I have two pieces of advice for visitors to Austin. First, don't hesitate to ask locals for directions or advice. Austinites are friendly and approachable. It's common practice here for complete strangers to engage in conversation. Indeed, one of the great things about Austin is how welcoming the city is. And second, take full advantage of the city's Visitor Information Center at 209 E. Sixth Street. It offers free walking tours, has pamphlets for self-guided tours, and is the point of departure for the motorized city tours. The office will know if one of the daily tours is canceled for whatever reason.

What sets Austin apart from other Texas cities and what puts it on all those "most livable" lists is the amount of green space and outdoor activities available to its denizens, whose attitude toward the outdoors borders on nature worship. From bats and birds to Barton Springs, from the Highland Lakes to the hike-and-bike trails, Austin lays out the green carpet for its visitors. You'd be hard-pressed to find a city that has more to offer fresh-air enthusiasts.

Old-Fashioned Moonlight

If you saw the cult-classic 1993 indie film Dazed and Confused, set in Austin, you may remember the line, "Party at the moon tower!" and the scene filmmaker Richard Linklater set under one of Austin's Moonlight Towers. So what's a "moon tower"? Standing 165 feet above their 15-foot base, these old-fashioned towers illuminate Austin with bright lights, creating a bright moonlight-like glow. Popular in the late 1800s across the U.S. and Europe, the original moonlight towers were established in Austin between 1884 and 1885. Today, Austin is the only city in the world still using moon tower lighting, though only 17 of the original 31 towers remain. Each tower originally contained six carbon arc lamps, illuminating a 1,500-foot-radius circle, which is said to have burned "brightly enough to read a watch from as far away as 1,500 feet." Originally, the towers were connected to generators on the Colorado River. Later, carbon arc lamps were added, but in the '20s, those were changed to incandescent lamps, and in the 1930s, mercury vapor lamps were lit by a switch at each tower's base. During World War II, a central switch controlled the lights, allowing citywide blackouts in case of air raids. As a part of a $1.3-million project in 1993, the City of Austin dismantled and meticulously restored each piece of the 17 towers. The towers were officially recognized as state archaeological landmarks in 1970 and were later collectively listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Austin's towers are scattered all over town, with the greatest concentration being near the capitol; however, the city's most popular tower may be a replica moonlight tower standing in Zilker Park.

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