Sights & Attractions in Austin
- Places to Explore
- Travel Tips
- Fodor's Choice
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Austin lies in Central Texas, about 163 mi southeast of the state's true center, Eden. On Austin's western border is the Hill Country, its eastern border the much flatter Blackland Prairie. Dallas is about 190 mi to the north, Houston 160 mi to the east.
The logical place to begin an exploration of the city is downtown, where the pink-granite Texas State Capitol, built in 1888, is the most visible manmade attraction. The Colorado River, which slices through Austin, was once an unpredictable waterway, but it's been tamed into a series of lakes, including two within the city limits. Twenty-two-mile-long Lake Austin, in the western part of the city, flows into Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake), a narrow stretch of water that meanders for 5 mi through the center of downtown.
The sprawling University of Texas, one of the largest universities in the United States, flanks the capitol's north end. Among other things, it is home to both the Blanton Museum of Art and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum. UT's northwestern border is flanked by Guadalupe Street, which for these blocks is known as The Drag, a fun and funky student-centered commercial strip.
The downtown's Warehouse District and Second Street District, which run from west of Congress to roughly Nueces Street, and north from the lake to 6th Street, are where you'll find some of Austin's liveliest (and newest) restaurants, bistros, and pubs, along with hip boutiques and other shops.
In the late afternoon hours, locals grab their sneakers and head to Zilker Park, just west and a bit south of downtown, for a jog or a leisurely walk. When the sun sets on summer days, everyone's attention turns to the lake's Congress Avenue Bridge, under which the country's largest urban colony of Mexican free-tailed bats hangs out (literally). The bats make their exodus after sunset to feed on insects in the surrounding Hill Country, putting on quite a show in the process.
Finally, no visit to Austin is complete without venturing south of the river to savor the unique creative vibe of South Congress, with its colorful antiques shops and oh-so-cool clubs and eateries, and the laid-back charms down South First and many side streets. (Note that Congress Avenue is known as South Congress—SoCo for short—below the river. North of the river, in downtown Austin, it's generally called simply Congress Avenue.)
If it's your first time in Austin, your first stop should be the Austin Visitor Center (209 E. 6th St., between Brazos and San Jacinto) for brochures galore and friendly dispensing of advice.
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