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Austin, Travis County and Williamson County have been the site of human habitation since at least 9200 BC. The area’s earliest known inhabitants lived during the late Pleistocene (Ice Age) and are linked to the Clovis culture around 9200 BC (over 11,200 years ago), based on evidence found throughout the area and documented at the much-studied Gault Site, midway between Georgetown and Fort Hood.[failed verification]
When settlers arrived from Europe, the Tonkawa tribe inhabited the area. The Comanches and Lipan Apaches were also known to travel through the area. Spanish colonists, including the Espinosa-Olivares-Aguirre expedition, traveled through the area, though few permanent settlements were created for some time. In 1730, three missions from East Texas were combined and reestablished as one mission on the south side of the Colorado River, in what is now Zilker Park, in Austin. The mission was in this area for only about seven months, and then was moved to San Antonio de Béxar and split into three missions.
During the 1830s, pioneers began to settle the area in central Austin along the Colorado River. Spanish forts were established in what are now Bastrop and San Marcos. Following Mexico’s independence, new settlements were established in Central Texas, but growth in the region was stagnant because of conflicts with the regional Native Americans.
In 1835–1836, Texans fought and won independence from Mexico. Texas thus became an independent country with its own president, congress, and monetary system. After Vice President Mirabeau B. Lamar visited the area during a buffalo-hunting expedition between 1837 and 1838, he proposed that the republic’s capital, then in Houston, be relocated to the area situated on the north bank of the Colorado River (near the present-day Congress Avenue Bridge). In 1839, the site was chosen to replace Houston as the capital of the Republic of Texas and was incorporated under the name “Waterloo”. Shortly afterward, the name was changed to Austin in honor of Stephen F. Austin, the “Father of Texas” and the republic’s first secretary of state. The city grew throughout the 19th century and became a center for government and education with the construction of the Texas State Capitol and the University of Texas at Austin. After a severe lull in economic growth from the Great Depression, Austin resumed its steady development.
In 1839, the Texas Congress formed a commission to seek a site for a new capital to be named for Stephen F. Austin. Mirabeau B. Lamar, second president of the newly formed Republic of Texas, advised the commissioners to investigate the area named Waterloo, noting the area’s hills, waterways, and pleasant surroundings. Waterloo was selected, and “Austin” was chosen as the town’s new name. The location was seen as a convenient crossroads for trade routes between Santa Fe and Galveston Bay, as well as routes between northern Mexico and the Red River.
Edwin Waller was picked by Lamar to survey the village and draft a plan laying out the new capital. The original site was narrowed to 640 acres (260 ha) that fronted the Colorado River between two creeks, Shoal Creek and Waller Creek, which was later named in his honor. Waller and a team of surveyors developed Austin’s first city plan, commonly known as the Waller Plan, dividing the site into a 14-block grid plan bisected by a broad north–south thoroughfare, Congress Avenue, running up from the river to Capital Square, where the new Texas State Capitol was to be constructed. A temporary one-story capitol was erected on the corner of Colorado and 8th Streets. On August 1, 1839, the first auction of 217 out of 306 lots total was held. The Waller Plan designed and surveyed now forms the basis of downtown Austin.
In 1840, a series of conflicts between the Texas Rangers and the Comanches, known as the Council House Fight and the Battle of Plum Creek, pushed the Comanches westward, mostly ending conflicts in Central Texas. Settlement in the area began to expand quickly. Travis County was established in 1840, and the surrounding counties were mostly established within the next two decades.
Initially, the new capital thrived but Lamar’s political enemy, Sam Houston, used two Mexican army incursions to San Antonio as an excuse to move the government. Sam Houston fought bitterly against Lamar’s decision to establish the capital in such a remote wilderness. The men and women who traveled mainly from Houston to conduct government business were intensely disappointed as well. By 1840, the population had risen to 856, nearly half of whom fled Austin when Congress recessed. The resident African American population listed in January of this same year was 176. The fear of Austin’s proximity to the Indians and Mexico, which still considered Texas a part of their land, created an immense motive for Sam Houston, the first and third President of the Republic of Texas, to relocate the capital once again in 1841. Upon threats of Mexican troops in Texas, Houston raided the Land Office to transfer all official documents to Houston for safe keeping in what was later known as the Archive War, but the people of Austin would not allow this unaccompanied decision to be executed. The documents stayed, but the capital would temporarily move from Austin to Houston to Washington-on-the-Brazos. Without the governmental body, Austin’s population declined to a low of only a few hundred people throughout the early 1840s. The voting by the fourth President of the Republic, Anson Jones, and Congress, who reconvened in Austin in 1845, settled the issue to keep Austin the seat of government, as well as annex the Republic of Texas into the United States.
In 1860, 38% of Travis County residents were slaves. In 1861, with the outbreak of the American Civil War, voters in Austin and other Central Texas communities voted against secession. However, as the war progressed and fears of attack by Union forces increased, Austin contributed hundreds of men to the Confederate forces. The African American population of Austin swelled dramatically after the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas by Union General Gordon Granger at Galveston, in an event commemorated as Juneteenth. Black communities such as Wheatville, Pleasant Hill, and Clarksville were established, with Clarksville being the oldest surviving freedomtown ‒ the original post-Civil War settlements founded by former African-American slaves ‒ west of the Mississippi River. In 1870, blacks made up 36.5% of Austin’s population.
The postwar period saw dramatic population and economic growth. The opening of the Houston and Texas Central Railway (H&TC) in 1871 turned Austin into the major trading center for the region, with the ability to transport both cotton and cattle. The Missouri, Kansas & Texas (MKT) line followed close behind. Austin was also the terminus of the southernmost leg of the Chisholm Trail, and “drovers” pushed cattle north to the railroad. Cotton was one of the few crops produced locally for export, and a cotton gin engine was located downtown near the trains for “ginning” cotton of its seeds and turning the product into bales for shipment. However, as other new railroads were built through the region in the 1870s, Austin began to lose its primacy in trade to the surrounding communities. In addition, the areas east of Austin took over cattle and cotton production from Austin, especially in towns like Hutto and Taylor that sit over the blackland prairie, with its deep, rich soils for producing cotton and hay.
In September 1881, Austin public schools held their first classes. The same year, Tillotson Collegiate and Normal Institute (now part of Huston–Tillotson University) opened its doors. The University of Texas held its first classes in 1883, although classes had been held in the original wooden state capitol for four years before.
During the 1880s, Austin gained new prominence as the state capitol building was completed in 1888 and claimed as the seventh largest building in the world. In the late 19th century, Austin expanded its city limits to more than three times its former area, and the first granite dam was built on the Colorado River to power a new street car line and the new “moon towers”. The first dam washed away in a flood on April 7, 1900.
In the late 1920s and 1930s, Austin implemented the 1928 Austin city plan through a series of civic development and beautification projects that created much of the city’s infrastructure and many of its parks. In addition, the state legislature established the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) that, along with the city of Austin, created the system of dams along the Colorado River to form the Highland Lakes. These projects were enabled in large part because the Public Works Administration provided Austin with greater funding for municipal construction projects than other Texas cities.
During the early twentieth century, a three-way system of social segregation emerged in Austin, with Anglos, African Americans and Mexicans being separated by custom or law in most aspects of life, including housing, health care, and education. Many of the municipal improvement programs initiated during this period—such as the construction of new roads, schools, and hospitals—were deliberately designed to institutionalize this system of segregation. Deed restrictions also played an important role in residential segregation. After 1935 most housing deeds prohibited African Americans (and sometimes other nonwhite groups) from using land. Combined with the system of segregated public services, racial segregation increased in Austin during the first half of the twentieth century, with African Americans and Mexicans experiencing high levels of discrimination and social marginalization.
In 1940, the destroyed granite dam on the Colorado River was finally replaced by a hollow concrete dam that formed Lake McDonald (now called Lake Austin) and which has withstood all floods since. In addition, the much larger Mansfield Dam was built by the LCRA upstream of Austin to form Lake Travis, a flood-control reservoir.
In the early 20th century, the Texas Oil Boom took hold, creating tremendous economic opportunities in Southeast Texas and North Texas. The growth generated by this boom largely passed by Austin at first, with the city slipping from fourth largest to 10th largest in Texas between 1880 and 1920.
After the mid-20th century, Austin became established as one of Texas’ major metropolitan centers. In 1970, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Austin’s population as 14.5% Hispanic, 11.9% black, and 73.4% non-Hispanic white. In the late 20th century, Austin emerged as an important high tech center for semiconductors and software. The University of Texas at Austin emerged as a major university.
The 1970s saw Austin’s emergence in the national music scene, with local artists such as Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel, and Stevie Ray Vaughan and iconic music venues such as the Armadillo World Headquarters. Over time, the long-running television program Austin City Limits, its namesake Austin City Limits Festival, and the South by Southwest music festival solidified the city’s place in the music industry.
The Greater Austin metropolitan statistical area had a gross domestic product (GDP) of $86 billion in 2010. Austin is considered to be a major center for high tech. Thousands of graduates each year from the engineering and computer science programs at the University of Texas at Austin provide a steady source of employees that help to fuel Austin’s technology and defense industry sectors. The region’s rapid growth has led Forbes to rank the Austin metropolitan area number one among all big cities for jobs for 2012 in their annual survey and WSJ Marketwatch to rank the area number one for growing businesses. By 2013, Austin was ranked No. 14 on Forbes’ list of the Best Places for Business and Careers (directly below Dallas, No. 13 on the list). As a result of the high concentration of high-tech companies in the region, Austin was strongly affected by the dot-com boom in the late 1990s and subsequent bust. Austin’s largest employers include the Austin Independent School District, the City of Austin, Dell, the U.S. Federal Government, NXP Semiconductors, IBM, St. David’s Healthcare Partnership, Seton Family of Hospitals, the State of Texas, the Texas State University, and the University of Texas at Austin.
Other high-tech companies with operations in Austin include 3M, Apple, Amazon, AMD, Apartment Ratings, Applied Materials, Arm Holdings, Bigcommerce, BioWare, Blizzard Entertainment, Buffalo Technology, Cirrus Logic, Cisco Systems, Dropbox, eBay, Electronic Arts, Flextronics, Facebook, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Hoover’s, HomeAway, HostGator, Intel Corporation, National Instruments, Nintendo, Nvidia, Oracle, PayPal, Polycom, Qualcomm, Rackspace, RetailMeNot, Rooster Teeth, Samsung Group, Silicon Laboratories, Spansion, Tesla, United Devices, VMware, and Xerox. In 2010, Facebook accepted a grant to build a downtown office that could bring as many as 200 jobs to the city. The proliferation of technology companies has led to the region’s nickname, “Silicon Hills”, and spurred development that greatly expanded the city.
Austin is also emerging as a hub for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies; the city is home to about 85 of them. In 2004, the city was ranked by the Milken Institute as the #12 biotech and life science center in the United States and in 2018, CBRE Group ranked Austin as #3 emerging life sciences cluster Companies such as Hospira, Pharmaceutical Product Development, and ArthroCare Corporation are located there.
Whole Foods Market, an international grocery store chain specializing in fresh and packaged food products, was founded and is headquartered in Austin.
Other companies based in Austin include NXP Semiconductors, GoodPop, Temple-Inland, Sweet Leaf Tea Company, Keller Williams Realty, National Western Life, GSD&M, Dimensional Fund Advisors, Golfsmith, Forestar Group, EZCorp, Outdoor Voices, Tito’s Vodka, Indeed, Speak Social, and YETI.
In 2018, Austin metro-area companies saw a total of $1.33 billion invested. Austin’s VC numbers were so strong in 2018 that they accounted for more than 60 percent of Texas’ total investments.
“Keep Austin Weird” has been a local motto for years, featured on bumper stickers and T-shirts. This motto has not only been used in promoting Austin’s eccentricity and diversity, but is also meant to bolster support of local independent businesses. According to the 2010 book Weird City the phrase was begun by a local Austin Community College librarian, Red Wassenich, and his wife, Karen Pavelka, who were concerned about Austin’s “rapid descent into commercialism and overdevelopment.” The slogan has been interpreted many ways since its inception, but remains an important symbol for many Austinites who wish to voice concerns over rapid growth and irresponsible development. Austin has a long history of vocal citizen resistance to development projects perceived to degrade the environment, or to threaten the natural and cultural landscapes.
According to the Nielsen Company, adults in Austin read and contribute to blogs more than those in any other U.S. metropolitan area. Austin residents have the highest Internet usage in all of Texas. In 2013, Austin was the most active city on Reddit, having the largest number of views per capita. Austin was selected as the No. 2 Best Big City in “Best Places to Live” by Money magazine in 2006, and No. 3 in 2009, and also the “Greenest City in America” by MSN.
South Congress is a shopping district stretching down South Congress Avenue from Downtown. This area is home to coffee shops, eccentric stores, restaurants, food trucks, trailers, and festivals. It prides itself on “Keeping Austin Weird,” especially with development in the surrounding area(s). Many Austinites attribute its enduring popularity to the magnificent and unobstructed view of the Texas State Capitol.
The Rainey Street Historic District is a neighborhood in Downtown Austin consisting mostly of bungalow style homes built in the early 20th century. Since the early 2010s, the former working class residential street has turned into a popular nightlife district. Much of the historic homes have been renovated into bars and restaurants, many of which feature large porches and outdoor yards for patrons. The Rainey Street district is also home to the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.
Austin has been part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network under Media Arts the category.
“Old Austin” is an adage often used by nostalgic natives. The term “Old Austin” refers to a time when the city was smaller and more bohemian with a considerably lower cost of living and better known for its lack of traffic, hipsters, and urban sprawl. It is often employed by longtime residents expressing displeasure at the rapidly changing culture, or when referencing nostalgia of Austin culture.
The growth and popularity of Austin can be seen by the expansive development taking place in its downtown landscape. Forbes ranked Austin as the second fastest-growing city in 2015. This growth can have a negative impact on longtime small businesses that cannot keep up with the expenses associated with gentrification and the rising cost of real estate. A former Austin musician, Dale Watson, described his move away from Austin, “I just really feel the city has sold itself. Just because you’re going to get $45 million for a company to come to town – if it’s not in the best interest of the town, I don’t think they should do it. This city was never about money. It was about quality of life.”
Annual cultural events
The O. Henry House Museum hosts the annual O. Henry Pun-Off, a pun contest where the successful contestants exhibit wit akin to that of the author William Sydney Porter.
Other annual events include Eeyore’s Birthday Party, Spamarama, Austin Pride Festival & Parade in August, the Austin Reggae Festival in April, Kite Festival, Texas Craft Brewers Festival in September, Art City Austin in April, East Austin Studio Tour in November, and Carnaval Brasileiro in February. Sixth Street features annual festivals such as the Pecan Street Festival and Halloween night. The three-day Austin City Limits Music Festival has been held in Zilker Park every year since 2002. Every year around the end of March and the beginning of April, Austin is home to “Texas Relay Weekend.”
Austin’s Zilker Park Tree is a Christmas display made of lights strung from the top of a Moonlight tower in Zilker Park. The Zilker Tree is lit in December along with the “Trail of Lights,” an Austin Christmas tradition. The Trail of Lights was canceled four times, first starting in 2001 and 2002 due to the September 11 Attacks, and again in 2010 and 2011 due to budget shortfalls, but the trail was turned back on for the 2012 holiday season.
Cuisine and breweries
Austin is perhaps best known for its Texas barbecue and Tex-Mex cuisine. Franklin Barbecue is perhaps Austin’s most famous barbecue restaurant; the restaurant has sold out of brisket every day since its establishment. Breakfast tacos and queso are popular food items in the city; Austin is sometimes called the “home of the breakfast taco.” Kolaches are a common pastry in Austin bakeries due to the large Czech and German immigrant population in Texas. The Oasis Restaurant is the largest outdoor restaurant in Texas, which promotes itself as the “Sunset Capital of Texas” with its terraced views looking West over Lake Travis. P. Terry’s, an Austin-based fast food burger chain, has a loyal following among Austinites. Some other Austin-based chain restaurants include Amy’s Ice Creams, Bush’s Chicken, Chuy’s, DoubleDave’s Pizzaworks, and Schlotzky’s.
Austin is also home to a large number of food trucks, with 1,256 food trucks operating in 2016. The city of Austin has the second-largest number of food trucks per capita in the United States. Austin’s first food hall, “Fareground,” features a number of Austin-based food vendors and a bar in the ground level and courtyard of One Congress Plaza.
Austin has a large craft beer scene, with over 50 microbreweries in the metro area. Drinks publication VinePair named Austin as the “top beer destination in the world” in 2019. Notable Austin-area breweries include Jester King Brewery, Live Oak Brewing Company, and Real Ale Brewing Company.
As Austin’s official slogan is The Live Music Capital of the World, the city has a vibrant live music scene with more music venues per capita than any other U.S. city. Austin’s music revolves around the many nightclubs on 6th Street and an annual film/music/interactive festival known as South by Southwest (SXSW). The concentration of restaurants, bars, and music venues in the city’s downtown core is a major contributor to Austin’s live music scene, as the ZIP Code encompassing the downtown entertainment district hosts the most bar or alcohol-serving establishments in the U.S.
The longest-running concert music program on American television, Austin City Limits, is recorded at ACL Live at The Moody Theater, located in the bottom floor of the 478 feet (146 m) W Hotels in Austin. Austin City Limits and C3 Presents produce the Austin City Limits Music Festival, an annual music and art festival held at Zilker Park in Austin. Other music events include the Urban Music Festival, Fun Fun Fun Fest, Chaos In Tejas and Old Settler’s Music Festival. Austin Lyric Opera performs multiple operas each year (including the 2007 opening of Philip Glass’s Waiting for the Barbarians, written by University of Texas at Austin alumnus J. M. Coetzee). The Austin Symphony Orchestra performs a range of classical, pop and family performances and is led by Music Director and Conductor Peter Bay. The Austin Baroque Orchestra and La Follia Austin Baroque ensembles both give historically-informed performances of Baroque music.
Austin hosts several film festivals, including the SXSW (South by Southwest) Film Festival and the Austin Film Festival, which hosts international films. A movie theater chain by the name of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema was founded in Austin in 1997; the South Lamar location of which is home to the annual week-long Fantastic Fest film festival. In 2004 the city was first in MovieMaker Magazine’s annual top ten cities to live and make movies.
Austin has been the location for a number of motion pictures, partly due to the influence of The University of Texas at Austin Department of Radio-Television-Film. Films produced in Austin include The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Songwriter (1984), Man of the House, Secondhand Lions, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Nadine, Waking Life, Spy Kids, The Faculty, Dazed and Confused, The Guards Themselves, Wild Texas Wind, Office Space, The Life of David Gale, Miss Congeniality, Doubting Thomas, Slacker, Idiocracy, The New Guy, Hope Floats, The Alamo, Blank Check, The Wendall Baker Story, School of Rock, A Slipping-Down Life, A Scanner Darkly, Saturday Morning Massacre, and most recently, the Coen brothers’ True Grit, Grindhouse, Machete, How to Eat Fried Worms, Bandslam and Lazer Team. In order to draw future film projects to the area, the Austin Film Society has converted several airplane hangars from the former Mueller Airport into filmmaking center Austin Studios. Projects that have used facilities at Austin Studios include music videos by The Flaming Lips and feature films such as 25th Hour and Sin City.
Austin also hosted the MTV series, The Real World: Austin in 2005. Season 4 of the AMC show Fear the Walking Dead was filmed in various locations around Austin in 2018. The film review websites Spill.com and Ain’t It Cool News are based in Austin. Rooster Teeth Productions, creator of popular web series such as Red vs. Blue and RWBY, is also located in Austin.
Austin has a strong theater culture, with dozens of itinerant and resident companies producing a variety of work. The Church of the Friendly Ghost is a volunteer-run arts organization supporting creative expression and counter-culture community. The city also has live performance theater venues such as the Zachary Scott Theatre Center, Vortex Repertory Company, Salvage Vanguard Theater, Rude Mechanicals’ the Off Center, Austin Playhouse, Scottish Rite Children’s Theater, Hyde Park Theatre, the Blue Theater, The Hideout Theatre, and Esther’s Follies. The Victory Grill was a renowned venue on the Chitlin’ Circuit. Public art and performances in the parks and on bridges are popular. Austin hosts the Fuse Box Festival each April featuring theater artists.
The Paramount Theatre, opened in downtown Austin in 1915, contributes to Austin’s theater and film culture, showing classic films throughout the summer and hosting regional premieres for films such as Miss Congeniality. The Zilker Park Summer Musical is a long-running outdoor musical.
The Long Center for the Performing Arts is a 2,300-seat theater built partly with materials reused from the old Lester E. Palmer Auditorium.
Ballet Austin is the fourth largest ballet academy in the country. Each year Ballet Austin’s 20-member professional company performs ballets from a wide variety of choreographers, including their international award-winning artistic director, Stephen Mills. The city is also home to the Ballet East Dance Company, a modern dance ensemble, and the Tapestry Dance Company which performs a variety of dance genres.
The Austin improvisational theatre scene has several theaters: ColdTowne Theater, The Hideout Theater, The Fallout Theater, and The Institution Theater. Austin also hosts the Out of Bounds Comedy Festival, which draws comedic artists in all disciplines to Austin.
The Austin Public Library is a public library system operated by the City of Austin and consists of the Central Library on César Chávez Street, the Austin History Center, 20 branches and the Recycled Reads bookstore and upcycling facility. The APL library system also has mobile libraries – bookmobile buses and a human-powered trike and trailer called “unbound: sin fronteras.”
The Central Library, which is an anchor to the redevelopment of the former Seaholm Power Plant site and the Shoal Creek Walk, opened on October 28, 2017. The six-story Central Library contains a living rooftop garden, reading porches, an indoor reading room, bicycle parking station, large indoor and outdoor event spaces, a gift shop, an art gallery, café, and a “technology petting zoo” where visitors can play with next-generation gadgets like 3D printers. In 2018, Time magazine named the Austin Central Library on its list of “World’s Greatest Places.”
Museums and other points of interest
Museums in Austin include the Texas Memorial Museum, the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center, Thinkery, the Blanton Museum of Art (reopened in 2006), the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum across the street (which opened in 2000), The Contemporary Austin, the Elisabet Ney Museum and the galleries at the Harry Ransom Center. The Texas State Capitol itself is also a major tourist attraction.
The Driskill Hotel, built in 1886, once owned by George W. Littlefield, and located at 6th and Brazos streets, was finished just before the construction of the Capitol building. Sixth Street is a musical hub for the city. The Enchanted Forest, a multi-acre outdoor music, art, and performance art space in South Austin hosts events such as fire-dancing and circus-like-acts. Austin is also home to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, which houses documents and artifacts related to the Johnson administration, including LBJ’s limousine and a re-creation of the Oval Office.
Locally produced art is featured at the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture. The Mexic-Arte Museum is a Mexican and Mexican-American art museum founded in 1983. Austin is also home to the O. Henry House Museum, which served as the residence of O. Henry from 1893 to 1895. Farmers’ markets are popular attractions, providing a variety of locally grown and often organic foods.
Austin also has many odd statues and landmarks, such as the Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial, the Willie Nelson statue, the Mangia dinosaur, the Loca Maria lady at Taco Xpress, the Hyde Park Gym’s giant flexed arm, and Daniel Johnston’s Hi, How are You? Jeremiah the Innocent frog mural.
The Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge houses the world’s largest urban population of Mexican free-tailed bats. Starting in March, up to 1.5 million bats take up residence inside the bridge’s expansion and contraction zones as well as in long horizontal grooves running the length of the bridge’s underside, an environment ideally suited for raising their young. Every evening around sunset, the bats emerge in search of insects, an exit visible on weather radar. Watching the bat emergence is an event that is popular with locals and tourists, with more than 100,000 viewers per year. The bats migrate to Mexico each winter.
The Austin Zoo, located in unincorporated western Travis County, is a rescue zoo that provides sanctuary to displaced animals from a variety of situations, including those involving neglect.
The HOPE Outdoor Gallery is a public, three-story outdoor street art project located on Baylor Street in the Clarksville neighborhood. The gallery, which consists of the foundations of a failed multifamily development, is a constantly-evolving canvas of graffiti and murals. Also known as “Castle Hill” or simply “Graffiti Park,” the site on Baylor Street was closed to the public in early January 2019 but remained intact, behind a fence and with an armed guard, in mid-March 2019. The gallery will build a new art park at Carson Creek Ranch in Southeast Austin.
Many Austinites support the athletic programs of the University of Texas at Austin known as the Texas Longhorns. During the 2005–06 academic term, Longhorns football team was named the NCAA Division I FBS National Football Champion, and Longhorns baseball team won the College World Series. The Texas Longhorns play home games in the state’s second-largest sports stadium, Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium, seating over 101,000 fans. Baseball games are played at UFCU Disch–Falk Field.
Austin was the most populous city in the United States without a major-league professional sports team, which changed in 2021 with Austin FC’s entry to MLS. Minor-league professional sports came to Austin in 1996, when the Austin Ice Bats began playing at the Travis County Expo Center; they were later replaced by the AHL Texas Stars. Austin has hosted a number of other professional teams, including the Austin Spurs of the NBA G League, the Austin Aztex of the United Soccer League, the Austin Outlaws in WFA football, and the Austin Aces in WTT tennis.
Natural features like the bicycle-friendly Texas Hill Country and generally mild climate make Austin the home of several endurance and multi-sport races and communities. The Capitol 10,000 is the largest 10 k race in Texas, and approximately fifth largest in the United States. The Austin Marathon has been run in the city every year since 1992. Additionally, the city is home to the largest 5 mile race in Texas, named the Turkey Trot as it is run annually on thanksgiving. Started in 1991 by Thundercloud Subs, a local sandwich chain (who still sponsors the event), the event has grown to host over 20,000 runners. All proceeds are donated to Caritas of Austin, a local charity.
The Austin-founded American Swimming Association hosts several swim races around town. Austin is also the hometown of several cycling groups and the disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong. Combining these three disciplines is a growing crop of triathlons, including the Capital of Texas Triathlon held every Memorial Day on and around Lady Bird Lake, Auditorium Shores, and Downtown Austin.
Austin is home to the Circuit of the Americas (COTA), a grade 1 FIA specification 3.427-mile (5.515 km) motor racing facility which hosts the Formula One United States Grand Prix. The State of Texas has pledged $25 million in public funds annually for 10 years to pay the sanctioning fees for the race. Built at an estimated cost of $250 to $300 million, the circuit opened in 2012 and is located just east of the Austin Bergstrom International Airport. In August 2017, a new soccer-specific stadium was announced to be built between the Austin360 Amphitheater and the Grand Plaza at COTA. A professional soccer team known as Austin Bold FC will start playing in the United Soccer League in 2019.
The summer of 2014 marked the inaugural season for World TeamTennis team Austin Aces, formerly Orange County Breakers of the southern California region. The Austin Aces played their matches at the Cedar Park Center northwest of Austin, and featured former professionals Andy Roddick and Marion Bartoli, as well as current WTA tour player Vera Zvonareva. The team left after the 2015 season.
In 2017, Precourt Sports Ventures announced a plan to move the Columbus Crew SC soccer franchise from Columbus, Ohio to Austin. Precourt negotiated an agreement with the City of Austin to build a $200 million privately funded stadium on public land at 10414 McKalla Place, following initial interest in Butler Shores Metropolitan Park and Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park. As part of an arrangement with the league, operational rights of Columbus Crew SC were sold in late 2018, and Austin FC was announced as Major League Soccer’s 27th franchise on January 15, 2019, with the expansion team starting play in 2021.
The Austin Parks and Recreation Department received the Excellence in Aquatics award in 1999 and the Gold Medal Awards in 2004 from the National Recreation and Park Association.
To strengthen the region’s parks system, which spans more than 29,000 acres (11,736 ha), The Austin Parks Foundation (APF) was established in 1992 to develop and improve parks in and around Austin. APF works to fill the city’s park funding gap by leveraging volunteers, philanthropists, park advocates, and strategic collaborations to develop, maintain and enhance Austin’s parks, trails and green spaces.
Lady Bird Lake
Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake) is a river-like reservoir on the Colorado River. The lake is a popular recreational area for paddleboards, kayaks, canoes, dragon boats, and rowing shells. Austin’s warm climate and the river’s calm waters, nearly 6 miles (9.7 km) length and straight courses are especially popular with crew teams and clubs. Other recreational attractions along the shores of the lake include swimming in Deep Eddy Pool, the oldest swimming pool in Texas, and Red Bud Isle, a small island formed by the 1900 collapse of the McDonald Dam that serves as a recreation area with a dog park and access to the lake for canoeing and fishing. The 10.1 miles (16.3 km) Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail forms a complete circuit around the lake. A local nonprofit, The Trail Foundation, is the Trail’s private steward and has built amenities and infrastructure including trailheads, lakefront gathering areas, restrooms, exercise equipment, as well as doing Trailwide ecological restoration work on an ongoing basis. The Butler Trail loop was completed in 2014 with the public-private partnership 1-mile Boardwalk project.
Along the shores of Lady Bird Lake is the 350 acre (142 ha) Zilker Park, which contains large open lawns, sports fields, cross country courses, historical markers, concession stands, and picnic areas. Zilker Park is also home to numerous attractions, including the Zilker Botanical Garden, the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, Zilker Hillside Theater, the Austin Nature & Science Center, and the Zilker Zephyr, a 12 in (305 mm) gauge miniature railway carries passengers on a tour around the park. Auditorium Shores, an urban park along the lake, is home to the Palmer Auditorium, the Long Center for the Performing Arts, and an off-leash dog park on the water. Both Zilker Park and Auditorium Shores have a direct view of the Downtown skyline.
Barton Creek Greenbelt
The Barton Creek Greenbelt is a 7.25-mile (11.67 km) public green belt managed by the City of Austin’s Park and Recreation Department. The Greenbelt, which begins at Zilker Park and stretches South/Southwest to the Woods of Westlake subdivision, is characterized by large limestone cliffs, dense foliage, and shallow bodies of water. Popular activities include rock climbing, mountain biking, and hiking. Some well known naturally forming swimming holes along Austin’s greenbelt include Twin Falls, Sculpture Falls, Gus Fruh Pool, and Campbell’s Hole. During years of heavy rainfall, the water level of the creek rises high enough to allow swimming, cliff diving, kayaking, paddle boarding, and tubing.
Austin is home to more than 50 public pools and swimming holes. These include Deep Eddy Pool, Texas’ oldest man-made swimming pool, and Barton Springs Pool, the nation’s largest natural swimming pool in an urban area. Barton Springs Pool is spring-fed while Deep Eddy is well-fed. Both range in temperature from about 68.0 °F (20.0 °C) during the winter to about 71.6 °F (22.0 °C) during the summer. Hippie Hollow Park, a county park situated along Lake Travis, is the only officially sanctioned clothing-optional public park in Texas. Hamilton Pool Preserve is a natural pool that was created when the dome of an underground river collapsed due to massive erosion thousands of years ago. The pool, located about 23 miles (37 km) west of Austin, is a popular summer swimming spot for visitors and residents. Hamilton Pool Preserve consists of 232 acres (0.94 km2) of protected natural habitat featuring a jade green pool into which a 50-foot (15 m) waterfall flows.
Other parks and recreation
Camping is legal on all public property except in front of City Hall since 2019. However, “Other areas where camping remains banned include any city park space, under Austin Parks and Recreation rules. That includes downtown green spaces as well as trails and greenbelts such as along Barton Creek.”
McKinney Falls State Park is a state park administered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, located at the confluence of Onion Creek and Williamson Creek. The park includes several designated hiking trails and campsites with water and electric. The namesake features of the park are the scenic upper and lower falls along Onion Creek. The Emma Long Metropolitan Park is a municipal park along the shores of Lake Austin, originally constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The 284 acres (115 ha) Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a botanical garden and arboretum that features more than 800 species of native Texas plants in both garden and natural settings; the Wildflower Center is located 10 miles (16 km) southwest of Downtown in Circle C Ranch. Roy G. Guerrero Park is located along the Colorado River in East Riverside and contains miles of wooded trails, a sandy beach along the river, and a disc golf course.
Covert Park, located on the top of Mount Bonnell, is a popular tourist destination overlooking Lake Austin and the Colorado River. The mount provides a vista for viewing the city of Austin, Lake Austin, and the surrounding hills. It was designated a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 1969, bearing Marker number 6473, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.
The Austin Country Club is a private golf club located along the shores of the Colorado River, right next to the Pennybacker Bridge. Founded in 1899, the club moved to its third and present site in 1984, which features a challenging layout designed by noted course architect Pete Dye.
Over 43% of Austin residents age 25 and over hold a bachelor’s degree, while 16% hold a graduate degree. In 2009, greater Austin ranked eighth among metropolitan areas in the United States for bachelor’s degree attainment with nearly 39% of area residents over 25 holding a bachelor’s degree.
Austin is home to the University of Texas at Austin, the flagship institution of the University of Texas System with over 40,000 undergraduate students and 11,000 graduate students.
Other institutions of higher learning in Austin include St. Edward’s University, Huston–Tillotson University, Austin Community College, Concordia University, the Seminary of the Southwest, the Acton School of Business, Texas Health and Science University, University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, Austin Graduate School of Theology, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Virginia College’s Austin Campus, The Art Institute of Austin, Southern Careers Institute of Austin, Austin Conservatory and a branch of Park University.
The University of Texas System and Texas State University System are headquartered in downtown Austin.
Public primary and secondary education
The Austin area has 29 public school districts, 17 charter schools and 69 private schools. Most of the city is served by the Austin Independent School District. This district includes notable schools such as the magnet Liberal Arts and Science Academy High School of Austin, Texas (LASA), which, by test scores, has consistently been within the top thirty high schools in the nation, as well as The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders. Some parts of Austin are served by other districts, including Round Rock, Pflugerville, Leander, Manor, Del Valle, Lake Travis, Hays, and Eanes ISD. Four of the metro’s major public school systems, representing 54% of area enrollment, are included in Expansion Management magazine’s latest annual education quality ratings of nearly 2,800 school districts nationwide. Two districts—Eanes and Round Rock—are rated “gold medal,” the highest of the magazine’s cost-performance categories.
Private and alternative education
Austin has a large network of private and alternative education institutions for children in preschool-12th grade exists. Austin is also home to child developmental institutions.
Austin’s main daily newspaper is the Austin American-Statesman. The Austin Chronicle is Austin’s alternative weekly, while The Daily Texan is the student newspaper of the University of Texas at Austin. Austin’s business newspaper is the weekly Austin Business Journal. The Austin Monitor is an online outlet that specializes in insider reporting on City Hall, Travis County Commissioners Court, AISD, and other related local civics beats. The Monitor is backed by the nonprofit Capital of Texas Media Foundation. Austin also has numerous smaller special interest or sub-regional newspapers such as the Oak Hill Gazette, Westlake Picayune, Hill Country News, Round Rock Leader, NOKOA, and The Villager among others. Texas Monthly, a major regional magazine, is also headquartered in Austin. The Texas Observer, a muckraking biweekly political magazine, has been based in Austin for over five decades. The weekly Community Impact Newspaper published by John Garrett, former publisher of the Austin Business Journal has five regional editions and is delivered to every house and business within certain ZIP codes and all of the news is specific to those ZIP codes. Another statewide publication based in Austin is The Texas Tribune, an on-line publication focused on Texas politics. The Tribune is “user-supported” through donations, a business model similar to public radio. The editor is Evan Smith, former editor of Texas Monthly. Smith co-founded the Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, non-partisan public media organization, with Austin venture capitalist John Thornton and veteran journalist Ross Ramsey.
Commercial radio stations include KASE-FM (country), KVET (sports), KVET-FM (country), KKMJ-FM (adult contemporary), KLBJ (talk), KLBJ-FM (classic rock), KTSN (progressive country), KFMK (contemporary Christian), KOKE-FM (progressive country) and KPEZ (rhythmic contemporary). KUT-FM is the leading public radio station in Texas and produces the majority of its content locally. KOOP (FM) is a volunteer-run radio station with more than 60 locally produced programs. KVRX is the student-run college radio station of the University of Texas at Austin with a focus on local and non-mainstream music and community programming. Other listener-supported stations include KAZI (urban contemporary), and KMFA (classical).
Network television stations (affiliations in parentheses) include KTBC (Fox O&O), KVUE (ABC), KXAN (NBC), KEYE-TV (CBS), KLRU (PBS), KNVA (The CW), KBVO (MyNetworkTV), and KAKW (Univision O&O). KLRU produces several award-winning locally produced programs such as Austin City Limits.
Alex Jones, journalist, radio show host and filmmaker, produces his talk show The Alex Jones Show in Austin which broadcasts nationally on more than 60 AM and FM radio stations in the United States, WWCR Radio shortwave and XM Radio: Channel 166.
In 2009, 72.7% of Austin (city) commuters drove alone, with other mode shares being: 10.4% carpool, 6% work from home, 5% use transit, 2.3% walk, and 1% bicycle. In 2016, the American Community Survey estimated modal shares for Austin (city) commuters of 73.5% for driving alone, 9.6% for carpooling, 3.6% for riding transit, 2% for walking, and 1.5% for cycling. The city of Austin has a lower than average percentage of households without a car. In 2015, 6.9 percent of Austin households lacked a car, and decreased slightly to 6 percent in 2016. The national average was 8.7 percent in 2016. Austin averaged 1.65 cars per household in 2016, compared to a national average of 1.8.
In mid-2019, TomTom ranked Austin as having the worst traffic congestion in Texas, as well as 19th nationally and 179th globally.
Central Austin lies between two major north–south freeways: Interstate 35 to the east and the Mopac Expressway (Loop 1) to the west. U.S. Highway 183 runs from northwest to southeast, and State Highway 71 crosses the southern part of the city from east to west, completing a rough “box” around central and north-central Austin. Austin is the largest city in the United States to be served by only one Interstate Highway.
U.S. Highway 290 enters Austin from the east and merges into Interstate 35. Its highway designation continues south on I-35 and then becomes part of Highway 71, continuing to the west. Highway 290 splits from Highway 71 in southwest Austin, in an interchange known as “The Y.” Highway 71 continues to Brady, Texas, and Highway 290 continues west to intersect Interstate 10 near Junction. Interstate 35 continues south through San Antonio to Laredo on the Texas-Mexico border. Interstate 35 is the highway link to the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex in northern Texas. There are two links to Houston, Texas (Highway 290 and State Highway 71/Interstate 10). Highway 183 leads northwest of Austin toward Lampasas.
In the mid-1980s, construction was completed on Loop 360, a scenic highway that curves through the hill country from near the 71/Mopac interchange in the south to near the 183/Mopac interchange in the north. The iconic Pennybacker Bridge, also known as the “360 Bridge,” crosses Lake Austin to connect the northern and southern portions of Loop 360.
State Highway 130 is a bypass route designed to relieve traffic congestion, starting from Interstate 35 just north of Georgetown and running along a parallel route to the east, where it bypasses Round Rock, Austin, San Marcos and New Braunfels before ending at Interstate 10 east of Seguin, where drivers could drive 30 miles (48 km) west to return to Interstate 35 in San Antonio. The first segment was opened in November 2006, which was located east of Austin–Bergstrom International Airport at Austin’s southeast corner on State Highway 71. Highway 130 runs concurrently with Highway 45 from Pflugerville on the north until it reaches US 183 well south of Austin, at which point SR 45 continues west. The entire route of State Highway 130 is now complete. The final leg opened on November 1, 2012. The highway is noted for having a maximum speed limit of 85 mph (137 km/h) for the entire route. The 41-mile section of the toll road between Mustang Ridge and Seguin has a posted speed limit of 85 mph (137 km/h), the highest posted speed limit in the United States.
State Highway 45 runs east–west from just south of Highway 183 in Cedar Park to 130 inside Pflugerville (just east of Round Rock). A tolled extension of State Highway Loop 1 was also created. A new southeast leg of Highway 45 has recently been completed, running from US 183 and the south end of Segment 5 of TX-130 south of Austin due west to I-35 at the FM 1327/Creedmoor exit between the south end of Austin and Buda. The 183A Toll Road opened in March 2007, providing a tolled alternative to U.S. 183 through the cities of Leander and Cedar Park. Currently under construction is a change to East US 290 from US 183 to the town of Manor. Officially, the tollway will be dubbed Tollway 290 with “Manor Expressway” as nickname.
Despite the overwhelming initial opposition to the toll road concept when it was first announced, all three toll roads have exceeded revenue projections.
Austin’s primary airport is Austin–Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA) (IATA code AUS), located 5 miles (8 km) southeast of the city. The airport is on the site of the former Bergstrom Air Force Base, which was closed in 1993 as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process. Until 1999, Robert Mueller Municipal Airport was Austin’s main airport until ABIA took that role and the old airport was shut down. Austin Executive Airport, along with several smaller airports outside the city center, serves general aviation traffic.
Amtrak’s Austin station is located in west downtown and is served by the Texas Eagle which runs daily between Chicago and San Antonio, continuing on to Los Angeles several times a week.
Railway segments between Austin and San Antonio have been evaluated for a proposed regional passenger rail project called “Lone Star Rail”. However, failure to come to an agreement with the track’s current owner, Union Pacific Railroad, ended the project in 2016.
Greyhound Lines operates the Austin Station north of downtown near Highland Mall. Grupo Senda’s Turimex Internacional service operates bus service from Austin to Nuevo Laredo and on to many destinations in Mexico from their station in East Austin. Megabus offers daily service to San Antonio, Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston.
The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Capital Metro) provides public transportation to the city, primarily with its MetroBus local bus service, the MetroExpress express bus system, as well as a bus rapid transit service, MetroRapid. Capital Metro opened a 32-mile (51 km) commuter rail system, Capital MetroRail, in 2010. The system consists of a single line serving downtown Austin, the neighborhoods of East Austin, North Central Austin, and Northwest Austin plus the suburb of Leander.
Since it began operations in 1985, Capital Metro has proposed adding light rail services to its network. Despite support from the City Council, voters rejected light rail proposals in 2000 and 2014. However, in 2020, voters approved Capital Metro’s US$10 billion transit expansion plan, Project Connect, by a comfortable margin. The plan proposes 3 new light rail lines, a second commuter rail line, several new MetroRapid lines, more MetroExpress routes, and a number of other infrastructure, technology and service expansion projects.
Capital Area Rural Transportation System connects Austin with outlying suburbs and surrounding rural areas.
Austin is served by several ride-sharing companies including Uber, Lyft, and local provider RideAustin. On May 9, 2016, Uber and Lyft voluntarily ceased operations in Austin in response to a city ordinance that required ride sharing company drivers to get fingerprint checks, have their vehicles labeled, and not pick up or drop off in certain city lanes. Uber and Lyft resumed service in the summer of 2017. The city was previously served by Fasten until they ceased all operations in the city in March 2018.
Austin is also served by Electric Cab of North America’s six-passenger electric cabs that operate on a flexible route from the Kramer MetroRail Station to Domain Northside and from the Downtown MetroRail station and MetroRapid stops to locations between the Austin Convention Center and near Sixth and Bowie streets by Whole Foods.
Carsharing service Zipcar operates in Austin and, until 2019, the city was also served by Car2Go which kept its North American headquarters in the city even after pulling out.
Cycling and walking
Austin is known as the most bike-friendly city in Texas, and was ranked the #7 city in the US by Bicycling Magazine in 2016.
The city’s bike advocacy organization is Bike Austin. BikeTexas, a state-level advocacy organization, also has its main office in Austin.
Bicycles are a popular transportation choice among students, faculty, and staff at the University of Texas. According to a survey done at the University of Texas, 57% of commuters bike to campus.
The City of Austin and Capital Metro jointly own a bike-sharing service, Capital MetroBike, which is available in and around downtown. The service is a franchise of BCycle, a national bike sharing network owned by Trek Bicycle, and is operated by local nonprofit organization Bike Share of Austin. Until 2020 the service was known as Austin BCycle. In 2018, Lime began offering dockless bikes, which do not need to be docked at a designated station.
In 2018, scooter-sharing companies Lime and Bird debuted rentable electric scooters in Austin. The city briefly banned the scooters — which began operations before the city could implement a permitting system — until the city completed development of their “dockless mobility” permitting process on May 1, 2018. Dockless electric scooters and bikes are banned from Austin city parks and the Ann and Roy Butler Trail and Boardwalk. For the 2018 Austin City Limits Music Festival, the city of Austin offered a designated parking area for dockless bikes and scooters.
A 2013 study by Walk Score ranked Austin 35th most walkable of the 50 largest U.S. cities. More recently, Walk Score rated some Austin neighborhoods among the most walkable in Texas. Downtown Austin scored 88 points out of a possible 100, with the West Campus neighborhood scoring 87, and East Austin scoring 81.
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