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Updated: May 2, 2021
Best Areas to Stay in Austin
Austin is the state capital of Texas and known as the Live Music Capital of the World. There are more than 250 live music venues in the city, showcasing everything from rock and blues to country and jazz nightly. Beyond the music and nightlife, Austin is an outdoorsy city with parks, river access, and lots of trails for hiking and biking. It’s also a foodie town known for barbecue, tacos, Kolaches (breakfast pastry), frito pie, queso, and great food trucks.
The official nickname for Austin is “Violet Crown City,” which refers to a purplish light that appears over the hills on winter evenings; the fun-loving and eclectic city’s unofficial slogan is “Keep Austin Weird.”
Downtown Austin is known for its late-19th-century architectural landmarks, including the Texas State Capitol (1888) and the Driskill Hotel (1886). One of the most popular things to do during a visit is to head to Congress Avenue Bridge (known as bat bridge) at dusk to watch the bats fly out from beneath the bridge into the night sky.
The Colorado River runs through downtown Austin and into Lady Bird Lake (which is not a true lake, but rather a dammed portion of the river). The area around Lady Bird Lake is great for enjoying kayaking, hiking, biking, or a stroll through the Zilker Botanical Gardens. Museums include the Bullock Texas State History Museum, Blanton Museum of Art, UMLAUF Sculpture Garden and Museum, Harry Ransom Center, and LBJ Presidential Library. Austin is also home to the Museum of the Weird which features an array of curios & oddities.
Austin offers great options for families such as the Texas Toy Museum, Austin Nature & Science Center, the dinosaur exhibit at Texas Memorial Museum, Zilker Park waterfalls at the Botanical Garden, and of course seeing the bats fly out from under the Congress Avenue bridge.
Austin has an incredible restaurant, bar, and beer scene. You’ll find 58 local craft breweries in downtown Austin and the metro area. Some of the most popular breweries are the Brewtorium, Austin Beerworks, Blue Owl Brewing, and Zilker Brewing Co.
The best Austin neighborhoods for visitors include Downtown, South Congress (SOCO), Zilker, and East Austin.
Staying Downtown offers the most for travelers as it’s fairly easy to walk or take a short Uber ride to all major sites. Downtown Austin sits on the north bank of the Colorado River and spans the area from Lamar Boulevard on the west to Interstate 35 to the east, and from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and the University of Texas at Austin to Lady Bird Lake.
Within downtown, there are several sub-districts that are the heavy-hitters of the city’s entertainment and nightlife:
- 6th Street is the biggest nightlife district and live-music hub of the city – a party-zone district filled with restaurants, bars, and shops. There are three sections of Sixth Street in Austin: West, East and what locals refer to as Dirty Sixth; the original entertainment section of the street including those venues between Congress Avenue and I-35.
- Rainey Street, in the southern area of downtown near the river, is where you’ll find colorful historic homes that have been converted into restaurants and bars. This is considered a party zone, and one of Austin’s trendiest areas.
- The 2nd Street District is known as downtown Austin’s shopping hub. The street is also home to many of Austin’s downtown hotels and a good selection of restaurants.
East Austin, sitting across the freeway from Downtown, is known for its artistic and eclectic vibe and is home to some of the best street art in the city, art galleries, and food trucks.
South Congress Avenue (SOCO), located south of the Colorado River and stretching about 2 to 5 miles from downtown, is one of Austin’s trendiest neighborhoods and known for its unique independent shops, galleries, and antique shops.
The Zilker neighborhood is located three miles south of Downtown and defined by the massive Zilker Park with its green space with access to walking and biking trails.
The best hotels in Austin are mostly focused in the downtown districts and it’s easy to find great accommodations ranging from budget to luxury. Popular luxury hotels in Austin include Archer Hotel Austin, JW Marriott Austin, and Lake Austin Spa Resort. The Driskill was built in 1886 and is Austin’s oldest hotel. The Driskill is also known as the most haunted hotel in Austin.
The best times to visit Austin are September to November or March to May, when 70s and 80s are average daytime temperatures. Texas summers can be intense as temperatures climb into the mid to high 90s with high humidity beginning in June and lasting through August.
Best Places to Stay in Austin
- Best Luxury Hotels in Austin
The Four Seasons • The Driskill • Fairmont Austin
- Best Boutique Hotels in Austin
Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt • Heywood Hotel • Archer Hotel • The Carpenter
- Best Cheap & Midrange Hotels in Austin
Aiden by Best Western • Austin Motel • Holiday Inn Austin • Hotel Indigo • Omni Austin
- Best Family Hotels in Austin
The Four Seasons • South Congress Hotel
- Best Hostels in Austin
Firehouse Hostel • Drifter Jack’s Hostel
Best Neighborhoods in Austin for…
- Best Neighborhood in Austin to Stay for First Timer: Downtown
If it’s your first time in Austin, Downtown is a great choice as it’s a very central location. Downtown Austin is the heart of the city and you can easily walk to museums, the State Capital building, restaurants, and bars. Hotels tend to run from moderate to expensive. The Driskill Hotel is located on 6th Street, in the heart of downtown and not only is it a historic landmark, it is also said the suites in the 1886 wing are haunted.
- Best Neighborhood in Austin for Sightseeing: Downtown
When it comes to sightseeing, Downtown Austin is packed with historic landmarks such as the Texas State Capitol, great restaurants, and many of the city’s top tourist attractions. Downtown puts you walking distance to restaurants like Stubbs BBQ and eclectic shops along Congress Avenue. You’ll also find popular venues like Austin City Limits Live at The Moody Theater as well as many others on both Rainey Street and 6th Street. Accommodations are a combination of high-end luxury, boutique hotels, and some budget hotels.
- Best Areas in Austin for Nightlife: 6th Street, Rainey Street (Downtown)
6th street is the epicenter of Austin’s nightlife and where the majority of college kids flock to on the weekend. That said, Rainey Street is considered the hip place to hang out; here you’ll find rows of bungalow homes have been transformed into whiskey bars, beer gardens, outdoor patios. The Broken Spoke is one of Texas’ most classic dance halls, but you can find more honky-tonk dance clubs such as The White Horse, Giddy Up’s, and Poodie’s Hilltop Roadhouse. Austin has a lot of rooftop bars where you can enjoy craft cocktails and city views. Some of the more popular rooftop bars are Parkside, Azul at the Westin, P6, and The Upside. Established in 1866, Scholz Garten is Texas’ oldest bar, as well as the oldest operating biergarten in the whole country.
- Best Neighborhood in Austin for Food and Restaurants: Downtown
Texas BBQ is a must when you visit Austin. There are BBQ joints throughout the city and many located downtown. Franklin’s (located on 11th Street) is the most famous and be prepared, because they are known to have lines around the block. The Rainey Street district has some of the best ethnic restaurants in the city.
- Best Neighborhood in Austin for Families: Zilker
If you are visiting Austin with your family, the Zilker neighborhood is a great choice. It’s located just three miles South of Downtown via Lamar Blvd. Zilker Park includes 350 acres of green space with access to walking and biking trails. Family-friendly activities include the Barton Springs three-acre pool, the Taniguchi Japanese Garden at the Zilker Botanical Garden, and much more. Zilker also has some great restaurants and food trucks as well as live music spots. There is an abundance of things to keep the whole family happy in the Zilker neighborhood.
- Most Romantic Neighborhood in Austin: Throughout
Austin is filled with Romantic hotels and the Miraval Austin Resort & Spa tops the list. Miraval is an upscale all-inclusive wellness resort located on 220 acres of protected forests with luxury amenities. Other romantic hotels include Hotel Ella, a classic Greek-Revival mansion with wrap-around porches and The Fairview which is a historic home turned into a hotel just a few blocks from central downtown in a quiet neighborhood. There is nothing more romantic than sipping a cocktail at sunset in a rocking chair on the front porch of the Fairview. Austin’s SOCO district is a popular place for couples to enjoy the trendy side of Austin and a romantic night on the town. III Forks is one of the most romantic spots in Austin. Choose a seat at the piano bar and enjoy some of the city’s best steaks and seafood. Eddie V’s, Siena Ristorante Toscana, Jeffrey’s, Olamaie, Juniper, Péché, and Blue Dahlia Bistro all offer a romantic ambiance and fantastic food. Azul Rooftop Pool Bar + Lounge, located on the 20th floor of The Westin Austin Downtown is the highest rooftop bar in the city and has the best views of the downtown skyline. A truly romantic spot to enjoy a cocktail is the historic mahogany Cedar Tavern bar. After, visit their speakeasy-esque room with a two-way mirror and hidden entrance. For an outdoorsy romantic experience, take a stroll in Zilker Park and enjoy the gardens, streams, waterfalls, ponds and Botanical Gardens.
- Best Neighborhood in Austin for a Local Vibe: East Austin
The East Side is known for its artistic and eclectic vibe. The boundaries of East Austin include IH-35, Lady Bird Lake, Manor Road, and Springdale Road. Some of Austin’s best happy hours, food trucks, taco shops, and restaurants are located here. East Austin is home to some of the best street art in the city; on walls, wrapped around telephone poles, abandoned houses, sidewalks, and on electrical boxes. There are numerous galleries and East Austin is the location of the biggest art event in the city called EAST (happens every November). East Austin is where you’ll find the famous Franklin Barbecue as well as numerous other bbq restaurants including favorites such as La Barbecue and Mickelthwait. For vegan and vegetarian options check out Counter Culture, Vegan Nom, and Veracruz All Natural. Via 313 is the spot on the East Side for Detroit-style pizza and try Cisco’s for authentic Tex-Mex. East Austin’s craft beer scene is impressive and home to Zilker Brewing and Hops & Grain. Another must, is the White Horse for a Texas honky tonk live music experience.
- Best Areas in Austin for Shopping: 2nd Street, Congress, or Domain (Downtown)
Located in the heart of downtown Austin, 2nd Street is the city’s most popular shopping area. The 2nd Street District is a mix of local retail, restaurants, and entertainment venues. It’s a walkable area and an easy stroll from many downtown hotels. There are many local shops as well as a few chain stores. Visit Toy Joy for unique toys and novelty items, the Austin General Store for upscale gifts and housewares as well as many clothing boutiques. The area also has plenty of restaurants; many with sidewalk tables if you want to grab a bite after shopping. 2nd Street is quieter and less crowded than Congress and parking is easier if you have a car. The Domain neighborhood is about 15 minutes from downtown and features 100+ upscale and mainstream retail stores and restaurants.
- The Best Restaurants in Austin
The best places to eat in Austin are scattered throughout the city. A few locals favorites are Loro, DipDipDip Tatsu-ya, Comedor, Emmer & Rye, Kemuri Tatsu-ya, Clark’s Oyster Bar, Rosewood, and La Barbecue. For breakfast, head to Little Ola’s Biscuits where James Beard Award finalist Chef Michael Fojtasek is known for the best Southern food including biscuit sandwiches and chicken fried steak. If you are looking for a fine dining experience, head to Olamaie for their 16-ounce wagyu ribeye or Wink for an exceptional wine list and their famous black truffle macaroni and cheese. Food trucks are worth seeking out in Austin. Veracruz All Natural serves the best tacos, The Peached Tortilla is known for Southern-Asian comfort food and their Hainan chicken, and Patrizi’s food truck is known for the freshest pasta in Austin.
- Best Rooftop Bars
Austin has a lot of rooftop patios where you can enjoy craft cocktails and city views. Some of the more popular rooftop bars are Parkside, Azul at the Westin, P6, and The Upside. Scholz Garten, opened in 1886, is the oldest operating restaurant in Austin. It is a historic landmark and known for beer, brats, and bowling.
- Safest Areas of Austin
Austin’s downtown, especially the tourist areas on 6th Street are safe as far as cities go. The west side is safer than the east, with Old Enfield, Rollingwood, and Hyde Park being Austin’s safest neighborhoods. Standard precautions apply at night, as they do in any city.
- Unsafe Areas of Austin
As a whole, Austin is a safe city. Petty crimes such as theft are the biggest issue you will most likely find in the tourist areas. But, as with any city, there are a few areas that you may want to avoid such as Montopolis, Martin Luther King-Hwy 183, and Saint Johns. There is a homeless shelter downtown at 7th and Neches. Parts of Downtown can be a bit seedy, especially at night such as East Congress. You’re likely to see panhandlers around 2nd Street and other neighborhoods, but that’s the same in any large city. It’s best not to wander around after dark in these areas.
The 7 Best Neighborhoods in Austin for Tourists
Central Downtown Austin is an ideal place to stay for first time visitors. The most popular attraction is the Texas State Capital, which is open to the public and offers free daily tours. The 6th Street Historic District is a must for those seeking nightlife and live music, and there are several additional attractions within easy walking distance of downtown such as The Contemporary Austin, Blanton Museum of Art, The Bullock Texas State History Museum, Willie Nelson statue, and the Harry Ransom Center. From downtown it’s a short walk to the river, where a popular activity is a sunset boat tour to watch the bats fly under Congress Avenue. For a great overview of Austin, the guided Hop On Hop Off Double Decker Sightseeing bus hits all the highlights. Downtown restaurant choices are endless. Some of the most loved are Wu Chow for soup dumplings, and Comedor for modern Mexican food. There is a great Secret Food Tour with Viator that avoids tourist traps and focuses on the best restaurants downtown. There are many choices for hotels downtown, but the most iconic is the Driskill Hotel. Built in 1886 it is Austin’s oldest hotel and said to be the city’s most haunted hotel.
- Best Hotels: InterContinental Stephen F. Austin • Fairmont Downtown Austin • Driskill Hotel
- Best Moderate Hotel Nearby: Hilton Garden Inn
2. 2nd Street District
The 2nd Street District is home to city hall and known as downtown Austin’s shopping hub. Many of Austin’s locally owned shops are in this area such as Luxe Apothetique for women’s fashion, League of Rebels for tailored menswear, Austin Rocks for music-inspired clothes and Austin General Store for all things “Austin”. This part of downtown is close to sights and entertainment including the Austin City Limits concert hall. Austin’s 6th Street entertainment district is a 12-minute walk and Lady Bird Lake, a popular place for walking and biking trails, is a five-minute walk. There are also a lot of great dining options near 2nd Street, such as the award-winning La Condesa for fine Mexican cuisine, Taverna for pizza, III Forks for fine dining, and Lamberts for slow-smoked barbecue, to name just a few. The street is also home to many of Austin’s downtown hotels. The W Austin is by far the trendiest hotel in this part of Downtown.
- Best Hotels: Four Seasons • Austin Proper • W Austin • The Line
- Best Cheap/Moderate Hotel: JW Marriott Austin
While 6th Street is known as the biggest party hangout, Rainey Street is considered the hip place to be. Rainey street is filled with Craftsman-style homes from the ’30s that have been transformed into whiskey bars, beer gardens, outdoor patios, and some of the best ethnic restaurants in the city. Emmer & Rye is consistently voted one of the best restaurants in Austin and serves up great dim sum. Head to G’raj Mahal for Indian, Anthem for Southeast Asian fusion like miso mac and cheese balls, and Via 313 food truck for excellent Detroit-style pizza with a thick and crispy crust. The Container Bar is created out of shipping containers in one of the liveliest courtyards on Rainey. Craft Pride serves most of the local craft beers made in Austin and is known for their happy hour. If you are looking for something a bit swankier, the pool bar at Hotel Van Zandt offers great cocktails and a beautiful city view. There are only a handful of hotels in the neighborhood, but one of the best options is the Fairmont if you want to be near this hip nightlife location.
- Best Hotels: Fairmont Austin • The Line
- Best Cheap/Moderate Hotels: Holiday Inn Austin Town Lake • Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt
SOCO is one of Austin’s trendiest neighborhoods and filled with quirky shops, great restaurants, and a local vibe. It’s located south of the Colorado River and about 2 to 5 miles from downtown. The section of South Congress Avenue between Riverside Drive and Oltorf Street is the most pedestrian-friendly and has the largest concentration of restaurants, unique independent shops, galleries, antique shops, and entertainment venues. The neighborhood is home to one of Austin’s most popular nightlife spots; the legendary Continental Club. There are many restaurants to choose from in SOCO. Two particularly buzzworthy restaurants to visit are Perla’s for their fresh oysters and Güero’s Taco Bar for Tex-Mex. The area is also where you can find one of the best views of the Texas State Capitol and a particularly good place to watch the sunset. South Congress has some great family hotels as well as upscale boutique hotels.
- Best Hotels: South Congress Hotel • Hotel San Jose • Hotel Saint Cecilia
- Best Cheap/Moderate Hotels: Austin Motel • Casulo Hotel
5. East Austin
This is the best area to stay if you enjoy a hipster vibe, love art or prefer a more local experience. East Austin is where you’ll find world-famous Franklin Barbecue. Check out the Milonga Room & Buenos Aires Cafe; known for their Argentine steaks and tapas upstairs and a speakeasy downstairs. For Southern comfort food like fried chicken and shrimp and grits head to Colleen’s Kitchen. The area is also home to some of the city’s most interesting museums. In a circa-1841 building is the French Legation Museum that houses documents of the Republic of Texas era. The George Washington Carver Museum Cultural & Genealogy Center offers a great collection focused on African-American history and culture. East Austin is home to the Tejano Walking Trail; a self-guided tour of more than 20 culturally significant Hispanic sites along East Cesar Chavez. This neighborhood is also home to the Austin Bouldering Project which is the largest bouldering gym in the world.
The Domain neighborhood is located in North Austin and is the center of the city’s tech corridor. It’s known for its boutique shops, dining, and proximity to the Rock Rose nightlife district. The Domain Northside district is about a 15-minute drive from Downtown.
The Domain shopping center features 100 upscale and mainstream retail stores and restaurants including boutique shops, chain retailers as well as high-end shops such as David Yurman, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., and Neiman Marcus. In the Domain shopping area there are four on-site hotels; Westin Austin at The Domain, Lone Star Court, The Archer Hotel, and Aloft Austin. The most family-friendly of these is Lone Star Court with amenities that include a swimming pool, outdoor fire pits, and a workout room.
- Best Hotel: Archer Hotel Austin
- Best Cheap/Moderate Hotels: The Westin Austin at The Domain • Aloft Austin at The Domain • Lone Star Court by Valencia Group
The Zilker neighborhood is great for families and those who love the outdoors. It’s just south of downtown and allows for quick trips to the city sites. The 350 acre Zilker park offers opportunities to get out in the Texas sunshine. The park is a great spot for a picnic or to fly kites. The lake offers rentals for canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards. On warm days, head to the Barton Springs Pool for a swim. Also nearby are the Zilker Botanical Gardens. One fun activity for families is the 25-minute Zilker Zephyr train ride through the park. Beyond the outdoor activities, the Zilker neighborhood has a nice selection of restaurants and food trucks. Nearby hotels include The Guild Lamar Union if you prefer ultra-modern apartment-style hotels. Another good option is the Carpenter Hotel which is a short walk to Zilker Park and the train station. Both hotels have a pool onsite.