Welcome to Austin, the capital of Texas and the original home of keeping things weird. This vibrant city and metro area of over 2 million residents has long been an artistic oasis in the middle of Texas. Lucky enough to be moving to Austin? We’ve got you covered with a quick rundown on what you need to know about living here and a tour of the best Austin neighborhoods to explore for your new home.
Everything you need to know about living in Austin
It’s true, everything is bigger in Texas, and Austin is no exception. It’s all go big or go home in this eclectic Texan gem. Austin goes big on live music — they don’t call it The Live Music Capital of the World for nothing. Plus, this counterculture college town throws some of the country’s most anticipated music festivals, like SXSW and Austin City Limits.
While temperatures hover around 70 degrees on average, summers in Austin are hotter than heck. To cool off, locals grab a raft and a cold one and head over to Barton Springs or Lake Travis for a communal convene. Winter here is swift, cold, and windy — but don’t worry about breaking out your parka, as it never snows and rarely dips below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Most of the time, the weather here is sunny with some clouds hovering at a temp that just begs for backyard get-togethers and outdoor adventure.
Things to Do in Austin
The question here is what isn’t there to do in Austin? This city has it all — outstanding food, a hearty drinking culture, nightly live music, the great outdoors, undeniable style, and quirky boutiques teaming with unique finds. True to Texan form, the Tex-Mex tacos and barbecue are some of the country’s best, though it’s only a sampling of what you’ll find on the menu.
Austin is alive with outdoor activities, which may not be something you think of right away when you consider a central Texan city. However, Austin differs from typical Texas stereotypes. It’s one of the fittest cities in the country, a place with loads of LGBTQ love, the state’s largest blue bubble (politically speaking), and it’s not all meat and potatoes — there are a ton of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free items readily available.
Itching for the outdoors? There are over 250 parks to help soothe the soul. Start covering your outdoor Austin bingo card with a 10-mile trek along the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-And-Bike Trail or take a slow stroll through the Zilker Botanical Gardens. Seeking adventure? Strap in and race over Lake Travis on a zipline that’s sure to widen your eyes and quicken your pulse.
For folks who prefer a different kind of outdoor experience, on Friday and Saturday nights, Austin’s famous 6th Street strip (a.k.a. Dirty Sixth as the college kids call it) becomes pedestrian-only, making it easy to do a walk-and-pop-in to all the downtown hotspots.
Still, the city doesn’t have to be wild and raucous. More isolated outdoor adventures, low-key neighborhoods, and even some laidback winery visits are all within easy access from the city proper. What we love most is that you can be as social or as solitary as you like. Picking your perfect neighborhood will also dictate how accessible the action (and noise) is, made easier by one of the best transportation and transit systems in the country.
|Planning your move to Austin? Learn about average moving costs from in-state and out-of-state with our Guide to Moving in Texas.|
Getting Around Austin
With over 3,000 bus stops dotted throughout the city, rideshare companies, a rail system, and a thriving bike culture, Austin doesn’t require you to be chained to your car. In fact, depending on where you live, you might not even need a car.
CapMetro leads Austin’s excellent transportation services, which include affordable rides on their regular bus lines, rapid bus service for the 801 and 803 routes, overground rail, and public BCycle bike rentals. Currently the MetroRail service is a single line that services nine stops to/from Downtown Austin up/down to Leander. Austin’s regular bus service makes it easy to access most of the city, but it’s especially concentrated in the downtown area. Over 25 routes can get you in and around the city as well as to some of the more popular suburbs like Georgetown and Round Rock, though it’ll take a few transfers and can nearly quadruple your travel time. (Hint: You’ll probably want a car in that case.)
Want to get around on two wheels? No problem, Austin practically prefers it — as of September 2020, nearly 1.5% of residents use pedal power to get around, plus several of the city’s car lanes have been converted into bike lanes.
Cost of living in Austin
Like most places, Austin’s cost of living has followed an upward trend along with its growth in popularity. But it’s still about 3% cheaper than the national average, according to Payscale, and a whopping 57% less than living in New York City. Here’s how it breaks down in terms of rent and home prices:
|Austin Cost of Living||Housing Cost|
|1-bedroom apartment average rent||$1,265|
|2-bedroom apartment average rent||$1,594|
|Median sale price for homes||$369,000|
Austin Jobs & Economy
The economy here is good — you’ll find a lower unemployment rate, higher average income, and higher average salaries compared to the national average. Plus, the job market is on fire at over twice the national average. Not surprising for Texan country, one of Austin’s leading industries is mining and oil. Other big earners are manufacturing, public administration, and scientific and technical services.
While Austin’s median average income is around $50,000 a year, the city has more people earning between $100,000-$150,000 a year than any other salary range. Taxes are a bit of a mixed bag with Austin’s higher sales tax but lack of income tax. Yup, that’s right, there’s no income tax in Austin, as Texas is one of the seven states that doesn’t have income tax.
Schools in Austin
Austin loves learning — nearly 5.5% of the entire population is in school. According to the U.S. News and World Report, Austin has better schools than you’ll find in similar metro areas. There are 94 public schools, of which 54 high schools made the list for best high schools in the country — including Meridian School in Round Rock, which was named the best high school in the state. The city is also home to six colleges and universities, including the University of Texas at Austin, which placed 42nd out of 100 for best colleges in the country.
Best Austin Neighborhoods and Suburbs
Trying to figure out where to start your home search? We’ve put together this overview of some of the city’s most popular areas so you can decide which Austin neighborhood is right for you. Looking for the best place for families? Students? Young professionals? Retirees? We’ve taken housing costs, overall vibe, convenience, and things to do into consideration. Buckle in, we’re headed to your new ‘hood.
Downtown Austin Map
For those who think of Texas as the Wild West, consider Downtown Austin the saloon. The raucous sounds of good times and live music pour out the open windows and doors of the bars, restaurants, and venues lining the streets. Living downtown is convenient and cool, but it’s also especially challenging if you want an early night — which makes this area a perennial favorite for wealthy college kids and young professionals.
Downtown Austin residents easily have around 40 restaurants within a five-minute walk on foot, unsurprising considering the neighborhood Walkscore adds up to 92. Here are some highlights:
- Pick up breakfast tacos from Torchy’s Tacos
- Kill two birds with one stone by catching a show while shoveling BBQ down your gullet at Stubb’s
- Watch the bats take flight under the Congress Avenue Bridge
- Take a walking tour to people-watch and admire all the architecture and historic buildings
You can also get a healthy dose of nature thanks to a handful of green spaces and Lady Bird Lake, which borders downtown to the southwest. However, housing here costs nearly twice as much as elsewhere in the city. You can expect to pay between $2,000 to $3000 a month on rent, and most people downtown rent. The upside? The mostly high-rise apartments and condos here are still more spacious than what you’d find in the heart of other metropolitan areas.
If you really want to get to the heart of what makes Austin weird, set up shop in South Austin. Located across the river from downtown, South Austin is a breath of bizarre — in the best way. This neighborhood still has roots planted in the city’s Bohemian beginnings and is an interesting, never-dull mix of old and new Austin. The neighborhood is lined with old ranch-style houses and modern homes and is full of local favorites, including patio cocktails at Hotel San Jose. It’s also home to the famous “I love you so much” graffiti scrawled outside Jo’s Coffee; the ever-popular summer swim favorite at Barton Springs Pool; and The Continental Club, a historic music venue.
Rent here is about average for the whole city, coming in at around $1,400 a month, according to RentCafe.
West Lake Hills
Hunting for the best place to retire in Austin? Niche rates West Lake Hills as the #1 place to retire in the city, with its gorgeous views from the Hill Country to the southwest of Austin. It’s also one of the best Austin neighborhoods for families, thanks to a collection of great schools that often rank on “best schools” lists for the U.S. This suburb is often tagged as being overly wealthy, and the average home sells for close to a million dollars. However, the average rent is only $1,400, according to Niche.
Here you’ll find busy days, quiet nights, and a tranquil vibe that appeals mostly to families and retirees. Large estate homes and leafy streets, boutiques, and a lot of kid-friendly patio dining outfits this four-mile suburb that’s under 15 minutes from downtown Austin. This is the kind of place where the Friday night high school football game is the event of the weekend. An extra bonus to award-winning schools, community vibes, and relaxing atmosphere? The hilltop views of downtown Austin never get old.
Round Rock, TX
Although it’s only about 18 miles and 25 minutes north of central Austin, residents in Round Rock enjoy a drastically different style of living and, with a population of about 130,000, a lot less people. Most people here own their homes, with the typical home value around $324,000, according to Zillow. If you rent, plan for around $1,200 a month on average, according to RentCafe. The vibe here is young but family-oriented, making it a great pick for any young professionals with kids, especially those who want a close commute into Austin proper.
In addition to good public schools, Round Rock has an IKEA, tons of parks, is near a popular water park, and has great diversity. It’s quiet, with a strong suburban look and feel with single-family houses that sport front yards, driveways, and trees. Restaurants run the gamut from oyster bars and gastropubs to Round Rock Donuts, the beloved local donut shop, and there’s good outlet shopping. Bonus: Austin International Airport is just 30 minutes away.
Bee Cave, TX
Looking for that small town feel without giving up great nightlife options or diversity? Bee Cave might be just the right place for your new home. Located only 12 miles outside of Austin, covering less than 7 square miles and with just over 6,000 residents, Bee Cave is a much smaller town. It’s ranked by Niche as one of the top 10 suburbs in Austin, especially if you’re into that urban vibe in a suburban setting. Don’t let the small size fool you, though, as this city is on the move, with a population that’s doubled in the last 10 years.
Still, given its size, there aren’t a lot of public school options, but thankfully they’re highly rated. However, the cost of living here may surprise you. Average monthly rent comes to nearly $1,500 and homes cost around $630,000, according to Zillow. While these costs are similar to what you’ll find in Austin, to be fair, property here is green and idyllic. Bee Cave residents tend to be on the wealthier side, as evidenced by the area’s sprawling mansions and country clubs.
Unlike other suburbs of Austin which tend to have moderate political views, folks who live in Pflugerville lean a little more to the left. Most folks own their homes here, with values averaging $284,000, according to Zillow. Looking to rent? It’ll be around $1400 a month, surprisingly high for such a sparse suburban spot. But at least the schools are good.
Pflugerville (which is pronounced “floo-grr-ville”, by the way) is full of entrepreneurial spirit and is a great place for young professionals. It’s also one of the best Austin neighborhoods for families who want good schools as well as the quirkiness and variety of Austin with a more community vibe. In some ways, Pflugerville feels like another hip, low-key, but eclectic neighborhood inside Austin, even though it’s about 18 miles and 30 minutes north.
Even if you don’t move here, it’s worth a daytrip to check out local Pflugerville tales on display at the House Heritage Museum, the top-shelf cocktails over at Spirit of Texas Distillery, and local favorites like Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue or Moi Vietnamese Grill.
This Austin suburb — a 70,000-resident town 30 miles north of Austin — claims to have the the most beautiful town square in Texas. We’ll let you decide on that, but it’s worth mentioning that Georgetown was voted the #1 place to live in the South by Southern Living readers in 2018. (Just as an FYI, Austin ranked 11th on that same list.)
It’s not a surprise though, as Georgetown racks up points for its community vibe, leafy suburban look, and city-like amenities that range from bars, restaurants, and solid in-town entertainment options. But it’s also got things on offer that a big city like Austin just can’t compete with — namely that white-picket fence and neighborly feel you think only exists in the movies. Move here and you’ll have friendly neighbors made up of retirees, young professionals, and families.
Renters are in the minority here, but if that’s the route you choose, good news: it’ll only cost you around $1,100 a month. If you’re buying, expect houses with price tags around $342,000, according to Zillow. This is a great spot for history buffs, who can stroll the downtown historic district and visit the Old Williamson County Jail and the 1911 Courthouse. There are also several unique outdoor activities nearby, including spelunking in the Space Cavern and taking dips in the lagoon at Blue Hole Park.
Dripping Springs, TX
If excellent schools and family-friendly features are at the top of your list, Dripping Springs is your spot. This very small town is about 26 miles and 40 minutes west of Austin and has just under 5,000 residents. The vibe is quiet and rural while still being within an easily accessible distance from the big city amenities of Austin. Dripping Spring’s biggest claim to fame is that this is where Willie Nelson is from — a huge source of pride for locals.
According to Zillow, the typical home value in Dripping Springs is around $570,000, and RentCafe tags average rent here at about $1,500. Most people living here are fine exchanging a higher-than-average cost of living for a strong community complete with local events, top-notch schools, and wholesome feel-good staples like a farmer’s market and the library in the town center.
Even if you don’t choose to live here, you’ll probably end up visiting. Dripping Springs brings in droves of out-of-town crowds thanks to its popular breweries, wineries, and distilleries. Plus, if you’re looking for the best pastrami sandwich in the Austin Metro Area, it’s here, at Pieous.
Planning Your Move to Austin
We hope we’ve helped narrow down the choices for your new neighborhood. While you’re looking, it’s a good time to start getting ready for your move. Here some resources that are ideal for the early stages of planning a move:
- 8 Insanely Clever YouTube Videos To Help You Declutter
- Moving Tips: We Answer Your Top Questions
- Self-Moving 101: How To Save Money and Avoid Stress
And when you finally roll into Austin, don’t forget to keep things weird.
Katherine Alex Beaven is a frequent contributor to the PODS blog who has moved 20+ times because she loves to experience new places.