I have helped a lot of people with their moves to Austin, and as we all know, the new Austinites keep coming every day. I thought it might be useful to give newbies moving to Austin a few tips about living here to help get up to speed quickly. I’ve pondered creating this list for a while, but was prompted to actually do it when I had some new clients wonder why Texans were so excited that Blue Bell is back. So for a while I’ll be posting about these basic tidbits that all Central Texans should know. There won’t be a set schedule, but I suspect I’ll add a few each week. These will be posted on my blog, Facebook page, Instagram, and Twitter, but this page is a collection of them all. So, without further ado, we begin, of course, with Blue Bell.
Blue Bell Ice Cream
Established in 1907 in the town of Brenham, Blue Bell is a staple of any true Texan’s diet. It is the best ice cream available. Period. Blue Bell offers over 60 flavors of ice cream, though only about 20 are available year round (the remaining are rotated quarterly). While many ice cream companies reduced the size of their containers years ago, Blue Bell held firm and is still sold in half-gallon containers. The Blue Bell production facility in Brenham, known as The Little Creamery, offers tours Monday through Friday. Their top three selling flavors are Homemade Vanilla, Dutch Chocolate, and Cookies ‘n Cream (in that order). My personal favorite is Rocky Road – what’s yours?Shiner Bock
Simply referred to as Shiner, this Texas beer has been made in Shiner, Texas since 1913. Originally a seasonal beer available only during Lent, it is now the Spoetzl Brewery’s flagship beer. It was also only available in Texas for many years, but is now available across the country. If you like beer, try one. If you don’t like beer, maybe it’s because you’ve never tried a Shiner. The brewery, located east of San Antonio, is open for tours Monday through Friday.
I find it interesting that newcomers to Austin often ask me what the origin is of one of our main freeways – Mopac. Of all the roads with odd-sounding names around town, this is the only one about which people ask. The road was built in the 1970s alongside railroad tracks which were owned at the time by the Missouri Pacific Railroad, better known as MoPac. You will also find it commonly spelled simply as Mopac. Mopac is formally known as Loop 1, but no one ever calls it that which is quite confusing to visitors since the signage mostly uses the official name. As a side note to those of you from California, you’ll note that it is called Mopac, not The Mopac. Using ‘The’ in front of road names and numbers is a California thing. You’ll stop calling it ‘The 35’ or ‘The 360’ once you’ve been here for a little while.
The LBJ Library
The presidential library for Lyndon Baines Johnson is located on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. The 36th President of the United States, LBJ grew up in Central Texas and always called the area home. The library containes over 45 million pages of documents, hundreds of thousands of photos, and hundreds of hours of recordings about LBJ and his presidency. There are several permanent exhibits and usually one temporary exhibit. It is open 9:00am to 5:00pm every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. The LBJ Library is one of three presidential libraries located in Texas. The others are George Bush at Texas A&M in College Station and George W. Bush at SMU in Dallas.
The Pennybacker Bridge is commonly known as the 360 Bridge because Loop 360 is the name of the roadway (which isn’t a loop and is also known as Capital of Texas Highway – yes, it gets confusing). This iconic bridge is named after Percy Pennybacker, who designed bridges for the state both before and after World War II. The bridge was designed to have a rusted, weathered look so that it would aesthetically fit in with the surrounding Hill Country and Lake Austin, which runs below it. It is an untied arch suspension bridge that, at the time it was built, was only the second of its kind in the world. Costing $10 million to build, construction lasted several years and opened on December 3, 1982.
River or Lake?
What do Lake Travis, Lake Austin, and Lady Bird Lake have in common? They are all part of the Colorado River. Few people refer to any of these water bodies as the Colorado River, though. Each of the lakes is created because of a series of dams along the Colorado that were built in the 1930s and 1940s primarily for flood control. The Mansfield Dam is the largest dam and creates Lake Travis which is the main reservoir of water in the Austin area providing our drinking water and plenty of recreation. This lake rises and falls depending upon the amount of rain we have. Lake Austin is located between the Mansfield Dam and Tom Miller Dam. It remains at a constant level and looks just like a river. Lady Bird Lake is between Tom Miller Dam and Longhorn Dam. Formerly known as Town Lake, this is the body of water that is adjacent to downtown. It also is a constant level lake and looks like a river. These three lakes are the last three of seven in the Highland Lakes chain that starts over 50 miles northwest of Austin. There is so much more information available at the LCRA website.
Congress Bridge Bats
If you find yourself downtown on a summer evening, you’ll probably notice herds of people flocking to the Congress Street Bridge. They are heading to grab a spot atop the bridge to witness the largest urban bat colony in North America emerge for their nightly feeding. From mid-March through September, 1.5 million Mexican Free-Tailed Bats, take to the skies each night at dusk to collectively eat more than 10,000 pounds of insects! Austinites loves these bats so much, they’re celebrated at Bat Fest, held every summer. The weather effects what time the bats come out each night, if it has been rainy the bats don’t have to travel as far to find their dinner so they may not start to fly until after dark. Don’t miss out, check here for up-to-date flight times.
Round Rock Donuts
Named the “Best Donut in Texas” by Texas Monthly, Round Rock Donuts is an institution. Formally known as the Lone Star Bakery, their donuts became known as Round Rock Donuts and, eventually, customers simply began calling the bakery “Round Rock Donuts.” Founded in 1926, the donuts are known for their yellow hue which comes from the fresh eggs used in baking them. While most donuts are based with baking powder, Round Rock donuts are yeast-risen which creates a bread-like dough. They are still hand-rolled, cut, and iced as opposed to most donuts which are now machine made. The signature Round Rock donut is glazed or chocolate covered (and available in a Texas size for sharing). Of course, Round Rock Donuts also offers a variety of other flavors as well as kolaches, cinnamon rolls, and muffins. I am not exaggerating when I say that these are the best donuts I’ve ever eaten. While it is hard to pick just one, my favorite is the Bavarian Cream Filled.
Barton Springs Pool
The Barton Springs Pool is located within Zilker Park and is one of the premier natural destinations in Austin. It is open to swimmers year-round with an average water temperature between 68 & 70 degrees (or 20 to 21 degrees for our metric system friends). The pool is three acres in size and varies in depth, from less than a foot deep to 18 feet deep. It was created when Barton Creek was dammed so the pool has a natural rock bottom. It gets very busy on summer weekends so arrive early to grab your spot on the grassy shores. If you don’t like crowds, January is a good time to visit.
The Capitol Building
In 1881, eight architects submitted eleven designs for a national competition in hopes of their design being chosen to be the new Texas Capitol building. Elijah E Myers, architect of the Michigan and Colorado Capitol buildings, was selected as the winner. The construction of the Capitol was paid for in an unusual way, the state exchanged three million acres of land in the Texas panhandle for the completion of the job. The exterior of the Capitol was to be native limestone but the local rock contained iron which caused discoloration when exposed to air. The solution was “sunset red” granite, donated by landowners near present day Marble Falls, TX. Situated at the top of the dome, stands the Goddess of Liberty, she measures 16 feet tall and was likely inspired by the statue of Freedom (atop the National Capitol Building) and the Statue of Liberty, which was being assembled in New York harbor at the time. When construction was completed in 1888, the Texas Capitol building measured 310 feet in height, taller than even the National Capitol building and is the largest state Capitol in gross square feet. Don’t worry about losing sight of the dome, many views from around the area are protected by state law from being obstructed. You can find more information on the Capitol grounds and public tour information as well as historic photos on the State Preservation Board website.
Although not Michael Dell’s only entrepreneurial venture, it is certainly his most successful! Dell Computer Corporation began with just $1,000 in 1984, as PC’s Limited, in Michael Dell’s dorm room at the University of Texas. Building customized computers for businesses and computer enthusiasts was such a success, he left college after his freshman year to dedicate his time to his business. Four years after it’s start, the company went public, generating $85 million in capital and at the same time, creating the Dellionaire. Many of the initial investors in Dell still feel the comfort of a well made investment. In 1996, Dell moved it’s main headquarters to Round Rock from its previous location in the Arboretum. In 2014, Chariman Michael Dell orchestrated a buyout of the company taking it private once again. Dell employs about 14,000 central Texans.