When you bring up the now classic TV series Friday Night Lights – which ran for five seasons from 2006 to 2011 – the response you either get is “American Football!? Why would I watch a show about American Football!?” or “That is one of the single greatest series of all time. Matt Saracen is my favourite character, who’s yours? Who’s yours? Come on tell me, who’s yours!”.
Yes, it seems you either love the show or just haven’t seen it. But one day my friend, you will, and you will love it like the rest of us. The show, though set in “Dillon, Texas”, was actually mostly filmed in and around the city of Austin, Texas. And just google “Friday Night Lights Driving Tour” and you’ll find a myriad of maps to follow on your next visit to the city. So, with that spirit in mind, we thought we’d take a trip down memory lane ourselves, and take you to five real locations and remember the fictional brilliance that happened there…
Location: 6805 De Paul Cove, Austin, TX 78723
Who doesn’t admire the strong and loving Tami Taylor’s endless battle against the expectations (and limitations) that lie upon her as the Coach’s wife in small town Dillon? Standing behind the man who is perhaps most looked up to in the whole town, Tami struggles to get any recognition for the work that she puts in behind the scenes. My favourite scene at the Taylor House would have to be in Season 1 when Tami is asked by Coach with barely any notice to host a barbecue for the whole football community at their home – a huge undertaking that rests solely on her shoulders. During this scene, we watch Tami frantically fighting to feed and clean up after a huge bunch of men who have little interest in helping her. I love the way that Tami’s situation is so clearly and sympathetically presented as she is at the brink of a melt down, all the while shown with a good dose of humour.
Family is such an important part of the show, and family is an important part of Austin. There are a wide range of family friendly activities in and around Austin. From a day out at the park – We recommend Barton Springs, Zilker Park and Walnut Creek – to a trip out to the stunningly beautiful Hamilton Pool for a swim, lunch at Home Slice Pizza and an afternoon of shopping on South Congress, the to do list could go on forever. If you’re looking for other entertainment options, you can also head about one and a half hours out of Austin to San Antonio for the family fun of Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Sea World and Morgan’s Wonderland – a park for children and adults with special cognitive and physical needs.
Location: Flow Ln & Del Valle St., Austin, Texas 78617
The center of so much passion, victory and heartache, it would have to be the scene shot at Panther’s Field in the very first episode of season one that is most powerful. Star quarterback Jason Street is shockingly paralyzed in the very first game that is shown for the series, instantly establishing the dramatic and heart wrenching nature of Friday Night Lights. The show is shot with such sensitivity, it feels as though we as viewers experience the extreme highs and lows of the characters’ lives right along with them, and Jason Street’s injury is a strong start to the show.
The field is located near South Austin, where quite a few of Austin’s favourite and most well-known hot spots are located. Start out at the Alamo Drafthouse for a locally brewed beer, food and an eclectic curation of cinema, head along to McKinney Falls and enjoy two natural swimming holes and 10 miles of hiking trails, see a concert at the Austin360 Amphitheater and check out the Circuit of the Americas for some Grand Prix action. Those looking for a bit of sport action themselves can also look no further than the Roy Kizer Golf Course or a game of “how many 50 cent wings can I eat?” at the Waterloo Ice House.
Location: 2681 East Cesar Chavez St., Austin, Texas
A location that was introduced in the later seasons, Vince Howard joins the Friday Night Lights story when Coach recruits him into the East Dillon Lions football team. As Vince is living under tough conditions with an absent criminal father and drug addict mum, Coach once again comes to save the day by taking Vince under his wing. Yet while Vince is slowly working to improve his situation, it would have to be the scene at his small and far from homey house when he confronts his mum about her drug use that is the most arresting – showing the difficult relationship between a frail and helpless mother and a son who needs to look after her. Vince’s house shows us the other, less protected side of Dillon, opening us up to a range of new scenes.
While you’re in East Austin, you’ll find yourself in an area that has become more famous for its food than anything else, perhaps in part to the iconic BBQ at Franklin’s. It doesn’t get much better than that. There’s also the soul food and live music at The Victory Grill – a survivor of The Chitlin Circuit. Those looking to bike around the city will find plenty of bike shops over on the East Side, with plenty of vintage and thrift stores to be found along the way. And if you know where to look, you’ll stumble across a wide range of galleries and art studios in the area too.
The Alamo Freeze
Location: 5900 Manor Rd., Austin, Texas 78723
The Alamo Freeze, former workplace for Matty Saracen and Smash Williams, is actually a Dairy Queen. But you can still visit it and pretend like big time Smash or adorably awkward Matty is serving you up a famous Dillon sundae. It’s an iconic setting in Friday Night Lights for a number of reasons, most of which were crucial for Saracen’s development throughout the five acclaimed seasons the series ran for. This is why it was brought back for the finale when Matt finally proposed to Julie, set against his former workplace to hammer home the fact that all these characters, who we had grown so attached to, have come so far. The proposal scene was hammy, and had cliche written all over it, but something in the setting, the song (Brandi Carlile’s cover of “Heaven”), and the two intimate performances made it all work.
This would be a great stop to make on the way to Round Rock to spend the day. The premium outlets are a great stop for shoppers, and the Old Settlers Park is a great place to watch the world go by. Those looking for something a bit more exciting might find it at the Hawaiian Falls Water and Adventure Park or one of the area’s many gold clubs. There’s also the Dell Diamond, the home stadium to the minor league baseball team the Round Rock Express.
Tim and Billy Riggins’ House
Location: 2604 Lehigh Dr., Austin, Texas 78723
So many people name “bad boy with a heart of gold” Tim Riggins as their favourite character – to the point where “What Would Tim Riggins Do?” is actually a thing. Though it seemed like he was almost never home, when he was home (and well before the storyline where he was living in a caravan and breaking a young girl’s heart), it seemed it was usually waking up with a knock on the door, hungover – or enjoying an evening with his girlfriend at the time (you’re dating your best friend’s girlfriend man! And he’s a cripple! So much scandal.). And the place was always a mess. I imagine the current owners do a better job of looking after the place…
But when we think of Tim Riggins, it’s hard not to think of those iconic scenes with Jason Street, where they remark “Texas Forever”. While in Austin, it’s a great opportunity to look into the history and culture of both the city of Austin and the State as a whole. Head along to the Bullock History Museum, tour the Capitol, head along to experience a nearby rodeo, go to a concert at Stubb’s, find out where Willy Nelson is playing and, perhaps most important of all: get yourself some great Texan beer and BBQ. You may never want to leave – Texas Forever, indeed.
Learn more about and plan your trip to Texas at TravelTex.com.
Friday Night Lights: The Complete Series is available now on DVD. This article has been written by Larry Heath, Lucy Inglis and Chris Singh. This article was sponsored by Texas Tourism.