Updated February, 2023
Chances are, you've heard a thing or two about "bat city," the beloved capital of the lone star state of Texas. It's no hidden secret that Austin has major appeal to all types of people. Whether you are a techie, foodie, cat-lady, or hippie, Austin likely has something for you. If you’re planning on moving to Austin in 2018, or if you’re just thinking of moving to Austin, we want to help. Here at Bellhops, we’ve put together the top 21 things that you need to know about living in the ATX (by the way, we are movers in Austin). Also, if you're interested in Texas, but not sure if Austin is right for you, check out our guide on moving to Texas.
East Austin: Eclectic and Popular
East Austin has evolved immensely over the last decade and especially over the last few years. The present East Austin is bustling with energy and activity. East 6th is a highly walkable strip of unique bars and restaurants that you won't find anywhere else. You may even see a couple of cowboys on horseback riding around. This area has been voted #7 Hippest Hipster Neighborhood in Forbes Magazine. The word "hipster" may suggest a certain vibe that not everyone cares for, so let’s just think of it as #7 based on walkability, coffee shops, food trucks, and locally owned bars and restaurants. If you venture further southeast near east Riverside, you will likely find more affordable deals. The area is up and coming with popular hangout spots like Jackalope and Buzzmill taking the spotlight in this area. It would be wise to get in this area before it’s too expensive. This area is in great proximity to downtown and major highways, such as I-35 and Ben White Blvd. We would advise you to do a little research and scope out an area you are interested in, because while some spots can be a little sketchy the overall scene is changing for the better.
Luxe living at primo prices is what you can expect to find downtown. If you prefer to be surrounded by entertainment and restaurants galore you really can't go wrong here--as long as you don't mind the price tag. Another consideration here is the traffic--driving can be pretty crazy downtown (or anywhere) due to limited parking spaces and unlimited people trying to get around. Town Lake runs through the heart of the city and is one main attraction for outdoor enthusiasts as well as those just looking to go for a stroll. You can enjoy walking to the congress bridge and watching a mesmerizing sunset over town lake. And don't forget to catch the famous Austin bats fly out for their nightly hunt. Austin is home to the largest urban population of Mexican free-tailed bats in North America. Their impressive colony is located just under the Congress bridge, and they can be viewed in large swarms flying at sunset from March through November.
Once you cross over Town Lake you will find yourself in South Austin. South Austin is hip, unique, and family friendly. Home and apartment prices in the popular 78704 zip code are the most expensive, but you can find more affordable living the further south you go. South Congress or "SOCO" is the popular strip of restaurants, live music, and shopping. Home of Jo’s Coffee, Continental Club, and Home Slice Pizza just to name a few; you won’t be disappointed with this area. West of SOCO is South 1st and South Lamar that run parallel to one another. These two are unique areas where you can find local small businesses and entertainment like Alamo Drafthouse, The Saxon Pub, and the legendary Broken Spoke. The one downfall again is the traffic--the roads are fairly small so they can easily get pretty congested.
If you head West, the landscape turns to rolling hills and scenic drives. Lake Travis is just a 30-minute drive from Austin, where you will find a picturesque view of mansions on hillsides overlooking the lake. West Austin is among the more expensive real estate, though renters can find decent enough prices. West lake is a wealthy and reputable area with impeccable schools and sports programs. If you take a drive down loop 360, you will come across the beautiful Pennybacker bridge that crosses the Colorado river. West Austin is popular with families and those who want to be by the lake, and it’s a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city and where you can truly enjoy the natural beauty of Central Texas.
Rainey Street is a popular destination just south of Cesar Chavez street. This area is basically a neighborhood that was converted into bars and restaurants, which means that you can easily walk from one end to the other and be surrounded by endless options of craft beer, cocktails, and food trucks. Your best bet is to get a cab or one of the ride-share options available since parking is limited.
There are three very different sections of 6th street you need to know about. West 6th runs west from Congress Avenue and consists of higher end restaurants and bars. Popular bars include The Dogwood (a dog-friendly establishment), Little Woodrow’s, and Key Bar to name a few. A few amazing restaurants include Clark’s Oyster Bar, Winflo--a great live music spot, and Italic, a rustic Italian restaurant.
Dirty 6th- Dirty 6th is the 6th street that your mother warned you about (that is, if your mother was ever specific enough in her warnings to single out a specific part of 6th street). This area is the famous 6th street that is completely shut down to cars on the weekends. Lined with bars on both sides and full of visitors who always want to see “6th St,” this is where you’ll find the young partiers and college students. We recommend seeing this area once just for fun and then avoiding it at all costs. It is a scene to be seen, but mostly it’s just a tourist attraction.
East 6th- East 6th refers to the area east of I-35--a very popular spot among musicians and those “in the know.” We hate to use the term “hipster,” but it was christened as such by Forbes. The White Horse is an east side Honky tonk, filled with old and new movers and groovers. Catch nightly live music and even a free swing dance lesson on Wednesdays. Hotel Vegas is a favorite among local musicians and has a huge outdoor sitting/drinking area and a food truck for those late night snacks.
Outdoor Activities: Something for Everyone
Town Lake is the perfect place to get your "outdoors" on while still in the city. Austinites flock to the 10 Miles of hike and bike trails surrounding Town Lake. Kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding are also fun options you can enjoy on the lake; just stop by one of the many rental places nearby to sign up! Boat cruises are a fun way to see Austin from a different point of view. You can take a special bat tour to see the famous bat colony under the Congress Bridge, and, if bats aren't your thing, there are several good sightseeing tours as well.
The Greenbelt, as you will probably hear it referred to, is a 7.25 mile stretch of public land. It begins at Zilker Park and extends south/southwest to the end that is commonly called the “Hill of Life” which ends in the woods of a Westlake Subdivision.
There are multiple access points to the Greenbelt, so be sure to find the one that works best for you. There are also a few swimming areas (as long as there’s been enough rain), such as Sculpture Falls, that are both impressive and necessary during our hot Texas summers.
Located inside of Zilker Park, Barton Springs is a natural pool fed by underwater springs that maintains a temperature of 68-70 degrees year round. This is a loved and cherished attraction for Austinites. It attracts all walks of life and serves as the perfect summer destination.
Shopping in Austin, Texas
Located in central-north Austin, North Loop is a strip of fun vintage stores and bars that are located within walking distance of each other. Room Service Vintage is a dream for vintage furniture and home decor lovers. They have an outstanding collection of top notch finds- like pendant lights, rugs, clothing, jewelry, and furniture. Follow them on Instagram for first dibs on the latest finds. Revival Vintage is another favorite; with stellar clothing, home decor, and furniture. The store also hosts Revival Sunday Market, which is a monthly Pop-up shop featuring local artists and vintage vendors. The store's selection is curated with style and precision. You will also find select handmade goods from local artisans such as pins, plant hangers, crochet cactus art, and more. North Loop has some great little watering holes as well, such as Work Horse, Drink.Well, and Tigress Pub.
The main shopping area on Burnet runs from 44th Street to North Loop Blvd. The IBIZ Lo-Burn (Lower Burnet) district is dedicated to supporting and promoting unique local businesses. A-Town is a great little store with a large selection of locally made artisan jewelry, body care, clothing, and home decor. This store is our favorite for finding one-of-a-kind gifts. And, once you find that special gift, they’ll even gift wrap it for you. This area is full of locally owned thrift stores, vintage boutiques, collectibles, antiques, and more.
The Domain is a huge shopping destination featuring a selection of upscale stores as well as more affordable favorites like H&M. A recent addition to the area called Rock Rose is a hot spot for young professionals and entrepreneurs. High-quality shopping, bars, and restaurants within walking distance make for the perfect night out here.
Art, Culture, and the Killer Austin Music Scene
Blanton Museum of Art
Located on the campus of the University of Texas, the Blanton Museum of Art is the primary art collection for the city of Austin. With nearly 18,000 works in the collection, the Blanton showcases art from across the ages, from ancient Greek pottery to abstract expressionism. With a year-round schedule of temporary exhibitions, art lovers are sure to discover new and old favorites at the Blanton.
The Contemporary Austin has two architecturally unique locations that offer multidisciplinary exhibitions. The Jones Center is the downtown location. Set in a recently renovated historic building, visitors can experience the vibrancy of downtown and explore contemporary art in different forms. The Laguna Gloria offers a different way to experience art through nature, history, and sculptures. Set in a historic 1916 Italianate-style Driscoll Villa surrounded by the Betty and Edward Marcus sculpture gardens. Drop in tours take place every Saturday and Sunday at 1 pm.
The Red River Cultural District runs from the 600 to 900 blocks of Red River and is packed with top notch music venues such as Stubbs, Mohawk, and Cheerup Charlies. This is a very popular area in the Austin music scene, especially for the hipster-types. If you branch off of Red River to 7th Street you will find more popular venue choices like Empire Control Room and Barracuda, which have both been consistently providing great live shows lately.
Tacos in Austin are a way of life! You can literally eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast tacos are especially popular in the Austin area--something you may not be used to. But trust us, these things are the real deal. One of the top places to get your taco fix would have to be the famous Torchy’s Tacos where former President Obama stopped in for a bite. With an impressive 13 locations in Austin alone, you can surely find one wherever you happen to live. Taco Deli is another great taco spot, offering a diverse menu of breakfast and lunch tacos (including vegetarian options!).
Austin Food Trucks
Food trucks are huge in Austin, and usually, you can find an area with a variety to choose from. It's the perfect addition to your night out when you are already bar hopping. Some of the more popular trucks you can find are East Side Kings, Chi’lantro, Hey Cupcake, and Torchy’s just to name a few. To find every other food truck in Austin (including the ones we just mentioned!) check out Roaming Hunger.
Do 512 is a great online resource with the best info on what is going on in this bustling city. It’s a particularly great resource during SXSW, allowing you to see what shows are free and which are official (i.e., they require you to have the wristband). It can be hard to know what all is happening on a daily basis in Austin; let Do-512 be your guide for keeping up. Daily live music, top shows, happy hours, and family activities, are just a few categories to get you started in this "big little" city.
ACL, SXSW, and Fun Fun Fun Fest are huge festivals that take place every year in Austin. The population of the city grows seemingly exponentially while these festivals are in town, and in our experience, you will either love it or hate it. It’s a time when some folks just leave the city and rent out their place. Traffic is already an issue in Austin with only two major highways traveling North and South-- couple this with thousands of people flocking to the city and it’s probably not hard to see why some people decide to just leave the city during festival time. It’s the price we pay to live in this great city, and it’s likely something you’ll want to be aware of when choosing your new neighborhood. On the other hand, it is really amazing to be able to attend these festivals in your own backyard.
Even good things go bad, and with the great influx of new residents, traffic in Austin is only getting worse and worse. Unfortunately, the transportation infrastructure just wasn't made to handle this kind of growth. When choosing a place to live, it’s worth seriously considering your expected commute time to and from work, as this is probably the biggest complaint people have about living in Austin. However, with all the amazing positives Austin has to offer, traffic is the only real downfall we find.
There really is something special about Austin and we’re pretty confident that you'll love living here. We hope this guide gives you a little insider’s insight into what Austin has to offer. If you decide to take the plunge and move to Austin, don't hesitate to reach out to your friends at Bellhop. We coordinate local and long distance moving services in Austin and we would love to help.
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