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Music may be Austin’s first love, but it’s not the only reason to visit. Amazing street food, quirky shops and characterful neighbourhoods are among the other earthly delights this city offers and it’s the city’s enthusiasm for small, independent businesses on which the ‘Keep Austin Weird’ slogan is based.

A good place to begin your tour of general left-of-centre-ness is South Congress (or SoCo as the natives call it). Like East Austin, SoCo attracts a hip, creative crowd and the bars, food trucks and stores are suitably eclectic.

Don’t miss the incredible Heritage Boots, which sells handmade cowboy boots in a dizzying array of designs. Nearby, antique emporium Uncommon Objects sells everything from Indian arrows to lamps made of armadillos, while South Congress Books has a rare, browse-worthy collection.

The week I visit Austin, the Annual Lonestar Round Up is taking place and spectacularly vamped-up vintage hot rod cars congregate in SoCo. The event is a window into the melting pot that is Austin, attracting a mixture of Texas country folk, hip residents, older Austinites and tourists from across the globe.

I check out the cars and drink tequila with Beth, a braces-trousered, shaven-headed California native, now settled in Austin. We get hungry and wander down Congress to a collection of food trucks parked beneath a patch of trees.

Over the past few years, the food truck scene in Austin has exploded and pretty much every neighbourhood has a collection of brilliantly scenic trailers and trucks that serve diverse menus.

By night, East Austin’s food truck parks, with their fairy lights, picnic tables and potted plants, resemble mini fairgrounds in which you can chow down on creole stews, Mexican tacos, vegan health food, burgers, sandwiches, Thai food and even fish and chips.

Here in SoCo, Beth and I sit in the sunshine outside Indian streetfood seller Nomad Dosa, a gleaming silver Airstream trailer from which drifts heavenly smells of spices. I eat one of their veggie dosas and it’s delicious. “As with life, so with food trucks,” Beth says. “There are so many damn choices but, if possible, try everything once.”

In this spirit, we work our way through several more bars, a couple more food trucks and a coffee shop before jumping in a taxi out to brewery Hops and Grain, at the far end of 6th Street. Outside the industrial-looking building (only open to the public on Fridays from 2pm to 6pm and Saturdays from 12pm to 4pm), casual Austinites mingle and drink pints. We grab beers and join in a tour.

Hops and Grain’s tag line, ‘Environment, Community, Craft’ is not a marketing gimmick, owner Josh Hare tells us, and it seems he puts his money where his mouth is. The substantial grain waste that is a by-product of brewing is used to make dog food (it’s full of fibre and protein), employees are paid more if they use environmentally friendly transport and a percentage of the company’s annual profits go to green projects. 

Righteousness aside, however, the small but tasty selection of beers keep us going until we decide our livers and stomachs need a break. Heading back down 6th, we duck into the Twenties-themed Ritz theatre to catch a screening of the original Evil Dead.


Leftfield Austin: the 'live music capital of the world'
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