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The best way to see the beauty of Chattanooga is from above. Head to Lookout Mountain Flight Park—the largest hang gliding school in the country—where visitors can hang glide in tandem with an instructor. There are running base jump points on top of the mountain for experienced pilots, but beginners start their journey from the base, where they are towed up to 2,000 feet via ultra-light plane, then released to experience the remarkable feeling of flight. There is a school located at the Lookout base and visitors can stay for a few weeks to learn how to pilot their own glider and climb to heights of 10,000 feet.
Rosewood Collective, an East Austin bungalow of three retail operations, is easily the best new place to shop local designs. Find excellent vintage clothing, locally designed jewelry and accessories (Olive Vintage) or browse a lovely collection of home and outdoor goods and rotating selection of plants (Sound & True.) And don't forget to stop by Rosewood's third partner, Sister Coffee, a coffee trailer in between Rosewood's parking lot and entrance.
Art can seem unavoidable in Austin, popping up in every nook and cranny of the city. Case in point: the Castle Hill graffiti lot in Old West Austin. The undeveloped lot, located on Baylor Street, between 11th and 12th streets, features a unique open-aired display of graffiti and stencil art that covers three levels of abandoned concrete foundations. It’s a colorful mix of local and visiting artists, cheeky signatures and seasonal events, like live stenciling from famous street artists and the top tier of the “gallery” offers up a panoramic view of the downtown skyline. The very nature of the outdoor gallery is transience, with new designs and paint jobs springing up every day. The lot’s future, however, is just as impermanent, with a continually stalled plan for condo and mixed-use retail construction slated sometime in the next few years. So, travelers should take advantage of it while they can.
Nannie Inez, a recent addition to Austin's local design scene, has generated a lot of buzz since opening its debut South First Street location last year. Maybe because it doesn't take long to fall in love with the boutique's modern charms, from bold Scandinavian home furnishings to whimsical interior accents like hanging macrame succulent planters. It's a mix bag of wares, from local artists like Alyson Fox to world renowned Japanese designers, that rotates depending on the owners' current inspirations and obsessions, but the curated collection will never disappoint the traveling design lover.
The Blanton Museum of Art, located on the south side of the University of Texas campus, is a notable leader of the local art community, with striking collections of contemporary and traditional exhibits. But make sure and visit on a Thursday, when admission is free and special tours and events, like free yoga classes are offered. The museum's cafe, located just across the courtyard from the museum's main entrance, also has a small menu of affordable food and drinks, including beer and wine.
A lot of freaky visitors pass through Austin, but the most notable crowd might be the city’s seasonal population of inner city bats. Each spring, more than 1 million Mexican free-tailed bats inhabit the dark nooks and crannies underneath downtown’s Congress Avenue Bridge, constituting North America’s largest urban bat colony until migrating again in October. Every night around dusk, hundreds of locals and tourists alike flock to the southeast end of the bridge (A cloying guano stench helps to guide first timers) to see the flapping black cloud of wings that emerge by the thousands on their nightly search for food. Bypass the organized batwatching cruises and get a nice overhead view from the bridge’s pedestrian sidewalks or, from below, on a picnic blanket on the grassy slopes just under the bridge.
Salty Sow, one of the newest residents of the burgeoning Manor Road area, is a tasty treat for special occasions, with chef specialties, like milk-braised pork shoulder and roasted bone marrow. But in-the-know foodies on a budget know to descend upon the East Austin eatery at happy hour (every day 4-6 p.m.), when an entire menu of drinks and "small" (they're very generous portions in reality) for only $4 each. Patrons can dine on finger-licking dishes, like buttermilk-dipped fried chicken and homemade biscuits, triple fried duck fat fries and specialty cocktails (try Rosemary's Piglet), without the fear of buyer's remorse.
Wails and moans about corporate takeovers and creative sellouts abound from local Austin residents. But thankfully there are still locally-owned staples, like End of An Ear records, that keep the city's music-obsessed culture alive and well. Sure, there's new releases and pop icons, but the South Austin shop's specialty lies in affordable vinyl (new and vintage), cassette tapes and other assorted audio accessories. The best feature for music lovers? Free in-store performances from both local and internationally-known musicians, every Thursday to Sunday.
There's no better place to experience Austin's lively culinary scene at the grassroots level than the HOPE Farmers' Market, held every Sunday (11a.m.-3p.m.) at the corner lot of Comal and East Fifth Streets. Browse the ripened goods of local farmers, artists and culinary makers as you enjoy live music, hot coffee and other fresh morsels. There is also a rotating schedule of various health and wellness special events, from free outdoor yoga to gardening and cooking demos.
It's a legend. The famous "Don Juan - El Taco Grande" at East Austin's Juan in a Million has gained national fame (including a few Food Network spotlights) for its savory combination of egg, bacon, potato and cheese. All patrons need to decide is how many homemade flour tortillas to request with the behemoth. One heaping "taco" can feed two to three people, but ask for as many--or as little--tortillas as you'd like. The whole dish still totals under $5. The friendly dive joint is open for lunch and dinner, but breakfast is definitely the shining star.
Austin has its own cathedral and, it's weird naturally. Famed local "yardist" Vince Hannemann constructed a three-story, mixed-and-matched "Cathedral of Junk" just outside his home in the local Bouldin Creek neighborhood. It's a Spike Jonze-esque amalgamation, made from an otherworldly collection of more than 60 tons of reclaimed bicycle and auto parts, record players and random oddities, like old microwaves and pairs of crutches, that enchants children and the young at heart alike. Pose for pictures in the cathedral's assorted spaces, like the popular Throne Room, for a uniquely Austin souvenir.