23 Fun Facts About Austin, Texas

by Janis on September 27, 2017

You may know that the city of Austin, Texas likes to “Keep Things Weird.” The city’s unofficial slogan originated in 2000 when Red Wassenich, a local librarian, used the phrase when he called in to a local radio show.

View of downtown Austin, Texas. Photo by Daveydickler.

View of downtown Austin, Texas. Photo by Daveydickler.

Here are 23 other interesting tidbits about Texas’ fourth largest city, behind Houston, San Antonio and Dallas.

1. Humans have lived in the Austin area since 9200 BC.

2. Until late in the Cretaceous Period — which ended 66 million years ago — the area that makes up Austin today was completely underwater and home to 10 underwater volcanoes that geologists call “explosion craters.”  That’s why many of Austin’s cliffs are crumbly, whitish rock known as “Austin Chalk.”

3. Austin was originally named Waterloo when the city was officially chosen as the new capital of the Republic of Texas. The name was changed to Austin in honor of Stephen F. Austin, the “Father of Texas” and the republic’s first secretary of state.

4. Constructed from sunset red granite, the Texas State Capitol building in Austin is the largest state capitol in the United States.

5. While the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the city’s population at 947,890 in 2016, Forbes named Austin as the fastest growing large city in the United States.

6. The city of Austin covers 280 square miles, making the city nearly as large in landmass as New York City.

7. Located in central Texas near Hill Country, Austin is 225 miles from the U.S./Mexico border.

8. Austin is the only city in the world known to still operate a system of Moonlight Towers, 165 ft. tall structures from the 19th century to light up the city at night. One of the towers was prominently featured in the 1993 film Dazed and Confused as the site of a high-school keg party, in which the character played by Matthew McConaughey exclaims, “Party at the Moon Tower.” In 1993, the city of Austin dismantled and restored the towers at a cost of $1.3 million.

9. When it was built in 1893, the Austin Dam was one of the world’s largest concrete dams stretching 1,200 feet across the Colorado River. The dam powered Austin’s electric trolley cars as well as its Moon Towers. Sadly, seven years after it was built, flood waters caused the Austin Dam to collapse, killing eight people.

10. With 200 live music venues and as many as 2,000 bands and performing artists, Austin is considered the Live Music Capital of the World.  

11. Singer Janis Joplin got her start in Austin at Threadgill’s — a gas station and restaurant where bands played for rounds of beer.

12. “Austin City Limits” — the longest-running live music television show in the U.S. –began broadcasting on October 14, 1974 with Willie Nelson as a featured performer.  As many as 5 million people worldwide view the PBS each week.

13. In 1986, three staffers at The Austin Chronicle envisioned a festival to showcase Austin’s musical talents. South by Southwest kicked off in 1987 with 700 attendees. 30 years later, South by Southwest (also known as SXSW) lasts 10 days each March and includes film, comedy, gaming, interactive media and other components in addition to attracting more than 2,200 musicians and 28,000 concert goers to venues throughout Austin.

14. Since 1963, Austin has celebrated the birthday of Eeyore, the fictional character from Winnie the Pooh. Eeyore’s Birthday Party generally occurs on the last Saturday in April.

15. Austin hosts the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships, which draws pun-loving individuals from around the country. Contestants use their pun skills in the “Punslinger” and “Punniest of Show” competitions.

16. Every spring and summer about 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats migrate to Austin, giving the city North America’s largest urban bat colony. Every night these bats emerge from under the Congress Avenue Bridge.

17. Whole Foods began in Austin in 1978 when 25-year-old college dropout John Mackey and Rene Lawson Hardy borrowed $45,000 to open a small natural foods store. In 2017, Amazon paid $13.4 billion to acquire the upscale grocery chain.

18. Austin is home to America’s only Formula 1 race, the United States Grand Prix. The annual race takes place at the 3.4-mile Circuit of the Americas course located southwest of the city.

Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium, home of Texas Longhorns football. Photo taken by surelyitsjohn.

Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium, home of Texas Longhorns football. Photo taken by surelyitsjohn.

19. Austin is home to one of Texas’s largest sports stadiums. The University of Texas at Austin Longhorns athletic stadium holds more than 101,000 people. During football games at the stadium, UT-Austin fans display the Hook ’em Horns hand sign, created in 1955 by cheerleader Harley Clark. 

20. Austin is home to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. Located on the grounds of the University of Texas at Austin, the library and museum houses documents and artifacts related to the Johnson administration, including LBJ’s limousine and a re-creation of the Oval Office.

21. Austin has provided the filming location for a number of well-known movies in addition to Dazed and Confused. Boyhood, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Office Space, Miss Congeniality, Kill Bill: Volume 1, and Spy Kids were all filmed in Austin. 

22. According to the Nielsen Company, adults in Austin read and contribute to blogs more than those in any other U.S. metropolitan area.

23. U.S. News & World Report named Austin the best place to live in the U.S. in 2017.

Have you visited Austin, Texas? Or have you lived there? What fun fact can you add about Austin? 

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