Austin is one of the most popular cities in Texas, attracting techies, Hollywood types, academics, politicos, and vacationers drawn to the town’s music scene and outdoor activities. Add the influx of new residents who need temporary places to stay while apartment hunting or waiting for houses to close, and you’ve got a hotel room shortage. New properties are cropping up like mushrooms to meet the demand—so much so that complaints about a room glut are beginning to appear in the press—but in the meantime hotels don’t have to try too hard to court visitors (see “When to Go” for the busiest times).
Still, people manage to go to Austin throughout the year without breaking the bank. Most hotels catering to business travelers offer weekend discounts and, of course, corporate discounts. You’ll find lots of Austin room deals online—see our advice on snagging those deals and for information about alternative lodgings such as VRBO and Airbnb.
Most hotel rooms are downtown, in the blocks just east and west of Congress Avenue between the Capitol and Lady Bird Lake, where nightlife, dining, and historic sights are concentrated. Many of the newest hotels are rising on the southernmost part of this stretch, convenient for not only Lady Bird Lake but also the very big and very busy Austin Convention Center. Skip the car if you’re staying downtown: Traffic is horrendous and parking is hard to find (or extremely expensive).
Hotel construction continues apace just across Lady Bird Lake in South Austin, especially on and around South Congress Avenue. Zoning restrictions here keep out the brand-name high-rises; most hotels are boutique-size and strive to outdo each other in quirkiness and hipness. If you bed down here you’ll have access to great dining, unique shopping, and the many recreational activities on the south shore of Lady Bird Lake.
East Austin, especially the area just across the I-35 from downtown, is the up-and-coming place to stay; so far, there are only a few privately owned boutique hotels here, but watch this space for Arrive East Austin, part of a small hotel group. There are also a few small hotels and B&Bs near the University of Texas, with newer and (somewhat) larger properties in the works.
In the Northwest, more and more brand-name hotels are opening along the U.S. 183/Parmer Lane tech corridor—a trend unlikely to change with the arrival of Apple’s new campus. Many hotels are clustered around the upscale Arboretum and Domain/Domain NORTHSIDE malls. A couple of the more distinctive lodgings are covered here. It’s not a bad area to stay in if you want access to the western green spaces and lakes, as well as upscale shopping. You’re not far from the University of Texas, either.
Several spa/resorts on the outskirts of town, especially on the far west, provide relaxing getaways in proximity to Austin’s attractions while being sufficient unto themselves. (For the glamorous camping known as glamping, see box, p. ###.)
Tip: If you’re on a tight budget, Austin has two major clusters of economical lodgings, including extended-stay chains. One surrounds the intersection of I-35 and Ben White Boulevard (Hwy. 71), south of downtown and near the airport; the other is north of downtown, where I-35 intersects Hwy. 290 E. The latter is generally preferable—it’s closer to downtown, has better dining options, and offers alternative routes to I-35 for getting around.
Note that rates listed below do not include the city’s 9% hotel tax.
Wherever you bunk in Austin—even B&B rooms-—it is safe to expect high-speed Wi-Fi; even when fees are noted, below, they’re often waived if you sign up for the hotel’s corporate clubs. Almost all hotels in Austin are entirely smoke-free and you can expect to see recycling bins and other serious eco-friendly programs—not just the standard “we won’t change your towels or sheets for the environment”—everywhere. Finally, Austin is exceedingly pet friendly; several hotels charge no fees for bringing your dog and have no size or number restrictions. You just have to sign a good behavior waiver (for the dog; unfortunately, guests are not required to commit to similar restrictions).
The transformation of the 220-acre Travaasa Austin into the Miraval Austin Resort & Spa, 13500 FM2769 (855/234-1672), hadn’t yet been completed when we went to press, but the setting, in a northwest Austin nature preserve, combined with the brand’s track record for award-winning wellness and pampering programs, guarantee a top-rate (if not inexpensive) experience.
Let the Guild Put You Up
This Austin-born and -tested hospitality concept is perfect for a city under construction: Units in not-yet-completed luxury apartment buildings are furnished and rented out to visitors, who receive a personalized key code to enter. The Guild Hotels’ attractively furnished guest quarters have all the amenities of hotels, such as hair dryers and ironing boards, plus several that most don’t have, including fully equipped kitchens and in-room washer/dryers. All the buildings offer covered parking, fitness rooms, pools, and free Wi-Fi. In addition, to compensate for the lack of front desk and room service, guests can take advantage of a 24-hour phone concierge. Just call any time of the day or night and you’ll get advice about where to eat, what to see and do—not to mention help with troubleshooting any problems that may occur in your room. The organization has a total of 250 units to let, at prices from $145 to $339. There are three properties in downtown Austin, at 421 3rd St., 201 Lavaca St., and 901 Red River St. Another three are in East Austin (1000 E. 5th St.; 1621 E. 6th St.; and 1620 E. 6th St.), and one is in South Austin (1100 S. Lamar Blvd.). Most of the units are studios or one-bedrooms, but several properties also have two-bedroom options. To see what’s available, contact the company at www.theguild.co/properties-austin or call 512/623-7480.
The Boutique Hotel Queen
Everyone in the Austin hospitality business—and many outside of it—has heard of Liz Lambert, who seems to have the descriptor “hip hotelier” permanently attached to her name. The creator of the Bunkhouse Group of boutique hotels, represented in San Antonio, Marfa, TX, San Francisco, and Todos Santos, Mexico, Lambert got her start on South Congress Avenue in 1999, when she converted the rundown San Jose motor court into a trendy place to stay. This was one of the keys to SoCo’s resurgence. Now Lambert has a mini-empire in the area: In addition to the San José, there are the Hotel St. Cecilia and the Austin Motel. A fourth hotel, the Magdalena, is being built from scratch in a quiet patch just down the block from the Cecilia; slated to open at the end of 2019, it will be larger than the others and offer a dedicated events space. The style of each lodging is different but, to varying degrees, they’re all boho chic—reclaimed antiques, mismatched furnishings, colorful original art, and tongue-in-cheek touches such as old-style radios and retro candy in the mini-bars.
Hip Hosteling in Austin
Perennially popular with the young and the budget-conscious, hostels have also become entertainment hubs in Austin. Two recent arrivals on the communal lodging scene offer guests the dubious advantage of being able to go straight from bar to bed—though not necessarily a private one. All three hostels covered here provide free Wi-Fi, free continental breakfast, and shared guest kitchen facilities. Rates are per person per night, and are averages for the year.
You can listen to soft jazz or blues while sipping a craft cocktail in Austin’s oldest (1885) fire station, now downtown’s Firehouse Lounge and Hostel, 605 Brazos St. (www.firehousehostel.com; [tel] 512/201-2522). Rooms are dorms with shared bathroom ($29–$32); private but shared bathroom ($99); or suites with private bathrooms ($139–$149).
The eco-friendly Hostelling International–Austin in South Austin, 2200 S. Lakeshore Blvd. (512/444-2294), occupies a spot on the hike-and-bike trail with views of Lady Bird Lake that many pay through the nose to get. You can rent bikes and kayaks here. Room options include: dorms ($23) or private rooms ($79), all with shared hallway bathrooms.
A converted lock-and-safe warehouse, Native Experiential Hostels, 807 E. 4th St. (512/551-9947), is an East Austin destination for casual dining and sipping at both lunch and dinnertime; daytime use of the conference room is not uncommon, and evening often brings live bands. The most upscale of the three, with fewer beds per dorm room and some comfy private accommodations, this is a prototype for what may be an expanded brand. Rooms range from dorms with shared bathroom ($39–$40) to a king room with private bathroom ($150) or a loft room with private bathroom ($275).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.