The capital of Texas may be geographically central in the state, but it’s culturally a bit eccentric. The city prides itself on an independent, artsy ethos that is somewhat at odds with the more conservative bent of other Lone Star locales. Austin’s official slogan is “The Live Music Capital of the World” — in the 1970s it became a draw for alt-country pioneers, and today it hosts several renowned arts and music gatherings, including the Austin City Limits festival each September, a three-day gathering of rock stars and up-and-comers, and the South by Southwest film and music festivals held in March. In addition to these funkier gatherings, Austin has a solid foundation of more traditional cultural institutions that are worth visiting, including the LBJ presidential library, the granite-clad state Capitol and the newly renovated George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center. Save time to sample the city’s diverse cuisine, including the numerous authentic Texas barbecue joints, and to explore Austin’s outdoor charms, like the hiking and biking trails of Zilker Metropolitan Park or the massive natural springs at its Barton Springs Pool. Summer temperatures can be sweltering — spring and fall offer a more moderate climate.
A Delightful Garden & Museum
The UMLAUF Sculpture Garden & Museum (605 Azie Morton Road, Tel.  445-5582) features more than 150 sculptures and artworks by Charles Umlauf, strategically set throughout a shady four-acre garden and museum. Often overlooked, this oasis is a delightful place to relax.
South Congress Shopping
After strolling around Lady Bird Lake, I enjoy heading down to South Congress to do some shopping. Quirky Tesoros Trading Company (1500 South Congress Avenue, Tel.  447-7500) is full of colorful folk art from around the world. If you are in search of cowboy boots, head to Heritage Boot Mercantile (1200 South Congress Avenue, Tel.  326-8577) for handcrafted western boots with vintage designs.
Austin is renowned for its live-music scene, and The Continental Club (1315 South Congress Avenue, Tel.  441-2444) on South Congress is one of my favorite venues. Founded in 1957, it still presents high-quality music every night starting around 6:30 p.m.
The best sunset views are from The Oasis (6550 Comanche Trail, Tel.  266-2442) restaurant and bar set on a hillside above Lake Travis. Though the food is mediocre, the setting is unbeatable. The upper tier of the complex often features live music performances.
Almost as famous for its long lines as its smoked meats, Franklin Barbecue (900 East 11th Street, Tel.  653-1187) is known for the brisket, ribs and sausage it creates with nothing more than oak smoke, salt, pepper and time. Though the meat is exceptional, getting it is a challenge: The small restaurant is open only for lunch Tuesday through Sunday. Wait times can be up to four hours, and reservations are not accepted.