It’s true that Austin (pop. 782,967) is different in at least one way from the rest of Texas: It’s the lone blue outpost in an overwhelmingly red state. But in every way that counts, the state capital is pure Lone Star. Austinites, like all Texans, two-step to Willie, accessorize in cowboy boots, and know how to spell “y’all” (never “ya’ll”). Tacos filled with scrambled eggs are customary for breakfast, and salt-encrusted margaritas suffice for electrolyte drinks. I migrated here from Dallas a decade ago and then, like a lot of UT grads, figured out a way to stick around. Mid-March is the time I’m especially glad I did: Temps hover in the 70s, and the South By Southwest Festival brings 1,900 bands to town.
Festival passes start at a hefty $595, but that gives you access to five days full of music—and ensures entrance to the hottest shows. (Stadium stalwarts Metallica played a 2,000-person venue here last year.) Thrifty festival-goers, meanwhile, can freeload off an array of gratis entertainment, which ranges from guerrilla concerts by stars like Kanye West to previews of aspiring bands. In between acts, recharge in my favorite (up until now, secret) swimming hole, McKinney Falls, where water spills from a limestone plateau into a shaded pool.
YOUR LONG WEEKEND: Grab a rental from the extensive knobby-tired fleet at Bicycle Sport Shop. Valet-park your new wheels (yes, they’ll do this) at the historic Driskill Hotel, a dignified retreat on the Sixth Street strip. Next morning, pedal Barton Creek’s Dragon’s Tooth trail, named for the jagged rocks jutting up from the ground, then refuel with a Dirty Sanchez (scrambled eggs, fried poblano chilies, escabeche carrots, cheese, and spicy ranch sauce in a fresh tortilla) from Torchy’s Taco Trailer. Torchy’s is BYOB, so come armed with a tall boy of Lone Star. Then tour the lakeside Lance Armstrong Bikeway into downtown—home base for SXSW badge bearers. —Text by Ian Dille; Photograph by Denise ChambersVitals
DO: Bicycle Sport Shop ($32 a day; bicyclesportshop.com; Barton Creek Greenbelt (ci.austin.tx.us/parks/greenbelts.htm); SXSW (March 12–21; sxsw.com)
SLEEP: Driskill Hotel (doubles from $282; driskillhotel.com)
EAT: Torchy’s Tacos (torchystacos.com)
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