“My dog ate pot brownies,” said Sarah, half amused and half concerned. “I’ve never seen her so subdued.”
The door to Sarah’s room, where her dog was sleeping off her desert, was closed shut. Our host – all long brown hair, loose clothes and tattoos – sat on the front porch rolling a cigarette. On the street below tourists funneled in and out of the Castle Hill park. It was humid and hot.
There is a handful of places in the world that I’ve visited and felt an immediate connection with. Austin was exactly that: unexpectedly brilliant. Funny enough, Austin wasn’t even on my radar until a couple of weeks before the trip. If it wasn’t for someone at work making a strong argument for crossing Texas through the south rather than via the panhandle, I would’ve skipped it and probably would’ve had a very different experience in Texas altogether.
In hindsight, I don’t know what else I expected from a place that gave the world South by Soutwest and Whole Foods. With one of the lowest unemployment rates and one of the most educated populations, Austin is only second to Seattle on the list of the best cities to live in as a liberal in the U.S. And it definitely shows! In my first hour here I saw more tattooed young people than on an average day out in Shoreditch, had lunch in an entirely vegetarian restaurant, and went thrift shopping. Hell of a welcome from the capital of one of the most conservative states in the country.
The night life
My first night in Austin was a blissful blur, thanks to the city’s bustling night life that centres around the 6th St, with most of the fun huddled east of Congress Avenue. After several days crossing the vast deserted plains of southern Texas, Austin – quite ironically – was a much needed breath of fresh air. My last clear memory is devouring the best tacos I’ve ever tasted at Chupacabra, and then setting out bar hopping up and down the few blocks populated with drinking holes, overpriced pizza joints, and tattoo parlours.
East 6th St. is not the only pocket of night life in Austin. Just to the south of here Rainey St. is lined with historic bungalows that have been converted into eclectic bars and restaurants. Food trucks – truly a citywide phenomenon in Austin – have also moved into the area to serve up some of the tastiest street food to the tipsy public. Fancy Venezuelan for dinner, donuts for a snack, and an artisan grilled cheese for desert, all the while enjoying a flavourful cocktail or two? Rainey St. has got it all.
The hangover cure
The daytime appeal of Austin is equally strong. Texas’ capital has a magical quality to it that makes you feel like you’re in a tropical paradise and in the centre of an exciting, busting urban centre all at once. Austin is very green, offering plenty of parks for its residents to enjoy. But its crown jewel is Barton Springs, an open-air fresh water pool in Zilker Park that is open for year-round swimming. YEAR-ROUND SWIMMING.
The city also offers a wide range of cultural and historical gems for all your entertainment needs. The HOPE Gallery is an outdoor community art space at 11th and Baylor St. According to the gallery’s website, it is “the only paint park of its kind in the USA and was developed to provide muralists, street artists, arts education classes and community groups the opportunity to display large scale art pieces driven by inspirational, positive & educational messaging.” You can sit here for hours and watch as artists continuously reinvent the space with layers upon layers of spray paint and artistic expression.
A short walk away from the Hope Gallery stands the grand Texas Capitol, tall and proud, almost regal, its red marble shining with warmth in the setting sun.
The night life, the green spaces, the culture – all this contributes to an unforgettable, electric atmosphere of opportunity, fun, and entertainment that makes this city so appealing. Austin is really cool, like a major-highlight-of-the-roadtrip want-to-move-here kind of cool. And although I have to be content with non-stop flights from Heathrow to Austin for £500 for now, if you’re on the look out for a new place to call home, this might just be it.
Austin is just a short drive away from the coastal areas of Texas and Lousianna hit by Tropical Storm Harvey last week. If you’re wondering what you can do to help, here’s a thorough list courtesy of NPR.
While the U.S. floods dominated the news last week, flooding that hit Nepal, Bangladesh, and India during the same period killed over 1000 people and left millions homeless. If you feel that your efforts are better spent supporting relief in these countries, here’s what you can do.