Local Obsessions

Everything Old Is Cool in Austin

by Darlene Fiske
Barton Springs. Photo courtesy of Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Curious about what made Austin so cool in the first place? Texan native Darlene Fiske takes us back in time to re-discover the places that gave Austin its wonderfully weird reputation.

AUSTIN – I'm all about the old school. Vintage chic if you will. Of course I embrace the new too. My thirteen-year old is teaching me the ways of Snapchat. I've eaten at many of the James Beard nominated restaurants, like Launderette, in my hometown of Austin, Texas, and I embrace every new addition to this marvelous place. But I also long for the days of simple pleasures. Here's the inside scoop from a homegrown Texan on how to immerse yourself in the little things that made the city of Austin so totally awesome in the first place.

If you want to be one with nature and art.

For forty years, Charles Umlauf taught art at the University of Texas (Farrah Fawcett was one of his students), and in 1981, he and his wife Angeline gifted their home, artist studio, and 168 pieces of sculpture to the city for future generations to enjoy. It's now known as the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden & Museum.

Spend an afternoon roaming the six-acre garden filled with babbling brooks and thought provoking exhibitions throughout the year. Get your yoga fix every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday mornings with $10 classes overlooking the gardens. 

If you're feeling brave.

Between you and me, it's got to be REALLY hot outside to get into the three-acre spring-fed Barton Springs Pool. But fearless kids and adults alike enjoy the 68-degree water temperature all summer long. You'll be equally entertained laying out a blanket on the grassy hill, watching people dip into the ice-cold waters, and snagging a suicide snow cone (all flavors mixed) at the concession stand right outside the gates.

Broken Spoke

Broken Spoke at Continental Club. Photo by Dave Mead.

If you love music. And who doesn't?

You'd be remiss if you visited Austin and didn't take a stroll down South Congress Avenue. Maybe you'll check out the largest urban bat population in the US (flights every evening May-October) or you lend your ear to some of the best live music that our town is famous for. Since 1955, the Continental Club has been a go-to destination for live shows, featuring everyone from Courtyard Hounds to Junior Brown to The Bluebonnets, Dale Watson, and Toni Price. Open seven nights a week, I assure you, the music vortex will swallow you whole.

If you want mind-blowing cuisine.

Go for the kitschy bowling atmosphere. But stay for dinner at the Dart Bowl Cafe where Janet, the (super-friendly) overseer, creates magic in a skillet with cheese-and-onion enchiladas served in a hot cast iron skillet with an egg and Texas Toast. This is the stuff Tex-Mex dreams are made of. Send me a love note later.

If you want to feel like a cattle baron.

Head to the bar at the historic Driskill Hotel on 6th Street. The ceilings are low, there are cowhides a-plenty, the music is sultry, and drinks flow all night long. Snuggle into a leather sofa and watch as politicians stroll through the bar, bachelor parties get their night started, and couples pre-game with martinis. It's the best people-watching in town.

If you really want to impress the kids.

Reward good behavior with a stop at Big Top Candy Shop, a new-school (2007) joint with an old soul (see: vintage-inspired soda fountain). Remember Goo Goo Clusters? If they don't stock your favorite childhood candy, I'll eat a Moon Pie.

Huts Hamburgers

Hut's. It's a classic. Photo by Matthew Fuller.

More nostalgia:

Hut's Hamburgers, 1939.
Burgers, shakes, ginormous onion rings. Need I say more?

Peter Pan Mini Golf, 1946.
Classic putt-putt. And it's BYOB!

Broken Spoke, 1964.
Full-fledge honky tonk with country dancing and chicken fried steak.

Allen's Boots, 1977.
Where you can embrace your inner cowboy/cowgirl and take home a piece of Austin.

Terra Toys, 1978.
Otherwise known as kid-heaven. Super helpful if you need a souvenir for your precious angels.

Keep Exploring Austin

Where the Cool Kids Are: East Austin
Austin: The Good, the Bad, the Divey
Pamper Me Perfect: A Day in Austin Done Right

We make every effort to ensure the information in our articles is accurate at the time of publication. But the world moves fast, and even we double-check important details before hitting the road.