Last year, when I went on vacation in Mazatlãn, Mexico, my group followed the keen advice of a columnist in Arthur Frommer's magazine Budget Travel and rented a century-year-old home in the historic district. I'm planning to stay closer to home this year, but I still check the Budget Travel Web site for deals, and I especially like the blog. Imagine my surprise this week to find my hometown of Austin on the editors' Top 10 Destinations To Watch list for 2009—sharing company with Berlin, Budapest, Cambodia, Hawaii, Mexico, Panama, Reykjavik, Vancouver, and Washington, D.C.(I'm not sure why the editors narrowed some places down to the city, and went for states or even countries in others, but no matter.)
About Austin, the editors said that the "capital of down-home cool (and Texas) has been working to become the nation's capital of pop culture" and singled out the upcoming South by Southwest (SXSW) music-film-and-media festival (March 13-22), as well as the Texas Biennial (contemporary art at galleries throughout Austin, March 6-April 11) and Art City Austin (big art bash along the shores of Lady Bird Lake, April 25-26). Google away for more details.
I'd have to say I agree, especially about South by Southwest, though I haven't purchased a wristband or tickets in years; free events and shows abound, and the unparalleled people-watching cannot be beat. (The international ad-hoc style show on Congress Avenue is better than a pile of fashion mags.)
The Budget Travel eds also rave about margaritas on the terrace of the Inter-Continental Stephen F. Austin Hotel, but I'll suggest a trip only slightly northeast to my new favorite watering hole, The Nomad (at Cameron Road and Corona). The mixologists here make a mean martini, pour a perfect pint of Guinness, and offer a dependable selection of good wines. Better yet, The Nomad is within an olive's toss of the newly expanded Austin Film Studios (off 51st), which hosts its annual Open House during SXSW (March 14 from 1-4). Fun, fun, fun!