Everything You Need to Know Before Moving to Austin

More Americans are moving to Texas than any other state, and many of those transplants are hanging their hats in Austin — with good reason. Texas’ wildly eclectic and slightly eccentric capital brims with live music, cowboy-booted hipsters and the world’s best barbecue.

Here’s all the local details you need to know to fit in and find your groove in this quirky urban center.

Moving to Austin

Here are the main parts of town you will need to familiarize yourself with if you plan to become an authentic Austinite.

  • Downtown Austin: For those who prefer to live in the mix, Downtown Austin is where it’s at. Filled with towering condominiums, live music venues, and a dazzling selection of bars and restaurants, there is never a dull moment in the city center. Lady Bird Lake, located on the south side of downtown, offers running and biking trails along with opportunities for stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, and bat watching.
  • East Austin: Known as “The East Side” to locals, this culturally historic part of town is a favorite amongst Austinites and out-of-towners who are looking for an experience different from downtown night life (aka Dirty 6th).
  • North Austin: This low key, sprawling, more residential area is removed from from the commotion of the other parts of town. The north also houses some of Austin’s big-wig tech companies including Dell and Apple Inc.
  • South Austin: Head south from Lady Bird Lake, and you’re in South Austin. Austin City Limits music festival (aka ACL) is held every year in Zilker Park, and within walking distance from the famous swimming hole Barton Springs.  Venture down South Congress Avenue and its environs for cozy coffee joints, famous Austin food trucks and restaurants, dive bars and vintage shops — the very essence of Austin.

Austin at a Glance

Aerial view of Pennybacker Bridge in Austin, TX

If you hear a disgruntled local saying “Austin ain’t what it used to be.”, it’s because Austin is all grown up now. Here are some of the current stats concerning the state of things.

  • Population: 995,347 (worldpopulationreview.com)
  • Cost of living: 2.3% Higher than the National Average (Salary.com)
  • Median 1-bedroom apartment cost: $1,049 (Renthop.com)
  • Average salary: $71,000/yr (payscale.com)

For the latest updates on the coronavirus COVID-19, visit the AUSTIN HEALTH DEPARTMENT website.

20 Things You Need to Know Before Moving to Austin

Here are some pointers to keep in mind before you call the live music capitol of the world your new home.

1. Cheap rent? Fuhgeddaboutit.

You can thank the Californians for this one. Once those West Coasters flocked here to snatch up “bargain” apartments for only $2,000 a month, the rest of us have been reeling from sticker shock.

2. The best (non) winter you’ll ever enjoy.

Enjoy a day of Frisbee golf or a picnic in the park … in February. That’s right. Expect a mild winter where “The Big Freeze” is anything that hovers remotely close to 32 degrees. At 60, expect locals to don their heaviest coats. From the North? Put on your parka to fit in and to avoid answering “Aren’t you freezing?” all day.

3. We have the mother of all Whole Foods stores.

Whole Foods downtown Austin

Even if you abhor battling Prii (plural for Prius) for a parking place and debating whether cauliflower is the new kale, you really can’t miss the flagship store below Whole Foods’ world headquarters. There’s the walk-in beer freezer, the football field-size buffet bar (all organic, of course!) and some of the best breakfast tacos you’ll ever wrap your hands (and lips) around.

4. It’s Town Lake and the Town Lake Trail.

You’ll remember this one, because the alternative (the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake) is a brain strain and near useless when talking to locals.

5. We’re pretty liberal.

Austin is a liberal oasis in the heart of red-state Texas. You’ll still find your fair share of spirited red supporters, but as a college town and a congregation point for intellectuals and artists, you’ll find a wide array of political persuasions in Austin. Plus a handful of naked hippies.

6. Tattoos are OK.

Don’t be surprised if you walk into your new job and your superior is sporting full ink sleeves. In fact, you’ll find a tattoo shop on nearly every corner in some Austin neighborhoods.

7. It’s the Live Music Capital of the World.

SXSW music
The title of “Live Music Capital of the World” is not bestowed lightly, and Austin takes it seriously. Any day of the week you can find nearly any genre of music being performed live. If your Pandora feed consists of the Billboard Hot 100, prepare to be snubbed by the city’s music elite.

8. The best barbecue requires a looooong wait.

Austinites appreciate nothing more than a glistening rack of ribs or a slab of melt-in-your-mouth brisket, which explains the wrap-around lines at barbecue joints like Franklin Barbecue (which is Jimmy Kimmel’s fave). Show up early, as the best cuts will be gone by noon. But don’t worry, there are plenty of other places to get your fix that are just as good without the wait. Just ask anybody where their favorite place is and they’ll be glad to talk to you about smoked meats (unless they are vegan).

9. Skip “Dirty Sixth” … unless you love shots.

This avenue of booze-fueled mayhem is best avoided unless a.) you’ve just turned 21 b.) you’re a tourist c.) you prefer your drinks in 1.5-ounce pours. If you must, head to West Sixth Street for a slightly classier experience or East Sixth Street for a slightly more hipster experience.

10. ‘Public transportation’ is a rare breed.

If you’re coming from New York or Chicago, cut your expectations in half, and then in half again. Austin’s MetroRail remains something of a novelty with its single north-south line, and the buses ostensibly operate at their leisure.

11. Eeyore’s Birthday isn’t just for kids.

Eeyore’s Birthday Party, held each April, may honor Winnie the Pooh’s melancholy sidekick, but it’s definitely not your typical kiddie holiday. Expect drum circles, barely-there costumes, a cannabis haze and a handful of shocked parents.

12. Navigating downtown is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

Numbered streets run from east to west. Streets running north to south take the names of Texas rivers. Be warned that south of downtown, the numbered streets change direction and run north to south.

13. Summers are sizzling.

When the mercury surges past the 100-degree mark and your face feels like it’s slowly melting off, just remember that balmy winter. Take a dip in Barton Springs to cool off.

14. Tubing is a summer ritual.

To escape the scorching heat, Austinites head for nearby New Braunfels to float the Comal or Guadalupe River. It’s an all-day affair, so slather on the sunscreen or face the dreaded belly burn.

15. We’re not as weird as you think.

Keep Austin Weird Festival

The city’s motto may be “Keep Austin Weird” and you’ll spot a good smattering of bona fide weirdoes, but for the most part, we’re a more mild breed of quirky.

16. Avoid I-35 at all costs.

Austinites will drive 20 minutes off course to avoid I-35. It may the city’s main artery, but it’s a six-lane parking lot during rush hour (and even at other times). You’re better off avoiding it altogether, even if it means taking side streets.

17. No need to use ‘ya’ll,’ ya’ll.

If you’re more inclined toward “you guys,” stick to that. Few Austinites appreciate a forced “y’all” or, even worse, a fake drawl. Most of us don’t say “howdy,” either. Oh, and many of us don’t wear cowboy boots. Ever.

18. Football is a religion

Texas Longhorns football

Austin rarely conforms to the Texas stereotype, except when it comes to football. When the University of Texas Longhorns take the field, it’s “Friday Night Lights” on a citywide scale. Expect lots of burnt orange, tailgating and atrocious I-35 traffic. Some tailgaters even set up shop the night before, with their giant barbecue pits and oversized coolers full of cheap, chuggable beer. And honestly, even if you don’t like football, plenty of fans come specifically for the tailgating.

19. SXSW has blown up

Gone are the days of walking into an east side bar and casually seeing famous musicians perform to you and 25 other lucky souls. South by Southwest has become so popular that you almost need a wristband to see your favorite bands. One thing that hasn’t changed is the genius idea to turn an entire city into a music festival. From bars, old churches, front lawns, college co-ops, every place becomes a music venue. Of course, COVID has suspended the festival until further notice, but locals are quivering with anticipation to see what it will be like when the pandemic is over

20. The South Congress neighborhood is SoCo (and so cool).

SoCo is the beating heart of Austin’s hipness. South Congress avenue is a popular family friendly spot that is more lively during the day, due to all the shops, live music, and pitchers of margaritas. If you find yourself still hanging out in SoCo when the sun goes down, head over to Egos, a divey karoke spot, or the cozy Continental Club to see famous Austin musicians.

Whole Foods photo courtesy of Whole Foods, concert photo courtesy of South by Southwest Music, Keep Austin Weird photo courtesy of Do512.com, football photo courtesy of Texas Longhorns Athletics

Lauren Everitt