Considered the soul of Austin, this crossroads of culture and commerce draws freaks, suits, students, and people-watchers. Congressmen share sidewalk space with professional doomsayers and families in the shadow of downtown high-rises, and you're bound to catch a regrettable glimpse of Leslie, Austin's most celebrated homeless dude who dresses in drag and sports a nasty thong.
The mile-long stretch of Guadalupe Street adjacent to the University of Texas campus has been called "The Drag" for decades, and the cruising along this eclectic strip is best done on foot. Students shuffle to class with cell phones attached, hipsters sip iced lattes and browse boutiques, and the homeless youth known as Drag Rats hit everyone up for change.
Austin legend Vaughan, who died tragically in 1990, is remembered here in bronze. The famed Dallas-born guitarist had deep roots in Austin, and this statue has been one of the city's top attractions since it was erected in 1993. On Texas's official Stevie Ray Vaughan Day (his birthday, October 3), you'll find the statue surrounded by flowers and candles.
A grand, red-granite edifice befitting the Lone Star state, this building was completed in 1888 in Renaissance Revival style. The nation's largest state capitol, Austin's landmark can be seen from throughout the city, and its visual prominence is protected by law. Named to the National Register of Historic Places, the structure also offers lovely grounds and, thanks to major expansions in 1993, still houses a host of government offices. The Texas Capitol Visitors Center is located on the grounds at 112 E 11th Street in a castle-like building dating to 1857.
Between March and November, more than a million-and-a-half free-tail bats spend their summer days under this prominent bridge (whose structure facilitates their habitats) and come out in the darkness to catch and eat thousands of pounds of insects nightly. It's quite an awe-inspiring spectacle to behold and can take all the bats more than a half-hour to take flight at times of heaviest concentration. The best time to catch sight is around 8:30pm.
This 22-acre cemetery, a popular place to visit, offers a glimpse into the state's colorful history. Many famous Texas sons and daughters have been laid to rest here, including former Governor John Connelly, Barbara Jordan, and Stephen F. Austin, the father of Texas. Beautifully landscaped and shaded, it's an interesting, serene place in which to spend an hour or two. To make reservations for a guided tour, call 512-463-6600.
[Tours of the tower have are temporarily suspended until Spring 2011 while the Tower undergoes renovations.] This 307-foot Spanish Renaissance landmark at the heart of campus has four clock faces (each measuring 12 feet in diameter) and chimes on the quarter-hour and hour. After some three decades and following renovations, the Tower's observation deck has been reopened to visitors who want to catch a terrific glimpse of Austin. Previously, the Tower had been closed to thwart attempted suicides and out of respect for those people who were killed by a Tower-ensconced sniper in 1966. Barriers and metal detectors are now installed.
Here's another sad-yet-inspiring Texas tale. This majestic oak, listed in the Hall of Fame of Forestry, is estimated to be between 500 and 600 years old. At one time, it stood three stories high with limbs spanning more than a half acre, but in 1989, a man (later sentenced to nine years in prison) poisoned the mighty tree, which now stands about a third of its original size. It takes its name from a local legend that claims that Stephen F. Austin and Indian leaders signed a treaty beneath its grand canopy. No trip to Austin is complete without paying a visit to this venerable survivor.