When the annual South by Southwest Festival commences on Mar. 10, Austin, Texas, will be teeming with travelers searching for places to eat and things to do in between meetings and events. Sampling some barbecue, hitting up the honky-tonks and visiting the city's many museums are an undisputed must, but to better understand the popular capital and why the city's unofficial slogan is "Keep Austin Weird," you'll have to explore beyond the top attractions. Here are 10 experiences that will give you the best taste of Austin's offbeat art scene, eclectic bars, lively music venues and more.
[Read: The Best Hotels in Austin.]
Wild Bubba's Wild Game Grill
Indulging in barbecue is a quintessential activity while visiting the Lone Star State, but if you're looking for a creative approach to traditional Texas barbecue, try one of the burgers at Wild Bubba's Wild Game Grill. Situated 15 miles southeast of Austin in Elroy, Wild Bubba's Wild Game Grill is famous for incorporating unconventional meats into the classic American burger recipe. Yak, elk, buffalo, wild boar and even kangaroo have graced its menus. Other dishes include bacon-wrapped quail, jackalope (rabbit and antelope) sausage and a bison hot dog.
Lala's Little Nugget
Bars in Austin like to get creative, and Lala's Little Nugget is no exception. The little dive bar stands out among the city's sea of craft breweries and trendy speakeasies for its commitment to holiday cheer. Every day of the year, the bar is outfitted with lights, garlands, Santas, elves and candy canes, as well as a decked-out Christmas tree. Why the year-round Christmas celebration? The original owner thought the bar just looked better with the decorations, so they've stayed up since 1972.
Austin Haunted Limo Tours
Ghost tours aren't unique to Austin, but leave it to the Texas capital to make the weird even weirder. Austin Haunted Limo Tours is the only mobile tour of its kind in the city, carting around ghost hunters in a Cadillac hearse. For nearly three hours, the creepy car takes tourists to multiple locations in Austin that have experienced paranormal activity, including the Driskill Hotel and Littlefield House. While patrons do get the opportunity to get out and explore some of the sites, most of the touring is done from inside the vehicle.
Take one look at this unique natural wonder and you may be surprised to learn that it's not under the umbrella of the National Park Service. Situated less than an hour west of the city, Hamilton Pool is a picture-perfect retreat that was formed as a result of thousands of years of water erosion. While swimming is not currently allowed, people continue to come in droves to witness its striking beauty. The area has become so popular that visitors must make reservations in advance online through the Travis County Parks Department.
Weird Wednesday at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is a local favorite, and Weird Wednesday is a beloved weekly event. The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema screens a mix of new releases, classics and indie movies alongside a full menu of drinks and meals. It's also notorious for taking the movie-going experience very seriously. The cinema doesn't play advertisements before the show and isn't afraid to take your cellphone away if you're caught texting. Weird Wednesday is dedicated to the movies "too outrageous for prime time," so expect films you've never heard of, as well as a quirky cast of moviegoers.
Bats at Congress Avenue Bridge
The underbelly of the Congress Avenue Bridge is home to a whopping 1.5 million bats, making it the largest urban colony in the world. These free-tailed bats migrate from Mexico to Austin and can be seen from March to November hiding under the bridge's crevasses. You can view the bats as they prepare to take off for their nightly flights at dusk on the bridge, though some say the best way to experience this natural phenomenon is to go on a boat tour, such as those offered by Capital Cruises and Lone Star Riverboat.
HOPE Outdoor Gallery
If you're a fan of local art, but don't want to spend hours in a museum, the HOPE Outdoor Gallery is the perfect alternative. The HOPE Outdoor Gallery is a three-story graffiti garden that was created with the help of Shepard Fairey, a street artist widely known for his Barack Obama "Hope" poster. It's the only gallery of its kind in the U.S. and one of the largest outdoor galleries in the country. HOPE acts as a public canvas, inviting both seasoned and amateur artists to contribute to its walls, as long as the artist has registered with the HOPE Campaign and provided a mock-up ahead of time. In exchange for scribbling on privately owned property, the organization asks participants to respect the neighborhood and help pick up trash.
Cathedral of Junk
The Cathedral of Junk is physical proof that one man's trash is another man's treasure. This eccentric attraction, found in the Austin suburbs, is an impressive multilevel, multiunit structure composed of junk of all kinds, from lawnmower wheels and car bumpers to road signs and even crutches. Laced with the artist's own backyard vegetation, it has become a unique house of worship for all that we leave behind. Keep in mind, the only way to visit the Cathedral of Junk is by calling ahead to schedule an appointment.
Peacocks at Mayfield Park
Austin is chock full of green spaces (think: Zilker Park and Barton Springs Pool), but few offer the colorful wildlife found at Mayfield Park. Located about 6 miles northwest of the city center, Mayfield Park features 21 acres of lush gardens, serene walking paths, lily ponds and about two dozen peacocks that freely roam the property. The previous owners of the home, including a political figure in Texas during the early 1900s, received the birds as gifts from friends in 1935, and it's the descendants of those gifts that you see hanging out in the park today. Don't approach the peacocks, but watch the animals closely – they are known to put their feathers on display.
If you're looking to fully embrace the city’s famous "Keep Austin Weird" slogan, participating in this unconventional bingo will be a memory you will likely never forget. The host, Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon, is your typical Austin dive bar with cheap beer and live music, but every Sunday it adds something extra. The concept is simple: feed the chicken, wait until it has digested its feed and hope it relieves itself on your number. You pay $2 for a spot on the bingo board and winner takes all. If you aren't victorious, you can still score a free chili dog as a consolation prize.
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