The rise and rise of Austin, America’s coolest city

Eddie Wilson shakes his head in despair at the thought of Donald Trump becoming the next American president. “I’m too old to leave the country, so all I do is hide my head and shudder when I think about something like that,” he says.

His state, Texas, may vote for Trump, but his city certainly won’t.

Eddie stood here at the beginning of the cultural revolution. He was one of the key players when Austin became hip, on its way to becoming the Live Music Capital of America, as it is now called.

A liberal and former concert promoter, he co-founded the Armadillo World Headquarters music venue in 1970, attracting everyone from Ray Charles and Frank Zappa to Gram Parsons and a young Bruce Springsteen.

And mixed with the city’s cultural aristocracy – Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the brilliant Kinky Friedman, Carolyn Wonderland, Ray Benson, founder of Asleep at the Wheel, and many other Southern musical heroes.

A technology paradise, Austin is also known for its excellent food, great live music venues, and unique fashion

Austin is more like it always was. Pictured above: Texas Allen’s Boots – Graham Boynton

Today we have breakfast at the Counter Café on West 29e and he tries to explain how the most alternative, politically liberal, culturally downright crazy city of Texas with a million inhabitants (two and a half million if you count the metropolitan area) is faring in the last days of Biden 1. everyone’s file under “cheap quote” remove this,” he says. “Austin is more like it always was.”

Well, not quite. In the ten years since I was last here – when Eddie Wilson generously drove me around for days and showed me how they all “kept Austin weird,” as the slogan went – ​​it has become a thriving city.

Starting with Dell in the 1980s (Michael Dell was a student at the University of Austin in Texas), it has long been a southern tech town, but Meta, Google and Apple now have a significant footprint here, while the recent arrival of Elon Musk in the form of Tesla and SpaceX has raised the stakes.

Meanwhile, Samsung is currently building an $18 billion factory just north of Austin.

SXSW is one of the city's most popular music festivalsSXSW is one of the city's most popular music festivals

SXSW is one of the city’s most popular music festivals: Alamy

And tourism is booming too, with 20 new gates by 2030 at an airport built to handle 16 million people, but which already sees 25 million people pass through each year.

I’m here to attend a film premiere at the SXSW music and festival. It is one of the South’s largest cultural gatherings of all time, started in 1987 and has grown exponentially (2025 dates are March 7-15). The year of my last visit to the city (2013), Southby, as the festival is popularly known, brought in $30 million to the economy. This year it is $350 million.

Although Eddie Wilson’s Armadillo has long since closed, many of the major clubs still play live Texas music. The Continental, Antone’s and the must-visit Broken Spoke, a legendary venue with live music and line dancing in equal proportions, should all be on visitors’ radars.

Antone's is a popular spot for live musicAntone's is a popular spot for live music

Antone’s is a popular spot for live music – Alamy

Like Nashville, Tennessee’s southern neighbor, whose rise and growth Austin mirrors, the city has become a foodie destination.

Traditionally home to Tex-Mex cuisine, it is now home to a string of unavoidable Asian fusion restaurants nouvelle whatever places that are pleasant but not that interesting.

Instead, I’d recommend three restaurants that seem to capture the soul of Austin. One of them is an old favorite: Ranch 616.

It still serves the best Texana food—that’s semi-TexMex—in the city, and lunch for four cost us $180, including a round of Ranch Water, a 616 creation that’s like a margarita, but with Topo Chico (Mexican mineral water) instead of lime juice and that’s a big drink in Texas.

Another is a new location with a historic city atmosphere. The Uptown Sporting Club is a vibrant bar and restaurant in the center of Austin’s wild nights, East 6e Street.

Broken Spoke is another popular music venueBroken Spoke is another popular music venue

Broken Spoke is another popular music venue: Alamy

I would enthusiastically recommend the Hot Roast Beef Po’boy or the Shrimp Po’boy, both available for a steal at $17, and a few bottles of Shiner Bock to go.

For breakfast, there’s Sandra Bullock’s Walton’s Fancy and Staple, a rustic, brick-walled restaurant in the center of town that serves fantastic brioche.

However, I’m also here to explore a little more Texas than the blue, hippie cultural capital. I have to go to Red, Trump country.

And so I drive first to Waco, the city forever associated with the Branch Davidian Siege that killed about 80 of David Koresh’s cult followers and four federal officers in 1993, and then to Bryan, another Texas college town in the orbit of Austin . geographically but certainly not politically.

They are both easily accessible 90 minutes from Austin and, in my opinion, essential to the full Texan experience. You’ll find all the bells and whistles of contemporary style – cool boutique hotels, modern restaurants, good cultural events (see below for details) – but with the charm of not being overcrowded; just more homely, friendly and genuine.

If the evidence from my random survey of young and old in both cities is representative, they will ultimately vote for Trump, not because they like him, but because they feel they have been let down by Joe Biden and the Democrats in Washington. They shrug their shoulders and say they have no choice. Gently.

Texas Red and Blue go to the polls on November 5 and I suspect Eddie Wilson and his fellow Austinites will have to “hide their heads and shudder.” Chances are good that Austin will once again remain a blue city in a red state.

Not that tourists will worry too much after a few rounds of Ranch Water and an evening of live music.

Essential for Austin

Graham Boynton was a guest of Visit Austin (

Travelbag ( arranges direct British Airways flights to Austin and car rental on the ground. Return flights with BA from Heathrow to Austin, including one piece of luggage, start from £740. A week’s car hire starts at £345.

For more information about Texas, see Travel Texas (; Visit Austin (

Recommended hotels include Austin Proper ( and The Lauren (

Two essential day trips from Austin


Located off I-95, halfway between Austin and Dallas, Waco is a convenient stop that has recently become a destination in itself thanks to the ubiquity of Chip and Jo Gaines, the television personalities who created the Fixer Upper Show and are the founders of Magnolia.

The Magnolia residential theme park is now the city’s top tourist destination. Before the Gaines Revolution, Waco attracted half a million visitors a year and now it has more than two million.

For so long only remembered for the siege of the Branch Davidians, Waco has reinvented itself as a cool Texas college town (home to Baylor University) that the designer couple has brought into the 21st century.

Waco is one of Texas's charming smaller citiesWaco is one of Texas's charming smaller cities

Waco is one of Texas’ charming smaller towns: Alamy

The hotels are as cool as anything Kit Kemp is doing in London and New York: the ubiquitous Gaines’ elegant 33-room 1828 Hotel and the soon-to-open Herringbone Hotel, a modern Art Deco hotel made from shipping containers with 21 luxury rooms and four restaurants.

What must we do? The Waco Mammoth National Monument is a beautiful museum and research center built around an important paleoanthropological discovery of the remains of a family herd of sixteen 65,000-year-old woolly mammoths.

You’re also culturally obligated to visit Magnolia, Gaines’ upscale designer supermarket. End the day at Cory McIntyre’s Milo restaurant, a temple of grilled chicken, salmon and grits, and prime rib-eye steak.

Visit for more information. Recommended hotels include Hotel 1928 (, The Herringbone ( and Cambria Hotel Waco University Riverfront (


Bryan is regularly voted one of the best places to live in Texas in consumer polls. You can see why. It has a population of just 84,000, its A&M University is the largest in the US, and it has enough cultural and culinary charms to satisfy any visitor.

Downtown Bryan reminds me of my hometown of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, with streets so wide you could turn a bullock cart around. An array of restaurants, art galleries and the historic Queens Theater all contribute to making this an officially recognized Texas Cultural Center.

The highlight of my short stay was a visit to Catalena Hatters, the city’s custom cowboy hat company that produces 5,000 custom Stetson-style hats a year and where I, a notorious non-hat wearer, had the most beautiful hat made. by a man named Chase Black.

That was his real name, not a hatter’s pseudonym.

Cowboy bronc rider on horseback during Austin RodeoCowboy bronc rider on horseback during Austin Rodeo

Cowboy bronc rider on bucking horse during Austin Rodeo – mke Lass/laif

Culinary highlights included a wine tasting at Messina Hof Winery, one of the state’s best-known producers, and a sensational meal at Ronin, the farm-to-table haute Southern cuisine restaurant owned and operated by Brian and Amanda Light . People drive from Austin and Dallas to dine here.

My last night was a Texas folk-country show at the Stella hotel’s Herschel’s nightclub, where Michael Herne, Walt Williams and Kyle Hutton sat on stools and sang Texas folk-country songs in an intimate, connected environment. Perfect.

For more information about Bryan, visit Stay at the Stella Hotel ( and eat at Ronin Restaurant (

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