See This, Skip That: Austin

PHOTO: Austin, Texas is seen in this undated photo.

When it comes to things like awesome music, great food and a pervasive fun, youthful vibe, Austin is a tough destination to beat. It remains, in fact, one of the most eclectic –- the town mantra is “Keep Austin Weird” -– and most exciting travel experiences in the country.

Bottom line: Austin rocks! Here are some of our favorite, locals-inspired things to do in the beautiful Texan capital.

Skip SXSW, Rock Utopiafest
Music festivals like South by Southwest and Austin City Limits help prove Austin’s role as a music mecca. But they just scratch the surface. One of the great festival experiences to emerge out of Austin is Utopiafest, putting on its sixth annual show September 12-13, 2014. The two-night experience unfolds near the tiny town of Utopia, surrounded by an open-air landscape of rivers, hills and mountains. So remote, there’s no cell phone reception here. But your weekend pass includes all you need: awesome music, your parking and your camping fees. The music -– about 25 up and coming bands -– happens on alternate stages. And the crowd -– topping at about 2,500 –- is small by music fest standards, creating an intimate vibe. Utopia is about 2 1/2 hours outside Austin, but “this is still very much an Austin festival,” says director Aaron Brown, a native. “At least 70 percent of our audience is from Austin. And what they love is that this is one of the loosest music festivals they’ve ever been to!” You’ll find food vendors, but BYO is encouraged.

Skip the Bridge, Bat-Gaze from the Water
Bats have become quite the draw in downtown Austin, especially in late summer, when up to 1.5 million of them can be seen emerging from the Congress Avenue Bridge every night. Pregnant Mexican free-tailed bats come here every summer to give birth. Watching them take flight on their way to hunt is well worth folding into your evening plans, but keep in mind that it can take 30 to 45 minutes for all the bats to ascend. Though tempting, “the best way to see the bats is NOT under the bridge, getting pooped on,” Heather Georgianna tells me; the associate producer at Travelzoo’s downtown Austin office has lived here for two years. Her tip? “By water bike, kayak or canoe!” The folks at Austin Water Bikes –- they’re right behind the Hyatt Regency Austin -– will rent you Hydrobikes to take on Lady Bird Lake; you’re doing the pedaling (and staying dry!) as you float along two pontoons. Their 90-minute bat-viewing tour takes place at dusk and takes riders right past the Bridge.

Skip the Lake, Tube the River
For an alternative to the popular lake experience, head to the river for what’s many a local’s favorite pastime. You could call tubing down the Guadalupe River a bona fide tradition for many Texan vacationers. The folks at Rockin ‘R’ River Rides will rent you a variety of tubes, including ones with a bottom (well worth the nominal upgrade charge) and cooler tubes for your favorite beverage. And then lazy the time away as you float on a two-, four- or six-hour trip down the Guadalupe. Rockin ‘R’ River Rides is about 45 minutes south of Austin, on the way to San Antonio.

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