Posted: 9/23/22 | September 23rd, 2022
Austin may not be as weird as it once was but it’s still a fabulous city that I am proud to call home. The city has changed a lot since I first moved here over seven years ago, especially post-COVID, but it’s still a wonderful place with a lot of outdoor activities, has a constantly improving food and bar scene, welcoming people doing innovative things, and just a lot to keep you busy.
Austin isn’t a huge city. Most people come to visit for a few days and, honestly, you only need that amount of time to get a sense of the place. As a visitor, there are only a few areas I would recommend staying in during your time here.
To help you figure out where to stay in Austin, here is my breakdown of the best neighborhoods in the city as well as suggested accommodations for each.
But, before I get to that, here are answers to frequent questions I get asked about Austin:
What’s the best neighborhood for food lovers?
East Austin has some of the best restaurants in town and, if you want to be close to food, you can’t go wrong here. The other option would be South Congress Avenue as that area has some of the city’s best restaurants too.
What’s the best neighborhood for families?
Downtown Austin is packed with enough attractions — including shops, restaurants, and landmarks — to keep you busy with your kids. It’s central to everything too.
What’s the best neighborhood for partying?
Rainey Street, located in Downtown Austin, is packed with nightlife fun and is very popular with weekend visitors. However, if you want to go where the locals go, East Austin has some of the best bars in Austin and is packed with people during the weekend. West 6th is fun is you’re in your mid-twenties.
What’s the best neighborhood for outdoor enthusiasts?
Zilker is not just a near-perfect park of the same name. It’s also a neighborhood with some interesting attractions, including sculpture gardens. Zilker is all about the green spaces so if you like the outdoors, this is the neighborhood for you.
What’s the best neighborhood for shopping?
A long strip of South Congress Avenue is lined with fun shops, many of which focus on kitschy retro stuff. Even if you’re not in the mood to spend money, browsing here is great entertainment.
What’s the best neighborhood overall?
East Austin is the best area in the city. You get some of the best restaurants, bars, and vibes. It’s my favorite neighborhood in the city. The second would be South Congress. You can’t go wrong with either.
Here is a more specific breakdown of each neighborhood with suggested accommodations for each so you’ll know exactly where to stay in Austin during your next trip.
Austin Neighborhood Overview
Where to Stay in Austin for Food Lovers: East Austin
East Austin used to be “the bad neighborhood.” When I first came here, there wasn’t much to do in the area. But, in the last decade, this neighborhood has seen a massive influx of new residents, buildings, and restaurants as the city expanded east. Today, East Austin is one of the best dining areas in town (be sure to eat at Fukomoto, Via 313, and Corner Cafe). East Sixth has some of the best bars in the city (such as Whislers, Lazarus, Lolo Wine, and Lucky Duck). A lot of people live here so the area is always alive with activity.
Best Places to Stay in East Austin:
- BUDGET: Wingate by Wyndham — One of the few budget options in the area, Wingate lies just on the border between East Austin and Downtown. It’s also just a few minutes’ walk to the famed Franklin Barbecue, one of the best places for BBQ on the planet. The property is comfortable and offers a free breakfast.
- MIDRANGE: East Austin Hotel — This small property has 75 rooms with a minimalist (but comfy) Scandinavian vibe. Amenities include Casper mattresses, plush robes, in-room coffeemakers, and vintage décor. It’s centrally located and one of the nicer properties in the area.
- LUXURY: Arrive — This hotel features a courtyard restaurant and bar, a Goan-inspired eatery, and a gin-focused rooftop bar. The super-spacious guest rooms boast floor-to-ceiling windows, Bluetooth speakers, high-end bath products, and a bottled water-stocked fridge.
Where to Stay in Austin for First-Time Visitors: Downtown Austin
Downtown Austin isn’t the liveliest neighborhood in the city. It’s now a lot of hotels and office buildings. That said, it’s very centrally located, has the most variety of hotels, a lot of restaurants, and is close to most of the city’s attractions, such as the Capitol building, the Paramount Theater, the University of Texas, the LBJ Library, and “Dirty Sixth,” a swath of raucous Sixth Street that is famed for its dive bars.
Best Places to Stay in Downtown Austin:
- BUDGET: Firehouse Hostel — Located in an old fire station, this is the only hostel in town. It’s smack-dab in the center of things, so you can easily walk everywhere. The beds are comfy and there’s also a “secret” cocktail lounge on-site that serves excellent Old Fashioneds.
- MIDRANGE: Hotel Indigo — A nice midrange option in Downtown Austin, Indigo is a stylish spot with a lovely, atmospheric, all-year-round swimming pool. Rooms feature a spacious work desk, plus-sized flat-screen TVs with premium channels, and luxury bath products.
- LUXURY: JW Marriott — This downtown hotel boasts a few decent restaurants, including a burger bar and a steakhouse, plus a rooftop bar. The airy rooms include floor-to-ceiling windows, huge TVs, fast Wi-Fi, and a large desk area. There’s a new Italian steakhouse here if you want a fancy meal.
Where to Stay in Austin for Outdoor Fun: Zilker
In 1918, Andrew Jackson Zilker donated 35 acres of land to the city, and a neighborhood and a park were born. While the district is dominated by the park of the same name, this south-central Austin swath of land has some interesting things to see and experience, including the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and the Barton Springs Pool. You can also walk the Greenbelt here and you’ll be near the lake too. It’s also home to the massive Austin City Limits music festival, which takes place in October.
Best Places to Stay in Zilker:
- BUDGET: Extended Stay America — Located on the edge of Zilker, this chain-hotel is the most budget-friendly in the area. Most rooms have kitchenettes and dining space, so if you’re really looking to save money, this is a good choice as you can cook for yourself.
- MIDRANGE: Embassy Suites by Hilton — Anchored on the border where Zilker and the (Texan) Colorado River meet, Embassy Suites offers rooms with city views, free breakfast, an indoor pool, a fitness center, and a nightly reception with complimentary drinks.
- LUXURY: The Carpenter Hotel — One of the few hotels in the middle of the Zilker neighborhood, Carpenter is a tranquil, open-air boutique property. The rooms are simple, with a lot of light-wood touches, and are very comfortable. All rooms have blackout shutters, and some have terraces. There’s a really nice pool on the property too.
Where to Stay in Austin for Shopping: South Congress
SoCo, short for South Congress Avenue, is a strip that is crammed with hip shops selling vintage and retro clothes, furniture, lots of top restaurants, food trucks, and nightlife. This burgeoning area is located close to Lamar (another street filled with food and bars), the lake, and Zilker park too. It’s a lot busier than East Austin and, while it doesn’t have as much nightlife as other parts of the city, it’s one of the best neighborhoods for eating and shopping. If I’m not out in East Austin, I’m usually here.
Best Place to Stay in South Congress:
- BUDGET: Red Roof Inn Austin South — Budget options in South Congress are few and far between, so if you’re looking to save money in the area, this is your best bet. Located more toward East Congress, the hotel has free Wi-Fi, a swimming pool, and complimentary coffee in the lobby.
- MIDRANGE: Austin Motel — Originally from the 1930s, the landmark Austin Motel has been renovated into a fun, retro property. There’s a pool, free parking, and it’s just a stone’s throw away from the Capitol.
- LUXURY: South Congress Hotel — This hip property is a world in and of itself, with three restaurants, two bars, a bakery, a coffeehouse, two boutiques, and even a motorcycle shop all on-premises. The lobby is filled with locals who plant themselves here to socialize (and stare at their laptops). Rooms offer custom bathrobes, a minibar stocked with local products, and large walk-in showers with a rain shower head.
After living here for 7 years, I can safely say that Austin is one of the best cities in the country. Nothing is more than 20 minutes away from anywhere else making it an easy city to navigate as you explore. It’s a perfect destination for a 3-4 day trip. And, since it’s not a huge city, you won’t have a problem getting around no matter where you stay.
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- SafetyWing (best for everyone)
- Insure My Trip (for those 70 and over)
- Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)
Want to travel for free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation. They are what keep me traveling so much for so little. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.