse city with a hopping music scene and a lot of outdoor attractions. As the capital of Texas, it’s also a great place to learn more about the Lone Star State, and it embraces the idea that everything is bigger in Texas.
To embrace the state motto, the architects of the Texas state capitol designed a magnificent structure which was once the tallest capitol building in the country. Today, it still encompasses the most square feet of any other capitol building and is second in size only to the national Capitol. The building utilizes many Texas resources such as the local “sunset red” granite which gives the building a pinkish hue.
To get an introduction to the state and building’s history, consider a guided tour. After the tour, take some time to explore the grounds and see many of the monuments that are dedicated to Texan heroes and pioneers.
Another monumental building dedicated to state history is the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library. The library owns many personal items and artifacts, ranging from Oval Office furniture to Middle East antiquities, which were owned or used by President Johnson and First Lady Lady Bird Johnson during his presidency. It also houses historical documents, photos, and recordings from President Johnson’s political career, including 643 hours of recorded phone conversations.
There are also permanent exhibits dedicated to some of the most important moments in our nation’s history which occurred during LBJ’s presidency. These include an exhibit on the transition of power in the moments following President Kennedy’s assassination, a civil rights exhibit, and a replica of the Oval Office during Johnson’s presidency.
Following your introduction and appreciation for Texan history, you might want to spend some time outdoors. Austin is an active city with many opportunities for nature lovers. The Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail (on maps, also the Ann and Roy Butler Trail) is a 10 mile trail in the city that is perfect for a stroll, run, or a bike ride along the Colorado River and Lady Bird Lake.
One end of the trail is next to Barton Springs Pool, a natural limestone pool fed by underground springs. Since the pool is often chilly, this can be a nice place to go on a hot Texas summer day.
The bats at the South Congress Ave. Bridge are another popular outdoor attraction, which the hike and bike trail can also take you to. Austin is home to the largest urban population of bats. At dusk during spring and summer nights, many tourists gather to watch the large population of bats fly together. It is interesting to see a small cloud of bats fly together; however, it’s not worth a special stop. If you plan to be in the vicinity at the same time, it will be fun to watch, and it is very popular among tourists.
Between this bridge and the State Capitol is a very different side of Austin, East 6th Street, lovingly known by locals as “Dirty 6th.” It was given this name because of its similarity to Bourbon Street in New Orleans. In other words, this may not be an attraction for everyone because it will be insane and messy, especially on weekends, but it is a fun area of town and is fun to see why it was given this name!
If you’re not a fan of the less-expensive bars, the Driskill, an upscale hotel on 6th street, is also a fun place to visit with a diverse clientele. The architecture is beautiful and has a Texan flair with cow patterns in some places, and the hotel has a lively bar with music on some nights.
In the 6th street vicinity, you can find several bars with live music on any given night. A younger crowd may also want to visit Austin during the annual South by Southwest music festival (abbreviated as SXSW), a burgeoning festival that Austinites take pride in. Of course, the most famous music site is Austin City Limits. Austin City Limits is a famous music venue that has live performances almost every night, ranging from pop singers to comedians to country stars and even less well-known artists. If you want to get a fuller musical experience, the Austin City Limits Music Festival is for two weekends in October and features a fascinating variety of musicians and genres.
Austin has something for everyone with a multitude of music venues, outdoor options, and historical sites. It is a diverse and lively city that always has something going on. While it has many well-known sites, it also offers a number of options that are not typical tourist attractions. The many elements of Austin blend into something that is truly and uniquely Texan but also unique to this capital city while creating a memorable experience.