Austin, Texas, which was once a village on the banks of the Colorado River and then a small college town, has today become a major center for state government, education, business, and technology. It is a popular tourist destination and, as the third-fastest-growing large or mid-sized city in the United States, it is also a popular destination for those seeking to relocate. Thousands of people visit Austin each year for its combination of moderate climate, natural landscapes, and diverse attractions. Austin has at least six things that you’ll find nowhere else in the United States.
1. The most live music venues per capita. Austin’s nickname is “The Live Music Capital of the World.” With over 200 live music venues in a city of 757,000 people, Austin surpasses New York and Las Vegas in this respect. Visitors to Austin can listen to live music every night of the week. Austin’s music scene is centered around its Sixth Street and Warehouse District which feature many restaurants and clubs. Additionally, each spring, Austin holds an annual festival of music and film known as South By Southwest (SXSW). Each fall, Austin is host to a celebration of music and art called the Austin City Limits Music Festival, which is based on Austin City Limits, the longest-running concert music program on American television. These events attract musicians, artists, and visitors from all over the world. For those whose musical tastes lean more toward the classical, Austin also has a symphony orchestra, symphonic band, and lyric opera considered one of the best in the nation.
2. The world’s largest urban bat colony. A huge colony of Mexican free-tail bats resides beneath the Congress Avenue bridge from March to November. An estimated 750,000 to 1.5 million bats take up residence underneath the bridge each summer, which matches or surpasses the present human population of the city. Each night at dusk, in a spectacular display, the bats fly out en masse from underneath the bridge and across the lake in the center of town to find food.
3. The largest state capitol building. The Texas State Capitol, based on and built in the same architectural style as the U.S. Capitol, is actually 14 feet taller. The exterior is made of local red granite. Inside the capitol rotunda is a portrait of every person who has served as president of the Republic of Texas or governor of the State of Texas. The rotunda also serves as a whispering gallery. Legend has it that if you stand directly in the center, under the dome, any wish you make will come true. The Senate Chamber still contains the original Senator desks purchased in 1888. Allegedly, spirits of long-departed Texas lawmakers and others who occupied the Capitol and grounds can sometimes be seen roaming the building’s halls.
4. The only free presidential library. Austin is home to the only presidential library that does not charge an admission fee. The library honors Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was born and raised in Johnson City, about 50 miles west of Austin, and retired there after declining to run for a second term. The ten-story building houses a museum containing displays relating to the United States in the 1960s, gifts presented to President Johnson from other heads of state, Johnson’s papers, speeches, and other artifacts available for scholarly research, and a life-size recreation of the Oval Office as it appeared during Johnson’s presidency. The library charges no admission at the request of Johnson, who hoped visitors would “achieve a closer understanding of the Presidency and that young people will get a clearer comprehension of what this nation tried to do in an eventful period of its history.”
5. The largest solar array. Gemini Solar Development, a San Francisco-based company, was recently selected by Austin Energy, one of the city’s power companies, to install the country’s largest solar power facility. The array will be owned by the company, which will lease the plant to Austin Energy. The array will produce 30 megawatts, double the output of the current largest solar array in the U.S., and enough to power 5,000 homes. The array will be located on a 300 acre site outside Austin. The plant is being installed as part of the city’s plan to increase its use of renewables by 30 percent by the year 2030.
6. The worst traffic congestion for a mid-sized city. According to the Take On Traffic website, Austin ranks worst in traffic congestion among mid-sized U.S. cities. Central Texas residents spend an extra 52 hours each year in their vehicles because of congestion. That costs travelers about $1,000 per year, which is higher than for commuters in Seattle, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Denver, Phoenix, and San Antonio. The congestion is attributed to a lack of transportation funds to build new roads, lack of proper planning of urban development, and lack of political will to expand public transportation options. Since 1992, the number of hours central Texans spend sitting in traffic has more than doubled, and an estimated 25,000 additional vehicles travel the city’s streets each year. By 2040, some estimates are that Austin’s population will have doubled and it will have the worst traffic congestion of any city in the U.S.