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Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Norm Lanier

Where to stay in Austin

Where to stay in Austin is just as important as where to eat. Check out these trendy neighborhoods on your next visit.

By Lori A. May and Erin Kuschner
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Austin is a culture-seeker’s dream destination for its eclectic arts and mouthwatering eats, but it can be tough to decide where to stay in Austin on your next visit. The best neighborhoods in Austin are packed with personality, and totally walkable from one nook to the next. And not only is this the Texas state capital, Austin is also known as the live music capital of the world with more than 250 venues to keep your attention. So pick a date to scout out the city’s best restaurants, book yourself into a cozy hotel, and arrive in time to sample the city’s best cocktail bars. Then get set to explore these top five awesome neighborhoods packed to the brim with the best things to do in Austin.

RECOMMENDED: The best hotels in Austin

Where to stay in Austin

Texas State Capitol
Texas State Capitol
Photograph: Courtesy Texas State Capitol Building

1. Downtown

The first stop for a powerhouse weekend of fun, downtown Austin is where you’ll find bustling activity day and night. From the city’s top fine-dining restaurants to eclectic sightseeing tours, the downtown core is compact enough for walking, yet has no shortage of must-dos. Take a museum stroll early in the day, dine your way around town, then get your laughs on at one of many comedy shows before hitting up Austin’s nightlife. 

 

EAT

Hestia

One of the most anticipated restaurants to join downtown Austin’s foodie map comes from the same team behind Emmer & Rye, another Austin go-to for flavor. Visit Hestia for live-fire cooking of dry-aged steaks, creative small plates you won’t want to share, and savory vegetarian options. Don’t let the sleek contemporary design fool you. This is an intimate venue perfect for dates and small groups. Linger over a picture-perfect cocktail and enjoy Hestia’s warm casual vibe with friends. 

 

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. The Jones Center boasts more than 7,000 square feet of gallery space to display its contemporary art collection, along with a lovely rooftop deck and open-air canopy. Visit on a Tuesday for free admission.  

 

STAY

The Driskill

Austin’s status as a festival capital 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
South Congress Hotel
Photograph: Courtesy South Congress Hotel

2. South Congress

Just across the river from downtown sits South Congress, a go-to destination even among locals. Here you’ll find funky boutiques and taco bars lining active streets, alongside some of Austin’s most popular cafes. 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, but the eatery also offers coffee and grab-and-go pastries, like the crème fraîche cake donut and “lamb in a blanket.” Lunch and dinner at this intimate neighborhood classic includes dishes like broiled escargot, steak tartare and a magnificent fried chicken sandwich topped with serious slaw. 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

South Congress Hotel offers 83 rooms of understated luxury, with a rooftop pool providing stunning views of the Austin skyline. You’ll find live DJs in the lobby bar, boutique fashions at in-house Sunroom, and an amazing palate of tastes at on-site eateries ranging from America classics at Central Standard, omakase from Otoko, and coffee and baked treats at Mañana.

 

If you do just one thing…

Keep your eye out for the 2020 opening of the St. Elmo Public Market, a mixed-use facility featuring a brewpub and up-and-coming chef driven eateries alongside community events. 

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Via 313 Pizza
Via 313 Pizza
Photograph: Courtesy Via 313 Pizza

3. East Austin

As the city’s fasting growing neighborhood, there’s an amazing range of diversity in East Austin. Here you’ll find old school dive bars in harmony with the best cocktails in town. Plus, throughout this artsy hub, you’ll find galleries in abundance, as well as colorful 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—an intimate venue styled after the traditional Oaxacan mezcal bar.

 

DO

Urban Axes Austin

Whether you’ve got an axe to grind or not, Urban Axes is the place to go to let off some steam. Or just chuck some axes for the sheer fun of it. Get a 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

ARRIVE East Austin

A newcomer to the neighborhood, ARRIVE East Austin knows how to make a first impression. Your check-in experience includes saddling up to the bar for a welcome drink and snack—on the house. There’s an industrial chic vibe here with polished marble complementing concrete, airy windows alongside a wooden bar, and just the right balance between luxury and casual. Choose your fix between the onsite gin bar and Cartel Coffee Lab. 

 

If you do just one thing…

Get down to the White Horse Saloon honky tonk. 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
South Austin Museum of Popular Culture
Photograph: Courtesy South Austin Museum of Popular Culture

4. 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 for the Performing Arts, and the Umlauf Sculpture Garden. Want to explore a 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. Cole’s menus change often and range widely enough to appeal to novices as well as connoisseurs, and Uchi’s happy hour, the Sake Social, presents a generous menu with wallet-friendly hand rolls and tempura. 

 

DRINK

Aviary

This cozy wine nook is perfect for connecting with friends over a glass or bottle. Aviary Wine & Kitchen has a funky vibe, residing in a former boutique decor shop, with artsy furnishings and vibrant color throughout. Study the impressive wine wall to find your perfect palate, then pair a glass with menu selections steeped in Mediterranean influence. Top the night off with their in-house ice cream. 

 

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 as a certified non-profit contributing to the local economy, you can always feel good about making a donation while satiating your music-related art fix.

 

STAY

The Guild South Lamar

Torn between booking a hotel or home rental? Go for The Guild, a chain of flats catering towards those who'd rather feel like they're living in an apartment as opposed to a hotel room. At the Guild South Lamar, each guestroom is uniquely decorated to reflect Austin’s arts and cultural scene. Guests also have access to a fitness center, spacious outdoor pool and on-site restaurants—not 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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AFS Cinema
AFS Cinema
Photograph: Courtesy AFS Cinema

5. North Loop

Just ten miles north of downtown, North Loop is a relaxed neighborhood with one-of-a-kind cafes and shops. Vintage collectors will lose track of time with five popular resale shops neighboring one another with a selection of vinyl, fashion, and home decor. There’s a bohemian vibe around this northern nook, with locals and visitors without pretense. 

 

EAT

Foreign & Domestic

The small North Loop restaurant has grown into a coveted spot for casual gatherings and Sunday brunch. On the weekend, treat yourself to comfort food like fried chicken biscuits or a cast iron frittata. During popular evening outings, grab friends to sample a tasting menu or dig into entrees like dreamy butternut risotto. Celebrate the flavors of Austin craft beer during a discounted happy hour. 

 

DRINK

Workhorse Bar

If you're a jukebox junkie, Workhorse Bar is right up your alley. This dive has a killer selection of music in addition to their comfort food-driven menu. Mac and cheese, hefty burgers, wings and an oozing grilled cheese sandwich that 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. Choose between flicks showing on two screens with an incredible sound system. Arrive early at this arthouse theater to spend time at the lobby bar arguing over the best film of the decade. 

 

STAY

Habitat Suites

Get a great night sleep on the north side of town at the locally-owned Habitat Suites. Hypoallergenic suites offer unique amenities including an organic cotton mattress, with solar power fueling this eco-friendly oasis. Wake up to a complimentary vegetarian and vegan-friendly breakfast, then take a stroll outdoors to immerse yourself in the edible fruit and herb gardens. In the evening, pop by the lobby for complimentary beer and wine. 

 

If you do just one thing…

Fill out your record collection at Breakaway Records, where the owners have built a loyal following thanks in part to their role DJing at long-time local venues. This is a great spot to up your cool factor and discover a new gem on a tried-and-true format. 

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