Even if you've never been to Austin, Texas, you may have heard it referred to as the live music capital of the world. You might also know about Austin's great art scene, or its numerous incredible restaurants and food trucks. But there's so much more to learn about the capital of Texas. If you're curious, we've got you covered. Here are 10 things you never knew about Austin.
Austin Was Originally Called "Waterloo"
Back before it was the capital of Texas, the area now known as Austin was mostly beautiful wilderness. It was occasionally occupied by the Tonkawas, Lipan Apaches, Comanches, and some Spanish missionaries. The first Anglo settlers arrived during the 1830s and decided to name their new village Waterloo. By the end of the 1830s, Waterloo had been chosen to become the state capital. It rapidly expanded from a village into a city, and it was renamed after Stephen F. Austin, the founder of Texas.
The Texas State Capitol Building Is the Second Largest in the Country
When it was first completed in 1888, the Texas State Capitol Building had almost 400 rooms, 924 windows, and 18 vaults. Standing at 566 feet long and 302 feet tall, this is the largest domed capitol building in the country. In total size, it ranks second; it is only surpassed by the National Capitol in Washington, D.C. — although Texans are quick to point out that the Texas Capitol is taller than the National Capitol by almost 15 feet. This building covers about three acres in downtown Austin. It is a beautiful, almost palatial, site to visit if you're ever in the neighborhood.
Sandra Bullock Owned a Restaurant in Austin for a Decade
Although most of us know Sandra Bullock through her many successful movies, she is also a business owner with an affinity for Austin. Although she sold her Austin home in 2012, Bullock was closely connected to the city for many years and opened her own restaurant, Bess Bistro, in 2006. This bistro originally served French cuisine, but shifted in focus throughout the nine years it was in operation. In 2015, Bess Bistro officially closed. But if you're interested in checking out another eatery owned by Bullock, you can head over to Walton's Fancy & Staple, also located in downtown Austin.
This Is the Last City in the World to Operate Moonlight Towers
Some sources say that, because of a series of murders that left Austin reeling in the 1890s, the city decided to install a series of moonlight towers. No matter what the cause, they were some of the very first electric streetlights in the area. At the time, these lights were such a novelty that some residents worried they would cause crops to grow too quickly due to the extra light exposure.
In 1993, the towers were restored for their hundredth anniversary. The 17 remaining towers are still lit every night in Austin. They have a place on the National Register of Historic Places and are the only moonlight towers still in use in the world.
The Only Nude Beach in Texas Is Located Here
Austin's 109-acre Hippie Hollow Park is the only clothing-optional public park in the state. As such, all visitors must be at least 18 years old, and visitors must ask permission before taking any photographs in the park. It is a very popular location for swimming, but it also features hiking trails and certain off-limits areas designated for protection of endangered species. Hippie Hollow Park is open every day of the year. However, there are no lifeguards on duty, so visitors swim at their own risk. The park, which includes a steep shoreline surrounding Lake Travis, is located approximately half an hour from downtown Austin.
Janis Joplin Began Her Career in Austin
Janis Joplin, known for her powerful, blues-inspired vocals, was a Texas native who began singing for fun when she was just six years old. Stifled by the small, conservative town she grew up in, Joplin eventually made her way to Austin, where she studied art at the University of Texas. It was during her time here that she began performing publicly at open mic nights at a bar named Threadgill's, which is still a popular spot in Austin today. Joplin's unique singing voice impressed her listeners, and she continued to develop her style during her time in Austin.
Whole Foods Was Founded Here
Although this health food store can be found all over the country now, it has its roots in Austin. The founders of Whole Foods were a couple in their early 20s named John Mackey and Renee Lawson. Their first attempt at a grocery store opened in 1978 and was named Safer Way Natural Foods. At the time, Lawson and Mackey were struggling to make ends meet, and they decided to live in the store.
Whole Foods Market as we know it today was founded two years later, when Safer Way merged with Clarksville Natural Grocery, forming one of the largest health food stores of the era.
Austin Celebrates Eeyore's Birthday Every Year
This longstanding Austin tradition began in 1963, when several English majors decided to have a picnic celebrating the birthday of Winnie-the-Pooh's gloomiest friend. The idea was based on one particular Winnie-the-Pooh story where Eeyore believes his friends have forgotten his birthday, only to discover they'd planned a huge surprise party for him.
The tradition really took off in Austin. Now, it is an annual non-profit fundraiser run by the Friends of the Forest Foundation. There is no fee to attend, but you can purchase items from vendors to raise money for various charities. Attendees are encouraged to dress in costume and bring musical instruments.
Austin Is Sometimes Called the City of the Violet Crown
Although it's a common phrase in Austin, you may not have heard it referred to as the City of the Violet Crown if you've never lived there. This name comes from the purple hue of the sky every night at sunset. There is some mystery over where the name originated. According to the Austin History Center, the first written evidence of this name is found in an article from the Austin Daily Statesman in 1894. The phrase is likely inspired by ancient Greek poets who would call the sunset over the mountains a "violet crown."
Austin Has Its Own Bigfoot Legend
Most of us have heard myths of Bigfoot, but did you know that Austin has its very own Bigfoot legend? According to the stories — which began in the 1800s — travelers who walked down Hairy Man Road ran the risk of angering a hairy hermit, who would yell, jump down from trees, and frighten away carriages. Today, the Hairy Man legend lives on in the annual Hairy Man Festival, which raises money for local charities and features vendors, live music, and a "hairiest man" contest.