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Buff Strickland Madison's giant farmers' market

Photo: Buff Strickland

Austin, Texas

KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD is the city's unofficial slogan. Fortunately for visitors, locals conscientiously comply. This is the land of unhurried and unpretentious cool, a reincarnated hippiedom in which art and music of all sorts are celebrated. Blended in with the enduring flower power is just enough Texas iconography—cowboys, cacti, barbecue—to create a college metropolis like no other.

LEAVING HOME Austin is in the heart of the Lone Star State, a two- to three-hour drive from either Houston or Dallas. Flights to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport leave from most major hubs.
CAMPUS TOUR The University of ?Texas style is Spanish Renaissance, a fancy name for red-tiled roofs and white limestone structures. The main gathering spot is the Texas Union (24th and Guadalupe Sts.; 512/475-6636), which has a game room where you can go "glow bowling." Students also congregate below the UT Tower, the school's Big Ben. The Harry Ransom Center (21st and Guadalupe Sts.; 512/471-8944; www.hrc.utexas.edu) is a mini Smithsonian, showcasing a Gutenberg Bible and the first photograph ever taken.
FAMOUS ALUMS Janis Joplin studied art here for a year; Farrah Fawcett was voted one of the 10 most beautiful students in 1965–66; and Renée Zellweger worked her way through UT as a waitress at a topless club called Sugar's Uptown Cabaret.
GO TEAM If you're in town during a UT football game, join the herds of Longhorns fans by dressing in burnt orange and ?ashing the raised-pointer-and-pinky Hook 'em Horns salute. Get tickets from www.ticketcity.com.
STUDY BREAK At Zilker Park (2100 Barton Springs Rd.; 512/974-6700) you'll find a sprawling playground, a mini train, canoe rentals, and Austin's crown jewel, Barton Springs Pool. Beware: It's unheated. Rent wheels from the Bicycle Sports Shop (517 S. Lamar; 512/477-3472), and look for local hero Lance Armstrong as you tour the city's 50 miles of trails.
HERE A TWANG, THERE A TWANG In this self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World, you'll take in tunes at restaurants, stores, even the airport. The big daddy of events is the Austin City Limits Music Festival (www.austincitylimits.com), this year September 23–25, with eight stages and 130 bands.
MEAL PLAN Locals eat burgers at Shady Grove (1624 Barton Springs Rd.; 512/474-9991; lunch or dinner for four $20), a joint with a fifties-Western look, and live music every Thursday—cowboy, rock, or swing. For a Hill Country field trip, head south on Camp Ben McCulloch Road 25 minutes to the Salt Lick (18300 Camp Ben McCulloch Rd.; 512/858-4959; lunch for four $40) for barbecue.
CUP OR CONE? The staff at Amy's Ice Cream (3500 Guadalupe St.; 512/458-6895) perform acts of derring-do, tossing scoops in the air and catching them in cups behind their backs.
BLOW YOUR ALLOWANCE The Drag, a stretch of Guadalupe Street that abuts the university, is where Austinites-in-training are fed and out?tted in proper style. At Edge (2354 Guadalupe St.; 512/320-0666), a vintage-clothing store, tailors will alter a cowboy shirt in 30 minutes or fashion a skirt out of bandannas. The goods at Toy Joy (2900 Guadalupe St.; 512/320-0090) can be cheeky (looking for a JESUS SAVES bank?).
FUN FOR FREE Climb the 99 steps built into Mount Bonnell (3800 Mount Bonnell Rd.) to peer out at the city and the Dellionaire (Dell Computer exec) mansions mushrooming along Lake Austin. The Austin Nature & Science Center (301 Nature Center Dr.; 512/327-8181; www.ci.austin.tx.us/ansc), in Zilker Park, is home to coyotes and bobcats, among other critters, plus the city's largest sandbox, stocked with mock T. rex fossils.
OFF-CAMPUS HOUSING The Four Seasons Hotel (98 San Jacinto Blvd.; 800/819-5053; www.fourseasons.com/austin; doubles from $290) is a cushy landing pad on the edge of ?Town Lake, near the Congress Avenue Bridge, where most evenings from March through October you can watch the famous swarm of 1½ million Mexican free-tailed bats reduce the city's insect population. The Hotel San José (1316 S. Congress; 800/574-8897; www.sanjosehotel.com; doubles from $175), in the bohemian SoCo neighborhood, is a stylishly updated 1930's motor court.
REQUIRED READING The Austin Chronicle (www.austinchronicle.com) runs the most discerning listings. Visit www.keepaustinweird.com for left-of-center attractions.
—JEANNIE RALSTON

REPORT CARD
A+ Food, shopping, family fun. Austin is centered around the outdoors—all the better to run down kids' batteries.
C Architecture. Most downtown buildings, disappointingly, look like those in any middle-sized American city.
B Winter. No chills here—think of it as Endless Autumn.
A- Music gigs. They happen late or are held in smoky venues, making Austin's legendary scene hard to fully experience with kids in tow. Still, there's music in the air.

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