Fantasy urban living has come to life in Austin where you can avoid gas-guzzling without sacrificing your favorite night spot or your day job. And if downtown loft-living doesn't suit you, you can still live an energy-efficient lifestyle by taking advantage of Austin's renowned Green Building Program, friend to homeowners and renters alike who want to have their city and live in it, too.
West Campus' Austin Folk House – named, we assume, for its long hall of folk art upstairs or for the folk music it features in its House Rockin' house concert series – and South Austin's Lazy Oak B&B – named, we are certain, not for its proprietors' state (Kevin and Renee Buck are some of the hardest working folks in the biz) but for the bliss it induces in visitors – have tied for the coveted prize of Austin's Best B&B. May we recommend a weekend at each? What a heckuva way to get away from it all on those weekends when you really can't.
It's not surprising that in a duff economy, billboard-barraged Chronicle readers on the road are less impressed with the medium, the message, or the massage, even, than they are with big numbers – lotto numbers that is, jackpots in the millions, pie in the sky, Texas Tea, movie star-type figures, the stuff dreams are made of. You gotta play to win, and apparently many of you do.
From its humble roots as a plank-board building off Eighth and Congress, our Capitol has grown to dwarf all others, second in size and stature only to its compadre in D.C. And it has only grown larger with its Capitol Extension, an underground maze of offices, replete with cafeteria and gift shop for the kids. The grounds are also remarkable, giant sprawling fields of green from which monuments spring up. It's true: Everything is bigger in Texas.
Let's face it, the days of free parking downtown are G-O-N-E. Permanent loading zones, near-ubiquitous valet … the situation makes the parking that does remain all the more special, like our reader faves: the Bank One garage at Fifth and Lavaca, the William P. Hobby state office-building garage at Fourth and Nueces – aka the "Gayrage" – and the flat expanse of spots underneath I-35 at East Sixth. Each offers parking with relative ease at nominal fees. So do your friends a favor: Stop that endless looping through traffic, and just park your wheels.
Bank One, 221 W. Sixth, 512/479-1581
The Gayrage, State of Texas Garage, corner of Fourth and Nueces
Once a decaying 1936 motor court, Hotel San José is now a retro-sleek cornerstone in the ongoing South Congress revival. We can’t wait to see what the proprietors have in store for a recently purchased property in Marfa. Meanwhile, buoyed by a late-Nineties restoration, the historic Driskill remains the grande dame of downtown.
After all these years – nay, decades! – it's still fun to joke about that amazing sign, isn't it (isn't it)?! For 65 years, the Austin Motel has been, as they like to say, so close yet so far out. Situated in a now-tres-hip neighborhood, their groovy poolside is the place to be seen at SXSW and, really, any time of the year. Plus the staff is really nice, and the rooms are offered at a variety of prices and comfort levels.
Two local murals have caught our readers' eyes – again. The Renaissance Market mural, at 23rd and the Drag, has been an Austin institution since 1974, when it was first created by Kerry Awn and company. The painting has just received its second makeover, the first occurring in 1982 after extensive vandalization. Just down the Drag at 24th resides our readers' other favorite mural. The Varsity Theatre Mural, created by Carlos Lowry in 1980 for the arthouse cinema that held Tower Record's spot from 1936 to 1990, was also renovated in the mid-Nineties after public outcries stopped the record store from covering the artwork.
Renaissance Market, 23rd & Guadalupe
With century homes shouldered beside student rentals mixed in with some swanky renovated near-castles, Hyde Park is a terrific microcosm, highlighting the very things folks love most about Austin. What touches visitors and residents alike is the stunning, lush green everywhere you turn, with canopies of branches reaching high above and across streets to provide ample shade on even the most brutal August day. What's more, Shipe Park, Quack's, Avenue B Grocery, and the amazing wall on 42nd Street are all great reasons to celebrate this wacky, lovely community.
Designed by Boston-based E. Verner Johnson & Associates, the Texas State History Museum tweaks the standard pink-granite formula for state buildings with a striking rotunda and an open plaza that revives the northern entrance to the Capitol complex.
What's going on this weekend? What time was that movie playing? Austin360.com could be considered the savior of the last-minute slacker who forgot to make dinner plans or who hoped to surprise that special someone with tickets to you-know-who. Everything – news, events, and movie times – is a click away. While you're there, check out the traffic reports, updated every 10 minutes. Wouldn't want to get stuck on the road after working so hard on your special night out, would you?
Some mighty mystical powers were at work to knock the two perennial faves – the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue and Nightwing, the rotating bat sculpture on South Congress – out of this category. Somebody must've rubbed real hard on a lamp, 'cause the overwhelming majority of this year's votes were various takes on the theme "Anything by Blue Genie Art Industries." With public displays at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, the Star of Texas Rodeo, GSD&M's Idea City, and Schlotzsky's (among so many others), their whimsical works of wonder are stretching way beyond founder Rory Skagen's days as our town's premier modern muralist.
Ahhh!!! No more irony-laden waits in tedious, emission-spewing queues on your way to the natural oasis of Barton Springs. Goodbye, unsightly construction blocking everything in its path: restaurants, shops, coffeehouses ... the street. After what has seemed like ages, Barton Springs Road looks and feels great with its attractive, landscaped median and easy-to-see turn lanes, and it is ours once again. Thank goodness!
Mount Bonnell is not merely a free spot where the have-nots can go to get a glimpse of the homes of the haves. Oh no, it's so much more. Mount Bonnell, popular for more than 150 years, is the best way to get high without getting high in Austin. Not only is it the highest point in the city, it also offers a breathtaking view. When the sun sparkles off Lake Austin down below, there's really nothing better to do than start making out with your date. This place is so romantic, we even know someone who got married there, is now divorced, and still recommends it!
Mount Bonnell at Covert Park, 3851 Mount Bonnell Dr., 512/974-6700
Maria's arms stretch out to the sky in a welcoming gesture, the crazy-color Madonna of tacos giving her blessing as you enter. Later, you'll be tempted to extend your arms outward in thanks for the bounty that's, at that point, in your tummy.