Austin, the capital city of Texas, is in some ways one of the least archetypically Texan of cities. Known more for its lush music scene and burgeoning reputation for motion-picture production than for its ties to the Old West, this eclectic and vibrant city attracts 17 million visitors every year.
Families visiting Austin will enjoy the cities lakes. Lake Austin is a popular recreation destination, as is Lake Travis, home of Volente Beach Water Park. Both draw big numbers in the summer, though, so visitors should be prepared for some crowds. Capital Cruise boat tours can be taken on Town Lake, which is right in the middle of the city and offers great views of the Capital Building. For drier kid-friendly fun there's always Kiddie Acres, where little ones can enjoy a modest little theme park that won't break the bank.
Art and culture is readily available in SoCo, the portion of South Congress Ave. dotted with unique art galleries, stores and restaurants. There's music and theater to be enjoyed in beautiful Zilker Park. The city also has many interesting museums. The Austin Museum of Art is the place to go for contemporary art. The Mexic-Arte Museum features rotating exhibitions by Mexican and Mexican-America artists. Natural Science buffs should definitely check out the excellent Texas Memorial Museum.
Austin is home to the University of Texas. UT's 50,000 students insure a lively bar and nightclub scene for young people, most of which can be found on the stretch of Guadalupe St. known as the Drag. Texas football fans will naturally want to catch a Longhorn's game if they're visiting during the season.
With more bars and nightclubs per capita than any city in the United Sates, Austin is well known for its hip and varied nightlife. Oslo is a Scandinavian influenced nightclub that has become an Austin bastion of cool. Cowboys and girls will want to mosey down to the legendary Broken Spoke for a little country-western two-stepping. Azucar is the spot for those who would rather dance a salsa. Gay travelers won't want to miss a trip to Oilcan Harry's in Austin' warehouse district.
Austin calls itself the Live Music Capital of the World, and it this case it isn't just typical Texan hyperbole. Countless stars from every genre have emerged from its storied music scene, including Janis Joplin Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The distinctive flavor of its rock-n-roll, country, blues, rockabilly and Latin music has made the city an American music Mecca.
No visit to Austin is complete without seeing at least one live music performance. Legendary venues like Antone's or Threadgill's Restaurant are part of the cities music history, but great places to catch a show are as common in Austin as cactus in the desert. Stubbs BBQ is always a solid choice for ribs and blues, but the younger crowd may want to head over to UT's campus institution, The Hole in the Wall bar. Rock and Punk aficionados should drop in the Red Eye Fly on Red River St.
Austin City Limits is the longest running PBS series, and those lucky enough to get tickets are in for a treat. The September festival of the same name is a can't-miss opportunity. The South By Southwest Music Festival is an enormous music industry event where record companies from across the country come to find the next big thing. Hundreds of the area's best bands play their hearts out for days on end. It's an unforgettable experience for music lovers, but the prices are high and the lines are long, so only die-hards need apply.