AUSTIN, Texas -- Make the trip south and you’ll run into plenty of Milwaukeeans flocking to Austin, Texas, fulfilling the notion that it is becoming a "transplant" city.
But, we certainly aren’t the only ones.
Last year, the Wall Street Journal referred to Austin, along with cities like Portland and Seattle, as "youth magnets," cities where the lack of employment and booming population did nothing to deter college-educated Americans from making the migratory move.
Between 2005 and 2007, Austin drew nearly 8,500 new university grads contributing to nearly a 30 percent population increase in the last 10 years.
I, too, recently fell victim to a trip to Austin, and I can honestly say, yes, it is as great as others imagine. So, whether you’re contemplating turning this Texas island of liberal arts and coastal trend into a permanent home or just looking for a break from the bleak Wisconsin winter, here’s a glimpse into what’s triggering such attraction.
"Keep Austin Weird"
In Austin-- the vibe, creativity and conversations-- all embrace the visionary idealism inside every visitor and encourages the pursuance of the crazy yet genius idea in the back of your mind.
There, the weirder the better. What thrives in cities like Brooklyn, Portland and Seattle, somehow makes inwards to the entrepreneurial mindset of Austinites, urging the creative class to top one idea with another of originality, eccentricity and brilliance.
You’ll find it in every aspect of life, from food to design to events and business. The result? Ispiration, motivation and awe pouring out of restaurants, boutiques, museums, music venues and art galleries.
In short, this love of eccentricty is sparking neighborhoods primed on cooking in the kitchen, getting outdoors and making music.
Food on the go
Sprouting up all over the country in the last 10 years and in thanks to pioneers like Rudy Speerschneider coming out of Portland, Austin jumped right on board with original concepts for cheap and tasty street food.
Ideal in a city where the temperature (with this year’s snow as an exception) rarely dips below 40 degrees, dine curbside at clumped locations downtown, on South Congress and sporadically throughout the city.
As you might expect, a few of the most popular plates are fried meats, originally-styled tacos or good home-cooked barbeque.
The Mighty Cone, 1600 S. Congress Ave., serves hot 'n crunchy shrimp, chicken or avocado in, what else, a cone. Just a few blocks down, fill up on authentic tacos at El Paisa, 3600 S. Congress Ave., an extension of La Moreliana Meat Market.
Look for a line out to the road and you’ll find Kebabalicious in a variety of late-night locations. This Turkish find rolls lamb and chicken pitas or falafel in two different sizes and at various levels of spicy heat. Classically simple yet obediently satisfying.
No trip to Austin would be complete without sinking your fingers and teeth into some long-marinated BBQ. Franklin BBQ, on the corner of Concordia and Robinson, pulls big flavors out of a small truck. Try their pork ribs, peppery brisket or pulled pork. Even veggies can get into the action with "Tasty Tempeh Frito Pie."
And, of course, there are cupcakes. Dessert at Hey Cupcake!, 1600 S. Congress Ave., may induce a diabetic shock, but the dose of sugar in classic flavors like vanilla, red velvet and chocolate is well worth the risk.
Don’t Mess With Texas
Any description of Austin is prefaced by the understanding that, although the city is geographically in the state of Texas, the culture is far from its stereotype.
Home to the University of Texas, Austin stands with a liberal mentality, lively art scene and regional culinary makings. So it’s no surprise they’ve managed to turn signage of the old west into kitsch trend and spawn a generation hip on huge belt buckles, leather boots and cowboy hats.
Need to quench your desire for local gear? Allens Boots, 1522 S. Congress Ave., is the obvious choice. Look for the giant red boot outside and find isle after isle of authentic boots surrounded by men’s clothing and cowboy hats inside. A few other local favorites include Big Rig & GypsySun Vintage, 1601 S. 1st St., and Texas Custom Boots, 1601 S. 1st St.
Willie Nelson to Spoon to Frank Smith
Not that you would ever want to, but there’s no way to avoid music in Austin. Every genre at every level of fame is everywhere. And it’s addicting.
Even with only a fraction of the size, Austin’s music scene successfully competes with cities like New York and Los Angeles. Home to South by Southwest, Austin City Limits and Fun, Fun, Fun Festivals, bands around the world vie for one hour of stage time during these weeks in Austin.
And while these fests bring in bands from abroad, Austin’s own talent carries quite the weight itself. A tangible indie, bluegrass, rock and country scene plays out nightly in venues like The Parish Room, Mohawk and Momo’s.
Running just north of the border
Despite the stereotypical stigma of dry land and hot temps in the southwest, Austin’s active mentality is palpable in dog parks along the river walk and through the Veloway, a 3.1 mile winding loop through 100 acres of park land. Compounded by access to the Colorado River and the three man-made lakes with Austin’s city limits (Lady Bird Lake, Lake Austin and Lake Walter E. Long), grab your swimsuit, bike, boat or in-line skates to join the crowds enjoying the welcoming weather.
Want the full Austin experience? Take a dip in the Barton Springs Pool (part man-made, part natural spring) to escape waves of mind melting heat or watch the sky go black as 1.5 million bats arise from slumber on a food hunt nightly at the Congress Avenue bridge.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Maureen Post grew up in Wauwatosa. A lover of international and urban culture, Maureen received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
After living on the east side of Madison for several years, Maureen returned to Milwaukee in 2006.
After a brief stint of travel, Maureen joined OnMilwaukee.com as the city’s oldest intern and has been hooked ever since. Combining her three key infatuations, Milwaukee’s great music, incredible food and inspiring art (and yes, in that order), Maureen’s job just about fits her perfectly.
Residing in Bay View, Maureen vehemently believes the city can become fresh and new with a simple move across town.