The Longhorns’ football stadium at University of Texas at Austin holds more than 100,000 spectators. // © 2015 Samantha Davis-Friedman
Feature image (above): Hope Outdoor Gallery is located approximately 2 miles away from University of Texas at Austin’s campus. // © 2015 Samantha Davis-Friedman
University of Texas at Austin (UT) is one of the largest universities in the U.S. But the school wasn’t always so big. In fact, the nickname of the 350-acre campus is “The Forty Acres,” from the size of the university’s original 1883 footprint.
The UT campus is just a quarter mile from downtown Austin, but it’s surrounded by the city’s vibrant music scene, innovative food culture and a lifestyle that supports the city’s “Keep Austin Weird” slogan.
Hook ’em Horns
The “Hook ’em Horns” hand gesture was dubbed by “Sports Illustrated” as the most recognized symbol of its kind — and with a football stadium that holds more than 100,000 fans, that’s a lot of horns at UT. Visitors can tour the massive Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium and walk onto the field through the famous tunnel, just like the Longhorns do on game day.
While it’s a well-known fact that the Longhorns have won four national football championships, they’re not the only players who dominate on the athletic field. For the last three years, UT has won the Quidditch World Cup (yes, that’s a thing), solidifying its position as the team to beat in Harry Potter’s sport.
From its perch at the highest point of The Forty Acres, the 27-story University of Texas Tower is the campus’ definitive landmark. Built in 1937, the tower is illuminated by orange lights — the school’s official color — to celebrate student accomplishments. It’s also the backdrop for the “Gone to Texas” celebration welcoming incoming freshman and for their commencement ceremony four years later. The Tower’s observation deck offers fantastic views of the campus and city, but visitors should note that public access is available only on scheduled tours.
UT is home to many well-known museums, including the Harry Ransom Center and the Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) Presidential Library.
The collection inside the Ransom Center provides insight into the creative process through exhibitions, readings and screenings. Two of the many fascinating items visitors can see are the earliest-known photograph, and one of only 48 copies of “The Gutenberg Bible,” considered one of the most valuable books in the world. The Center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays; from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursdays; and from noon to 5 p.m. on weekends.
The LBJ Presidential Library contains 45 million pages of historical documents, 650,000 photos and 5,000 hours of recordings from President Johnson's political career, housed in the four-story, glass-encased Great Hall. The library also includes a replica of LBJ’s Oval Office and the desk he used for the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
On display at the library through January 2016 is a traveling exhibit exploring the impact of The Beatles on American pop culture through photographs, artifacts and instruments, including the drums Ringo played on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1964. The library is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
OUT AND ABOUT
In two hours, The Real Austin Tour from operator Austin Detours highlights well-known sights such as the Governor’s Mansion, Lady Bird Lake and “Bat Bridge,” but also off-the-beaten-path gems like the Austin Postcard mural and Hope Outdoor Gallery. Along the way, knowledgeable guides explain the city’s colorful art, music and food scenes; give information about its remarkable history; and share interesting local legends. Tours depart from Austin’s downtown Visitor Center at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Fridays and at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekends.
Founded in Austin as a place to watch movies while enjoying great food and beer, Alamo Drafthouse now has several locations throughout Texas (and beyond). In addition to first-run movies, Alamo hosts special events such as interactive sing- and quote-alongs (complete with props), as well as Fantastic Fest, the “Comic-Con of film festivals.”
Seating in every Alamo location is similar to traditional theaters; however, in front of the seats, there's a table running the length of the row. Theatergoers select food and drinks, and “with the speed and agility of trained ninjas,” servers sneak items back during the show. While it’s not for serious film buffs, the experience is very fun.
Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge is the summer home for the largest urban bat colony in the world. Each spring, 750,000 pregnant female Mexican free-tailed bats migrate to Austin to give birth, and 1.5 million bats depart in the fall. While in Austin, they emerge each night from beneath the bridge at sunset, considered to be one of the most incredible wildlife displays in the world. Hundreds of spectators crowd “Bat Bridge” to watch the colony’s nightly flight, but the best viewing is from boats in the water beneath. Capital Cruises’ bat-watching tour departs nightly 30 minutes before sunset March through mid-November.
WHERE TO STAY
Lone Star Court
The motor courts of bygone days are the inspiration for this fun and funky “retro-ranch” boutique hotel located about 20 minutes from downtown Austin.
“Lone Star Court’s relaxing environment is perfect for families,” said Marcus Latner, general manager of Lone Star Court. “Guests can enjoy the outdoor courtyard, pool, fire pits, food trucks, live music and more. It’s a true Texas travel adventure.”
The hotel also features complimentary parking, Wi-Fi access and breakfast.