Top Tech Destinations
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Plugged in: Austin (view slideshow) feels like the San Francisco of the grittier pre–dot-com years, a fertile ground for tinkerers, techies, and wing nuts, with a friendly, close-knit culture. Though local behemoth Dell isn't exactly cool anymore (Remember the Dell guy? How lame was that?), the spirit that inspired its founder to sell computers out of his truck is very much alive. Lately, alternative-energy start-ups are taking center stage.
Homeport: Business travelers prefer the Renaissance Austin because of its close proximity to the high-tech corridor along the city's northern edge. But for a less anonymous option (and free Wi-Fi), you'll want to book a room at the historic Driskill (view slideshow). The hotel has Texas swagger—cowhide upholstery and taxidermy—alongside a new, 24/7 business center (with homegrown Dell workstations).
Social networking: Virtually anyplace you go will be eclectic—Austin nightlife is relatively egalitarian, and high-end lounges were nonexistent until recently. The rooftop bar at Union Park attracts a mishmash of finance guys, techies, and cool kids, while at 219 West the sprawling whiskey collection caters to fat cats. But there's no reason to choose when you can make the rounds with like-minded geeks on a pub crawl organized by Austin Tech Happy Hour.
When to interface: Every October, you can drown yourself in geek culture's DIY ethos at Maker Faire (pictured above), a show-and-tell session for "makers"—that is, homegrown inventors who build everything from miniature warships that fire BBs at each other to a Victorian-styled, steam-powered mobile home. Battle bots? Check.