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By Amanda Kotval
Austin has long been known as the weirdest city in America: a haven for hippies, outlaws, and outcasts of all stripes. I came to know Austin as a teenager—growing up not far from here in a town that seemed to stifle difference and dissent. Austin was the one place where those of us who didn’t fit in anywhere else were welcomed for the weirdos we were, so we made the trek as often as we could.
It’s been almost 20 years since I’ve been back, having left Texas for Virginia after college in 2001. The city has changed a lot since then, but the weirdness remains. While you’re here, know that you’re welcome for who you are, you weirdo.
Here are five truly weird, truly Austin experiences to make time for during #GC79:
1. The Cathedral of Junk
Located in a back yard on the south side of town, TheCathedral of Junk is about as weird as Austin gets. The artist, Vince Hanneman, began building the cathedral out of found and donated objects in 1988. He estimates that the Cathedral now contains over 60 tons of junk. It is truly a sight to see. By appointment only, call Vince at 512-299-7413 to schedule your tour. Donation suggested. 4422 Lareina Dr, Austin, Texas 78745.
2. Sixth Street at Night
Sixth Street is one of the main reasons Austin is known as “The Live Music Capital of the World.” Just a couple of blocks from the convention center, Sixth Street is famous for live music, nightlife, and people- Sixth Street between Congress and I-35 is known as “Dirty Sixth” and is the busiest section of Sixth Street. Wander west of Congress Avenue or east of I-35 for a different vibe. Bring your patience on weekends.
3. Congress Bridge Bats
Every evening between March and November one of the world’s largest urban colonies of Mexican free-tailed bats (almost 1.5 million!) emerges from under the South Congress Bridge to swirl and swoop in and impressive aerial show for about 45 minutes. You’ll want to find your spot at least 30 minutes before sundown, and, unless you have a particular fondness for guano, a hat is highly recommended. Nightly, free. 305 South Congress Avenue, Austin TX 78704.
4. Chicken S*** Bingo
Yep. For a $2 donation you get a ticket with a number on it. There’s a chicken in a large, comfortable cage with a bingo card painted on the bottom. Chicken feed is scattered around the cage and the chicken walks around, eats and, eventually, does its business on a number, determining the winner of the $114 cash prize. Four rounds every Sunday starting at 4 pm. $2 donation per ticket. The Little Longhorn Saloon, 5434 Burnet Road, Austin, TX 78756.
5. Barton Springs Pool
One of the best ways to cool off in Austin in the summertime, Barton Springs Pool is a natural, spring-fed swimming pool that averages about 68 degrees year-round. Barton Springs is located on the south side of the 351-acre Zilker Park, which is also home to the Austin Nature and Science Center, Zilker Botanical Gardens, and an excellent disc golf course. Details here. Open daily from 5am to 10 pm, with an $8 admission fee charged from 8 am to 9 pm. Closed Thursdays from 9 am to 7 pm for cleaning. 2201 Barton Springs Rd., Austin, TX 78704.
Amanda Kotval is a seminarian at Virginia Theological Seminary and a member of the Province III Mid-Atlantic Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic. Amanda grew up in Texas and received her B.A. in Russian and Political Science from Texas A&M. In her dreams she plays banjo for a bluegrass Nirvana cover band.
Featured image of Austin skyline by Celal Kamran.