Look at a map of the great state of Texas, and you’ll discover an essential truth about Austin: It’s always been a little off-center. Geographically, aesthetically, and politically, it’s a place where the state’s disparate characteristics meet and mix—but not always easily or in equal measure. The resulting distillation is complex, and almost surely not what you’d expect.
It’s a formerly slow-paced but quick-witted college town branded as a live music capital, then as a tech mecca. It’s a left-wing outpost in a state given over to conservative politics. It’s a natural beauty, full of lovely outdoor wonders and places to sport, recreate, or get off the beaten path. It’s full of artful people doing top-notch creative work, but it loves a big goof and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a friendly place and still an open question, transitioning from its cosmic cowboy past through a neo-hippie/urbanist-tech present to a big-city future, with a side of rural Texas ancestry.
Whatever trajectory Austin takes, its ineffable charms, both evident and subtle, remain. Let’s take a look at some of the moments, places, and experiences, large and small, that make the city such a lovely, wonderful—and, yes, unique—spot to be.
1. Moonlight towers. Odd to some, romantic to others, and odd-romantic to most, they’re the ultimate Austin quirk—especially since it’s the only city in the world that still puts them to use as perfectly good street lights.
2. The Karaoke Underground. It’s karaoke, but it’s punk—offering amateurs a shot at non-chart-toppers by bands from Crass to Sleater-Kinney.
3. UT’s Landmarks program. The Color Inside, James Turrell’s rooftop Skyspace at the University of Texas at Austin’s Student Activity Center, is but one example of the work brought to the city and shared with all by the school’s ambitious public-art acquisition agenda.
4. Disembarking from the Amtrak at night. On its own, the train station behind the Town Lake YMCA has never been any great shakes, but the surroundings have always been low-key romantic in an arty, urban-decay kind of way. Now that your view upon stepping off the Amtrak is inevitably drawn upward, to the bright lights of the tall towers in a bustling big city, it’s positively dramatic.
5. The bats. Sure, they’re a tourist magnet. Sure, it can be a hassle to see them. Sure, you shouldn’t touch a dead one. But that cloud of mammals in the gloaming is magical.
6. Mountain laurels blooming. That grape-soda smell in the air tells you spring is here, even when it’s technically still winter.
7. All-ages music spaces. From the Austin Kiddie Limits stage to clubs that allow accompanied kids and older minors to attend (and play) live shows, the persistent availability of such places and opportunities is a testament to the intergenerational, sometimes literal feedback loop that is Austin music.
8. Grackle love. Why pay homage to such scruffy, loud, omnipresent birds? The ones that thrive on spoiled food and cigarette butts and gather at dusk to screech and poop en masse? Clearly, there’s some kind of kinship at work.
9. That day after summer ends. It’s not that the temperature drops a lot, and it’s almost certainly not the last hot day of the year. It’s the angle of the light and a feeling in the air, when you know the worst of the heat has broken and, for another year, it hasn’t broken you.
10. Spinning under the Zilker holiday “tree.” Who wants a boring old real tree when you can trip out on one made out of a moonlight tower strung with 3,309 lights? Stand in the middle, spin around, fall down. An Austin tradition since 1967.
11. The violet crown. The pinkish-purple haze that encircles the city just above the horizon some evenings is subtle and enchanting. The phrase refers to a common atmospheric occurrence—and it didn’t originate with O. Henry, Austin’s patron literary saint and jailbird, as is often asserted. But residents did take enough notice of it to start calling Austin the “City of the Violet Crown,” apparently sometime in 1890.
12. @EvilMopacATX. Don’t know who the “pro-gridlock activist” is. Don’t want to know. Let’s not ruin this for either of us.
FM 1826: Ozark— Evil MoPac (@EvilMopacATX) June 26, 2019
13. Our inability to handle any weather except extreme heat. It’s good training for the climate apocalypse, at least.
14. Barton Springs’ eternal cool. The air gets hotter, but the water keeps staying the same temperature. The city’s spring-fed pools are always around 68 degrees, a sustaining chill only natural water sources can truly provide.
15. Electric-green birds on a wire. Supposedly, the original flock of wild monk parakeets descended from a domesticated group that escaped from a local RV park in the 1970s (an unlikely but easy-to-envision scenario). Their range seems to expand every year, and now you can spot them all over the city.
16. The ’90s started here. There might have been a Seattle band or two involved later, but Slacker (1990) set the tone, captured the atmosphere, and created a vocabulary for the decade to follow—even if director Richard Linklater denies any generational influence till his dying day, which he probably will. You can still find the millennium’s-end feelings by visiting End of an Ear record store, eating at Red River Cafe, taking a pedicab ride, or following Gerard Cosloy on Facebook. See also: The long legacy of the late Daniel Johnston.
17. The community at Community First! Village. Wandering through the RVs, bespoke tiny houses, vegetable gardens, and chicken coops, and talking to the residents of this intentional community for homeless Austinites, almost invariably invokes a sense of revelation and a feeling of longing: This is how lovely and alive all communities can be, if we want them to.
18. Amorphous, roving art parties. This ain’t no gallery walk. Big Medium’s long-running East and West Austin studio tours invite friends and neighbors to ramble behind the scenes—to fabrication shops, backyard workshops, and, yes, real studios. The parties before and after are just as art-filled, fun, and pleasantly chaotic.
19. Noticing “Chicano Rock”—again. The towering sculpture is made of the same rough, light-colored limestone that lines nearby Waller Creek, so picking it out of the landscape can feel new, no matter how many times you’ve walked by on your way to the Capitol or Waterloo Park. Originally called “Big Rock,” it has been near the corner of 11th and Red River streets since 1989.
20. Festival life. Love ’em or hate ’em, there’s always one happening for some type of interest—even ones with ostensibly oddball organizing principles such as fermentation or a fictional, depressed donkey.
21. The Night Owl podcast. With diligent research, current interviews, and consultations with curanderos and psychics, host Stephen Belyeu and team go several extra miles to investigate local ghost stories in a way that makes such places as the Tavern, Spider House, and Buenos Aires Cafe take on a whole new mien.
22. The day when SXSW leaves and we take back the city. Go to an outdoor performance at, say, the French Legation. See all your friends. Sit and watch the giant oaks dapple the grass. Feel the air start to cool as the sun sets. Hear a full orchestra play 10 (mostly local) composers’ takes on completing Mozart’s unfinished Requiem for the Dead. Remember why you live here.
23. Taco passion. Whether singing the virtues of the old Tamale House or rhapsodizing about Veracruz All Natural, Taco Window, and Valentina’s, locals never tire of taco talk. Austin might not have invented breakfast tacos, but it sure has a lot of feelings about them.
24. ZIP code pride. Austin residents don’t use area codes to claim their turf. They use ZIP codes as cultural shorthand—“I live in the ’23” or “Real estate in the ’45 is hot right now”—and ID whole regions of town with the same (78702 is Eastside, 78704 is South Austin, and so on). It’s metonymy, probably.
25. Westlake’s native sons. Longhorns football will probably always have the city’s heart, but Westlake High School grads Drew Brees and Nick Foles prove it’s no slouch at turning out Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.
26. The El Arroyo Sign. Serving up drive-by zingers and Tex-Mex since 1987.
27. The Dia de los Muertos Viva la Vida parade. Austin doesn’t have many parades, but Mexic-Arte Museum’s annual Day of the Dead procession down Congress Avenue is really all any city needs.
28. The fish are jumping. Hard to believe, but Lady Bird Lake, Lake Austin, and Barton Creek are teeming with bass, sunfish, and the like, available to catch and release. Just remember the release part.
29. Calling it “Town Lake.” Lady Bird didn’t want the lake renamed after her, the city council vote to do so was controversial, and it didn’t happen till 2007. The former sounds sociable and down to earth; the latter is trying too hard. It’s an Old Austin thing—but not that old.
30. The Barbara Jordan statue at the airport. The groundbreaking, showstopping orator and force of nature watches over throngs of travelers in a state of thoughtful repose—a modern American “Thinker,” a local touchstone, and an island of profound stillness in the busy terminal that bears her name.
31. Dog Restaurant Week. Because this is how much we love our pups.
32. Barkitecture. In fact, we love our pups so much, we want them to be not just well-fed, but well and stylishly housed, too. That’s why, every fall for the past 15 years, local starchitects and designers have deployed their visions to reinvent the doghouse, then displayed and auctioned them at a canine-centric event benefiting local animal shelters and nonprofits.
33. (Almost) anything you want to do, you can do outside. Austinites love to eat, drink, work, hear music, shop, exercise, celebrate, and (sometimes) dance—all outside, even in high summer. In addition to all the natural spaces, there are patios, decks, balconies, and rooftop amenities available to the public everywhere—and most are dog-friendly.
34. Wildflower season. There is much joy in hitting the road in early spring and settling into the undulating seas of bluebonnets—whether it’s on Central Texas’s vaunted Willow City Loop or during your commute to work. Joining the bright blue beauties are equally showy blooms that sweep through in successive waves: yellow buttercups, pink evening primroses, purple coneflowers, bright red-and-yellow firewheels, and more fantastic flora to keep your ride wild.
35. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Lady Bird’s real legacy, the center is about much more than fleeting, seasonal blooms. It’s an ecological wonderland and a joy to experience, cultivating thousands of species of native Texas plants, birds, mammals, and insects on its 284 acres—not to mention the built environment that reflects regional architectural styles.
36. Practicing self-care on the Lamar bridge. Stuck in traffic with an aching back and an anxious mind? Take a glance at the Union Pacific Railroad bridge to your east. When even the graffiti is urging you to “focus on one point and breathe,” it’s hard not to relax just a little.
37. Deciding between the Joan Didion and the Lin-Manuel Miranda prayer candles. Bestowed with images of every kind of pop god imaginable, Earthereal Designs’ homegrown wares represent the best of those “Made in Austin” goods that translate the city’s essence to the rest of the world.
38. The tiny highway that runs through the Texas State Cemetery. When rascally Dem dealmaker Bob Bullock wanted the state to build its cemetery in Austin (so he could be buried in it), he got a small section of an old trail on the Eastside declared a state highway (so it qualified for state funds). It’s still a trail, Bullock is buried there, and another Austin legend lives on.
39. Spotting the Bohn House. It’s fun to catch a glimpse of the gorgeously restored Streamline Art Moderne house as you round a curve on North Lamar Boulevard. The style is a rarity in residential Austin, so the top-notch rendition is startling in a good way.
40. Quesoff. Austin loves queso so much, it has an annual contest and celebration for the gooey melted substance. And the line to get in is always around the block.
41. Councilmembers cleaning Barton Springs. They do this yearly or so, for photo ops. In bathing suits. With big machines that look like industrial floor polishers. It’s Austin’s version of eating corn dogs at a state fair, but with more skin in the game.
42. Working out! with Erica Nix. Nix’s queer-centric, radical workouts literally embody Austin’s strong performative resistance game. Nix channels the spirits of Richard Simmons and Angela Davis, championing self love and body positivity in the LGBTQIA community and challenging oppression with classes, videos, and guerrilla street workouts at activist events.
43. Waiting for hours for famous barbecue—or ditching the line for a world-class food truck or a strip-mall surprise. On top of its embarrassment of smoked meat and tortilla-wrapped riches, Austin offers an impressive sampler of foods from all over—from trucks with house-made Italian pasta and deep-fried jambalaya to the sublime sushi, paella, and Nepalese fusion to be found in unassuming, deeply unhip places beyond the central city lights.
44. Jaunts around the lake. The play of the light, the views of the city, the venerable bridges, the trees, the picnics, the people, the dogs (!), the statue, the rogue art, the modernist gazebo, the water fowl, Auditorium Shores, and the flotillas of kayaks, rowers, canoes, and stand-up paddlers—it’s a pleasure and a panic up, down, and across.
45. UT’s turtle pond. The sweet little pond, improbably tucked next to a greenhouse quite close to the middle of campus, is a reliably odd bio-niche for hanging and recharging. And, of course, the turtle antics are the best.
46. Strolling the old Congress Avenue bridge in Richard Moya Park. The wood-and-metal trestle bridge, relocated to Moore’s Crossing in 1910 after the city built the current one, is a pleasure to discover in the tall grass and a lovely, unexpected place for an al fresco dinner party.
47. Beerthoven at Saengerrunde Hall. The German heritage and singing society lets its hair down with this diverse chamber series—a variety of intimate concerts in an upstairs room where you can “dress how you want, clap when you want, and have a beer” (on them). They also let you sing along sometimes.
48. Taking a stand. Protecting trees, banning single-use plastic bags, decriminalizing homelessness, funding abortion access, offering sanctuary, telling behemoth ride-hailing companies they can’t write local laws—the city often comes down on the progressive side of hot-button issues. One way or another, a Texas state government under a conservative majority usually manages to undo all that. And yet Austin persists.
49. Hanging out at the Capitol. Built of Hill Country limestone and sunset-red (pink) granite from Marble Falls, mostly by prisoners and migrant workers, the beautiful structure, its rolling lawns, and the shenanigans within attract tourists, history buffs, protestors, appreciators of rotunda acoustics, picnickers, and noontime nappers.
50. Larry Monroe Forever Bridge. Covered in a mosaic of mirrors and ceramic work, the short and artful stretch over Blunn Creek on East Side Drive captures both the city’s knack for participatory street art and its love of people who make the world better with their big ol’ record collections and even bigger hearts.
51. Mueller control tower. Built in 1961 and designed by the legendary Fehr & Granger as a control tower for the city’s then-airport, the foxy modernist structure is an eye-catching specimen of Austin modernism and a reminder of the planned Mueller community’s unusual roots.
52. The beat goes on. Even being yoked with the responsibilities incumbent upon “the Live Music Capital of the World” couldn’t kill the chummy, slummy, fun-as-shit, throw-it-all-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks spirit found at such stubborn stalwarts as the Hole in the Wall, the Carousel Lounge, Donn’s Depot, the Lost Well, the Skylark, Cherrywood Coffeehouse, and the Sahara Lounge. To name a few.
53. Watching waterways and parks come back to life. The ambitious revivals of Waller and Shoal creeks, along with the four original park “squares” in downtown Austin, are heartening to behold.
54. Austin’s Atlas. Even the most jaded of Austinites can become an eager flaneur, discovering the city anew with the Atlas’s pedestrian guides and hand-drawn, crowd-sourced maps that lead to “Urban Oddities (‘Walls and Voids’),” “Urban Odditrees,” and beyond.
55. The McGarrah Jessee lobby. The American National Bank Building downtown was built in 1954 and graced with a large mural by pioneering modernist Seymour Fogel. The latter was nearly lost during the years after the bank became the state-owned Starr Building, but was gloriously restored, along with the rest of the building, by McKinney York Architects for McGarrah Jessee, an advertising firm that purchased the building. The company occupies its building in robust midcentury spirit, making it extra gratifying to pop in for a quick look, even if you don’t happen to work there.
56. Mother Ginger. Witnessing different local celebrities play the big-skirted character in Ballet Austin’s Nutcracker every night of its annual run is a hoot, and being chosen to do so is a high honor that has been bestowed on such luminaries as Ann Richards, Vince Young, and Robert Rodriguez.
57. Green & White Grocery. The dusty shelves of the “Witchdoctor Store” offer candles, herbs, icons, cards, medallions, smudge sticks, and other necessary items for the modern spiritual practitioner in a decidedly non-woo-woo space. Currently run by the studied and helpful John Cazares, the botanica offers a down-to-earth approach to its wares and has deep family roots in its spot on East Seventh Street. There’s drumming and tamales, too.
58. Oakwood Cemetery. Austin’s oldest cemetery is the ideal place for a (technically illegal) midnight picnic, and the sections historically dedicated to Austin’s African-American, Latinx, and Jewish populations offer a glimpse into a more diverse history of the city than you’ll see in its landmarks and place names.
59. Ponies in the bike lane. It’s not unusual to look up from your dashboard, scooter, or sidewalk cafe to see a couple of horses (sometimes mules) being ridden unabashedly on the city streets. (These are miscellaneous riders, not carriages or parade participants.) Yes, Austin is indeed still in Texas.
60. Word nerds. [Deep breath]: The Texas Book Festival, the Texas Teen Book Festival, the Jewish Book Fair, the African American Book Festival, the “Philosopher’s Rock” statue, the Michener Center, the Harry Ransom Center, indie bookstores, packed readings, the Kirkus HQ, Austin Bat Cave, the Pun-off, and pride in past and present literary residents, who include O. Henry, Molly Ivins, John Henry Faulk, Américo Paredes, Sarah Bird, Dagoberto Gilb, Michael Hurd, and Lawrence Wright. Yeah, you could say it’s kind of a bookish town.
61. Adaptive reuse. Highland Mall, Seaholm Power Plant, the Green Water Treatment plant, and former gas-tank farms in East Austin have all been cleaned up and repurposed or made the sites of significant new buildings.
62. The Long Center’s long game. The building formerly known as Palmer Auditorium was almost literally recycled by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the architects who drew on its original midcentury form and reused quite a lot of its materials to create a stunning space with a vibrant connection to the present.
63. Riding the Veloway. The first facility of its kind in the United States, the Veloway at Circle C Ranch Metropolitan Park offers bicyclists a credible version of a beautiful, 5K Hill Country ride, completely protected from cars—a boon for the city’s robust cycling culture.
64. Austin City Limits Live. It might look swankier than the TV studio of its prestigious namesake show’s humble origins, but its top-notch acoustics and stellar bookings carry forward its tradition of intimate performances and excellent taste more than honorably.
65. The rock wall at 900 Red River. The dramatic limestone cliff has witnessed several (human) lifetimes of bohemian Austin creativity flourish—most of it in musical form, and all of it due to the open booking policies and welcoming nature of the LGBTQ clubs that occupied the ground below. The wall, ’tis “iconic.”
66. Central libraries, new and old. The six-story, sustainably built new one was designed by Lake|Flato and offers some stunning looks over the lake from its outdoor balconies and reading rooms. The old one is a nifty Brutalist building named after John Henry Faulk, one of Austin’s 20th-century heroes. With the latter likely becoming part of the History Center next door, we don’t have to choose between the two.
67. The plumage. The peafowl that roam the grounds of Green Pastures, Bouldin Creek, Mayfield Park, and Delwood—not to mention the neighbors who defend them against would-be eradicators—are a good gauge of how attached to the natural world we want to be and and an indicator of our stubborn eccentric streak.
68. Austin. The last sculptural work and only building designed by renowned modernist Ellsworth Kelly, made real by the Blanton Museum of Art, is a source of pride and quietude.
69. Being on the run. “There’s not a more beautiful place to run,” Willie Nelson once said of Austin. Nelson was an early (if mellow) enthusiast and promoter of running in the city, and he wore his New Balance 496s onstage so often that they’re in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Thousands of Austin’s denizens have since picked up what he was putting down in that regard.
70. The Moore/Andersson compound. Ironically for a city without a landmark postmodern building, there’s a quiet mecca for fans of the style in Tarrytown. Originally a live-work space for late postmodern pioneer Charles Moore, the delightful complex is now open to visitors by appointment.
71. Forklift Danceworks. Starting with her Trash Dance piece featuring sanitation trucks and workers on the old airport tarmac, choreographer Allison Orr has done consistently brilliant work with her collaborators—electric-line workers, lifeguards, firefighters, traffic cops, and urban forestry workers, to name a few—shining a light on the triumphs and challenges of day-to-day civic work and lives.
72. QueerBomb. Almost a decade ago, QueerBomb was at the vanguard of a sort of take-back-Stonewall moment, one that pushed back against the mainstreaming and commercialism that had taken over traditional June Pride celebrations and excluded what some considered “fringe” members of the LGBTQIA community. Now QB kicks off Pride in Austin with its still-raucous, still-radical march, a visual and literal cacophony of passion and performative knowhow with a wicked sense of humor.
73. Downtown’s new age. Let’s face it: If Austin is going to keep booming (and it is, probably), a dense, vertical downtown, one that doesn’t close at 5 p.m., isn’t a bad way to go.
74. Wheatsville Food Co-op. Whole Foods might have started in Austin, but democratically run Wheatsville was first on the local natural-foods grocery scene, and it put community—especially Austin’s creative community—first. As the only retail food co-op in Texas, it still does.
75. Jim Spencer. The legendary local weather wizard has spun his magic on KXAN for almost 30 years, putting on a show-stopping, can’t-stop-watching marathon of a clinic every time there’s a flood, tornado watch, major storm, or hint of snow and ice. Since such drama occurs on the regular, he’s never too far from our minds—and always in our hearts.
76. Barton Scream. So many Austinites swarm at Barton Springs Pool to howl at the full moon that attendance after 8:30 p.m. had to be limited to 750 people. And the popular event—more properly known as the Full Moon Swim—happens every month.
77. Rude Mechanicals. It fixes Shakespeare, it mocks home-design catalogs and experts, it brings an impossible book (Lipstick Traces) to loud, vivid, thinky life. It presents live-action role play-inspired puzzle-plays, takes queso fountains to New York, and throws like a girl. It’s the rad theater company of your dreams—and nightmares.
78. The Vortex Theater. Falling on the more visceral end of the spectrum, theatrically speaking, the pioneering, bootstrapping, adventuresome Vortex is hands-down Austin’s witchiest theater—meaning it’s also the sexiest, probably, being willing to take chances, conjure, and shape-shift. Its Butterfly Bar is tops, too.
79. UT’s “secret” libraries. The Life Science Library reading room in the Main Building is seemingly designed to evoke a huge medieval hall. The Architecture and Planning Library in Battle Hall, designed by Cass Gilbert and built in 1911, looks like its Tuscan cousin. Walking into either one feels like discovering a hidden room in an old castle.
80. The hill at Huston-Tillotson. Mount Bonnell and St. Edward’s offer some fine views, but the campus of Austin’s first university offers perspectives of East and Southeast Austin that can’t be seen from those higher, tonier points.
81. Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems. CMPBS is a future-shaper from way back (1975), best known for its contributions to the development of sustainable building programs, locally and worldwide. The fact that it was originally underwritten by Houston art collector and philanthropist Dominique de Menil but its headquarters are as busy and quirky as the Menil Collection is quiet and spare indicate an aptly adaptive aesthetic as well.
82. Live, local music at City Council meetings. And the airport. And the grocery store. And the book festival. And at Facebook. And your neighbor’s house. And your house. And pretty much everywhere else.
83. East Austin blues. Antone’s might be “Austin’s Home of the Blues,” but the Victory Grill stands as a testament to the world-renowned jazz and blues that was fostered and flourished on the Eastside, when the South was still segregated and it was a regular stop on the so-called “Chitlin’ Circuit”—the only clubs where black musicians were allowed to play.
84. LBJ everywhere. The story of Lyndon Baines Johnson and the city seem inextricably bound, and the outsized local fascination with the Hill Country president is both amusing and deep.
85. Zilker Park. A 351-acre stretch of green that contains Barton Springs, botanical gardens, a hillside theater, a disc-golf course, a leash-free dog area, a sculpture garden, a rowing dock, volleyball courts, and a miniature train, and that hosts a holiday trail of lights, a kite festival, summer musicals, fireworks, and live music—well, that’s not a bad place to call “the city’s backyard.”
86. Tim Kerr’s murals. It’s risky to single out one current artist in a city full of great murals. But there’s something about Kerr’s style and focus on overlooked musical trailblazers and star players on the Austin Black Senators baseball team that makes it worth the gamble.
87. Downs-Mabson Field. Once home of the Austin Black Senators, the city’s professional “Negro League” team in the pre-integration era, and now the home field of Huston-Tillotson’s Rams, the historic diamond and stands have been preserved, restored, and graced with mosaic portraits of some of the greats who played there.
88. Gold Rush Vinyl. It was a sad day for lovers of super-obscure vinyl when Rise Records, the only other (and far jankier) record plant Austin has known, shut down sometime before the turn of the 21st century. It was a pain that only really went away last year, when Gold Rush finally restored things to their natural order for Austin’s reliably present contingent of record fetishists.
89. No NBA, no NFL, no MLB—just MLS. Whether it’s due to historic uneasiness with jock culture or the sheer dominance of Longhorns fans—or just that the fact that it’s surrounded by three big cities with multiple pro-sports franchises—Austin’s first major-league team will come in the form of a men’s soccer club, a worldly choice suited to the inveterate college town. (Though let’s get a women’s team out there soon, too, K?)
90. Getting the in-jokes on King of the Hill. Knowing where the real Landing Strip from Friday Night Lights (and Varsity Blues, and Planet Terror) is. Spotting your neighbor’s house (or yours) in Boyhood. Revisiting the place where you got your appendix removed with The Walking Dead. Austin is a longtime film and television town with a full-time industry to back up its passions.
91. Low-key celebrity presence. Okay, Matthew McConaughey couldn’t always be described as “low-key.” But the citizens of Austin generally enjoy an easygoing relationship with the celebs who live or spend time here (Willie Nelson, Elijah Wood, John Doe, Dan Rather, Sandra Bullock, Andy Roddick, Brooklyn Decker, Carrie Brownstein, Ethan Hawke, Olivia Wilde, a Teen Mom here, a Bachelor there). Maybe it’s because we’re so much cooler than most of them (not you, Willie and John).
92. The Austin Film Society. Started above a coffeehouse by Richard Linklater and a few fellow art-film fans in the 1980s, AFS worked in tandem with with UT’s now-defunct CinemaTexas and the film geeks at the Austin Chronicle to nurture a deep and lasting cinephilia in the city.
93. Alamo Drafthouse’s programming. You think people go there for the food and the booze? Okay, maybe a little. But the original secret of the Drafthouse’s success is its finely attuned mix of fan fodder, found film, rescued obscurities, in-house videos, live events, extra-special screenings, deep genre cuts, and a portable, blow-up screen. It’s the yang to AFS’s yin.
94. Master Pancake Theater. Originally calling itself Mister Sinus Theater before the MST3K lawyers came calling, the kinetic comedy group can live-skewer a beloved cinematic classic or guilty filmic pleasure in equal, expert measure.
95. Citizen wonks. Between trying to keep an eye on its natural resources and having a front seat to the Texas Legislature’s Shakespearean adventures, Austinites tend to have a lot of governmental details at their fingertips. It’s how we show we care.
96. SprATX. The still-young arts company now has national reach but continues to keep the city’s walls alive with murals and other artwork that stays grounded in the spirit of street art.
97. Minor Mishap Marching Band. The irreverent brass band’s fantabulous street shows are topped only by its semi-guerilla performances on the lake, in canoes and kayaks.
98. Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez. Hernandez has faced off with the governor repeatedly over her refusal to honor ICE detainers, weathered punitive budget cuts, and dealt with retaliatory raids to keep Austin the sanctuary city it wants to be.
99. House Park. The school-district stadium, shared by three high schools and an assortment of soccer, ultimate Frisbee, and lacrosse teams, was built in 1938 with a Public Works Administration grant. It’s an endearing and adorable vestige of the small town that predated the boom town. Bonus: The bleachers at night offer a beautifully framed view of the boom town’s downtown.
100. Esquina Tango. Esquina wants to teach you tango. But Esquina also wants to teach you about Argentina, to immerse you in the culture and provide language classes, to make you feel at home in the group’s colorful building, meant to evoke the country’s “La Boca” neighborhood. Its following is devoted and intense, probably because its staff members make everything they do serious and fun.
101. Austin History Center. Built in 1933 to house Austin’s first public library, the center is one of the city’s oldest remaining civic buildings. There’s something profound and exciting about approaching the Italian Renaissance Revival building—taking in the local Cordova cream limestone of its walls, the ornamental ironwork, the elaborate wood carving inside, and the frescoes on the north loggia ceiling. Its old-school reading room is also a font of wonder for those in search of rabbit holes of Austin history both legendary and recent.