SXSW: Quirky, Lovable Austin, Texas

A power plant on Lady Bird Lake in Austin TX scheduled to be removed, with graffitti and a basketball net. Photo by BF Newhall

In Austin — a power plant scheduled to be removed will make way for a  park. Photo by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

As I got off the plane in Austin, the first thing I noticed was an airport gift shop displaying T-shirts that read “Keep Austin Weird.”


I was in Austin for the annual Religion Newswriters Association conference, and I’d been too busy to do my get-ready-for-Austin homework. All I knew about this city of 850,000 in Central Texas was that my daughter-in-law had heard it was fun and quirky.

And so it was.

Austin is definitely quirky – in a good way. At every bridge, park and intersection, Austin made me smile.

Austin’s Most Endearing Quirks — And Some Photo Ops

Gospel Brunch. In Austin, you can have it both ways – your Sunday morning gospel and your Sunday morning brunch. Not to mention your Sunday morning Bloody Mary. All this and more at Stubb’s Gospel Brunch on Red River Road.

Power to the People. When it came time to dismantle the old Holly Street power station at the edge of Lady Bird Lake, rather than selling the much-coveted land to developers for big bucks, the city made plans to turn it into a lakeside park.

A round, mandala style work of art made from colorful plastic shopping bags by virginia fleck of austin tx. photo by bf newhall

A six-inch mandala by Virginia Fleck, $35. Photo by BF Newhall

Winsome Art. Austin artist Virginia Fleck cuts up ordinary plastic shopping bags and painstakingly transforms them into colorful art, including public art for places like Austin’s Pickfair Park Recreation Center and Whole Foods Plaza.

Cars parked on an angle facing out toward the street in Austin TX. Photo by BF Newhall

Reverse angle parking with a lane for bicycles. Photo by BF Newhall

Quirky Parking. Austin is among the first cities in the U.S. to adopt reverse angle parking, whereby drivers back into angled street parking so as to minimize accidents when pulling out of the space. Other quirky early adopters of reverse angle parking – Venice, CA, and Portland, OR.

A memorial to Mom on a white picket fence in Austin includes plastic flowers and photos of a woman who died in 2009. Photo by BF Newhall

Street art — a memorial for a woman who died in 2009. Photo by BF Newhall

Front Yard Shrines. In Austin, if somebody you love dies, it’s OK  to share your grief with a sidewalk memorial of banners, flowers and photos.

A large communal next of parakeets atop a lighting pole in an Austin TX park. Photo by bf newhall

A communal nest. Photo by BF Newhall

For the Birds. Monk parakeets – native to South America – feel right at home in Austin’s parks. They’ve been known to build large communal nests, including one atop a tall light pole that’s within squawking distance of Lady Bird Lake (renamed in honor of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s first lady, Lady Bird).

People walking and sitting enjoy the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge and the THIRST temporary art installation prayer flags, Austin, TX. Photo by BF Newhall

The Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge over Lady Bird Lake. Photo by BF Newhall

Cartoon of LBJ showing off his scar in the Johnson Presidential LIbrary in Austin, TX. Photo by BF Newhall

LBJ and his scar memorialized by cartoonist David Levine, at the LBJ Library in Austin. Photo by BF Newhall

People Friendly Bridge. When the old Lamar Bridge across Lady Bird Lake got too crowded and dangerous for bikes and pedestrians, the city did what many cities wouldn’t bother to do. It built a pedestrian bridge for walkers and cyclists and threw in some benches for those in no rush to get to the other side.

Quirky President. Austin is the home of the LBJ Library and Museum, where an automaton tells quirky old LBJ jokes, and a cartoon depicts the 36th president of the United States lifting his shirt to show off his 1965 gall bladder surgery scar to the press.

Carnivore Pride. Folks eat meat in Austin. They eat animals, and they don’t mind telling you so. The Live Oak Barbeque is just one of many spots to sample Texas barbecue in Austin.

A sign in front of Live Oak Barbecue restaurant in Austin TX reads "Eat Meat." Photo by BF Newhall

The parking lot at Live Oak Barbecue. Photo by BF Newhall

The facade of the Live Oak Barbecue restaurant in Austin TX features a diagram of a cow sectioned off for butchering. Photo by BF Newhall

A diagram, in case you’d like to know which part of the critter you’re about to eat. Photo by BF Newhall

Too bad I wasn’t in Austin in time for the annual SXSW festival. Maybe next time.

Read more about Austin at “Austin — A City With Its Soul on Its Sleeve.” Or about Austin’s Ghost Tree  public art project at “The Ghost of 300 Million Drought-Killed Trees Hovers Over a Lake in Texas.”

If you enjoyed this travel story, you might like “The Center of the Universe? A Little Beach in Michigan, of Course” or “Walk Around Lake Michigan? She Did It, Now I Don’t Have To.”


















  1. you made me smile in recognition, not always the response from someone who lives in a place being described. and you left me wanting more, again not the usual response.


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  2. […] stories go to “The Ghost of 300 Million Dead Trees Hovers Over a Lake in Texas” and “Quirky, Lovable Austin.”   Also, “Austin — A City With Its Soul on Its Sleeve.” For another travel story, […]

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