You may know Austin, Texas, as the Live Musical Capital of the World that’s devoted to keepin’ itself weird—but you might not be familiar with the city’s many slang terms. Whether you’re planning on merely visiting or are contemplating relocating to ATX, here are the words and phrases you need to know to sound just like an (increasingly endangered) local.
This term might seem like a no-brainer (and it is), but it’s still important, because the people who were born and raised in Austin take great pride in that fact—especially given that Austin attracts so many new residents that it was named the second-fastest growing city in the U.S. in 2022.
If you can’t be a local, it’s definitely beneficial to know one: They can tell you which dive bars have the best food trucks, which watering holes are the best to swim in, the best places and times to park downtown, and so much more. When you befriend a local, you’ve befriended someone who will only ever want the best for you when you’re in their town.
2., 3., and 4. ATX, Bat City, and City of the Violet Crown
Austin has a few nicknames you’ll want to know: ATX is one of them, and the city is lovingly known as Bat City to some. To find out why, just line up on Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge (a.k.a. Congress Bridge) at sundown from the spring until the fall—you’ll catch a glimpse of 1.5 million bats that live underneath it as they take off in search of their nightly meal.
You might also hear Austin called “City of the Violet Crown,” a nickname dating back to the 1890s that was used by O. Henry in his short story “Tictocq.”
These four letters might be why you first heard of Austin, or might even be the reason you plan on going there. SXSW stands for South by Southwest, an annual event founded in 1987 that’s “best known for its conference and festivals that celebrate the convergence of tech, film, music, education, and culture,” according to its website. SXSW takes over nearly the entirety of downtown Austin for more than a week in the middle of March. Locals may groan about the traffic it creates, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthwhile event. A scroll through SXSW’s historic timeline is filled with a who’s who of pretty much anyone from whatever world you’re interested in, whether it be film, music, tech, or business.
6. ACL Music Festival
You’ve heard that everything is bigger in Texas, and events don’t get much bigger than the Austin City Limits Music Festival, which takes place every year in the historic Zilker Park (more on Zilker below).
The festival, founded in 2002, was inspired by the Austin City Limits television concert series and features nine stages where musical groups from all genres perform for around 450,000 fans over the course of two weekends. Headliners like Guns N’ Roses, Outkast, Pearl Jam, and so many more have graced the stages—so for attendees, the most difficult part is choosing whom to watch, and when.
It wouldn’t be an Austin event without amazing food: Each year, the ACL festival builds a food court inspired by Jazz Fest in New Orleans featuring area restaurants, and in 2023, debuted an area devoted entirely to dessert.
7. Zilker Park
New York City has Central Park, Austin has Zilker Park. Founded in 1917, the 316-acre park is nestled right next to Lady Bird Lake (that moniker was bestowed upon the reservoir in 2007 after the death of Lady Bird Johnson, so you’ll also hear some residets refer to it as Town Lake) near the downtown area. Whatever it is you want out of a day at the park, Zilker has it: Barton Springs Pool provides a year-round place to swim or sunbathe on the grass; there’s a nature and science center as well as a botanical garden; there’s enough space to host frisbee and volleyball tournaments (among other sports) and a disc golf course; and, of course, several picnic areas and a playground. Zilker Park is one of those places that define Austin and the experience of what it’s like to live there.
Austin is making its way into the sports scene, and it’s doing it with more than just the University of Texas Longhorns. The racing league Formula One (F1)—which is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.—named Austin its first location for an American race in 2010. Circuit of the Americas, or COTA, opened in 2012, and since then, it’s hosted not only the annual F1 race on its 3.41-mile-long track, but concerts by acts like the Rolling Stones, Billy Joel, Bruno Mars, and Taylor Swift, among others.
And because it would be silly to build such a huge venue for one annual racing event and a few concerts, COTA also hosts races for NASCAR and IndyCar, as well as events like car shows and Bike Night, where bicyclists can get their wheels on the track. During the holiday season, visitors can drive part of the track at a light-filled winter wonderland event called “Peppermint Parkway.”
9. Light the Tower
While professional sports are slowly making their way into the central Texas region, the Texas Longhorns still reign supreme in the state capitol. Starting in 1937, the normally white UT Tower in the heart of the University of Texas at Austin campus has been illuminated with orange light to celebrate achievements both athletic and academic, an event called “Light the Tower.” Other configurations incorporate special effects or mark memorial services.
In 2021, Austin became home to the soccer club Austin FC, the city’s first professional major league sports team. Q2 is the corporate sponsor for the $260-million stadium that lights up neon green every time one of the Verdes scores a goal. Even opposing players love the stadium: A 2022 survey of players by the MLS Players Association revealed Q2 was their “preferred place to play,” according to KXAN.
11. and 12. SoCo and SoLa
Location, location, location. Where you are in Austin is important, but almost as important as knowing where you are is knowing how to say where you are. Here’s a handy guide for the pronunciations and nicknames of some of Austin’s neighborhoods so you can fit in with the locals:
- Manchaca Road: “MAN-shack”
- South Lamar: “SoLa”
- South Congress: “SoCo”
- Burnet Road: “BURN-it”
- Guadalupe Street: “Guad-a-LOOP”
- Manor Road: “MAY-ner”
13. Sixth Street
Sixth Street is Austin’s answer to Bourbon Street in New Orleans or Beale Street in Memphis. It isn’t just its own world—it’s actually three worlds, depending on where you are. Here’s how it breaks down:
- Dirty Sixth: The heart of the Austin nightlife is located between I-35 and Congress Avenue. Dirty Sixth is where the streets are blocked off on the weekends and you can walk from club to club, or bar to bar. The street pizza from Roppolo’s is great when the options are limited, but it’s always a fun time on Dirty.
- West Sixth: This area of Sixth Street stretches from Congress to the Mopac Expressway (just Mopac if you’re local [PDF]). There’s still a burgeoning nightlife on this side of Congress, but you’ll notice that there are fewer college kids there—and more “tech bros.” It’s a slightly older demographic than what you’ll find on Dirty Sixth, and a slightly more refined experience.
- East Sixth: Located on the other side of I-35, East Sixth is where you’re more likely to find some locals or longer tenured transplants as well as amazing food trucks, quiet dive bars, maybe a cornhole game. It’s easy, and even relaxing to spend a day here going from bar to bar.
14. “The Stars at Night …”
The easiest way to tell a local from a transplant? Walk into any public space in Austin—or anywhere in Texas, for that matter—and yell, “The stars at night / are big and bright …” and wait for four claps followed by “deep in the heart of Texas!”