The Texan city of Austin has much to recommend it. Its unofficial slogan is “Keep Austin Weird” which goes some way to explaining why it treasures its originality and prides itself on being quirky. So forget your malls and your high rises, here are seven visitor attractions that you won’t find anywhere else in the USA.
Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon
At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that Ginny’s is – or at least once was – a chapel. But that white steeple is deceptive; the place has been a honky tonk for over four decades and the only even vaguely religious activity that you’ve the remotest chance of seeing is a performance of gospel music. Head over to Ginny’s on a Sunday afternoon and despite appearances, the atmosphere is anything but genteel. Inside, the place is packed to the rafters and the bar three-deep. Hidden away at the back corner of the saloon lies the reason. Each week, punters come from across the city and beyond to place a bet on Ginny’s famous Chicken Shit Bingo. It’s good old-fashioned family fun, raucous and entertaining in equal measure.
Bats over the bridge
If Ginny’s isn’t enough to convince you that you’ve got to be more than a little batty to hang out here, Austin’s most famous tourist attraction most certainly will. When the century-old South Congress Bridge was rebuilt in 1980, engineers left small gaps running the length of its underside. This, it turned out, was the perfect place for a bat colony and now, between May and October, visitors flock in their droves to see them leave for their nightly hunt. Plan to get there just before sunset when you’ll witness the magnificent spectacle of thousands of bats take flight over the Colorado River.
Dance the Texas Two Step at The Broken Spoke
An easy taxi ride from South Congress Bridge takes you to The Broken Spoke. If you only visit one dance hall during your visit to Austin, this has to be it. Its reputation as a family-friendly venue with good music and good food has been carefully cultivated over a history spanning more than fifty years. Willie Nelson hangs out here when he’s home, and all the big names of country music from Ernest Tubbs to Garth Brooks to have taken a turn up on stage. If you’re concerned that you can’t dance, don’t worry. Before the live music kicks off there’s an hour-long dance lesson every night for you to pick up some basic moves.
Grab an Iced Turbo coffee at Jo’s
Forget Starbucks if you will, the big name in Austin is Jo’s. Its SoCo cafe opened in 1999 and has been serving regulars and guests ever since. More than just a coffee shop, it’s worth watching out for its special events, which have included chilli cook offs, fancy dress parades for pets and drag queen bingo. Regular live music helps create as much of a buzz as its signature coffee, the Iced Turbo, a potent mix of espresso, chocolate milk and hazelnut syrup.
Shop in SoCo
Hang around after your pitstop at Jo’s to explore more of what the SoCo neighbourhood has to offer. Renowned for its original retailers and colourful food trucks, there’s more than enough to keep you browsing for an afternoon. Allen’s Boots has been outfitting locals and wannabe cowboys with boots, hats, belts and more since 1977. Look out for the supersized red boot above the door, a local landmark. In fact, it’s the largest cowboy boot retailer in the state, and no matter what style you’re after, you can be sure you’ll find what you’re looking for.
Visit the Cathedral of Junk
Austin’s Museum of the Weird, whose exhibits include a shrunken head and the Minnesota Iceman, can be found on Sixth Street. But tucked away in suburban Austin the museum faces stiff competition in the form of a cathedral. But this is no ordinary cathedral. In fact, like Ginny’s, it’s not even a place of worship. Austin’s Cathedral of Junk is the life’s work of Vince Hannemann and like Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, his pride and joy is still a work in progress. Something like 60 tons of discarded junk make up the structure and its embellishments. And although some of Hannemann’s neighbours might disapprove, the city’s certified it safe and sound as a visitor attraction.
Take a dip at Barton Springs Pool
Rounding off our seven must-see attractions for your trip to Austin is Barton Springs Pool. Fed by underground springs, it typically has temperatures of about 70 degrees, meaning you can swim here year round. Hollywood legend Robert Redford learned to swim here and a diverse clientele means that just about anyone’s welcome to follow his example. You might even share the water with the Barton Springs Salamander as it’s a federally protected habitat. You’ll find Barton Springs Pool in the heart of the delightful Zilker Park, but don’t go on a Thursday as that’s cleaning day.