Austin is a city of over 912,000 in the Hill Country of central Texas. It is the state capital and home to a major university as well as an influential center for politics, technology, music, film and (increasingly) a food scene. Austin's embrace of alternative cultures is commonly emblazoned about town on T-Shirts and bumper stickers that read: "Keep Austin Weird." Austin is also marketed as the "Live Music Capital of the World" due to the large number of venues and "Silicon Hills" reflecting the many technology companies.
Being the capital of Texas has resulted in a rich history for Austin. Established in 1839 by the then recently-formed Republic of Texas, Austin is located on the Colorado River and the edge of the Texas Hill Country. The city was named for Texas founder Stephen F. Austin after Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar selected the site due to the area's abundant natural resources, beauty and central location in the state. Because of its unprotected geographical location, Austin's early years consisted of many raids from Mexican troops and Native Americans unhappy with Texas.
The town was laid out and constructed using temporary buildings in less than one year, as planner Edwin Waller was committed to having the town ready by November 1839 when the Texas Congress convened. Congress and the 856 people who inhabited Austin were certainly impressed, as they elected Waller the first mayor of Austin January 1840.
Darker days arrived for Austin in 1842, as newly elected Texas President Sam Houston, fearing attacks on the Capital, moved the government to Houston, and later Washington-on-the-Brazos, where it remained until 1845. But all was not lost for Austin, as the 1845 constitutional convention approved the annexing of Texas to the United States, and established Austin as the state capital, which it has remained to this day.
The Civil War dominated Austin from 1861 to 1865, with almost 20 percent of the population joining the Confederacy. While Austin, like much of the Confederacy, faced shortages of goods and workers, Union forces did not directly threaten the city.
After the Civil War, Austin's population grew steadily, including a boom to almost 35,000 people by 1920. However, Austin had previously been the fourth largest city in Texas, and saw itself slip to 10th because of the oil boom and surging industrial development. The 1930s brought the Great Depression, but Austin was hit less than many cities thanks to its base in government and education - the University of Texas at Austin doubled its enrollment during this time. Later, in 1956, UT would become the first major southern University to admit black students as undergraduates.
Austin's population continued to grow almost 40 percent per decade, with 472,000 residents in 1990 and 656,000 residents in 2000. Austin's growth came in many forms - government, education, and high technology. In the 1990s, more than 400 high technology companies, including IBM, Texas Instruments, Dell and Motorola, all called Austin home.
Austin has continued to grow, and in the 2000s found itself as the live music capital of Texas. The young demographic of college students and recent graduates helped fuel this growth and Austin now hosts a variety of large music festivals, most notably South by Southwest.
Austin weather is generally nice most of the year; activities are generally not limited by season. However, as Austin lies within Central Texas, be prepared to deal with the long, hot summers if you are visiting between May and September. It is not uncommon for daily high temperatures to be between 90 and 100 degrees during this time — in fact, a day in the 80s is rare, and several days may even reach triple digits (90 days in 2011). If you are here when the weather is like this, dress accordingly, drink plenty of water, and do not plan on staying outside for long (nearly all indoor places are air-conditioned) — unless you're taking the opportunity to take a dip in Barton Springs Pool or any of the other swimming holes in the area. This is especially true if the heat index is around 105 or higher, which is considered to be dangerous. Also keep in mind that the interior of cars will get dangerously hot, especially if the windows are up and it's parked in the sun — don't leave pets or children in there, no matter how brief. How hot the summer gets usually depends on the amount of precipitation the area has been getting. If there is no drought and the spring has been particularly wet, temperatures will remain relatively tolerable and rarely break triple digits. If it has been dry, as it was from 2007-2009, summers can be very uncomfortable and triple-digit temps will be very common.
Central Texas winters are short to non-existent. There are many pleasant or even warm days during the winter months (the first 90 degree day of 2012 was in February), and snowfall is rare. However, hard freezes happen occasionally, and light freezes may occur frequently (especially in the more rural areas), and when this mixes with precipitation, ice storms and other wintry weather happen. If the storm is severe enough, the city may shut down for a day or so, traffic may be snarled, and the local auto body shops may receive a spike in business. The Austin area usually experiences such events once or twice each year or so, from late December to mid-February. Generally, though, winter weather just varies a lot, with alternating cold and warm fronts that can make for large temperature swings within just a week's time.
Spring and fall are the best times to visit. Springs tend to be stormy (see "Stay safe" for related warning), and falls may bring light freezes during the night. For the most part, though, springs and falls are very pleasant times to experience Austin.
Austin is an interesting city with a diverse population when it comes to age, race, industry and more. Austin has historically seen double-digit population increases each decade, as people flock to the city hailed for having the best quality of life in Texas.
Austin's main industries - government, education and technology, are likely why the median age in Austin is 31.1 years, more than 6 years younger than the national median age of 37.2. Austin's growing population has also resulted in increased ethnic diversity in the city, with the most recent census (2010) showing the racial breakdown of 48.7 percent Caucasian/white, 35 percent Hispanic/Latino, eight percent African-American/Black, six percent Asian, and three percent other.
People in Austin value their quality of life, access to outdoor activities, access to live music and entertainment, education and government access. With the University of Texas at Austin being the largest University in the state of Texas as well as one of the largest universities in the country, many students choose to stay in Austin after graduation, thanks to the quality of life they grow accustomed to during their collegiate years. Technology-related majors and degrees have increased in number as students plan to stay in Austin after obtaining their degree.
People in Austin tend to be more politically liberal, and Travis County (home to Austin) has consistently gone Democratic in the last several political elections.
Pick up an Austin Chronicle newspaper first thing. These are freely available all over town, including the information desk across from baggage claim at the airport. It will be your guide to everything that's going on in Austin from festivals (Spam Festival, Chili Festival, etc.) to music, theater and food; it's all in there. New issues are published every Thursday.
Austin's independent vibe and personality have inspired authors in all genres to take pen to paper. The city is home to many small independent bookstores where visitors can find works by these notable authors with Austin roots and connections:
The pen name for William Sydney Porter. O. Henry was best known for his short stories that featured witty tales filled with wordplay and surprising endings. His wide-ranging work produced many compilations of short stories, but his most famous stories include Ransom of Red Chief, Gift of the Magi, and The Caballero's Way, which introduced the famous Cisco Kid character.
Author, newspaper columnist, humorist and political commentator who expressed the views of many Austinites and Texans alike. Her witty writings were often directed at political figures - both liberal and conservative.
A prolific author, writing more than 40 books throughout his career. While the majority of his books were fiction, they featured intense multi-generational familial sagas that weaved in detailed geographic information and historical facts. Many people are familiar with the story from his first book, South Pacific, which was later adapted into the Rogers & Hammerstein musical and film by the same name.
Served as President of the Texas State Historical Society and launched the project that would later become the Handbook of Texas. He was on the faculty of the University of Texas and is known for his historical research and writings.
Best known for his books that shared the traditions and life on the open ranges of rural Texas. He was outspoken against the business as usual state politics of Texas, as well as religious prejudices, assaults on personal liberties and the negative affect the mechanical age had on the vibrant Texan spirit. Aside from his writing, he also played a key role in preventing the extinction of the Texas Longhorn cattle breed.
An irreverent humor writer who has written newspaper columns and several books. His writing often tells tales of his time as an undergraduate student and law student. He is considered one of the founders of the "fratire" literary genre - humorous writing often written by and for young fraternity-type men.
While many may hear Franklin's name mentioned when deciding where to eat while in Austin, visitors can also pick up his cookbook. Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto shares the secrets to making barbecue that is regularly considered to be among the best in the world. While the book may not make readers a bonafide pitmaster, it can certainly help recreate a tasty reminder of an Austin visit.
In a land considered a conservative stronghold, Austin often finds itself at odds with the rest of the state. Recent times have found most major cities in Texas leaning liberal, but the suburbs and rural areas have still seen significant enough voter turnout to keep the state a conservative territory.
This situation is particularly interesting in Austin since the traditionally conservative state government is located in Austin. Liberal downtown Austinites and more conservative suburbanites combine to create a political climate that allows 3rd party and other independent candidates to garner support.
The last time Austin went Republican in a major election was in 2000 with the election of former Texas Governor George W. Bush. By 2004, a major political shift in Austin gave Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry a 14 percent margin of victory over Bush, who nevertheless won Texas again.
One of the strongest political movements in Austin has been the emphasis on environmental movements. Given Austin's plethora of outdoor activities, it's no surprise that residents want to protect their environment. In 2012, Austin distinguished itself by banning the sale and use of plastic bags, a measure that several other Texas cities were not able to pass or enforce. In addition to the ambient environmental concerns, Austin's increasing population has created neighborhood environmental and conservationist movements that revolve around creating Austin's "sense of place", preserving Austin's quality of life, and preventing redevelopment of residential neighborhoods.
Austin is divided into six state legislative districts. Three of these districts are consistently Democratic, and the other three are swing districts that are currently held by two Democrats and one Republican. Redistricting in 2003 resulted in downtown Austin not having an exclusive congressional seat of its own. However, the City maintained six seats. Travis County, home to Austin, was the only county in Texas that rejected the Texas Constitutional Amendment effectively outlawing gay marriage. The state amendment was made moot 2015 with the US Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling.
Austin Bergstrom International Airport (IATA: AUS), . 6 miles (10km) southeast of the city center, it is served by most major carriers, with non-stop service to 49 destinations. This airport is unique from other large airports in the sense that most of the stores and restaurants inside are locally owned businesses plus there are also live music acts that play inside the airport as well which is a good way to spend time if your flight is ever delayed. There are a selection of buses (including the MetroAirport which is $1.75 USD (exact change) - the route goes through Downtown and ends on the UT campus) , taxis, shuttles and car rentals to get you into town and back. Chauffeured sedans or limos are also available to pick you up or drop you off at the airport but normally require advance reservations. Taxi fare to downtown Austin is approximately $30. You can also schedule a flat rate ride (around $25 to downtown) on the ridesharing app Wingz .
The following airlines serve Austin-Bergstrom International Airport:
Austin is on one major freeway and several regional highways, and its outskirts are served by several tollways. From San Antonio, head north on IH-35, about one and a half hours. From Dallas, head south on IH-35, about three hours. From Houston, head west on US-290 (or I-10 W to Hwy 71 W if you want to reach South Austin), about three hours.
Most of the areas of Austin of interest to a visitor are pedestrian friendly. The downtown area is especially compact and walkable, with many attractions within a 1-2 mile walk from downtown hotels. In the summer, temperatures that stay in the 90s during the day may make a long walk less appealing. Just break up your wanderings with stops for a cool drink!
The University of Texas area, just north of downtown, is also very pedestrian friendly, and in fact can be a difficult place to get around by car (very hard to find a parking spot).
Austin is hilly to the west but generally mildly sloping toward the river in the center of town. There are bike lanes on some major streets in addition to some trails. Biking is a great way to get around year round and the weather is usually agreeable from mid-October to mid-April. May to mid-October temperatures may reach the high 90's and humidity may be a problem.
Capital Metro is Austin's public bus network with a system of inexpensive neighborhood, express and downtown routes. Most local routes are $1.25 per trip or $2.50 for a 24-hr pass; some routes are more expensive, find the most updated fare info here. The airport bus route (Route 100) costs $1.75 one way. You can also download the Cap Metro app for your phone to pull up route info, buy some types of tickets by credit card (single ride local tickets are not available), and see real-time bus arrival info. If you're not using the app, plan to have exact change to buy your ticket when you board the bus.
Some routes run every 15 minutes on weekdays while others are much more infrequent, so check Google Maps or the Cap Metro app to see what your options are beforehand in case you need to work around the bus schedule. If you want to get around primarily by bus, plan to stay pretty central to have the best options. In general the bus routes going north and south are better than east and west, not sure why.
Metrorail is a commuter rail service that goes from Downtown Austin to the Northwestern suburbs of Leander and Cedar Park. Since the service is geared towards commuters, service tends to be spotty at best outside of off peak hours and really isn't useful for for most visitors.
Driving is not too difficult if you're used to living in a large city. Traffic is bad from 7-9AM and 3:30-7PM weekdays, though IH-35 through town can be jammed at other times as well.
There are two major north-south Expressways: I-35 (nonstandarly called "IH-35") and Loop 1 (also called the MoPac Expressway for former owner of the railroad which runs along it, Missouri-Pacific - or "Slo-Pac" for anyone who has experienced it at rush hour). There is only one true major east-west freeway in Austin located south of the city center, known as Ben White or US 290 West/Texas highway 71. The freeway section of 290 West/Ben White currently runs from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to just east of Oak Hill. Freeway extensions are currently being constructed east on 71 past the airport, and the beginning stages of construction are taking place west towards and past Oak Hill. Hwy 183 runs from the southeast corner of the city near the airport to the northwest suburbs, bridging Mopac and I-35 in North Austin.
Oak Hill is the point at which TX 71 and US 290 split apart and go in separate directions, and in case this isn't confusing enough, some people make the distinction between 290 West and 290 East because at I-35, 290 East actually heads up the interstate, and then continues on to the east in North Austin. There is a second freeway that runs from the Northwest side of the city down to the Southeast side of the city past the airport. This freeway is called US 183, and in North Austin it may also be referred to as Research Boulevard. Most of it is freeway now, however there are still several major intersections which are currently being constructed and turned into freeway.
I-35 has no loop that circumnavigates the city, so watch out for aggressive, confused drivers. Also, keep your eyes open for the upper deck/lower deck split between Airport Boulevard and Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard; it's confusing, and accidents occur there frequently. Drivers going through Austin without stopping, or those who wish to avoid the chaos of the lower deck, should use the right two lanes as the deck split approaches, in contrast to other cities where through traffic uses the left lane. On the northbound side, traffic entering I-35 at Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard goes directly to the upper deck.
Out-of-towners be warned: on-ramps on I-35, especially the lower deck, are very short.
Austin has a mostly completed network of toll roads, see Central Texas Turnpike System and Central Texas Regional Mobile Authority. These include SH 130, an Austin bypass east of town; SH 45, an east-west artery in North Austin; the North MoPac extension; the US 183A bypass of Cedar Park and Leander; and SH 45SE in far south Austin. TxTag accounts are available for commuters. There has been significant opposition and accommodations have been made in some areas. Both US 183A and MoPac are rather deceptive — if you keep going north on either 183 or MoPac, the freeway seamlessly transitions into a toll road and the signing is rather poor. To avoid the toll, you must keep a sharp eye out and get off the main lanes. Even worse, all tolls on 183A are "TxTag Only" meaning that you cannot pay cash. This trend will likely extend to all Austin tollways in the near future.
Rental car offices may try to add on a "toll road package". Be sure you understand exactly which roads require tolls before signing on for this. The fee is exorbitant, a pure cash cow for the agency.
car2go & ZipCar are car shares active in Austin and are both great for quick trips around town. Become a member then go online or use their mobile app to find an available car parked nearby. Just hop in the car and drive to your destination and then leave it there for the next user. An hourly rate covers all gas and insurance.
Parts of the city are subject to flooding at times during the year; however, it is not too common as Austin does not usually get an excessive amount of rain. The year 2007 saw several flood episodes with the worst effects in Marble Falls, northwest of the city. See City of Austin Flood History  for historic flooding.
For those of you unfamiliar with proper treatment of flooded areas, NEVER drive through flooded low water crossings. You will lose your car and possibly your life. As little as a few inches of running water can and does wash a car away and each year there are some deaths due to this. "Turn Around, Don't Drown."
While driving is not too bad, parking in the city center can be difficult; look for municipal parking garages as officers will ticket you in the blink of an eye (check meters, though, because many are free in the evenings, on weekends, and on major holidays). Worse yet, vehicles illegally parked in private parking areas are very quickly towed, so make sure that you don't park in spots marked no parking.
Parking is free in the Texas State History Museum garage near UT after hours and on weekends. As of 2005 under SB 1533, state employees may park in state garages during non-business hours for free.
Since Lyft and Uber pulled out in a regulation dispute, a number of rideshare services have sprung up in Austin to replace them. Don't forget to check for new rider discount codes!
Austin Tx Ride Share Visitor Guide They provide rideshare options since Uber & Lyft departed the city. Usually a free ride code is attached to each company. If you need delivery, they have local options to use.
If you need a cab you'll need to call, because outside of the rare downtown cab stand, taxis can't be hailed on the street.
Chauffeured, private charter transportation
There are many options for private charter vehicles in Austin: Luxury sedans, SUVs, private motor coaches, mini buses, party buses and limousines, etc. The Austin-Bergstrom International Airport Site maintains a list of licensed and permitted transportation options.
Visitors are initially drawn to Austin for hip culture, live music, great food and late nights. But there are plenty of attractions to fill up the hot Texas days waiting for the nightlife to pop off. Visitors can see great historic Texas landmarks, wander neighborhoods committed to the city slogan of ‘’Keep Austin Weird’’, visit great museums filled with art and history and picnic in lush parks.
Many of the landmarks and historic places in Austin aren’t statues or cross streets. The city's history takes place in bars, diners and dance halls. The State Capitol building in Downtown is a traditional landmark and noteworthy part of the city's skyline. The current pink granite building is a source of pride for residents who won’t hesitate to inform visitors that it’s taller than the United States Capitol building.
Downtown is the heart of the city, where it's non-stop activity day and night. Cultural attractions fill visitors' days, and nightlife, shows and concerts keep them busy all night. The main district contains within its borders smaller neighborhoods for shopping, nightlife, eateries and galleries.
South Austin across the Colorado River is historically the more diverse section of the city. South Congress Avenue was in decline during the second half of the 20th century, but local independent businesses revitalized the area. The avenue is now packed with infamous restaurants and cafes, great retailers and boutique hotels.
West Austin is the historic area of the city. The ‘’’Balcones Uplift’’’ creates gorgeous panoramic views of the city. It is the go-to district for fine dining.
East Austin is quickly filling with recent Austin transplants. Great tex-mex, hip new restaurants, casual bars and upscale mixology joints mix in with artists’ studios, galleries and reclaimed warehouses and strip malls.
Many of the city’s museums are on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, between Downtown and Central Austin. The beautiful campus is great for strolling between art and science museums and taking in the many outdoor public art pieces. The music and theater departments are also well-regarded and have performances going on throughout the year. Congress Avenue cuts through the center of the city and is also the go-to spot for eclectic art galleries, museums and Texas pride.
Austin is famous for its monster festivals that get the whole city out partying in the streets. All of the neighborhoods have smaller festivals and block parties year round, but occasionally the whole city shuts down to accommodate visitors from around the country and world. When traveling to Austin for festivals, booking hotels and making restaurant reservations early in advance is essential.
Austin is a great city for theater, especially if you like new works.
Austin is the "Live Music Capital of the World". If you're into the bar and club scene, head to Sixth Street during the later hours for a wide selection of venues, many of which also feature live music. A note of interest regarding Austin clubs and bars: a new smoking ban prohibits smoking in any public building, including these establishments.
Enjoying the Outdoors
Austin has a reputation for being one of the fittest cities in the country. Year round warm weather encourages people to get outside and get active. Lake Travis is just 40 minutes to the west of the city and offers jet skis, motorboats, ziplines and other adrenaline fueled activities. Lake Austin on the way to Lake Travis has boat tours and jet skis as well.
The Austin Steam Train Association, , runs several tours aboard the Hill Country Flyer steam train into and around Texas Hill Country. The train makes short half hour jaunts as well as a 30 mile (50km) circuit on weekends March through December. The Steam Train Association does actually own a live steam train, but it has been out of commission since about 2000. The train still runs though, just using a borrowed diesel engine. It is still nice, but not as attractive as it used to be.
The University of Texas at Austin is one of the best universities in the world, public or private. The flagship institution of the University of Texas System, it is also one of the largest universities in the world, both in terms of endowment, and in terms of student population. UT has been the largest university in the United States, but has intentionally limited enrollment and now ranks in the top five nationally. The red-tiled roofs of the "Forty Acres," as it is known, shelter many cultural and entertainment institutions. The campus is beautiful and vibrant, and visitors are welcome.
Austin is a college town as well as a government and high-tech center. It draws its population from all over, and many students decide to stay. This gives Austin a high level of general education and a diverse cultural scene.
In addition to being the state capital of Texas, Austin also has a large concentration of technology companies based in the area with Dell, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Electronic Arts, National Instruments, Apple, Xerox, Silicon Labs, Facebook, eBay, Powerhouse Animation Studios, and Freescale Semiconductor all having a significant presence in the area. The proliferation of technology companies in the area has led to the region's nickname, "Silicon Hills". Austin is also emerging as a hub for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and the city was ranked by the Milken Institute as the No.12 biotech and life science center in the United States. In addition to national and global corporations, Austin features a strong network of independent, unique, locally owned firms and organizations.
The city’s motto of “Keep Austin Weird” permeates a lot of the shopping to be found. Shopping districts are packed with cool boutiques and locally owned retail locations. There are places both within the city and a short drive from downtown for a commercial mall experience, with national chain stores and more high end designers.
East Austin is now the go-to spot for all the city’s cool kids. Just a short mile from Downtown, it’s considered the diverse and eclectic side of town. Established neighborhood stores with stylish designers are frequently filled with locals as well as visitors to the city. Along with new galleries, cocktail bars and eateries, some of the coolest new retail locations have set up on the east side of the city. Plenty of food trucks and bar patios are available to round out visitors’ shopping itineraries. The district is particularly bustling in the evenings, and once a month galleries are open late for gallery walks and events so shoppers can purchase one-of-a-kind Austin art on their way to dinner and drinks.
South Congress is great for window shopping, the avenue is filled with independent retailers, antique shops and eclectic boutiques. On the first Thursday of the month the stores stay open until 10pm for evening shoppers. The district is a great place to start for first time visitors to experience classic Austin. Locals fill the avenue during nights and weekends, browsing the vintage shops before heading out to dinner or catching a show at one of the music venues. Parking can be difficult in the district, so visitors should wear comfortable shoes. South Congress still offers a lot to travelers who don’t have extra room in their suitcase for shopping. Museums dedicated to Texan culture, unique gallery spaces and totally one-of-a-kind architecture are all packed onto the avenue.
2nd Street’s claim to fame is “Where Texas Warmth Meets Austin Cool”. Sports, cosmetics, home accessories and high end designers are all making their way to the up-and-coming 2nd Street shopping district. As with most of Austin, the focus is on local makers so products are uniquely Texan. The district has no end of live music events and street festivals that focus on community, so visitors get to step into local culture while shopping. This district has an urban feel that’s saturated with Austin’s laid back vibe.
The ‘‘‘University of Texas at Austin’’’ is a big part of Austin culture, and visitors who want to sport their ‘‘‘Longhorn’’’ pride can swing by the campus to pick up apparel and accessories in the school’s infamous burnt-orange. [[ Austin/UT and the Drag|The Drag]] borders the campus and a visit to the hip district is a nice way to wrap up a visit to the school's museums and public art. The area is packed with college students and amongst the expected coffee shops and inexpensive restaurants there are funky shops and a weekend art market.
Austin is home of the original and the world headquarters of Whole Foods. Their flagship store is located downtown at W. 6th St. and Lamar, in the same building as their brand-new corporate headquarters. They have several other stores around town as well. The flagship store is a destination in and of itself.
Austin is also home to the original Central Market, near Lamar and 38th St., and a second location at Lamar and Westgate, down south. Both have live music in their dining areas on weekends.
Both Whole Foods and Central Market have a large selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, wines, beer, cheese, free-range meats, and seafood. The Whole Foods flagship store downtown and the 38th St. Central Market locations have a varied selection of gelato. The "mothership" Whole Foods (as locals call it) is the largest in its chain, boasting six mini-restaurants with dishes prepared to order (seafood, vegetarian, BBQ, Italian, Asian, and pizza). Spirits live music at night, a ice rink on top (during the winter months) and much, much more.
Trader Joes  211 Walter Seaholm Dr Ste 100,Open Daily 8AM-9PM has a store located in Downtown Austin that is very convienient for those who are staying downtown and has a large selection of vegetarian and vegan products.
Wheatsville Food Co-op  3101 Guadalupe, Austin TX 78705, Open Daily 9AM-11PM. Wheatsville is now a thriving cooperative grocery and has been around for over 30 years. Their focus on food issues guaranteed an excellent selection of ethically produced products including organics, vegetarian, vegan, free range meats and eggs, fair trade, household items, bulk foods and a full service deli. The store is a much smaller than the large supermarkets and provides a much more personal grocery experience. "King of the Hill" made fun of the earnestness of the place with by having Hank eat "faux fu" (a more ethical form of tofu) from the place.
Austin also features a large variety of ethnic grocery stores, including Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and, of course, Mexican.
There are several antique stores on South Congress.
Throughout all districts in the city, food trucks are some of the best places to get bold, unpretentious grub. Bar patios, parks and places with ample window shopping are great locations to find and sample food trucks. There are over 2,000 trucks out and about in Austin at any given time and they can frequently be found clustering together in hip “trailer parks”. Several blogs and social media accounts track the appearance of these trailer parks so they’re easy to find.
Java fanatics will feel right at home in Austin amongst the hundreds of coffee shops throughout the city. On South Congress independent cafes are packed all day, many of them selling not only homemade pastries but also breakfast tacos and burritos. Naturally, live music comes with every cup and local singer/songwriters are always part of the daily coffee shop scene.
A unique aspect of Austin culture is dining in grocery stores. Far from national chains, the grocery meccas in the city have large dining areas with indoor and outdoor seating. There’s usually live music to go along with shopping and dining. Food offerings are healthy and diverse, and typically inexpensive.
No trip to Austin would be complete without sampling as much barbecue you can stand. There are plenty of great joints throughout the city, but for barbeque memories to last a lifetime a short trip outside the city is worth the car ride. The barbecue capital of Texas is just 30 miles to the south of Austin — the small town of Lockhart has multiple landmark restaurants. To the southwest, Driftwood has world famous barbecue just 25 miles from the city and attracts Austin residents on the weekends who frequently make a day of the trip.
Downtown Austin has filled out in recent years with great restaurants. The focus is mainly on places to grab an after-work drink and dinner. Bistros, and American grills with a supper club atmosphere are plentiful throughout the district. East Austin has a mix of Tex-Mex and farm-to-table and other trendy spots. Most spots have outdoor seating, great patios and plenty of people watching. West Austin has a lot of upscale and fine dining options, many with beautiful sunset views of the city. There’s still plenty of pizza and burger joints in the district for the more casually inclined. The Drag next to the University of Texas at Austin is the place to go for quick, casual and affordable.
South Congress has the long-standing Austin landmarks that appear on almost every top ten restaurant list. Visitors don’t need to have a plan in this district, but can easily wander and find plenty of places to eat in the mile-long drag.
Downtown stays pretty happening during the weekends but during the week the local crowd packs the district. Downtown is also home to one of the main shopping districts in the city, so its upscale watering holes are a great place to celebrate and recuperate after a successful day of retail therapy. The Warehouse District on the southern edge of Downtown is home to the city’s LGBT scene, but the hip repurposed warehouses also draw a diverse crowd to their bars, cafes and galleries.
The best spot for local and laid back, Rainey Street is tucked away on the banks of the Colorado River. Charming bungalows have been converted into easygoing bars and restaurants. Beer gardens filled with babies and dogs make this district feel more like hanging in a friend’s backyard than a wild night on the town. It makes for a great place for day drinking and to kill a couple hours relaxing between cultural attractions.
For travelers that go hard or go home, Red River district is a three-block radius of the best nightclubs, concerts and party bars in the city. With so many historic and infamous venues, visitors would do well to check concert calendars and grab tickets before their trip. Right next to the Warehouse District in Downtown. travelers can ease into their evening with cocktails or beers before heading out to hit the clubs.
More subdued nightlife enthusiasts shouldn’t discard the Red River district though. 6th Street runs through the Market District into Red River and is filled with boutique bars, upscale dining and watering holes. The street is frequently packed with locals and tourists alike who are bar hopping, killing time before a show or catching a set.
For travelers who like to be on the cutting edge of hip new scenes, East Austin is a must-visit. Boutique eateries and bars are sprouting up throughout the historic and established neighborhood. Mixology spots and dive bars operate side by side, with townies and hipsters meeting across pool tables. Food trucks, honky tonk, and of course live music and dancing can be all be found in this fast growing district.
To experience old school Austin before it became the hangout for all the country’s cool kids, head to South Congress. Long established boutiques and cafes stay busy during the day, with bars and restaurants coming alive after dark. Travelers can snag a local microbrew on draft and overhear locals tell stories that all begin “I remember when…”.
Austin is coffee mad. The coffeehouse culture is strong and growing here in Austin, and you can hear poetry and live music at quite a few of these places, as well as getting light eats. Coffeehouses are where the liberal heart of Austin beats for all to see. Free wireless Internet connections are very common (and available at many other businesses as well).
Austin's main strip is on 6th Street downtown. Just this one street has something for everyone: West 6th (approx. west of San Antonio St) is people with a little money to throw around - think Dallas. Dirty 6th (approx. Brazos St to I-35) is a melting pot of college kids, out of towners, and other people who aren't looking for a lowkey night - basically Austin's Bourbon St. East 6th (starts east of I-35) is mildly grungey hipster bars. Rainey Street is a collection of midscale houses-turned-bars. The newest addition to the scene is the area around E. Cesar Chavez, where rapid gentrification is producing $15 cocktail joints.
Most grocery stores (especially HEB and Central Market) and a surprising number of convenience stores carry a generous variety of Texas beer. There are several microbreweries operating in Texas, and you can expect to find their beer at outlets with moderate to wide selections:
There are also a number of small brewpubs serving their own house-brewed beers to the local cognoscienti. These include:
Gay and Lesbian
Most gay and lesbian bars and night clubs are located downtown with the highest concentration in the Warehouse district.
There are plenty of low cost hotels throughout Austin. However, during big events, costs go up across the board. When traveling on a budget, scheduling a trip during the off season and in-between festivals is the best way to save some money. Plenty of budget hotels are clustered around Interstate 35 and are conveniently located for a quick commute to all of Austin’s districts. Downtown also has a number of cheap places to stay for those who aren’t planning on having a vehicle during their stay.
Road trippers and rustics may be interested in the number of RV parks and campsites in the area around Austin. ‘’’McKinney Falls State Park’’’ has plenty of campsites and is right off Interstate 35 and a quick commute to South Congress. ‘’’Lake Travis’’’ is further out from the city but has more picturesque campsites and may be a good option for those just passing through Austin.
Austin has over a dozen ‘’’bed & breakfasts’’’ for travelers who prefer personalized and charming places to stay. Mostly priced in the mid-range, a majority of the B&B’s are located in Downtown and the West End part of the city. They focus on locally sourced homemade cuisine, the walkability of their locations and the opportunity to connect with locals and fellow guests.
Finding a mid-range hotel in Austin doesn’t automatically mean having to stay at a national chain. The city is filled with vintage, rehabbed and boutique hotels. Downtown, West End and South Congress have a number of options. But those who prefer the predictability of a corporate stay, Interstate 35 is lined with ‘’’Best Westerns’’’, ‘’’Holiday Inns’’’ and ‘’’Hyatts’’’; all within a quick drive of cultural attractions and Downtown.
If you like private and local experiences, there are plenty of vacation homes for rent in Austin. Those who are headed to the city for a festival or special event might consider renting a home instead of trying to book a hotel during the busy times of the year. Rental homes are also frequently in the middle of the night life and commercial districts in the city, making them much more convenient for those who are planning on getting around by pedicab more than car.
Austin has unparalleled luxury ‘’’resorts’’’ for those who need the luxury package when traveling. Several resorts are near ‘’’Lake Travis’’’, immersing guests in nature while still close to the city for nightlife, live music and culture. Those who just want to dip a toe in luxury can frequent the ‘’’spas’’’ attached to many of the Downtown and West End resorts.
Austin is a generally safe city. As with most American cities, credit cards are accepted nearly universally, especially for nightlife, and 6th Street and Congress usually have ATM's in multiple areas - as do most bars and clubs - if you must have cash. Therefore, for convenience and safety, do not carry large amounts of cash. Remember to lock your car when parking and do not leave valuables visible from outside the car. The number for police, fire, and medical services is 911.
There is generally a large, visible police presence (mounted, foot, and cruiser) at night in the 6th Street area. They are quite willing to let belligerent drunks dry out overnight in the city jail. They, however, provide a safe and secure area to enjoy yourself and Austin's famous live music.
There is an area near 7th Street and the Red River district that houses a large homeless shelter known as the Arch. This area is generally safe during the day but often filled with panhandlers and homeless citizens at night. Most of them are docile and will often ask for a donation, but some can be fairly aggressive and have been known to follow people travelling alone. In addition, groups of muggers sometimes target drunks leaving the bar scene alone in that area.
Because surrounding hills concentrate the water, some streets in Austin and the surrounding area are prone to flooding during periods of heavy rain. These areas are typically marked as low water crossings but in any event, do not drive or walk across moving water. Each year several people are killed as they are swept away by flooding. You will also see many flood control structures built into the landscape. Small, dry low places with bounding berms during the dry season, these are dangerous places to be in, but keep Austin safer when the rains come. As the locals say, "Turn Around, Don't Drown".
Coyote sightings near greenbelts in Austin are increasing as the adaptable animals discover that the developed urban landscape provides many sources of food. The most serious problem with the urbanization of coyotes is that they adapt to being around people. As they lose their fear, coyotes become bolder and attacks on pets and children are known to occur in the city. Coyotes are active mainly during the nighttime, but they can be moving at any time during the day. Most sightings of coyotes occur during the hours close to sunrise and sunset. Should you encounter a coyote, animate your behavior, raise your arms, yell, hoop and holler throw rocks and sticks to let them know you are bigger than they are and would make for a bad choice for a target. To report aggressive behavior toward people or pets, call 3-1-1. Call 9-1-1 to report a coyote attack on a human.
Residents of Texas are allowed to carry concealed firearms after completing training and a thorough background check.
The huge size of Texas can make it hard to daytrip between the major cities. To the north, Dallas is a four hour drive, Houston is three hours to the west, and San Antonio is a more reasonable hour and a half to the south. However, Austin is surrounded by several beautiful state parks and smaller towns that are worth a stop when heading out of the city or to add a day trip to your stay.