Austin was a tiny community on the verdant banks of the (Texas) Colorado River when Mirabeau B. Lamar, president of the Republic, suggested in 1839 that it would make a better capital than swampy and disease-ridden Houston. Early building had to be done under armed guard, while angry Comanche watched from the surrounding hills, but despite its perilous location, the city thrived.
These days it wears its status as state capital lightly. Since the 1960s, this laid-back and progressive city – an anomaly in Texas – has been a haven for artists, musicians, and writers, and many visitors come specifically for the music. And while a certain complacency has crept in, its "alternative" edge being packaged as just another marketing tool, artists hungry for fame are still attracted to this creative hotbed. Local musicians are renowned for their innovative reworkings of Texas' country, folk, and R&B heritage, using Austin's enthusiastic environment as a springboard to national recognition.
Due to a sizeable tech-fueled population leap, brand-new towering condo complexes have shot up to threaten Austin's small-town ambiance. Still, it remains one of the best cities in the state for cycling (Lance Armstrong lives here), and the presence of the vast and pretty University of Texas campus adds to the pleasant atmosphere. Within the city limits a great park system offers numerous hiking and biking trails and a wonderful spring-fed swimming pool. Looking further afield, Austin makes a fine base for exploring the green Hill Country that rolls away to the west.