Austin. The weird blue dot in a conservative sea. Located in Texas, Austin has always been home to musicians, hippies, weirdos, and now me. I call Austin my home and I love it. Having grown rapidly in the last five years as a tech hub, this is a city full of start-ups, entrepreneurs, musicians, cowboys, beer lovers, and fitness buffs. It’s a cross section of all those who wander. In this city, you’ll find line dancing next to an organic food market next to a classic steak house. The beer and food truck scene grows every day and you can throw a stone without finding wonderful music. No one ever walks away disappointed! This city has something for everyone, and this guide will help you make the most of it!
Hostel prices – There are only a few hostels in the city, with most dorms are priced around 30-40 USD per night. You can expect to pay at least 60 USD for a private. Free WiFi is standard and a couple hostels also include free breakfast. Most have kitchens if you plan on cooking your own food. I actually own a hostel in the city so come stay with me at HK Austin (it’s the best in town)! I’m always hanging about the city when I’m in the city!
Budget hotel prices – Most hotels in the city cost between 60-100 USD and have basic, modern rooms with WiFi, free breakfast, and swimming pools. For a brand-name chain hotel (think Hilton and Holiday Inn), prices begin around 150 USD per night, though average $250. Airbnb is widely available in the city, with prices for shared accommodation starting around 25 USD per night and entire apartments beginning at 70 USD per night. During the many, many festivals and conferences that happen in Austin, expect prices to be 50%-100% higher!
Average cost of food – A lunch at a cafe is about 13 USD, while a meal at a fast food chain (think McDonald’s or Chipotle) is around 7 USD. Breakfast tacos cost around 3 USD each. Most food trucks between 8-10 for a meal. Dinner at a mid-range restaurant will be between 20-30 USD, and closer to 80 at an upscale place (with drinks). The city is also known for its great vegetarian and vegan offerings. Be sure to check out The Vegan Yacht and Counter Culture for great meat-free eats. If you plan on cooking your own meals, expect to spend between 50-60 USD per week on groceries (basic food stuffs like chicken, pasta, rice, fruits, veggies, etc). Some of my favorite places to eat in the city are La Barbeque, Veracruz, Leaf, Peche, Taco Deli, Homeslice, and P.Terry’s. For a more complete list, see the blog post at the bottom of this page.
Transportation costs – Austin does not have a great public transportation and it’s really hard to get around. There’s a light rail but it only has one line and goes nowhere useful. The bus goes everywhere for $1. Cycling is a great way to get around and bike rentals cost around 25 USD per day. The best way to get around if you don’t bike or have a car is to take RideAustin or Fasten, the local versions of Uber. For intercity travel, the cheapest option will be Megabus as you can find rides for as low as 1 USD.
Suggested daily budget – 50-60 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
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Money Saving Tips
- Cook your own meals – While Austin offers a lot of great eats, eating out for every meal can get expensive. If you have access to a kitchen be sure to cook some of your own meals. Buying groceries will be much cheaper than going out for every meal. HEB is the cheapest place for groceries in the city.
- Take the bus to the airport – While a taxi may be faster, taking public transportation to the airport will be a fraction of the price. If you’re on a budget and have the time, take the bus. A single-fare only costs 1.25 USD.
- Drink on 6th street – If you’re going out for drinks, stick to 6th street. Here you’ll find the cheapest drinks in town and a few great places to drink like Maggie Mae’s, The Blind Pig, Shakespeares. The bars here have $1 drink and shot deals all the time. This place is packed with lots of young people and can get crazy on the weekends but, if you want cheap drinks, this place is it.
- Eat at the food trucks – Austin is known for its food trucks. They are plentiful, delicious, and cheap. If you’re going out to eat, avoid the restaurants and stick to the trucks. You can find a lot on the east side and in the downtown area.
- Skip the cabs, rent a bike – Austin is a bit spread out, which means walking can be rather time-consuming. I’ve you’re on a budget, avoid the cabs and rent a bike. Not only is this a great way to see the city, but you’ll get some exercise, too!
- Take a free tour of the Capitol building – This is a really neat building to explore, and the tours are actually quite informative. Guides are available 7 days a week, though you can also take a self-guided tour (Get a tour with a guide, though — it’s much more interesting!).
- Save money on rideshares – Uber and Lyft (my preferred company) are way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to take a bus or pay for a taxi. The shared/pool option (where you share a ride with other people) offers even better savings. You can save money off your first rides with the following codes: Lyft (MATTHEW999 to save $10) and Uber (jlx6v to save $15).
Top Things to See and Do in Austin
- Cathedral of Junk – The cathedral was built by Vince Hannemann, who sits around while people hang out with his stuff. The Cathedral of Junk is exactly that — a bunch of junk. There are towers of TVs, bikes, old refrigerators, tires, hubcaps, and more. I found the place great for families. Talking to some locals, I found out that a lot of people come here with their kids; many were running all over the place and having a merry time playing make-believe. Kids + junk + pretend = an easy afternoon.
- Museum of the Weird – This museum located on 6th Street is a typical penny arcade featuring weird oddities like a two-headed chicken, a “fish man,” a mummy, and even a sideshow. It’s one of those “step right up and see some weird shit” kind of places. It’s small, taking only 20 minutes to wander through, but it’s weird, Austin-like, and sort of fun. Admission is 5 USD.
- Taste of Joy – This hot sauce shop serves hundreds of different kinds of hot sauces. If you like hot sauce, come here. They offer free tastings for many of the sauces. If you want to go crazy, try all the sauces on the shelves aptly shaped like a coffin. They are for serious spicy addicts only!
- Listen to music – Austin is famous for its music scene, and there are many opportunities here to listen to some world-class, independent music. Pretty much every bar in the city showcases music. The two big music festivals in the city are Austin City Limits and SXSW.
- Visit a Whole Foods – Whole Foods, the nationwide chain, started in Austin and the flagship store is located here in the city. This particular store features a wine bar, smoothie bar, beer locker, roof terrace, giant salad bars, and seemingly endless supplies of vegetables, food, and in-store restaurants. It’s a food heaven, and it might be my happy place, too.
- Watch the bats from the bridge on Congress Avenue – From mid-March until November, the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin is home to 1.5 million flying bats. Visit the waterfront at dusk to watch these beauties head out for their nightly foraging.
- Jump into Barton Springs – Barton Springs Pool is the city’s main aquatic treasure. Located in Zilker Park (see below), the natural springs provide a great respite from the summertime heat. If you’re up to it, check out Hippie Hollow on Lake Travis, Austin’s nudist beach.
- Zilker Park – Zilker Park is in the heart of south Austin. The park offers many different types of outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, jogging, and anything else you can do in a park. Barton Springs (see above) is here as well. And don’t forget to visit the statue park.
- Take a craft beer tour – Austin is home to a growing number of craft beer breweries, most of which offer tours of their facilities (with samples, of course!). If you find a local beer you like be sure to check out their brewery. There are also companies like ATXcursions that organize tours of multiple breweries. If you take a tour organized by a third party, expect to pay around 70 USD per person.
- Eat some BBQ – If you like BBQ, you’ve come to the right city! Austin has some incredible offerings when it comes barbeque, including La Barbeque and Franklins. While it’s not uncommon to wait hours, I can assure you the food is worth it! Get there early to avoid the worst of the waiting!
- Hang out on Lady Bird Lake – This lake is actually a reservoir on the Colorado River. Located in downtown Austin, it’s a great place for rowing or kayaking as no motorboats are allowed on the water. There are trails around the lake for hiking and cycling, too.
- Visit the State History Museum – This museum focuses on telling the story of Texas, which is a great place to start if you’re not familiar with the Lonestar state’s past. The museum is home to some interesting artifacts, and they also host regular special exhibitions. Admission is 13 USD for adults, with discounts available for students, seniors, and military personnel.
- See a movie at the Ritz – This was the first movie theater in Austin to be built for talking films (it opened in 1929!). Located on 6th Street, it’s a great place to catch a movie. There is an attached comedy club and music hall, too.
- Swim in Deep Eddy – This man-made pool is fed from a nearby well with non-chlorinated water. It’s the oldest swimming pool in Texas and is open all year around (its hours of operation are shortened during the winter, though). In the summer they show family movies here, projected onto an inflatable screen.
- See the LBJ Presidential Library – There are over 45 million pages of historical documents here, including papers from LBJ and many of his close associates. LBJ was a very influential President, so if you’re into American history or politics don’t miss this!
- Try an escape room – Austin is home to a few great escape rooms, which are a fun way to spend an afternoon. The Escape Game Austin is one of the top-rated rooms in the country and offers some really neat challenges. If you’ve never tried an escape room, this is the place! Admission is usually around 25-30 USD per person.
- Go two-stepping – Country dancing can be found all over the city, with the White Horse being the most famous spot. If you go on Wednesday, they even give free two-step lessons! The Broken Spoke is another popular place to dance, too.
- First Thursday – The South Congress Hotel hosts a huge event on the first Thursday of every month. There is live music and all-night happy hour. Don’t miss this if you’re in town — it’s one of my favorite monthly events!
- Get weird on Rainey Street – This nightlife area is filled with old houses that have been recently converted into bars. Originally the “hipster” part of the city, it’s now mainstream and teems with people on the weekend. Personally, I hate coming here on the weekends: it’s too crowded and there are too many bachelor/ette parties. I find the scene a little too wild for me (though you may not!)
- Grab a cocktail – Beer and cheap drinks reign supreme in Austin, however, there is a growing cocktail bar scene in the city. If you’re looking for the perfect cocktail, try Firehouse Lounge, Floppy Disk Repair Shop, Midnight Cowboy, Garage, or Whistler’s (see, there are a lot!).