When he's not appearing onscreen in films like Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde, this native of the Lone Star State with leading man looks can often be found hangin out in his favorite Texas town.
I'm a creature of habit,” says Luke Wilson of his frequent adventures in Austin, to which he’s been traveling since he was a teenager growing up in Dallas. He would go to visit his brothers, Owen and Andrew, who were students at The University of Texas. He crashed on their couch and bided his time boomeranging between his favorite barbecue and Tex-Mex joints, lakeside bars and grills, and hike and bike trails. Luke and Owen filmed their first movie, Bottle Rocket, in both Dallas and Hillsboro, a Central Texas town closer to Austin than Big D. And at UT, Luke and his brothers became best friends with Wes Anderson, who became Owen and Luke’s collaborator and director in hits like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums — off-center films with what could be considered something of an Austin sensibility. “You’ll see this bumper sticker, ‘Keep Austin Weird’” says Luke. “That just seems like the general attitude down there. It’s different, and that’s not a bad thing.” Today, Luke’s an A-list star living in L.A. and playing the thoughtful leading man in films like Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (out next month), Committed, and Home Fries, but his fondness for Austin, Texas remains the same.
LODGING “The Four Seasons has really nice people. I’ve been going there for a long time. I made a movie, Home Fries, in Austin. I stayed at the hotel for like three and a half months. It’s right on the lake, and right by a good place to jog. And it’s within walking distance of good places to eat. There’s also the Driskill, which is a good old hotel. Then there’s a little place called the San José. It’s an old refurbished motel. It’s got really good rooms with polished concrete floors and interesting photographs on the wall and a good little bar. You sit outside and it’s real pretty at night.”
DINNER “The Starlite is in an old house with hardwood floors, right around the UT campus. It’s good American-style food. They’ve got a good chef there and good fish. I’m a real creature of habit, so when I’m in Austin, I go to the same places all the time.”
NIGHTLIFE “The Continental Club is right across from the San José. They have all kinds of bands. Everybody’s played there. I’ve been there quite a few times. To tell the truth, I’m not a huge live music fan, but at The Continental Club, I’ve been surprised and liked a few people. I also like Club Deville. It’s built into the side of this rock hill, which is limestone, and it’s inside and outside. They’ll have good people playing there. Some friends of mine have this band called Little Captain Travis and they play there a lot. It’s within walking distance of Stubb’s, a barbecue place with an outside concert area where everybody plays. The Roots, Willie Nelson, George Jones. Last time I was there, Loretta Lynn was playing.”
BREAKFAST “Las Manitas on Congress is a good little Mexican place with chorizo and eggs and fresh orange juice. The Capitol is just down the street from it. I guess the fancier breakfast is the Four Seasons, which is your more traditional fare. Jo’s Hot Coffee is right beside the San José. They’ve got good iced coffee. And it’s real quick.”
SIGHTS “Barton Springs Pool is a great natural spring where the water comes from the Edwards Aquifer and, year-round, it’s like 70 degrees. It’s fun to swim in. Throw the football and jump in the water. People take their dogs. It’s a classic Austin place. A great way to cap off a hot day in Austin is to jump in there. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t jumped the fence a few nights in the summertime. Another good place to go is Mount Bonnell. It’s in the hills above Austin and it overlooks the Colorado River and the city. It’s a pretty view and a historic landmark. I also like walking around the UT campus. I don’t know the names of anything. I’ll just go on campus and walk around and walk down Guadalupe, the main street, which is called The Drag. Like everywhere else, The Drag is getting more Gap and Banana Republicanized. But it’s still got that Austin feel. There’s an arcade there called Einstein’s that I’ve been going to since I was a kid. It’s got real Austin types in there playing video games. I always stop in there for a few games when I’m in town.”
HISTORY “The Capitol, of course, is great, real fun to walk around. It’s got a nice little park outside. It’s made out of Texas sunset red granite. They got it all from this one place. The LBJ Library is an unbelievably interesting place. You see the entire history of Lyndon Johnson — how he got started and all about his first campaigns, which were kind of, you know, a little fishy, and how he won and stuff like that. I’ve always been a big fan of his, just because of the kind of guy he was. I’ve read the first half of one of those Robert Caro biographies and I’m still kind of working on it. At the Library you’ll see great photographs of him, and him with Kennedy. He just seems like a pretty great guy, you know, flawed, but trying to do the right thing. The Harry Ransom Humanitarian Center, the library at UT, has everything. Like all of playwright Sam Shepard’s works. They just have tons of stuff. Unbelievable archives.”
LUNCH “I love Maudie’s out near Lake Austin Boulevard. It’s towards the lake in a little strip mall, between a liquor store and a laundromat, but it’s real tasty Mexican food. And they’ve got pictures of Elvis on the walls. If I could only eat one thing in Austin, it would be the Skinny Sheryl’s, a couple of chicken enchiladas with rice and beans. Nothing that special, but it really hits the spot. Real good chips and salsa and cold beer. Another place that’s not known very well is Mr. Natural. It’s a strange little place: half health-food store, half Mexican restaurant. Real tasty, healthy Mexican food. It’s one of those places that when I bring somebody down to Austin, they walk away saying, ‘Man, I’ve never been anyplace like that Mr. Natural.’ It’s cafeteria-style, so you get a tray and go down the line. It’s good, clean Mexican food, the kind you can eat and not have to take a siesta afterwards.”
SHOPPING “There’s a good clothing store called By George. If you’re going to be in Texas, you’re going to need a light shirt and a pair of pants you can wear outside. Because it’s hot even at night in the summertime. You’re always going to be going from the scorching heat to the air conditioning. You can get what you need at By George.”
NATURE “The Congress Avenue Bridge is where all the bats live. That’s a phenomenon where certain months of the year, more than a million bats fly out each night at dusk. It sounds pretty scary, and actually, it is kind of scary. It does get a little weird. It looks like a black cloud when they all fly out, and people gather on the bridge to watch them. It goes on for around 30 minutes. I don’t think they ever bite people. But I have to say, watching the bats is one of those things I never feel quite comfortable with. I always feel like there can’t not be at least one rogue bat in there that wants to sink its teeth into me.”
JOG “I’ve got a run I do on Town Lake, which is probably about four or five miles, just around the lake. It’s the same run I’ve been doing for five, six years. It takes me about 40 minutes or so. I start at the Four Seasons and I go west along First Street and take a footbridge across, down by Stephen F. Austin High School. Then I go on the other side and jog along the Auditorium Shores, where there’s a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughn. It’s the typical Stevie Ray look, with the hat and the poncho and him holding a guitar. Then I go back up the bridge where the bats live and cross back over to the Four Seasons.”
SUNSET “A don’t-miss place to have a beer out by the lake is Dry Creek. It’s an old building and it’s got a pool table and a deck outside. It’s a great place to have a beer, play pool, and watch the sunset. I’ve been going there since I was a teenager. It’s one of those places where time has stood still. They wouldn’t know an actor unless it was, like, Charlton Heston or Humphrey Bogart. The people who run it are kind of up there in years. They’re real nice and real friendly.”
DINNER “The margaritas are good at Guero’s, this Mexican place. There’s a great barbecue place called The Iron Works, which has down-home barbecue.”
GOLF “I play a lot of golf, and there are some great new places like Spanish Oaks, where I’ve played a few times. It’s kind of like a little country course. Then there’s the Austin Golf Club, a private course that Ben Crenshaw designed. The great Barton Creek courses out Bee Caves Road are semi-private. They’re part of the Barton Creek Resort, which is pretty. Another good place is The Golf Club at Circle C. Within town, Lions Municipal Golf Course is right beside Maudie’s on Lake Austin Boulevard. You can bring your dog out there if you want to play golf.”
EXCURSION “I’ve got a friend who lives out towards Bastrop, which is out there where the Piney Woods of Texas start. It’s pretty out there. Another good place to go is the Hill Country out around Fredericksburg and Johnson City. I’ve seen the LBJ Ranch, but I’ve never been on it. That’s really one of my favorite parts of the country: lots of lakes and rivers and real pretty natural grasses.”
ONE GREAT DAY IN AUSTIN
“Oh, I’ve got a good one! A couple of years ago, I’d driven down from Dallas and a friend of mine from New York called and asked me where I was. I said, ‘Actually, I just got to Austin.’ He said, ‘Good, because we’re doing a video of Willie Nelson on Congress Avenue.’ You know, Willie’s always around. That’s probably the first singer who I knew who he was. I’ll never forget. I just walked out of the Four Seasons and walked down Congress, and there was Willie on a horse. They had the streets shut down. There were hundreds of people around. I got my picture taken with him. Willie’s just a real good guy, never forgot where he came from and no kind of attitude. People were screaming, ‘Willie!’ and wanting autographs and pictures and he didn’t leave until he did them all. Austin’s just a good town. I like Dallas and Houston, but they seem like big business towns, company towns. Texas can be kind of a straight-arrow place, but Austin is the crazy younger brother to Dallas and Houston.”
intrigued by luke’s favorite spots? here’s what you need to know to find them.
four seasons hotel austin
hotel san josé
dry creek cafe
bar and grill; inexpensive
guero’s taco bar
the iron works barbecue
jo’s hot coffee
las manitas avenue cafe
vegetarian tex-mex; inexpensive;
the continental club
barton springs pool
texas state capitol
congress avenue bridge bat flights
(512) 416-5700, ext. 3636
harry ransom humanities research center
lyndon baines johnson library
lyndon b. johnson national
austin golf club
barton creek resort & spa
the golf club at circle c
spanish oaks golf course
lions municipal golf course
while luke’s austin recommendations are right on target, we have a few favorites of our own.
omni austin hotel; expensive
downtown, within walking distance of sixth street and the austin convention center. rooftop pool is a cool summertime perk.
sandy’s hamburgers, inexpensive(512) 478-6322
an austin institution serving delicious, and deliciously cheap, burgers and creamy soft-serve cones.
shady grove, inexpensive
relaxed dining, great menu; we crave the frito pie and noodle salad. there’s often live music, and a big screen on the patio plays old westerns, sci-fi flicks, and beach movies.
scenic hillside outdoor music venue.
warehouse district hot spot; the place to see and be seen.
tesoros trading company
features an eclectic collection of folk and pop art from mexico, morocco, and more.
waterloo records & video
boasts a texas-size selection with an emphasis on texas artists, from the 13th floor elevators to willie nelson.
austin-bergstrom international airport
yeah, an airport, but how many do you know with a stage for live music? not to mention offshoots of three widely popular area eateries: matt’s famous el rancho, the salt lick, and amy’s ice cream.