Keep Austin Weird…and Cheap

Austin Texas Scratch

Austin likes weird. I mean, it says it right there in their city’s slogan. The Texas capital is known for its barbeque, music, art and the bizarre.

It doesn’t take much to find the weird in Austin, but if you want to find the weird that the true weirdos love, you got to take a closer to look. Thankfully, we are here to help.

The Cathedral of Junk

4422 Lareina Drive
Austin, TX
Hours – Tue-Sun 9:00-6:00 , bu call to verify at 512-299-7413
Admission – FREE! $10 per group (from 2 people to 10 people)

Usually, when one has rusted appliances, trashed bicycles, ruined furniture, or empty beer bottles, they throw that junk out.  Not Vince Hannemann. Since 1989, he’s been collecting everyone else’s trash and using it as the building blocks for his so-called “Cathedral of Junk.”

Built behind his house in a quiet suburb of South Austin, the cathedral is part art exhibit, part homemade playhouse. It’s also a surprisingly orderly and carefully conceived structure made up of over sixty tons (!) of stuff. It once stood three stories tall, but in 2010, city officials came by and declared the whole cathedral “structurally unsafe” and not in line with building codes.

Under threat of complete destruction, the neighborhood, fans, and the community came together to save Hannemann’s cathedral by actually playing by the rules and reconfiguring it so it became up to building codes. Gone were the top two floors, but three extra rooms were added by reusing and recycling pieces from the top, just like Hannemann always intended.

As visitors move, loop, and find their way through the majestic cathedral, Vince watches on, thankfully his special place can still be enjoyed by all.

The Congress Bridge Bats

Congress Avenue Bridge
305 S Congress Ave.
Austin, TX 78704
Hours – Best observation time is mid-March through November at sundown
Admission – FREE!

Bats get a bad rap. Due to vampire legends and just plain old ignorance, bats have been given this villainous image of an aggressive, dangerous, blood-sucking animal. Despite this being very far from the truth, when bats started making their home in 1980 under the recently reconstructed Congress Ave Bridge in downtown Austin, city citizens wanted them “eradicated.”

Luckily, local bat experts, mainly Bat Conservation International, stepped in and prevented this from happening. The fact is bats are actually the good guys.  They are rarely dangerous and love to gorge themselves on insect pests that destroy our crops and farm land.

Austin residents soon embraced their new neighbors, who found comfort in the dark shady underside of a major metropolitan bridge. The bats must have told other bats how great Austin was because they kept coming to roost under the bridge. Today, 1.5 million bats live under the Congress Ave. Bridge, making it the largest urban bat colony in North America.

Every sundown, like clockwork, from March to November, these bats emerge from under the bridge to fly into our world. There’s something truly magical to see a million bats darken the evening sky in their mission to eat bugs. There are viewing areas set up the near bridge to encourage observers. Don’t miss this when visiting Austin.

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Willie Nelson Statues

Willie Nelson – Corner of Lavaca St & W Willie Nelson Blvd, Austin TX
Stevie Ray Vaughan – Lady Bird Lake Trail, Austin TX
Hours – Sundown for Lady Bird Trail, 24/7 for Willie Nelson
Admission – FREE!

Austin is known for it’s music, from the legendary Continental Club to the yearly Austin City Limits, fans flock to the city to shows year round. But if live music venues are too crowded and guitar riffs are too loud for you, then there is another way you can honor Austin’s musical tradition. You can pay a visit to two of the greats, memorialized in bronze.

An eight foot tall bronze Willie Nelson statue was revealed to the world in 2012 at the corner of Lavaca St & Second Street (now known as West Willie Nelson Blvd.) Leaning over his famed guitar, Trigger, with his customary braids, the bronze Willie is even more perfect than the real Willie.

Now, if walk down First Street, over the Colorado River and make a right onto Lady Bird Lake Trail about two tenths of a mile, you’ll find yourself at the feet of another guitar-wielding legend, Stevie Ray Vaughan.  Constructed in 1993 to commemorate the musician’s tragic passing in a plane crash in 1990, this bronze memorial shows the man in a wide-brimmed hat, a serape, wearing cowboy boots, and holding his guitar. He’s in a wistful, meditative pose, glancing out into the south side park. The artist says it’s supposed to resemble Michelangelo’s David.

Make sure you pay a visit to the two guitar legends, forever bronze, a mere half mile from each other.

Museum of the Weird

412 East 6th Street
Austin, TX 78701
Hours – 10 am to Midnight, 7 days a week (closed certain holidays, call to confirm)
Admission – $8

By the end of the 19th century, dime museums had taken over the country, entertaining and educating common folks about the wonders of the world. Filled with curiosities, both fact and fiction, these museums gave people a look into a world they didn’t know. From five-legged animals to Siamese twins to shrunken heads, they were so-called “dime museums” because they were cheap to enter and accessible to all. By the mid-20th century, dime museums had all but disappeared, lost to the attention-diverting technologies of the day. Fortunately, the Museum of the Weird in Austin is attempting to revive that tradition.

Located right in downtown Austin, this modern dime museum is home to a two-headed calf, a Fiji “mermaid,” a sword swallower, and it’s crowning jewel, the Minnesota Iceman. Mr. Iceman was supposedly found in Siberia and represents the “missing link” between man and neanderthal. Situated in a block of lice, this guy traveled the country during the 60s and 70s, before finding it’s way to Austin in 2012.

The museum also has a “freak show” everyday and has a two-headed chicken, if that’s your thing. The Museum of the Weird definitely helps put the “weird” into Austin.

For more information on all of these, please visit Atlas Obscura, the online guidebook to the world’s most wondrous places!

Matt Blitz is the person you want to take on a road trip with you. He knows every obscure, odd, and downright awesome stop to make while traveling America. Based out of Los Angeles, he’s written for CNN, Atlas Obscura, Nickelodeon, The Smart Set, and Today I Found Out. He will also insist on stopping at every diner and waffle house on said road trip.

(Sources: Savings.com)

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