Austin’s unofficial slogan, “Keep Austin Weird,” care of Red Wassenich in naughties. It was quickly adopted, slapped onto bumper stickers and T-shirts almost instantaneously, it was a battle cry for diehard locals who were witnessing their beloved city culture being threatened by a soaring population and penetrating tech industry.
Nowadays, Austin's proclivity toward the unconventional is still present, and should absolutely be sort out. These are the small businesses, oddball landmarks, and standout quirks that are the foundation and spice of this city. Its character, deeply appreciated by locals and visitors alike, and staunchly defended, by the Austinites who still strive to sustain the weirdness.
The hot bed of obscurity is no more evident that in South Congress Precinct, colloquially known as SOCO. Visit the 'Uncommon Objects' shop to get your fill of amusing and unusual artifacts and art including taxidermy deer in suits, vintage playing cards with Japanese pornography, or cleverly crafted gift cards with Pictograms that depict insults on the front. Run by two of the most welcoming locals this store is an adventure on its own. Getting hungry? Take a time out at anyone of the delicious eateries or food trucks. I chose Jo's Coffee and savoured their signature Iced Turbo drink and burritos whilst making friends with the local puppy who can also get a treat from the superstar host who happily welcomes the four legged friends into the establishment and even provides doggy treaties on the menu. Apart from the delicious food, great atmosphere, Jo's Coffee is also host to one of the other iconically Austin features, Street Art Murals.
Street Art in Austin is a popular form of expression. Look on the side of a cafe, down a side alley or peak behind a parked car and you will most like find a fantastic piece of art that depicts political satire, or a clever observation of human behaviour. Many of the pieces of art show the influence of the Mexican heritage that was born from Texas' history. The magic of these colourful murals are not limited to the SOCO precinct. HOPE Graffiti Park, is location of an apartment building that was demolished following a building fire leaving an eyesore on the streetscape. The remains of the building are now adorned with extensive art murals. All are free to leave their mark, and the space has now been donated to the city as a public space for local artists to leave their works. A fantastic place to explore and is ever changing and completely interactive.
I highly recommend researching where some known street art sites are before embarking on this adventure, but if you are just roaming, keep your eyes peeled for the flash of colour.
After hours of Street Art hunting, the blistering sun started to sting and so i took refuge in a number of the air conditioned stores along the strip, starting with Allen's Boots. Embrace your inner cowboy and purchase a Stetson or a finely crafted pair of Cowboy boots. If cowboy isn't your jam, head over the road to Toms, a social entrepreneur who has developed a business model that supports the distribution of a pair of shoes to an impoverished nation with every pair sold. In amongst this eclectic mix of shops is a spattering of galleries that help time disappear and leave you amazed at how others see the world. I think that is why I like Austin so much. All of the artwork, all of the obscurity, it gives you a front row view of the perspectives of others. What is 'normal' for them. Austin, Texas...you are a shining star of a southern state!