Although Austin, designed to be the capital of the independent Republic of Texas, has a grand planned city center similar to that of Washington, D.C., the city has spread out far beyond those original boundaries in all directions. Rather than easily delineated small areas, locals often speak in terms of landmarks (near the University of Texas), intersections (close to 183 and MoPac), or large geographical sections (East Austin). And with the exceptions of such established historic neighborhoods as Hyde Park, newer neighborhoods are often in flux; those that are trendy one year may be forgotten the next. So with those caveats, these are some useful designations. For now.
The original city, laid out by Edwin Waller in 1839, runs roughly north-south from Lady Bird Lake/Cesar Chavez Street to Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard (around 20th St.) and east-west between I-35 and Lamar Boulevard. The main north-south drag, Congress Avenue, runs from Lady Bird Lake to the State Capitol. With its many historic buildings and blocks, this is the prime sightseeing hub, as well as an entertainment district. It’s also home to the Convention Center and many major businesses and financial institutions. As might be expected, it has the highest concentration of hotels in town.
Once known as Austin’s live music hub, Sixth Street has a dual personality these days. Locals refer to East Sixth Street between Congress Avenue and I-35 as Dirty Sixth; it’s lined with small live music venues, endless bars offering dollar shots, and pool halls. West Sixth, from Congress Avenue to Lamar Avenue, appeals more to the young professional crowd. Serious music lovers head for the Warehouse District, centered on Third and Fourth streets just west of Congress, and the Red River District, on (where else?) Red River Street, between 6th and 10th streets.
For a long time, south of Lady Bird Lake was largely a working class residential area. In the 1990s, South Congress, the once-derelict stretch of Congress that extends (roughly) to Oltorf Street, began getting gentrified by shop and restaurant owners who liked the proximity to downtown without the high rents. Now dubbed SoCo, it’s one of Austin’s trendiest places to shop, eat, and—increasingly, as boutique hotels crop up—sleep in town. South Lamar has also become established as a hot area, with trendy bars and restaurants opening along South Lamar Boulevard. A few blocks east, South First Street offers everything from food trucks to upscale dining rooms. Austin’s first settlements south of the river, East Riverside and Travis Heights (adjacent neighborhoods between Congress and I-35), are popular with young professionals who can afford the high prices. Farther south and west, toward the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, South Austin begins to reassert its rural roots, with less construction and more businesses that cater mostly to locals.
The residential area east of I-35 between Cesar Chavez Street and Manor Road was long home to many of Austin’s Hispanic and African-American residents. But the parts closest to downtown and the university are increasingly popular, forcing many poorer residents to move farther east. Cesar Chavez, East Sixth Street, East Seventh Street, and Manor Road are now packed with bars, restaurants, and coffee shops, and experimental theaters are popping up. Hip lodgings are beginning to appear in the area closest to downtown.
North of Lady Bird Lake/Cesar Chavez Street up to 45th Street, between I-35 and MoPac, Central Austin includes downtown (see above) as well as several neighborhoods on its fringes. Just north of the Capitol and the state government office complex, the original 40-acre site allotted for the University of Texas has expanded to 357, and Guadalupe Street, along the west side of the campus, is now a popular shopping street known as the Drag. Many visitors come to what’s often called the Cultural Campus to see the Blanton Museum of Art, the Bullock Texas State History Museum, the Harry Ransom Center, the LBJ Library and Museum, and the Texas Memorial Museum. North of the university, from 35th to 51st streets, Hyde Park was laid out in 1891 as one of Austin’s first planned suburbs; renovation of its Victorian and early Craftsman houses began in the 1970s, and now it has a real neighborhood feel.
Beyond Hyde Park, numbered streets disappear. The older neighborhoods in this area are also experiencing a renaissance. Just north of Hyde Park, the shabby-chic North Loop is fast becoming Austin’s bohemian epicenter, with hip indie shops and restaurants taking over North Loop Avenue. It’s bounded on the west by North Lamar Boulevard, on the east by Airport Boulevard (some say I-35), and on the north by Koenig Lane. For a lot of Austinites, Research Boulevard is where central Austin ends and north Austin begins.
WEST / LAKES
Just west of downtown and the shopping enclave at Lamar and West Sixth is Clarksville, a black community founded in the 1870s by freed slaves. It’s now a neighborhood of small, old houses that command high prices. To the west of Clarksville, on the other side of the MoPac Freeway, tony Tarrytown extends as far as Lake Austin (another dammed section of the Colorado River). Both neighborhoods are close enough to the heart of town that they’re sometimes folded into the “Central” designation.
For many, “West” refers to the townships on the opposite side of Lake Austin from West Austin. This affluent suburban area includes the communities of Rollingwood and Westlake Hills. If you head upstream to the next dam, you come to Lake Travis, a large lake with lots of marinas and lakeside communities, such as Lakeway. Those who live in Central Austin come here to splash around and kick back on nice weekends.
This high-growth area, Austin’s version of the suburbs, is where most of the high-tech industry is located. It includes the Arboretum mall, a prime area of restaurant and retail growth in the late 1980s and 1990s; and the newer, still expanding, Domain and Domain NORTHSIDE mall complex. This manufactured mixed-use community, with apartments, retail, and restaurants and hotels, is an anchor for the otherwise sprawling North Austin neighborhoods. It’s not quite the “second downtown” that its promoters make it out to be, but it has lots of lively nightspots. Farther north are the bedroom communities of Round Rock and Cedar Park.
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.