People from around the world often visit Austin for the first time during South by Southwest, the Austin City Limits Music Festival or the Austin Film Festival. As entertaining as these events can be, they can also be disastrous if you don’t keep your head on straight. Here are a few tips that will help you enjoy yourself while staying safe.
Underestimating the Heat
Most visitors expect Texas to be scorching hot in August, but daytime temperatures can reach 100 degrees F from May to September. If you’re not accustomed to the heat, you may quickly be overwhelmed and start to exhibit the symptoms of heat stroke. These include a sudden lack of sweating, dizziness, nausea and muscle cramps. Make sure you always have a source of water nearby, especially if you’re also consuming alcohol.
During Austin’s major events, driving is a huge hassle whether you’re drinking or not. The city’s roads and highways simply can’t keep up with the growth of the population or the increasingly huge tourist crowds. Fortunately, there are usually plenty of cabs and rideshare services available. Even on mildly busy weekends, the Austin police operate a “no refusal” program in which a court order is instantly granted to allow them to draw your blood to test your blood alcohol level if they suspect that you’re intoxicated while driving. Even if you’re only planning to have a couple of drinks, it’s extremely common during SXSW or ACL for a party (complete with free booze) to appear seemingly out of nowhere. And who can resist free booze! Play it safe. Take a cab or an Uber.
While you may think of allergies as primarily a springtime affliction, some people suffer from allergies year-round in Austin. The mild climate allows certain trees, flowering plants and weeds to keep cranking out pollen in every season. And if the pollen doesn’t get you, there’s also mold in Austin’s humid air all the time. Even if you’ve never had allergies in your life, you may suddenly feel as though you have the flu if you visit during January or February. This the height of cedar fever season, which is actually a misnomer since the pollen comes from the Ashe juniper tree. Under a microscope, the pollen looks like a ball covered in little spikes, so it can be an irritant even if you don’t normally have allergies. The pollen in west Austin is sometimes so thick that the fire department receives calls from people thinking they’re seeing clouds of smoke.
You should be commended for seeking out a mass-transit option in Austin, but the city’s bus system still has a number of flaws. Most notably, the late-night routes are few and far between. If you’re spending the evening downtown, it might be feasible to travel to the area via bus, but you’ll still need a cab or Uber to get back to your hotel. Even then, to get where you’re going in a reasonable amount of time, you’ll need to stay near a bus stop that offers a direct route to downtown (or wherever you’re going). Transferring from bus to bus, particularly if you’re in a hurry, can be very frustrating.
Some of Austin’s best venues are well outside the city center. Head south for iconic venues such as the Saxon Pub, the Continental Club and Emo’s. Barton Springs Pool is just south of downtown, and you’ll surely regret it if you don’t take a dip in its clear, cool water. West of Austin, Lake Travis offers beautiful sunsets, and you can go swimming or sailing at several parks around the lake. The Oasis restaurant offers the best vantage point for watching sunsets. Another natural gem just beyond the city limits is Hamilton Pool, a collapsed grotto with a lovely waterfall cascading into the swimming area.
Austin is a great town, but the thing is, uh, it's full. The population within the city limit is around 1 million people, and that’s about right, if you ask us. The city’s popularity is causing an ever-rising cost of living, a housing crunch, insane traffic and did we mention the allergies? If you choose to ignore this advice, you will (grumble, grumble) be welcomed with open arms. Sure, start that band, launch that start-up, make that indie movie. Austin thrives on new ideas and the kinetic energy of wonderfully creative weirdos.
Getting Lost Due to Screwy Street Names
Many of the city's major roads have at least two names, making navigation confusing for those who are new to town. For example, MoPac Expressway (named after the Missouri Pacific railroad) and Loop 1 are the same thing. Locals refer to it simply as “MoPac.” Oh, and by the way, there is no loop despite the Loop 1 name. It's a north-south highway. Also, Capital of Texas Highway is another name for Loop 360. Although Loop 360 is quite curvy, it is also not a loop, maybe a quarter loop at best, along the hilly western side of town. On the south side, Highway 71 is also called Ben White Boulevard. And there's a stretch of Highway 71 that is part of Highway 290, but the “real” 290 departs from Austin on the northeast side of town. Research Boulevard is the same thing as U.S. Route 183. At one point, 183 is called Anderson Lane, and in another section, Ed Bluestein Boulevard. Good luck!