Monday, March 12, 2012

Spring Break Guide: Austin

Derrik Chinn, travel planner extraordinaire and owner of Tijuana tour company, Turista Libre curated six Spring Break guides for Made to Last. He is our featured guest blogger and is giving tips and tricks for all of the hottest Spring Break destinations. This week we are featuring Austin, Texas..

Branded the live music capital of the world, not to mention the state's only liveable city as far as much of the rest of the non-Texan universe is concerned, Austin is a bubble of unexpected counterculture, a seemingly non-stop freak show that spans its architecture, bar games, renegade art community and general population. A refuge for the beautifully bizarre, all that would be otherwise misunderstood if it were elsewhere. Just as everything's bigger in Texas, everything's odder in Austin. Behave accordingly, and keep your camera ready.

Austin, Texas

SXSW. Thousands of indie artists -- many of which you probably already know of and if not chances are you soon will -- and some 15,000 of their skinny-jeaned friends and fans descend upon Austin for the 26th annual South By Southwest Music and Media Fest, happening March 9-18th. The band list never stops growing, with acts who weren't necessarily officially playing impromptu shows in phone booths, at bus stops and atop pickup flatbeds. With a roster like that, chances are likely the talent wagon includes someone who went to high school with your big sister's ex-boyfriend's mom's second cousin-in-law.

Austin's Sixth Street during SXSW

The bat bridge. Random fact: Austin is home to the world's largest urban bat colony; 1.5 million reside under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. The city's in no hurry to give them the bum's rush; they apparently boost tourism by some $8 million every year.

Junkytown. Rusting away in South Austin is the Cathedral of Junk, a towering mass of randomness that Vince Hanneman began building in his back yard in 1988. Twenty-four years later, it's evolved into a three-floor junkyard palace, a Taj Mahal of garbage that's part maze, part clubhouse, part "Hoarders" nightmare. Not to be missed are the oven that's fashioned out of a shopping cart, the TV garden and the drum set on the second floor. (4422 Lareina Dr.)

Never, Neverlandia. Once upon a time it was a single-story 1917 bungalow. But now the three-story A-frame now looks like an Alpine chalet spliced with the Lost Boys' tree house hideout according to Gaudi, had he summered in Morocco, Vegas and Graceland. Thanks to the addition of skylights, 16 solar panels and Flintstone-era yet functional technology like an intercom system rigged out of plain, old PVC piping, Casa Neverlandia consumes a third of the energy what a house of the same size would, making it one of the world's greenest homes. (305 W. Milton,

Designer/builder James Talbot in front of Casa Neverlandia

Peter Pan Mini Golf. An Austin staple since 1946, Peter Pan has two 18-hole courses littered with fiberglass dinosaurs, turtles, whales and, of course, the Pan himself. Weathered by time and often overcrowded, yes, but for the 21-and-up crowd the BYOB policy makes up for any disgruntlement. As long as it's in a can, it's cool. (

Tag team. A street artist's Shangrila, the Graffiti Park consists of a staggered series of concrete walls on what would otherwise look like an abandoned plot of land downtown. Technically it's private property; additions and modifications to the graffiti apparently go through the owner before any paint goes down, which technically make it all legal. (Baylor and 11th Street.)

Graffiti Park

Feeding the freaks. Guero's for Tex-Mex. Polvos for just Mex. Jo's for coffee and baked goods. Shady Grove for burgers. Hopdoddy Burgers or Hoboken Pie for Dublin Dr Pepper (the world's oldest Dr Pepper bottler, located in Dublin, Texas, still makes the stuff with cane sugar). Art'z Rib House or Green Mesquite for barbecue with ambiance. And Salt Lick if you have a car and love barbecue enough to drive 20 minutes for it.

For wettin' whistles. There's Pete's Dueling Piano Bar, whose name says it all about the singalong showdowns in which the whole bar participates. There's Dive Bar, whose name is intentionally ironic and whose beer roster stars a lot of locals like Austin Beerworks. There's Mugshots, loved for its photo booth and $4 Lonestar pitchers. There's the granddaddy of Austin music venues The Continental Club and Johnny Cash tribute bar The Mean Eyed Cat, both favorites of Playboy Magazine. And there's Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon, where on Sundays patrons crowd the bar in hopes that a chicken atop a giant bingo card craps on their number.

Do-tell motels. Crash at either the quirky Austin Motel or the swankier bungalow-style Hotel San Jose, both built in the late 1930s, both with pools and both downtown on Congress