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When was Austin's Golden Age? Here's how Austinites answered.

Swimmers swimming and sunbathing at Barton Springs.
PICA-06374, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library
Swimmers hang out at Barton Springs in the 1960s.

"Austin was so much better when …"

Is there any way to fill in the blank that isn’t controversial?

Probably not, but it’s an interesting thought experiment. Austinites have always had a habit of romanticizing the city’s past — even as far back as 1884 — and that feeling of nostalgia only seems to get stronger the more Austin grows.

But is there any consensus (among those still living, anyway) on when the city was in its heyday?

KUT threw the question out to the crowd. Y’all had a lot to say.

For some, the Golden Age of Austin boiled down to a feeling. For others, it was a person, a band, a beer, a stage.

These responses have been edited for length and clarity.

When I was young

The Golden Age of Austin is whenever you were in your early 20s, had gas in your car, music in your ear and plans with your friends. Jen Jolink

Like many people who move to Austin to attend UT, I think Austin was at its peak when I arrived and for at least a decade afterward. My first free concert in the park (Zilker) was Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble opening for The Fabulous Thunderbirds. You could get almost anywhere in town on a bike, and it was a cheap place to live. There were tons of locally owned businesses, and there was a quirky character to Austin. Claire Hodgin

Concertgoers hold up a piñata dressed in a t-shirt that says "Keep Austin Weird" during an Austin City Limits concert in 2005. Performers dressed in white robes sing and play instruments on stage.
Randy Mallory
UNT Libraries, The Portal to Texas History
Concertgoers hold up a piñata during an Austin City Limits concert in 2005.

I grew up in Austin in the ‘80s and ‘90s, so that is when [the Golden Age] was for me. Lots of parks, punk music and artists. A slower existence, hippies and more care for our environment. It was less capitalistic, less pushy, more people being themselves instead of forming into these societal molds … but that is probably true for a lot of places. I miss the calm. The real. — April Kissinger

2008. I was 27 years old, so young enough to still go out every night and make it to work the next day. My best friend and I won a trivia contest through 101X that netted us tickets to Coachella, SXSW, Fun Fun Fun Fest, ACL and two tickets a piece to every show in Austin promoted by that station. We basically had tickets to concerts every night of the week, plus one extra to take a date or trade for beers. … Then in January 2009, we both lost our jobs due to the economic downturn, but we were able to maintain this lifestyle because our concert tickets didn’t run out until March. Anyway, it was just the time in my life when I was the most carefree. — Camron Rushin

When my favorite place was still here

I moved here in 1988. Losing Liberty Lunch and the Electric Lounge was the worst. Both were off the beaten path with lots of free parking, not to mention amazing acts. — @bobossnackbar on Instagram

2005-2010. Momo’s, old Antone’s corner spot, original One-2-One, Shady Grove concert series. I miss it. — @preston.wimberly on Instagram

A large wooden sign that says "Magic Time Machine" towers over a parking lot sparsely filled with retro cars.
PICA-11049, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library
Magic Time Machine was a time travel-themed restaurant that opened in the '70s at 600 E. Riverside.

When I arrived in 2004, my husband and I went to Las Manitas for chicken enchiladas mole every Friday. … It was a special place, and it seems like a part of Old Austin died when the restaurant was replaced by a hotel in 2008. — @skirkwalsh on X

Birthdays at The [Magic] Time Machine on East Riverside. — @lkreynolds on Instagram

Austin was at its peak when you could shop, get your hair done and eat lunch at Scarbroughs on Congress! I felt like the Austin of my childhood died the day that Scarbroughs closed its doors. — @julieatx on Instagram

Austin died the day Hooters on Barton Springs [Road] closed. — @danielwangisdead on Instagram

When it was less crowded

I was born and raised here in Austin. I grew up in the '60s and '70s. Austin was a much smaller town. You could get from South Austin to North Austin in less than 30 minutes. I-35 was almost empty at night, and we only had 5 p.m. traffic at 5 p.m.! — Frank Lopez

Mid-late '90s. It was still an unmined gem that was evident to residents but largely unknown to everyone else. You’d tell someone in Florida you were from Austin, and they’d assume you meant Houston. Travel from South to North Austin at any time of day took no more than 15 minutes. Zilker and Barton Springs were easily accessible and were true nature escapes. Reservations were rarely required to eat at the best restaurants ... and it felt like a walkable night on the town was possible for any age group. SXSW was a fun, accessible event, and nothing about this town was pretentious. Austin just felt easier then — like it was a town built just for us. — Sarah Thoorens

A view of downtown Austin looking south in 1990, taken from the top of the Capitol building. You can see skyscrapers along Congress Avenue down the center of the photo.
PICA-24888, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library
A view of downtown Austin looking south in 1990, taken from the top of the Capitol.

Early early aughts. Alamo Colorado was the OG nerd celebrity weird movie mecca. SXSW was still small enough to ignore, if you wanted, and super accessible if you partook. The Capitol was still the tallest building in town. … The city was still small enough that I broke up with a guy who lived on Braker because it might as well have been Dallas. — Rebecca Swaine

When things were cheap and artists thrived

Peak Austin for me was 1999-2006. I had plenty of friends, a co-op community to tap into and the city was famously affordable for artists and workers. We had lots of yard parties, live shows, good thrift and camaraderie. So many nights spent hanging out on the porch, talking and drinking cheap beer. I used to say that the unofficial Austin welcome package was a pack of Shiner, a doobie and an old couch for your front porch. — Kimberly Hill

Two musicians holding a violin and guitar, respectively, and wearing wide-brimmed hats and traditional clothes perform at a park.
PICA-34156, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library
Musicians perform at a Diez y Seis celebration at Republic Square Park in 2002.

I'd say that, for many people, Austin's Golden Age was 1974 to 1985-ish. Friends living here at the time urged me to come, saying, "It's the highest quality of life in Texas and the lowest cost of living." They were right. … Rent was just 18% of my income. Jobs that paid just enough to live on were easy to come by. Creativity exploded when artists of all types could live inexpensively and have time to experiment, collaborate and explore. — Lucy Frost

I can’t pinpoint a specific time, but with the cost of the city increasing, we don’t even realize what we are missing. Austin was great and is great when creative people can succeed in the city. An easy example is Aaron Franklin, an aspiring musician that would have never made it in this city if he was outpriced from the start. Who else has the city pushed out before they had their opportunity to shine? We are pushing out all local business or making it harder for them to succeed, and it’s costing the city a lot of amazing places and people. — Wesley Wheeler

When Leslie was here

Ain’t been the same since Leslie lived behind the OG Bouldin Creek. — @colorfullandmessy on Instagram

Anytime after Leslie running for mayor in 2003 marks the end [of Old Austin] for me. — @msn1019 on Instagram

Austin died the day Leslie did. — @sonya_cote on Instagram

When Austinites were funny

When the dinosaurs passed through Austin, they exclaimed, “You should’ve seen it five years ago.” — @edespinoza on Instagram

When I moved to Austin in April of 2020 it was so chill. Hardly any traffic. In fact, really no cars around at all. No line at Franklin’s — I could walk right up and pick it up. My apartment at the Domain was perfect for me and my purebred goldendoodle. People used to mind their own business and keep their distance. Now? I can’t even get a coffee without waiting in line. Things are changing, man … — @b.nj.m.n on Instagram

I’ll just say, the year before I was born, it was perfect. — @itsneenzjeez on Instagram

Chelsey Zhu is the digital producer at KUT. Got a tip? You can email her at
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