This is the first feature in my “A Torontonian’s Guide To:” series which will feature a number of different cities throughout this year. I’m excited to travel more and show you new cities – through the eyes of a Torontonian!
A Torontonian’s Guide To: Austin
It’s easy to forget Austin is part of Texas. It’s relaxed vibe and liberal attitude certainly pay homage to the city’s motto “Keep Austin Weird”. It’s known throughout the rest of Texas as being a place ripe with liberal ideology. The University of Texas campus infuses Austin culture with a great sports program (Go Longhorns!) and brings down the median age to around 30 years old. Austinites include government employees, college students, musicians, and white collar, blue collar, and tech workers.
My only complaint about the whole city is it’s cab culture. Cabs are nearly impossible to find in the downtown core and while you can certainly call the local cab companies, they will nearly never come (no matter how many times they “send a cab”). If you do manage to hail a cab (many open cabs will simply pass you by for reasons unbeknownst to me), drivers have the option of not taking you if you are going to a destination they don’t want to go to. Most cab drivers, particularly during SXSW, are hostile and rude and on one occasion, I was kicked out of a cab for suggesting a quicker route that would save me a few dollars.
One of my favourite neighbourhoods in Austin is located on Rainey Street. While the street is becoming increasingly unpopular with Austinites who are frustrated with it’s recent surge in popularity, the bars and restaurants are still quiet enough on weeknights. All of the bars on Rainey Street are built in renovated bungalows and feature expansive patios and backyards. Imagine if each level of the Madison was it’s own cozy bar, minus all of the frat boys.
Dirty 6th (or East 6th)
When most people talk about “6th Street”, they are usually referring to the area of East 6th which is always bustling with a busy bar and nightlife scene. Traffic in this area is generally blocked on weekend evenings to allow for crowds to walk along the street. East 6th Street is home to annual festivals including South by Southwest. This part of town reminds me of the strip of Queen Street between Bathurst and just east of Spadina, but far busier. Imagine Queen West during Nuit Blanche, maybe? But every weekend.
While Dirty 6th is a popular entertainment district, West 6th is certainly catching up in terms of cultural capital. Filled with live music venues, low and high-end restaurants, condo developments, office buildings, and is also home to the flagship location of Whole Foods. This part of town kind of reminds me of Liberty Village building up, but without the terrible traffic and cranes everywhere. Some great businesses are moving in, you can’t go wrong at any restaurant, and each place is insanely hip.
Known as a shopping and cultural district because of it’s small stores, independent restaurants, and food trucks. Whether you want to go for ice cream, chow down on queso, shop for cowboy boots, buy your mom a souvenir, buy yourself a printed tee, or dig through vintage trinkets, you can do it all on South Congress! A post on my favourite places to shop in Austin is coming soon.
The Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge is home to the world’s largest urban population of Mexican Bats. Around sunset every evening, the 1.5 million bats (approximately) leave their homes in search of insects. Their emerging from under the bridge is so large that it is visible on local weather radar! Locals and tourists visit the bridge to watch the bats emerge. Each winter the bats migrate to Mexico.
For Torontonians, patio season is a much anticipated event! As soon as the weather is warm enough we flock to outdoor areas like parks and patios. For Austinites, restaurants and bars with patios are quite common – and a happy sight to our sore, indoor eyes!
Want to try something local? Austin is home to many amazing brands of whiskey as well as some amazing craft brews. Breweries include: 512 Brewing Co., Austin Beerworks, Circle Brewing Co., Hops and Grains, Independence, Jester King Craft Brewery, Live Oak Brewing Co., Real Ale Brewing Co., Thirsty Planet, and Twisted X. Shiner, Lone Star, and Fireman’s also make decent low end brews!
The food and restaurant culture in Austin is characterized by a mix of low and high-end food, all paying homage to the popular local taco and food truck trends. A popular appetizer is ‘queso’ – a melted cheese dish served hot with chips or tortillas. Austin’s restaurants offer a surprising abundance of gluten-free options. Honourable mentions include Texas beef and the amazing steakhouses Austin is home to. Comparing the food truck scene to Toronto’s, I was stuck between frustration that we can’t seem to get it right (thanks to municipal bylaws, not by any fault of Toronto’s food trucks) and anticipation for what will be an amazing time of food discovery in Toronto when everything comes together! A post on my favourite places to eat in Austin is coming soon.
It’s hard not to love the weather in Austin! Characterized by hot summers with humid winds and mild winters, Austin is home to Texan heat just as much as the rest of the state. Average temperatures in the summer are in the mid 30’s (celsius).