Keepin’ It Weird and Welcoming at the Same Time

The Hill Country is no longer just a quiet weekend getaway for families on vacation. It is quickly becoming a permanent destination for those wanting to live in the beauty of this area. From the rolling hills, to the cliffs along Lake Travis, to the endless spring wildflowers, the list of what makes this area so picturesque goes on and on. There are many other reasons people are drawn to this area, including unlimited outdoor adventures, the music and art scenes, a booming downtown economy, world-class education, wanting to keep Austin weird, and so much more.

Some of my personal favorite outdoor destinations in the Hill Country include the Highland Lakes, Pedernales Falls, Hamilton Pool, Reimers Ranch, McKinney Falls, and at the top of my list just might be Enchanted Rock. When I think about my favorite campgrounds, I would certainly list Garner State Park and Lost Maples. These are places of such natural beauty, and they are close enough to Austin for a weekend getaway. But you will want to reserve campgrounds way in advance because the secret has been out for a while about these Hill Country gems. I also want to mention that Austin’s new downtown boardwalk that weaves its way down Lady Bird Lake and connects to our very popular running trail.

Traveling a bit further south toward San Antonio opens up many more activities to enjoy, such as exploring the famous San Antonio River Walk, riding roller coasters at Six Flags, getting close to marine life at SeaWorld, and taking in a basketball game to cheer on the San Antonio Spurs. Don’t forget Schlitterbahn Waterpark—the best place to soak up those sunny days of summer! (And ATPE members get discounts, of course!) Those who enjoy beautiful rivers can camp, fish, and tube in many areas in Regions 13 and 20.

Here are some of my other favorite places and things about Austin and San Antonio.

*Live Music Capital of the World—Austin hosts the annual Austin City Limits (ACL) music festival that attracts music lovers from all over the world! Austin is home to thousands of musicians dreaming of playing in the hundreds of live music venues that Austin has to offer. The selection for entertainment in the Austin area is ever-growing. Whether you are into live music, movies, theater, or art, you will not be disappointed by your choices. One of my favorite live music spots is Cedar Street Courtyard. It is a cozy place to meet up with friends and dance the night away!

*Fascinating structures—Did you know that the Texas State Capitol building is the biggest state capitol? The only capitol with more square footage is the US Capitol in DC. The skyline of Austin has also been rapidly developing. I have taken a private tour through some of Austin’s most impressive buildings, such as The Austonian, a residential skyscraper that reaches 683 feet. It is the tallest structure in Austin and has impressive 360-degree views of the city. I have also been in the private dining room basement of a restaurant called La Condesa. The basement dining room used to be a storage area for flour and dry goods back in the old days of Austin. The basement connected to a tunnel under 2nd Street where flour and dry goods were transported to a general store at the location of current-day Lamberts restaurant. I have to mention the Pennybacker Bridge, which was completed back in 1982. Most Austinites refer to this bridge as the 360 Bridge simply because it allows Highway 360 to cross Lake Austin. It was and still is an impressive and beautifully designed bridge.

In San Antonio, you will want to visit the Tower of the Americas. It is located downtown and reaches 750 feet. It offers amazing views and even has a restaurant at the top!

I could go on and on about unique structures, probably because I am married to a structural engineer, but I will end with mentioning Graffiti Park in Austin. This isn’t an actual park; it is a group of concrete walls that are frequently painted on by local artists. This is a popular place to express creative skills or take photographs. Graffiti Park is located downtown near Lamar and 11th Street. It is just one of the many places around town to see the work of local artists.

*Largest bat population in an urban area—About 1.5 million bats call the Congress Avenue Bridge their home between March to November. There are often crowds of people gathered on the bridge to witness the bats eating thousands of pounds of insects along Lady Bird Lake every night.

*Circuit of the Americas—Formula One races began in Austin in 2012 and are scheduled to continue until 2022. There is also an amphitheater that has hosted dozens of famous musicians/bands! This venue also hosts the X Games and the MotoGP.

*Celebrity sightings…and some not quite as famous—Some of the famous celebrities in the area include Willie Nelson, Sandra Bullock (who has a restaurant downtown, Bess Bistro), Matthew McConaughey (I met his mom one time and got her to sign a book she had written), and Rene’e Zellweger. Other lesser-known celebrities include that hot guy from The Bachelor, Brad Womack (who I’ve encountered before). He has owned a handful of businesses in Austin.

*World-class education—I believe everything we do in life and every path we travel has something to do with education. Our public schools are very diverse. Children from all over the world attend schools in the Central Texas area. Our hard-working ATPE teachers keep the children challenged on a daily basis. I must admit that even though I am an Aggie, I do believe the University of Texas is a remarkable school (if you like orange and longhorns). Other impressive colleges/universities in the Central Texas area are Concordia, St. Edwards, Huston Tillotson, Austin Community College, Texas State (Go Bobcats—I received my master’s degree here!), Southwestern, University of Texas San Antonio, University of the Incarnate Word, Schreiner, St. Mary’s, Trinity, and Our Lady of the Lake, as well as others. No matter what age, we have an education system for you! Whether you are looking to complete a degree, learn a new skill, or simply stay informed, you will find everything your mind desires in Regions 13 and 20. So get out there and discover all that this amazing part of our state has to offer!

*Festivals/events—It seems like there is something fun to do every weekend! Austin has numerous festivals going on all over the city, many of which are kid and pet friendly. We are lucky to have some incredible parks, such as Zilker Park, which accommodate festivals such as ACL, SXSW, and more. Some of my favorite local festivals are the kite festival, the ice cream festival, and the Old Pecan Street Festival. The festivals are filled with tasty goodness, fun activities, and art by local artists. The San Antonio area holds popular events such as Luminaria, Fiesta, and the popular Wurstfest.

Discover the Hill Country, but if you don’t already live here, then please just visit us. Our special place is getting too crowded! However, even though our population is exploding, you are sure to run into familiar faces at the local hangouts. Austin is a good blend of city and country living. The people are friendly and sometimes a bit weird, but you have to love them all the same. You will often find t-shirts that say “Keep Austin Weird” or “Welcome to Austin”…. But please don’t move here. Visit anytime!

Check out Heather's photo album!

Heather Tuley is ATPE’s representative for Regions 13 and 20. Before becoming an ATPE regional representative, Heather was a gifted and talented program coordinator and an ATPE ambassador.

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