PopulationMetro: 1,710,000
The home of SXSW and the purported best live music scene on the planet fights hard to keep it weird.

A hacked bumper sticker never said more: Keep Austin Wired (‘Wired’ changed from ‘Weird’).

The rebellious Texas city—forged with the Longhorn State’s can-do persistence cut with a university town’s political activism and social diversity—has long attracted the misfits that didn’t quite fit into the south’s expectations.

That foundations of thinking differently drew dreamers for decades, manifesting in one of the nation’s top music scenes. The city’s marking organization, Visit Austin, trademarked the city as “Live Music Capital of the World.”

There’s truth in advertising (at least in this case): Austin ranks #39 in our global Nightlife subcategory.

On any given night, the city’s various entertainment districts—from the 6th Street District’s dozen blocks of festive bars and venues to Rainy Street’s shows in converted living rooms—serve up performance experiences like nowhere else on earth.

The Sky at SXSW Ryan Loughlin.

The city keeps adding venues and destination neighborhoods, the newest being the mega-development South Austin called St. Elmo Public Market, a new mixed-use district set to open in early 2018, with even more music venues, a market and work spaces to accommodate all the young employees streaming into town. Austin today is the 13th smartest city in the world, measured by our Educational Attainment subcategory.

As creative and educated as Austin is (the University of Texas ranks #33 globally), the city is drawing new residents and infrastructure due to its productivity and business-friendly atmosphere. South By Southwest, the annual summit of film, interactive media, and music festivals and conferences (plus a fair share of historic product launches like Airbnb) has seeded the area’s magnetism for new ventures.

As such, monikers like ‘Silicon Hills’ have followed campus opens by Apple, Facebook, Google, Oracle, Dell, Cisco, and Hewlett-Packard. A skills shortage, isn’t an issue, after all, with a steady flow of graduates pouring out from the University of Texas, and the promise of epic nights after hard days

CITY PERFORMACE
Place
Place 44
Product
Product 15
Programming
Programming 10
People
People 70
Prosperity
Prosperity 47
Promotion
Promotion 14

A staggering 10 hotels have already opened in the past two years, ranging from thrifty chic Aloft to the long overdue renovation of vaunted local venue and restaurant, Green Pastures, established in 1893, whose rebirth will also include a 100-room hotel.

The city’s food scene will also ascend into global consciousness as the legend of Texas barbecue grows around the world and newcomers like Red Ash Italia layer in a level of international sophistication rarely seen outside of Houston.

But Austin will always be weird. The city just has more money to prove it these days. Take the NLand Surf Park—the only inland surfing destination in North America for surfers and wave sport enthusiasts from novices to world-class competitors. The lagoon features 11 surfing areas with four levels. And lest you think Austin is—gasp!—wasting water, the entire thing is self-sustaining with natural rainfall.