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It's no secret that Austin's growing. But that growth, from the tech boom to the real estate explosion, can sometimes overshadow the qualities that made Austin a low-key darling and tourist favorite in the first place.
Thankfully, all around our city are smaller towns that happily embrace the old-Austin life. From live music and quirky characters to swimming holes and delicious Tex-Mex and barbecue joints, here are five places where you can enjoy the things you love about Austin while escaping the crowds.
Located 30 miles southeast of Austin with a population of about 9,000, Bastrop in recent years has become a microcosm of many of the things people have always loved about Austin. Take, for example, the film scene–several film studios are already in operation there, and another 546-acre film studio and movie-making facility recently received a green light from the city.
Bastrop also counts some celebrities among its residents, including actor Adrian Grenier, who relocated from Hollywood during the pandemic. In terms of food, the offerings are wide and varied, including a new restaurant by Austin Chef Sonya Cote, who opened Store House Market + Eatery there late last year. Expect a quaint yet bustling downtown brimming with boutiques, galleries, restaurants and bars as well as plentiful outdoor activities thanks to the city's location on the Colorado River.
"I am always honored when a new resident tells me they decided to move here after they had a great first visit," said Bastrop Mayor Connie Schroeder. "I promise, you will not be disappointed if you take a break from driving and check out Bastrop.
Sure, Austin has Barton Springs and the Greenbelt, but Dripping Springs has Hamilton Pool Preserve and Reimers Ranch, two destinations known for offering activities such as swimming, mountain biking, hiking and rock climbing in a bucolic, Hill Country setting.
Located about 25 miles west of Austin with a population of about 7,500, Dripping Springs is also a hub for unique craft beverages and is home to more than 35 wineries, breweries and distilleries including Treaty Oak Distilling, Desert Door, Ghost Note Brewing and Driftwood Estate Winery. It's also become a destination for brides looking for an Austin alternative–it has even been designated the Wedding Capital of Texas by the Texas Legislature.
"It's a town that is full of artisans, innovators and really rad people," said Hope Boatright of Destination Dripping Springs, "making some really cool and tasty things."
We may love our live music in Austin, but Gruene can rival our concert calendar thanks to the star-studded line-up that regularly plays at Gruene Hall, from Gary P. Nunn to Bob Schneider. But there's more to Gruene (pronounced green) than just its famous dancehall, which was built in 1878 and also happens to be the oldest in Texas.
Like Austin, Gruene is set on water–the Guadalupe and Comal rivers, to be exact–making it an excellent place to swim, wade or tube (spelled toob, if you're a local) in the summer. It's also got artisan ice cream (Rhea's), antiquing (Gruene Antique Company) and requisite cowboy hats (Gruene Hat Company). Gruene's population is said to technically be 20, but it's located within New Braunfels, where the countywide population is more like 78,000.
"It's impossible to have a bad time in Gruene, whether you're a visitor looking for your first Stetson to wear while two-steppin' in Gruene Hall or a local looking for a good meal at the Gristmill," said Gruene Hat Company's Cody Courtney. "It's a small-town throwback in time that caters to everyone."
Located in Hays County with a population of 15,000, Buda (pronounced byoo-da) is a small town that, like Austin, has big love for the arts. From concerts and theater performances at the Buda Amphitheater and City Park to the Inspired Minds Art Center, a haven and gallery space for artists of various backgrounds, there's something for the artist in everyone.
The newish Buck's Backyard features a full line-up of big-name musical acts, and Louie's Craft BBQ, which was formerly based in Austin, now regularly ranks among the best barbecue joints in the state. A Main Street Sip and Stroll (aka drink wine and shop) and weekly farmers market only add to Buda's laidback vibe.
"Buda is a lovely small town that is unique–it's not quite rural and not quite suburban either," said Buda City Manager Kenneth Williams. "We have an ideal location contiguous to Austin and close to San Marcos and San Antonio and at the foot of the Hill Country. We enjoy our quaintness and small-town charm."
With a population of around 17,000, the Williamson County town of Taylor packs a lot of Austin-style fun into a small space. Whether you're strolling the nine-block downtown that's chock full of boutiques and antiques shops or hitting up one of several local barbecue joints–including the famous Louie Mueller Barbecue–it's easy to discover something new and unexpected.
Since 2009, more than 20 companies have expanded to or relocated to Taylor, according to the Taylor Chamber of Commerce. The town also made headlines last month for hosting its first official Pride event supporting the LGBTQ community.
"Taylor is known for barbecue, but it's home to so much more," said writer Addie Broyles, who attended Taylor Pride and wrote about it on her website. She recommends a visit to Old Taylor High, a mixed-use development inside the former high school campus that features a bar, vintage store and arcade games, and called the Pride event "the ultimate celebration of what makes Taylor feel so special."
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Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a record-setting second quarter during an earnings call broadcasted from the Giga Texas construction site in Southeast Travis County on Monday.
The electric carmaker reported more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and the production of more than 200,000 vehicles for the first time despite challenges such as a global semiconductor shortage.
"It … seems that public sentiment towards electric vehicles is at an inflection point, and at this point, I think, almost everyone agrees electric vehicles are the only way forward," Musk said.
Exterior shots taken just a while ago of Giga Texas (while @elonmusk is reportedly at the Gigafactory!) during today's earnings call!
Hope @peterdog15 got to catch the technoking in his video! #fastestinhistory #Tesla pic.twitter.com/WqeDlb5wU3
— Austin Tesla Club (@AustinTeslaClub) July 26, 2021
Despite rising consumer demand and adequate factory capacity, Tesla faces what Musk described as a "quite serious" global semiconductor shortage, which will determine the company's growth rate for the rest of the year.
With increased revenue and production, Tesla is investing in new factories, Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said. These include Giga Texas, the $1.1 billion manufacturing plant that broke ground last summer and is slated to open later this year.
The Giga Texas factory in Southeast Travis County has rapidly increased in size since ground broke last August. (Tesla)
Musk commended the construction team for "incredible progress," transforming what was basically a vacant site into "a mostly complete large factory a year later."
I was at Giga Texas yesterday. Team is making excellent progress. Building will be almost a mile long when complete.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 25, 2021
Giga Texas will produce the highly anticipated Cybertruck, along with other models, but Musk said scaling its production will be difficult, especially given the supply chain delays caused by the pandemic. "It's going to move as fast as the slowest of its up to 10,000 unique parts," he said.
In other news, Musk said Monday's earnings call would likely be his last regular appearance, only jumping on future quarterly calls when big announcements warrant it.
Tesla Solar recently made news when it announced plans to build the nation's most sustainable residential community in Southeast Austin earlier this month. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
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The city of Austin released a shortlist of seven candidates for the police chief position left vacant when Brian Manley retired in March.
City Manager Spencer Cronk hopes to announce an appointment by the end of August, which will require City Council approval.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 46 applicants, include:
- APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, who previously served as an assistant chief in the department for almost five years
- Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief in Oakland, California, who was fired last year after a federal monitor criticized her handling of a fatal 2018 police shooting of a homeless man
- Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery L. Moore, who is a 30-year veteran of the department
- Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy, who manages the department's community services division
- Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos, who previously served as division chief in the Miami-Dade Police Department
- Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay, who is a former president of the Minnesota Police Chief's Association as well as one of the first police chiefs of a major U.S. City to call George Floyd's death a murder, as reported by the Wichita Eagle
- Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada E. Tingirides, who is also commanding officer of the department's newly formed Community Safety Partnership Bureau, which serves L.A.'s underserved communities
City staff will interview the finalists in the coming weeks, with several community input opportunities to come, according to a Monday press release.
The city conducted a public survey in March and hosted community input meetings in April to learn more about what residents are looking for in their next police chief, which helped shape the selection criteria for the position.
"They want to see the Chief be reform-minded and transparent and have a track record of fostering community involvement and accountability," Cronk said in the release. "The candidates selected show these characteristics in various ways."
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Days after Austin began once again recommending masks in public spaces, Austin ISD announced Monday that kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will have virtual options this fall.
The district will discuss the move in a special board meeting Monday evening starting at 5 p.m., while full details will be released Friday.
Teachers will not have to fret about the new option—no educators will have to juggle both virtual and in-person learning. Instead, certain teachers will specialize in virtual education, according to a press release.
The news comes after a recent spike in COVID cases in Travis County and across the nation. Children typically suffer fewer symptoms of COVID when contracted, but they are now catching the virus more often than their older counterparts without a vaccine available to them and as the more contagious Delta variant is quickly being spread.
While local health officials are recommending everyone wear masks, public school districts are unable to mandate masks due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.
Parents have expressed concern about classrooms with masks unenforceable and children under the age of 12 ineligible for a vaccine. Some have even said they would look for alternative schooling if AISD did not offer a virtual option for students.
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