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Austin: Getting to Know

With thousands of acres of parks, preserves, and lakes set aside for public enjoyment, Austin is unusually nature-friendly. It's easy to miss that, however, when you're busy negotiating the city's freeways. As soon as possible, get out of your car and smell the flowers: Just a few blocks south of downtown's office towers lie the green shores of Town Lake, where you'll begin to see the real Austin.

Central Austin is, very roughly, bounded by Town Lake to the south, Highway 290 to the north, I-35 to the east, and Mo-Pac (Loop 1) to the west. South Austin used to have the reputation for being more hippie and hillbilly than the rest of Austin. This isn't true anymore, and the parts closest to Town Lake, such as the SoCo (South Congress) neighborhood, have been gentrified. But South Austin still has the counterculture aura and generally eschews the polished, glitzy look of downtown, Westlake Hills, and the northern high-tech parts of town.

Although the tech boom-driven development in north Austin slowed down a bit with the early millennial recession, residential growth in this part of town did not. Some of the city's most opulent mansions perch on the lakeshores and hills of west Austin. East Austin, once flat farmland and long the home for Hispanic and African-American communities, is increasingly being eyed by middle-class buyers in search of real estate bargains.

Leaving on a Jet Plane? Tuneful Takeoffs -- Who could have predicted that musicians would scramble for an airport gig? But with music lovers flying into town from all over, the Austin airport's stage has turned out to be a great place for local bands to get national exposure -- who knows what record company exec might be fortuitously stranded? The music mirrors the eclecticism of Austin's scene, including R & B, honky-tonk, jazz, conjunto, world, pop, Western retro -- you name it. Don't expect to be entertained every time you fly in or depart, though. Performances generally take place in the central concourse (near Gate 10) from 3:30 to 5:30pm. Check the airport's website (www.ci.austin.tx.us/austinairport) to find out what bands might fit in with your flight plans.

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