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Great Weekend Urban Escapes

Forbes Magazine reports on Austin – by Larry Olmsted

My rules for what makes a city a great weekend choice include at least one standout attraction, something people travel to see, like the Austin music scene. It must also have unique or diverse cuisine. Natural attractions, great lodging, notable cultural offerings and/or museums, and interesting shopping are all big pluses.

Standout attraction? There are many reasons to visit Austin, but it starts with the music scene. After all, the city’s accurate and official nickname is The Live Music Capital of the World, based on its claim of offering the most live music per capita on earth. For visitors, much of this can be experienced in the area of Downtown known as the Sixth Street entertainment district or at storied venues like the Continental Club on South Congress Avenue. The city is also home to the longest running televised music show in history, Austin City Limits, associated with the massive annual October outdoor music festival of the same name. Visitors who plan ahead can attend live tapings of the show, which just celebrated its 40th birthday, and Austin also has another huge festival, South by Southwest, which has morphed far beyond music into film and technology and is one of the hottest tech gatherings in the country.

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South By Southwest dovetails with the University of Texas Austin, the nation’s largest urban school, with over 50,000 students, to give the city a very youthful vibe. In recent years many tech companies have relocated here, and the city has seen a huge influx of young professionals, especially from the west coast, while becoming a Mecca for hipsters, in some ways the Brooklyn of the Lone Star State, but with more outdoor recreation and cowboy boots. All of this helps explain the city’s unofficial but widely accepted motto, Keep Austin Weird.

Even if you don’t care for music, Austin is still a must-visit – if you love food. For starters it is one of the top two or three barbecue destinations in the world, and along with nearby Lockhart, the epicenter of the famous Texas-style BBQ, which revolves around slow smoked beef brisket but also sausage, pork ribs, and sometimes the rarer beef ribs. In this respect, Brooklyn is the Austin of the East Coast, eagerly attempting but not quite succeeding at replicating the signature local style of ‘cue. The city center’s famed choices include Stubb’s, Stiles Switch, Franklin’s, Lambert’s and many more, while just outside the city in Driftwood is one of the world’s most renowned and iconic barbecue eateries, the Salt Lick. A pilgrimage to nearby Lockhart is a must for any BBQ devotee, as it is home to three icons: Kreuz Market, Smitty’s and Blacks. You even get one last chance on your way out: there’s an outpost of the Salt Lick in the charming Austin airport, which features live music, real local food, easy access, and non-stop flights as far afield as London.

While BBQ rules, Austin’s food scene has great choices of every description, from standout TexMex and burgers to what well may be the nation’s best sushi eateries between the coasts, siblings Uchi and Uchiko. There are plenty of food trucks, steakhouses, fine dining and local favorite premium ice cream chain Amy’s. You won’t go hungry.

Circuit of the Americas, Austin, Texas, United States of America.Sunday 18th November 2012.Romain Grosjean, Lotus E20 Renault, leads Paul di Resta, Force India VJM05 Mercedes. World Copyright:Andrew Ferraro/LAT Photographic ref: Digital Image _79P7198

Finally, Austin is home to the only Formula One racetrack in the nation, the Circuit of the Americas, which hosts an annual F1 race, plus other motorsport events, and is the new home of the Summer X-Games. F1 racing is one of the biggest sports in the world, but this is the only race in the country.

No matter where you stay, a sampling of world class music, barbecue, shopping, outdoor activity, bat viewing, and one of the most high energy urban environments around is a must-do weekend. Most of the friends I’ve steered to Austin have gone back repeatedly.

For more information on lodging, dining and attractions, see Austin’s official tourism website.