Lifelong Texan Matthew McConaughey is passionate about many things.
• His acting
• His marriage to Camila Alves
• His adopted town: Austin, the Lone Star State's capital
• J.K. Livin, the foundation he and Camila started to help teenagers through tough times
Just Keep Livin: Words that Kept Matthew Going
There's a personal story behind the name and mission of J.K. Livin. While filming the coming-of-age movie that launched his career, Dazed and Confused, Matthew was struggling with the passing of his father. During that difficult time, Matthew kept thinking about a saying that would change his life: “just keep livin'."
Over 20 years later, J.K. Livin, Matthew's charity, guides young people over the bumps in the road.
• Find out more about the J. K. Livin Foundation
Big State, Big Heart, Big Event
Austinites have taken to supporting J.K. Livin through MJ&M, an annual Austin fundraiser founded in 2013. MJ&M stands for Mack Brown (ESPN analyst and Texas coaching legend), Jack Ingram (native Texan musician), and McConaghey.
• MJ&M site and Flickr Photostream and Facebook page
MJ&M 2016's star-studded events included a concert headlined by Dierks Bentley and Kacey Musgrave, the Celebrity Classic Golf Tournament, a fashion show showcasing ATX designer Veronica Beard, and a festive dinner with live auction at Austin City Limits.
I had the pleasure of attending MJ&M 2015 as press, and accompanying Matthew on a road tour of his favorite places in Austin.
Matthew & Lincoln Cars: Man & Car "Met Cute"
Why a road tour? Matthew loves driving around ATX (Austin locals' nickname for their town). And these days, he's a spokesperson for Lincoln cars; we've all seen the commercials and ads. On Lincoln's part, it has been a significant supporter of J.K. Livin.
It's a partnership. But ask Matthew how long he’s been driving a Lincoln, and you'll get that signature crinkly McConaughey smile. He’ll tell you, "I've been driving a Lincoln a lot longer than I've been doing those commercials."
The backstory: Matthew's association with Lincoln began when he made The Lincoln Lawyer, a 2011 crime thriller co-starring Bryan Cranston, William H. Macy, Ryan Phillippe, and Marisa Tomei. Matthew played a shady criminal lawyer who does business out of a Lincoln Town Car.
“After I made the movie, I kept that Lincoln Town Car,” he says. He still owns that hipster classic car. But now he owns a Lincoln MKC SUV and a Lincoln MKZ hybrid sedan as well.
• About's Cars Expert, Aaron Gold, said in his review, "The MKZ is subtle in its beauty and sublime to drive"
Here's Where Austin Enters the Picture
These days, Matthew loves taking the MKC out in ATX. “Austin is a great town. We have the best food and music," he says. "And Barton Springs is right in the middle of everything. There’s a lot to love about Austin."
On the coming pages, Matthew shares the destinations he loves in and around Austin. Come with him as he takes his Lincoln MKC on a drive through his hometown.
Matthew McConaughey’s Austin Road Trip: a Visit to Gruene, Texas
Hit the Road with Matthew to Gruene, Texas
"I really like to be behind the wheel and in the driver’s seat," Matthew told me. "So when I'm not working I like to go on road trips. That’s the first thing I did when I got my Lincoln."
Every few weeks, Matthew points his Lincoln MKC to the town of Gruene. “It’s a nice, leisurely, 45-minute ride from Austin,” he notes.
Gruene: Where Time Stopped
Gruene (pronounced green) is a small town founded by German immigrants (named Gruene) in the mid-1800s, following Texas' statehood in 1845.
These days, Gruene is a day-trip mecca for Austin locals like Matthew -- and visitors hoping "to pick up some Texas history," he says.
Gruene is one-of-a-kind. It's filled with original charm and flaunts an unusual degree of architectural preservation. And this time-capsule feeling is no accident, but the work of people who care about Texas heritage.
• Gruene's official slogan will make you smile: "Gently resisting change since 1872"
Gruene: From Boom to Bust and Back Again
For decades, Gruene prospered as a cotton-mill town. But a boll-weevil plague killed the local cotton crop in the 1920s. On the heels of this disaster, the Great Depression of the 1930s finished off Gruene's economy. By the early 1950s, the town was abandoned, its Civil War-era buildings left in the dust.
But fate intervened. Gruene was rediscovered and restored by concerned citizens. Some were involved with the Texas Historic Commission. Some were architecture graduates from University of Texas Austin, Matthew's alma mater.
Today many of Gruene's original structures, brought back to their original glory, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
What Can a Visitor Do in Gruene?
Many of Gruene's old buildings now operate as modern shops, galleries, restaurants, and bars. All told, they'll give you the quintessential small-town Texas experience, with an artsy, sociable twist.
Come on Over to the Dance Hall
The most famous destination in town is the Gruene Dance Hall, the oldest one in Texas. Its wooden water tower is an icon recognized throughout the Lone Star State.
Gruene Dance Hall has been back in action since 1975.
• Live bands of all kinds resound every night
• Many of the shows are free
• And you can dance several nights, and/or take a lesson (salsa, Texas two-step, Texas swing, jitterbug, more)
You never know who you might catch at Gruene Dance Hall; after all, Austin and its surroundings are the live music capital of the world
• Gruene Dance Hall performance calendar
What Can You Do in Gruene Besides Kick Up Your Heels at the Dance Hall?
Not everything happens at night in Gruene. You can also:
• Visit the landmark Gruene Cotton Gin
• Dine at the historic Grist Mill Restaurant on the banks of the Guadalupe River
• And go river-rafting and kayaking
• Shop for vintage cowboy boots and other Texas collectibles in antiques shops
• Stay in the 31-room Gruene Mansion Inn, where the town's founding family lived: pick your dream room
Find Out More
• From About's Austin Expert, more about historic dance halls around Austin
• Gruene visitors' site
Next: a towering Texas barbecue legend, and Matthew's favorite ribs joint >>
Matthew McConaughey’s Austin Road Trip: Salt Lick Bar-B-Que
Barbecue: An Austin Passion
As Austin has become a famous American town, its residents' values and tastes have become known. Austinites value...live music. Filmmaking and the SXSW festival. Cowboy boots. Sustainable living. And barbecue.
Austin's barbecue is some of the best in the ribs-loving Lone Star State. Which means: 'cue doesn't get better.
Matthew's #1 Ribs Joint: Salt Lick Bar-B-Que
Like any born-and-bred Texan, Matthew is choosy about his 'cue. To get his fix, he points his Lincoln MKC a half hour southwest to Driftwood, Texas.
• This unpretentious town is the home of what he calls a “must-eat destination:” Salt Lick Bar-B-Que
Salt Lick Bar-B-Que: The Best of the Best
Salt Lick is a holy grail of barbecue. If you visit Austin and don't gnaw on ribs and brisket at Salt Lick, you've denied yourself a fundamental ATX experience.
• It's a family establishment, founded in 1967 by Thurman Roberts, Sr. and Hawaii-born Hisako T. Roberts, and now in the next generation's hands
• The Salt Lick is a rustic name: deer used to wander onto the grounds to lick the salt and minerals off rocks scattered about
When You're In Salt Lick, You're In a Lone Star State of Mind
This celebrated barbecue joint is a legend with a national aura -- but a quintessentially Texan soul.
Salt Lick is a sight to behold: a carnivore carnival.
• The place's centerpiece is its massive circular barbecue pit, an open fire
• The pit is piled high with slabs of whole brisket, ribs, chicken and turkey, smoking over the white-hot grill, which is stoked with white-hot maple wood
• There's a roof of sausages over your head: Texas Hot Links and other sausages hang from the top of the pit in bunches, like garlicky red bananas
Salt Lick Diners' Tips
• It's cash only
• And BYOB; you'll see quite a few six-packs of Shiner Bock beer, made south of Austin
• Best value, and what most customers order: the family-style dinner (all you can eat of beef brisket, pork ribs, sausage, and a few sides)
• Don't bring your picky vegetarian sister here: the Vegetable Plate consists of potato salad, cole slaw, and beans
• Next door to The Salt Lick is Salk Lick Cellars' wine tasting bar and porch
• Salt Lick branches are found in airports including ATX, DFW, and OKC (Oklahoma City)
Next: a geological wonder that's being reclaimed by Mother Nature >>
Matthew McConaughey’s Austin Road Trip: Hamilton Pool Preserve
Hamilton Pool Preserve: The Watering Hole of Your Dreams
Hamilton Pool Preserve, a 50-minute, 30-mile drive west of Austin, is a natural spot treasured by Matthew and many locals. Its location -- in Dripping Springs, TX -- tells you a lot about it.
The Photo Above? Hamilton Pool Really Looks Like That
This protected habitat features a naturally jade-green pool and a 50-foot waterfall (shown above).
• Explains the park's website: the pool and the collapsed grotto and canyon surrounding it were formed over thousands of years of water erosion
• The pool was a privately owned attraction for decades, and crowds compromised the environment. Travis County bought the land in 1985, and the park has returned in large part to its natural state
• The 232-acre preserve is part of Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, a massive endangered natural habitat
• It's a birdwatcher's paradise, housing rare migratory species like the black-capped vireo and the golden-cheeked warbler (see a photo here)
“This is one of my favorite places to go with my family,” says Matthew of the picturesque, popular summer swimming spot. (He and Camila have two young sons, Levi and Livingston, and a daughter, Vida.)
Visitors' Tips for Hamilton Pool Preserve
One important thing to know about the preserve is that the number of visitors is limited, and many hopeful visitors are turned away.
• The park's website suggests that visitors come with alternate plans
• If you do get in, the fee is $15 per car, cash and local check only
• No pets allowed
• The pool is a steep quarter-mile hike from the parking lot
• No lifeguards
• Bring water and towels (there are bathrooms)
• Hamilton Pool Preserve website and info
Matthew McConaughey’s Austin Road Trip: Covert Park at Mt. Bonnell
They Used to Think the World Was Flat. Well, Austin's Not, Either
Out-of-staters tend to think of the Lone Star State as pancake-flat. But Texas Hill Country arises just northwest of Austin. And right in town, Mount Bonnell looms nearly 800 feet above it all.
• Covert Park, in Mount Bonnell, is best known for its sensational views of ATX: the Austin skyline, Lake Austin, and the hills beyond
• Matthew likes to go up there and take it all in (as in this pic of him)
Austin Is a Green Scene
The greenery surrounding the lookout point is nice, too. Mount Bonnell offers over five acres of grassy nooks, meadows to play in, picnic tables and trails.
“My family loves spending time outdoors,” affirms Matthew. “Physical activity is so important. It's something that J.K. Livin [his foundation] tries to instill in our youths.”
Take a Drive to Covert Park
It's easy to get to Covert Park. You take a winding road through a pretty residential neighborhood of Austin.
• Take it slow and enjoy the sights; all told, the drive is 20 minutes from the center of Austin
• At the top of the hill, you arrive at a flat landing with plenty of parking
• Then you climb a tall staircase which takes you to Covert Park
• The staircase has 106 steps, and the climb is a great little workout (Matthew told me he likes to "hit up the steps of Mount Bonnell")
• The payoff: see the pic above
Find Out More
• Covert Park at Mount Bonnell website and info
Matthew McConaughey’s Austin: South Congress, or Soco
OK, you've just hit Austin, and you're excited. Austin, Texas! One of the most happening towns in the U.S. of A.
This Is How to Get into Austin
South Congress Avenue is the drive that gives you the big picture and the most bang for your Austin buck: scenery and local culture.
• Just get onto South Congress and head north into town
• South Congress, a main thoroughfare, ends at the State Capitol (hence the name)
• You'll see some great local color and get a clue into what Austin’s all about
• And the distance, you’ll see Austin’s skyline
What Makes South Congress So Cool?
Every town has its hip strip, the one with visit local color: cool shops, bookstores, restaurants, cafés, bars, and (this being ATX) live music venues.
In Austin, the most happening drag is South Congress, or "SoCo."
• It's where you'll find the new places (trendy boutiques, restaurants)
• As well as some classic heritage spots (antique shops, Western clothing stores, bars, music venues)
• The liveliest part of SoCo is between Johanna and Gibson Street
• If you happen to be in Austin the first Thursday of the month, South Congress is the place to be; shops stay open late, and the sidewalk is a party
Matthew McConaughey Is South Congress's Biggest Fan
Matthew is such a fan of South Congress, he wanted the neighborhood to be featured in his Lincoln MKC commercials.
• And it is!
Where Matthew Goes on South Congress
Like many Austinites, Matthew's into going out for live music on the SoCo strip.
• There's so much going on, you can club-hop
• A South Congress music club he recommends: The Continental Club (check out the site's jukebox samples)
Matthew McConaughey's Austin: Uchi Sushi Restaurant
Where Does Matthew Like to Go Out to Eat in Austin? Well...
I asked Matthew what he considers the best restaurants in town.
“I’m probably not the best person to ask about where to eat in Austin," he confessed. "We probably cook 59 days out of two months. I’ll do some barbecue, or my wife, Camila, she’ll make Brazilian food. And salads.”
But Wait...Matthew Does Go Out...
So I asked this ATX dude where he'd go with Camila on a dinner date without the kids. He grinned wide and replied, without hesitation, “Uchi.”
Uchi Sushi Is Pretty Famous
Uchi is known in Austin as one of the city's best restaurants -- not just Japanese, but any kind. And it has a national reputation, too.
• Bon Appétit magazine named Uchi among "the best sushi restaurants in America"
Who's Behind Uchi?
Uchi Austin is chef Tyson Cole's temple to heavenly Japanese food.
•Chef Tyson has won the James Beard Award for Best Chef, Southwest
• A native Floridian, he went to the University of Texas Austin, like Matthew
Uchi, Not Your Usual Chow
This is the place to go for sushi and sashimi of uncommon quality.
• Chef Tyson's sushi is founded upon the classics, but innovative and beautifully constructed sushi pieces and rolls
• Your eye, your mind, and (especially) your palate will be wowed