The capital of Texas is the capital of cool. You can choose from 100 different musical acts, have dinner at the movies (Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, drafthouse .com), and witness a million-and-a-half bats swooping out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge at sunset—all in one night. This vibrant city, in the south-central part of the state, is an intriguing blend of urban area and wilderness. Bustling streets lined with museums, caf? shops, and office buildings surround parks, lakes, and nature trails. The Barton Creek Greenbelt (part of the 24,000-acre Balcones Canyonlands Preserve) is in the middle of the city, and it's the place to go for hiking, rock climbing, and tubing down the creek. Nearby, you'll find even more natural beauty, including the gorgeous displays at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (wildflower.org).
While there are many great places to stay, check out the Hotel San Jos?n South Congress Avenue. Renovated using recycled and nontoxic building materials, the hotel is literally a breath of fresh air. Ask the staff to point you in the direction of their favorite barbecue joint (Austin is home to some of the best in the country) or try the local goat cheese at Wink (512-482-8868), one of the city's new gastronomic hot spots. Rooms, $85 to $290 per night, double occupancy; sanjosehotel.com. For information about the city, see austintexas.org.