I may be just a teensy bit biased, but I can't imagine growing up in a better place than in my hometown, Austin, Texas.
Austin is a perfect little city which combines Southern hospitality, pioneer spirit, a love of the arts, and a funky hippie sensibility. It's a little bit Country and a little bit Rock and Roll. It's a college town (The University of Texas has 50,000 students!), a political town (it's the Capital of Texas) and a haven for journalists and artists. Which of course means it's got a lot of great bars!
And it's beautiful! Most people have the misconception that all of Texas is flat and dry. But Austin is in the heart of the Texas Hill Country and possesses lush, green rolling hills.
Politically, it's the little blue center of the big red state. Which helps give it it's funky, laid-back vibe. When I was a little girl, it was a bastion of hippiedom. Lots of people decided to move to Austin to "turn on , tune in and drop out." Even today, it's the kind of place where people decide to drop out of their pressure-ridden jobs and take up beading for a living or some such thing. Everybody seems to know a lesbian couple who weld yard art in their garage. It's a place that has always been liberal and progressive - politically, culturally and socially.
But in addition to the funky element, it's also clean and safe. Great schools. Beautiful neighborhoods. And it's super, incredibly kid-friendly. A great place to raise a family.
Over the past 15 or so years, the world has suddenly "discovered" Austin. It's on pretty much every "Best Cities to Live In" list. This, of course, is good news/bad news. Good just because it's gratifying to have your favorite place acknowledged to the rest of the world. Bad because it's encouraging people to move there, thus diluting its very "specialness". The computer business has moved in in a HUGE way. The rise of Dell Computers created thousands of "Dellionaires". The place has been overrun by Yankees!
The counterbalance of this has been the "Keep Austin Weird" movement. Which is just wonderfully, weirdly Austin. The slogan has been adopted by the Austin Small Business Association, and has become a huge anti-corporate, anti-commercialization movement. Austinites revel in the artisanal, the small-batch, the eclectic, the unique.
And so here are a few of my favorite, distinctly Austin aspects of my hometown...
Though they now have a dozen locations across America (rumor has it that we'll be getting on in LA soon!), the original Alamo is right in Austin. The Alamo is a movie theater, where you sit in cabaret-style seating, order cold beer and outrageous food, which is delivered to your seat. They're famous for their strict movie etiquette rules - if you talk or text during a film you will be thrown out! They show both first-run and revival films, and host amazing film events - sing-alongs, quote-alongs, festivals, theme nights. They'll run a film and create a special menu to go along with it. It's an amazing cinematic experience!
Oh my God, y'all! Founded in 1984, using a hot check to pay the first month's rent, Amy's has become THE best ice cream around. They have over 350 artisan premium ice creams in rotation, plus you can choose from an assortment of "crushins" that they mix in for you. You could stick with their trademark Mexican Vanilla, or go for something exotic - Bacon Jalapeno! Dill-ious (yes, dill pickle ice cream)! Bourbon Custard! Prickly Pear! Tequila Sunrise! Chocolate Wasabi! Mint Julep! They have a whole series of flavors for Harry Potter fans, including Butter Beer (butter-flavor ice cream, Shiner Bock beer, butterscotch and Apple Schnapps)! It's outrageous! There's now an Amy's at the Austin Airport so it can be your very first taste when you arrive and your very last taste to remember the place by.
Back in the beginning, the Austin Hill Country was settled by German immigrants, who instilled the area with a love of beer. Even when I was a kid, drinking a local brew was the norm. Pearl Beer, Lone Star Beer - these were the most popular beers around. For the last 20 years or so, Shiner Bock, made at the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, TX, has been the local brew of choice. Nowadays, Austin has DOZENS of local breweries and brewpubs.
Hill Country residents love their wildflowers! And every spring, the highways of Central Texas become a sea of blue when the bluebonnets are in bloom. Breathtaking...
My favorite bookstore in the world! Three stories. Amazing staff. Big over-stuffed chairs to curl up in. I could spend HOURS there! A truly special place.
THE best grocery store on the Planet Earth, bar none! No, really y'all! This place is an actual tourist destination. I remember visiting right after they opened the new location on North Lamar, and everybody kept asking me "Have you been to the new Central Market?!" This place is huge and beautiful and decadent. I guess you'd call it a "gourmet" store, as they specialize in high-quality, hard-to-find foods. They are all about eating local and eating fresh. It's like a foodie Wonderland!
The culture of food is so huge in Austin. Nowadays, of course, the place is a cosmopolitan city where you can find every kind of ethnic food in the world. But to me, Austin has four truly distinctive and special food genres.
- Barbecue - Texas barbecue is like nothing else. Our love all all things beef makes brisket the king, slow-cooked over a pit until it falls apart and melts in your mouth. Okay, my eyes just actually filled with tears thinking about it. Favorite spots - The Salt Lick, The County Line.
- Tex-Mex - That amazing hybrid of Mexican food and Americana food that is so distinctly Texican. Austin Mexican restaurants are filled with fresh, hand-made ingredients - no jarred sauces anywhere. Favorites - Guero's Taco Bar (funky, hipster), Matt's El Rancho (very traditional Austin landmark), Fonda San Miguel (more elegant and upscale).
- Home-cooking - I always said that the key to Texan home-cooking is to take whatever you want to cook and either...a) Batter and deep fry it. b) Boil it with a big mess of pork. or c) smother it in cream gravy. Yep, that's about it. Chicken Fried Steak, Fried Catfish, Black-Eyed Peas, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Collard Greens, Fried Okra, Garlic Cheese Grits. Mmmm. Favorites - Threadgills, Hoover's.
- Health food - Yes, it's true! All those hippies made an impact! Guess what food chain was started in Austin by a couple of college drop-outs back in 1980. Whole Foods! Yep, an Austin business through and through.
The Austin music scene is world famous. When I was a little girl, there was a honky-tonk up the hill from us, and late at night, western swing music would drift in on the breeze. The famous Armadillo World Headquarters was one of the greatest music venues of the '70's, giving a start to most of the great "Austin Sound" musicians - Willie Nelson, Janis Joplin, Stevie Ray Vaughn, ZZ Top. Since 1972, Willie Nelson's been having his Annual 4th of July Picnic - Willie, Waylon, Merle, Kris. Today, Sixth Street is as alive and happening musically as Bourbon Street in New Orleans. We host Austin City Limits and the incredibly popular South by Southwest (SXSW) music and film festival.
Water Activities -
Austin has more cool, natural outdoor swimming spots than anywhere else. Which is good, because it gets damned hot in the summer. Lake Austin threads it's way through the heart of the city. It's the kind of place where folks get up a little early and go water skiing before work in the morning. And the city is filled with amazing natural swimming spots. I've spoken in the past about Barton Springs, but there's also Deep Eddy (the oldest swimming pool in Texas, fed by a natural spring) and the amazing Hamilton Pool, a natural swimming hole surrounded by caves complete with stalactites.
I am now so officially homesick that I need to go lie down. If I don't get back to Austin soon, I'm going to go into some kind of painful withdrawal. Maybe I need to go buy a six-pack of Shiners and curl up and listen to some Stevie Ray or The Texas Tornados. Could y'all chip in and ship me a box of barbecue from Air Ribs?
Don't you DARE leave without visiting our other "Hometown" spinners!
Nain at View From Down Here - NEW on FRIDAY!
Ginny Marie at Lemon Drop Pie - NEW on FRIDAY!
Next week on The Spin Cycle...
I'm a Fan
We all have our rabid enthusiasms! Are you a devotee? An enthusiast? A junkie? A nut?
Are you obsessed with your favorite sports team? Do you dress in the team colors and paint your face and plan your entire social schedule around the games?
Maybe you're crazy for a tv show. Do you watch religiously? Troll the fansites? Do you throw parties for the season finale? When the series finale of Battlestar Galactica aired, did you lock yourself in a room alone and cry yourself to sleep? Oh wait, that was me.
Have you ever written a fan letter to a celebrity? A politician? Did you sleep with a picture of Davy Jones under your pillow for years? Oh...that was me too.
Or maybe it's a book or author? Or a restaurant? Or the most amazing skin cream in the world?
Write it up. Post it. Let me know. I'll link it here.
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