Although Austin is the Texas state capital, most locals would tell you they’re more proud of the city’s status as the Live Music Capital of the World. The fast-growing metropolis, originally founded with the name Waterloo, still has moonlight towers, a lighting structure popular in the 19th century, lining its streets. Mount Bonnell, the city’s highest point at 780 feet/280 meters, towers over the otherwise flat landscape, which is dotted with lakes and bisected by the Colorado River. Austin’s location in southeastern Texas provides nearly 300 days of clear skies per year, with mild winters and summers that often see temperatures hover in the 90sF (32-37C).
A blue island in the middle of an oceanic red state, Austin is a bastion of arts and eccentricity, consistently ranked as one of the cities with the most artists and musicians per capita in the United States. Indie rock—and music in general—is central to the city culture, with some 200 live music venues in town and several prominent festivals. It’s also one of the country’s healthiest cities, in part due to its abundance of parks and recreational areas, as well as the numerous yoga studios, gyms, and health food stores—this is, after all, the birthplace of Whole Foods.
The Texas State Capitol, taller than the U.S. Capitol building in D.C., offers regular and themed tours that highlight women in the state’s history and heroes of the Texas Revolution. Depending on the time of year, visitors can take in a college football game to root on the Longhorns or watch the migration of 1.5 million bats as they return home to roost. As evidence of the city’s unconventionality, the Cathedral of Junk showcases the ingenuity of creator Vince Hanneman, who estimates nearly 60 tons of discarded items have gone into his masterpiece. The South by Southwest and Austin City Limits festivals, which focus on arts, film, and music, draw hundreds of thousands of revelers annually.
Few cities offer the downtown energy and nightlife as Austin does on Sixth Street, a thoroughfare brimming with music venues of every genre and restaurants serving regional fare. Rivaling Sixth in entertainment options is South Congress, with the Texas State Capitol at its far end. The Second Street District, part of Downtown, is a shopper’s haven of independent stores, while Red River’s concentration of bars and music clubs provides one of the most robust nightlife scenes in the state. More low-key but just as funky is Rainey Street, with its bungalow bars and caravan of food trailers that serve up grub late into the night.