There’s a reason they call Austin weird. Unlike other cities, whose monikers’ meanings seem to have been lost beyond the willfully esoteric, long-winded speculation of historians, Austin wears its nickname like a badge, the banner under which everyone and anyone is invited to come on down and let their freak flag fly. Many a would-be visitor may find such brazen celebration of general oddness intimidating, but don’t let your own adhesion to normalcy scare you away—we’ve picked through piles of the city’s most eccentric activities and whittled them down to the top five opportunities for you find your own unique brand of Austin quirk.
- Go a Bit Batty Hundreds gather at the Congress Avenue Bridge every evening to catch a glimpse of the bat colony spiraling into the night sky (photo courtesy of Dave LaFontaine)
Austin may hold the record for the most ironic t-shirts and set the standard for the length and fluff of this season’s Hipster Beard, but those aren’t the only charts they top. Visit Congress Avenue Bridge at twilight anytime during the long Austin summers, and you’ll find hundreds of onlookers waiting to pay homage to the largest bat colony in the world. March through November, the sunset sky is filled with the 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats that roost beneath the bridge. Even if you’re not a fan of the echolocating aerial acrobats, you might still consider taking a moment to tip your hat: the colony eats an estimated ten to twenty thousand pounds of insects every night.
- Pay Homage to the Cathedral of Junk An estimated 60 tons of cast-off goodies make up the Cathedral of Junk (photo courtesy of That Other Paper)
Prepare to have a serious treehouse inferiority complex. Tucked away in the suburbs of East Austin, junk-man/junk-fan Vince Hanneman has spent the past thirty-odd years building a shining, blinking, twinkling monument to human detritus. Wrapped up in the insatiable grasp of Texas vegetation, the Cathedral may look unassuming from the outside, but within its hob-cobbled walls there await multiple levels, winding, wiry passageways, vaulted ceilings—even a throne room—built entirely of cast off junk: lawnmower wheels, kitchen utensils, bottles, ladders, television tubes, and car bumpers, all wired, soldered, and glued together to create a towering scrap-heap that is equal parts Texas tough and Austin weird.
- Test Your Un-Knowledge at the Museum of Natural and Artificial Ephemerata Majestic jackalopes hang with reverence in the halls of the Museum of Natural and Artificial Ephemerata
Ever seen a jackalope? A pygmy kangaroo? How about a crocodile crying gen-u-wine crocodile tears? Well, you’re in luck—Austin’s Museum of Natural and Artificial Ephemerata is here to help you check them off your list. Run out of quirktastic museum pioneers Scott and Jen Webel’s Austin home, the museum is equal parts nod to Barnum-esque dime show, celebration of forgotten obscura, and rabbit-hole of self-doubt. There is no distinguishing between the genuine and the utterly absurd—a plausibly authentic single strand of Willie Nelson’s hair rests alongside a yeti hairball, the last cigarette smoked by Marilyn Monroe next to a flamingo head taken from the dumpster of the Museum of Natural History. Is it all real? Is it all fabrication? You be the judge.
- Get Your Hands on Some (Authentic?) Austin Grub
Duck-Rabbit-Rattlesnake Sausages? Don’t mind if we do.
As Austin serves as the nucleus of all hipster havens, you might assume that the culinary spotlight is given to shining on romantic iterations of hummus, hempseed, and chai, but you may be delighted to find that there are—quite possibly—more eclectic opportunities to satiate your inner carnivore in Austin than anywhere else in the country. Drop by Wild Bubba’s Wild Game Grill to sample a burger—would you prefer that in venison, boar, elk, or kangaroo? Have a taste for something with a little more swagger? Stop by the Lonesome Dove and taste-test the absurdly decadent duck-rabbit-rattlesnake sausage (yes, it’s all one dish), or sidle up to Hudson’s on the Bend, where you can sink your teeth into espresso-chocolate-chili rubbed smoked elk.
- Play Fowl in Austin Like You Never
Think you’ve played chicken? Not till you’ve done it in Austin (photo courtesy of Stewart Black).
Feeling saucy? A little weird? Congratulations! It’s time to celebrate with the time honored tradition of Chicken Poo Bingo. How do you play? Glad you asked. Simply make your way to the delightfully disheveled Little Longhorn Saloon—a quirky little honkytonk that specializes in authentic Austin music, ice-cold Lone Star long necks, and gambling hard in the risky business of chicken poop. Visitors can enter the bet for the bargain price of $2, which buys you a ticket and your very own mark on a giant bingo board, the surface of which Dewey the Chicken is plopped upon and stared at with bewildering intensity until—insert a collective gasp—he blithely relieves himself of his lunch on a square. Winner takes all.