Where to stay in Austin

Wondering where to stay in Austin on your next visit? We got you. Here are the trendiest neighborhoods, hotels and sights
Austin
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Norm Lanier
By Erin Kuschner and Time Out contributors |
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There's a lot to consider when you're researching where to stay in Austin. Are you close to some of the city's best restaurants? Is your hotel in a safe neighborhood? Are you within stumbling distance of Austin's best cocktail bars? Though the Texas capital is relatively small in size (and totally walkable), each neighborhood has its own distinct character and vibe. We've narrowed it down to five unique areas of the city that offer killer digs, outstanding food and some of the best things to do in town. Welcome to Austin!

Where to stay in Austin

The Contemporary Austin
Photograph: Courtesy The Contemporary Austin

Downtown

As the heart of Austin, downtown is where you'll find the majority of fine-dining restaurants, museums and tours. It's also quite compact and easy to get around, and encompasses the warehouse district (where you'll find most of Austin's gay bars), Rainey Street (a popular nightlife destination) and the notorious Dirty Sixth Street. At night, downtown comes alive with live music, comedy shows and parties—if you're staying in this neighborhood, you're never too far from the action.

EAT

Red Ash Italia

The freshest garlic bread, daily homemade pastas, specially aged steaks carved by the ounce in the kitchen according to your preference—all of the Northern and Southern Italian specialties at Red Ash, a welcome addition to Austin’s fine dining scene, scream made-to-order. Pick a quiet spot in the modest-sized dining room, or sit at the chef’s counter and witness firsthand the top-notch culinary crew, led by owner/executive chef John Carver, as they bring out the best in an array of locally sourced ingredients. There's also a daily happy hour, which runs until 6:30pm and offers a meals-worth of mouthwatering small plates ($7 apiece) along with a superb selection of wines, beers and cocktails (each $2 off per glass).

DRINK

The Roosevelt Room

Co-owners and operators Justin Lavenue and Dennis Gobis have created something both impressive and accessible with Roosevelt Room. The giant chalkboard above the bar reads as the history of cocktails with drinks categorized by era from Early Years (pre-1880) to Modern Classics (2000s-present). There's also a signature cocktail menu with a selection of noteworthy concoctions such as the aromatic Cigar Box (mezcal, smoked black tea syrup, lavender bitters, tobacco bitters, flamed cinnamon stick). 

DO

The Contemporary Austin: The Jones Center

The Contemporary has two locations: one called Laguna Gloria, which is a little bit more northwest, and the Jones Center, which is smack dab in the middle of downtown. Recently renovated, The Contemporary Austin Jones Center has more than 7,000 square feet of gallery space to display their contemporary art collection, along with a lovely rooftop deck and open-air canopy. The museum offers free admission on Tuesdays, but even if you go on another day, the minimal $5 fee still warrants a peek inside.

STAY

The Driskill

Austin’s status as the festival capital of the world has sprung up an array of boutique lodgings, but the Driskill was around long before the boom of badgeholders. Built in 1886, the rooms exude old-school Texas elegance: think vintage crown molding, calming desert gold and tan linens, and pearly white accents. And if you're superstitious at all, take note: legend has it that the halls are haunted by two ghostly brides who took their lives on their wedding nights 20 years apart, but in the same room.

If you do just one thing…

Be sure to duck into the Texas State Capitol, if only for a peek at the beautiful building (it's actually taller than our nation's capitol!). Free daily tours are available.

South Congress Hotel
Photograph: Courtesy South Congress Hotel

South Congress

Just across the river from downtown sits South Congress, a true shopping destination. Boutique and vintage shops line the bustling street, along with coffeeshops and some of Austin's best restaurants. From March to October, the Congress Avenue bridge bats draw visitors to this part of town, all hoping to see around 1.5 million bats take part in a nightly migration. A number of buses have routes along Congress, making this area a viable place to stay if you're relying on public transportation. 

EAT

June's All Day

Having a meal at June’s All Day is the right choice to make no matter what time of day it is. The breakfast offerings will make you want to wake up a little earlier than you have to; open at 8am during the week, the eatery offers coffee and grab-and-go pastries, like the crème fraîche cake donut and “lamb in a blanket.” Lunch and dinner boast dishes like French onion soup, steak tartare and a magnificent fried chicken sandwich. The café is also a wine bar, with plenty of phenomenal vino options to order from.

DRINK

Watertrade

Watertrade, the shoebox-sized cocktail den next door to nationally-recognized Otoko, is quietly serving top notch spirits and a handful of thoughtful cocktails, each laced with Japanese flavors. The silky Goma Fashioned combines rye whiskey, toasted sesame and vanilla over a large ice cube for a cocktail with smooth yet booze-forward qualities.

DO

The Continental Club

The Continental Club opened its doors in 1955 on South Congress Avenue, and has since hosted legends like Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, Wanda Jackson and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons—up to standard for a place that regularly billed the likes of Double Trouble, Paul Ray and the Cobras and Joe Ely back in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s a tiny stage in a small room, but the performances that occur in front of that iconic red curtain make some of the best cases for why this city still deserves the title of “Live Music Capital of the World.”

STAY

South Congress Hotel

Helmed by the hospitality group behind downtown interior Mexican standby La Condesa and Thai favorite Sway, South Congress Hotel offers 83 rooms of understated luxury, but a stay at the South Austin newcomer offers much more than just slumber. Between the three restaurants (classic American at Central Standard, light kale salads at Café No Sé, and pricey omakase from Otoko), coffee shop (Mañana), a lobby bar with live DJs and retail from vintage gearheads Revival Cycles, it’s worth blocking off a weekend just to explore the grounds.

If you do just one thing…

Not yet ready to go home at the end of the night? Head to Ego's for karaoke. The tiny dive bar is tucked inside a parking garage; after a couple drinks here, everyone's a star.

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Via 313 Pizza
Photograph: Courtesy Via 313 Pizza

East Austin

Where the artists go, gentrification follows. Such is the way with rejuvenation. But it doesn’t have to be a bad thing, as East Austin attests. How else would you find dive bars and the best cocktails in town? Naturally, you can find galleries in abundance here, as well as colourful street art, independent stores, taquerias and juice bars.

EAT

Via 313

Square pizza anyone? A trip to East 6th Street will reveal the delights of Via 313’s Detroit-style pizzas, which are five stars’ worth of delicious. Each personal-looking rectangle features plenty of fresh melted cheese and a crust so simultaneously crispy, chewy and buttery, it’s easily shareable among two people. If you're looking for a thinner crust, opt for the bar-style pies (we're a fan of the Jack White clam pie).

DRINK

Whisler's

This iconic spot boasts exposed, archaic stone walls lit by flickering, religious-esque candles. Renovated by veteran Austin bartender Scranton Twohey in 2013 to serve innovative cocktails, this is the perfect place to wet your Whisler (ahem). In addition to the main inside bar and a large open patio, upstairs is Mezcaleria Tobala—a speakeasy-style one-room bar with a large selection of the agave-based spirit.

DO

Urban Axes Austin

Whether you’ve got an axe to grind or not, Urban Axes is the place to go to let of some steam. Or just chuck some axes for the sheer fun of it. Get a little friendly competition going as you go up against mates with 1.5-pound hatchets, which you throw at an archery-style target at the end of a (fenced-in) lane. Once you’re done you can chill out for a while with your drink of choice (it’s BYOB) and discuss techniques.

STAY

Heywood Hotel

This super adorable and beautifully refurbished bungalow combines 1920s architecture with modern sensibilities. It’s split into seven spacious suites, which all have high ceilings, bright and airy décor, locally-made furnishings and conveniences like cable TV, a fridge and iPod/iPhone docks. Great bars, restaurants and shops are a short walk away – a journey that’s made even shorter on one of the Heywood’s complementary bicycles.

If you do just one thing…

Get down to the White Horse Saloon dive bar. This joint is frequented by a real mix of people, who aren’t afraid to get up close and personal during a two-step class on Friday and Saturday nights.

South Austin Museum of Popular Culture
Photograph: Courtesy South Austin Museum of Popular Culture

South Lamar

If staying near popular outdoor attractions like Barton Springs and Zilker Park is a priority, South Lamar is your best bet. The small but growing neighborhood is rife with fantastic restaurants, shops and bars, but also just a quick jaunt from the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail, the Long Center (check their calendar for upcoming performances) and the Umlauf Sculpture Garden. Want to explore a more lively area at night? Head across the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge and you'll be smack dab in the middle of the bustling West 6th district.

EAT

Uchi

Tyson Cole swears he didn’t set out to transform the Austin dining scene when he opened Uchi in a 1920s bungalow 12 years ago. But he did, becoming the first American itamae to receive a James Beard Award for Best Chef and opening a larger but no less warmly chic spinoff, Uchiko, along the way. Despite the expansion, there’s no room here for pretension: for all his technical mastery and cutting-edge proclivities, Cole’s menus change often and range widely enough to appeal to novices as well as connoisseurs, who can compare, say, three different kinds of sea urchin while their warier companions sample tempura-fried Brie alongside “clean, crisp, light” sakes and white wines.

DRINK

Backbeat

Aside from the fantastic bar program at Odd Duck just down the street, this stretch of South Lamar was desperately in need of a proper cocktail bar. Thankfully, Backbeat not only filled the need but surpassed expectations. The creativity and talent here are evident in every cocktail—take, for example, the Swedish Punsch (made with anise-tinged Aquavit, funky Batavia Arrack, dry Riesling, lime and aromatic Earl Gray tea cordial) from the “oddball” section of the menu. The interior is a sleek nod to mid-century style, and in true Austin fashion Backbeat also has a rooftop patio with views of our ever-changing skyline. 

DO

South Austin Museum of Popular Culture

The South Austin Museum of Popular Culture specializes in collecting and displaying music posters dating from the 1960s to present. The gallery also regularly exhibits photography, painting, clips from publications, film/video and other ephemera chronicling the Live Music Capital of the World’s sonic history. Unlike aesthetically similar pieces at the Mondo Gallery, these works—which since 2004 have grown into an archive of more than 3,000 objects plus upwards of 10,000 images, photographs, sound and video files—aren’t for sale. But it’s a certified non-profit contributing tens of thousands to the local economy, so you can always feel good about making a donation while satiating your music-related art fix.

STAY

The Guild South Lamar

The Guild is a chain of flats that cater towards those who'd rather feel like they're living in an apartment as opposed to a hotel room. At the Guild South Lamar, guests will have access to a fitness center, spacious outdoor pool and on-site restaurants—notch to mention, the Highball (a popular karaoke and trivia spot) is right nearby.

If you do just one thing…

Take in a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, arguably the best iteration of this popular chain where you can order food (and booze! and milkshakes!) from your seat while watching the movie.

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Breakaway Records
Photograph: Courtesy Breakaway Records

North Loop

Those looking for a bit of peace and quiet should head ten miles north of Downtown to the North Loop. There are a fair few students taking advantage of the cheaper accommodation up here, but it’s also home to many a family. No doubt they’re attracted to the area for the aforementioned affordability, convenience of the I-35 and the collection of one-of-a-kind cafes and shops.

EAT

Foreign & Domestic

The small North Loop restaurant has grown into a coveted spot for both couples that want to split roasted Wagyu beef with potato gnocchi and butterscotch pots de crème (swoon), and for groups of friends brunching on the weekend. The Sunday brunch offers dishes like fried chicken biscuits and a cast iron frittata (don't forget about the Painted Lady mimosa). 

DRINK

Workhorse Bar

If you're a jukebox junkie, Workhorse Bar is right up your alley. The dive has a killer selection of music (four songs for $2) in addition to their comfort food-driven menu. Mac and cheese, hefty burgers, wings and an oozing grilled cheese sandwich will coat your stomach while knocking back a few beers—which you should definitely do, since the beer selection here is solid.

DO

AFS Cinema

Academy Award winner Richard Linklater has plenty of projects to his name, but Austin Film Society is a particularly important one. Founded by Linklater in 1985, AFS is responsible for highlighting Texas filmmakers and screening hundreds of movies at AFS Cinema, formerly the Marchesa. In May 2017, the cinema completed a massive overhaul: The former single-screen theater added a second screen, a brand-new lobby and bar, an upgraded sound system and a massive event space. Linklater decorated the cinema with vintage posters and movie-soundtrack album covers from his personal collection; pay a visit to catch an indie flick or to participate in one of the many film festivals that roll through Austin. 

STAY

The Highlander Hotel

Yes, those are hot pink (fake) sheep perched on the roof of the Highlandler Hotel. This fun, quirky hotel encourages guests to take selfies with the vibrantly colored mascots, in between using the fitness room and relaxing in one of the property's 84 guest rooms, each with a 40-inch LED television and complimentary Wi-Fi. There's Car2Go access onsite, in case you need to head downtown—though if you stay in the area, you're a short trip from hot spots like the new AFS Cinema, Kick Butt Coffee and the Brewtorium.

If you do just one thing…

Fill out your record collection at Breakaway Records, where the owners have built a loyal following thanks partly to their role DJing long-time parties like the Second Sunday Sock Hop and Cold Lampin. Be sure to peruse the employee picks racks where genre-pushing electronic LPs and Colombian cumbia compilations sit together in harmony.

Explore these up-and-coming neighborhoods

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