College often means moving to a new—sometimes, really new—place. The change of scenery, along with the newfound freedom it comes with, is one of the best parts about college. But it can also be a challenge to adjust, especially while juggling the other really new facets of the college experience. That’s why we created this series, diving into the top need-to-know facts and stats about popular college cities and towns. So students can read up on their new home and then get out there!
There isn’t another city quite like it, where cowboys and hipsters orbit the same barbeque and live music joints. It’s weird. It’s wonderful. It’s Austin.
Austin at a glance
It may be the capital of Texas, but Austin is unlike any other place in the Lone Star State. The city has not one but two unofficial slogans—“Keep Austin Weird” and “The Live Music Capital of the World”—both of which perfectly encapsulate the eccentric and creative energy you’ll find here. With the sprawling University of Texas at Austin, one of the largest schools in the country, at its center, Austin is a bustling college town with a youthful vibe and a large population of educators, activists, artists, musicians, culinary adventurers, and others who make a living thinking outside the box. In and around the city, you’ll find some of the best opportunities for outdoor activities in Texas, not to mention some of the best food in the country. If you like to work hard and play hard, Austin just may be the perfect city for you (being a hipster also doesn’t hurt).
Austin is served by Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), located just a few miles southeast of downtown. Sometimes it can be difficult to find direct flights from AUS (layovers in Houston or Dallas are often a necessary evil), but more have become available in recent years, and you can even fly nonstop from Austin to London now.
Amtrak’s Texas Eagle line travels daily between Chicago and San Antonio, with stops in Austin and Dallas along the way. A one-way ticket from Austin to Dallas costs about $30.
Public transportation isn’t as extensive in Texas as it is in other parts of the country, but Austin does rely on its bus network more than other large cities in the state do. Capital Metropolitan Authority operates the city’s bus and commuter rail system, which will get you almost anywhere you want to go in Austin. To ride a bus, you can pay with exact change once you board or use a MetroBus pass. MetroRail has nine stations and runs Monday through Friday between the City of Leander and downtown Austin. You can purchase MetroRail tickets or value passes online or at the train station.
Texas is a driving state. Almost everyone has a car, and that means two things: one, it’s pretty easy to get around in Austin, and two, there tends to be a fair amount of traffic. Depending on the college you’re attending, the cost of campus parking will also help determine whether you really want to have a car in the city. For example, at UT Austin, dorm residents are charged up to $750 a year for parking. But the school also has its very own bus system that’s free of charge for students. Austin may be a relatively drivable city, but as a college student, it’s best to avoid having a car unless you absolutely have to for a medical reason or an off-campus job.
Getting around Austin on two wheels is fun and easy. Bicycling magazine named Austin the 13th-most bike-friendly city in America in 2012, and like many large cities in America and around the world, Austin recently launched a user-friendly bicycle program. Just go to any Austin B-Cycle station, swipe your credit card or B-Cycle card, choose an available bike, and you’re off! The first 30 minutes are free, and it’s $4 per 30 minutes thereafter. When you’re done, you can return your bike to the Austin B-Cycle station nearest your destination.
Austin isn’t the most walkable city in the country (WalkScore ranked it the 35th-most walkable of the 50 largest U.S. cities in 2013), partly because it’s spread out over a large area. But there’s still plenty that you can see and do on foot. Across the street from UT Austin, Guadalupe Street is perfect for strolling and people watching on a warm spring day. Or you could take a bus or ride a bike over to South Congress, have lunch at an outdoor café, and spend the afternoon window-shopping at the dozens of quirky boutiques that line both sides of the street. And for a bit of scenery, you can take a leisurely sunset walk on the banks of Lady Bird Lake, which offers breathtaking views of downtown Austin.
Austin is almost as famous for its food as it is for its live music scene. Whatever your preferred cuisine may be, you’re guaranteed to find it in Austin—and odds are, it’ll be the best you’ve ever had. Tacos and Tex Mex are huge in Texas in general and in Austin in particular. Barbecue is also a big deal (be sure to try The Salt Lick, and you haven’t lived until you’ve waited in line at Franklin Barbecue). But if you prefer food that didn’t have parents, never fear: Austin is one of the most vegetarian/vegan-friendly cities in the country, and most restaurants have multiple meatless options for herbivores.
Most important, however, is Austin’s ever-growing food truck scene. To get started, visit South Congress, where a sizable contingent of trailers can be found any day of the week. But really, you’ll find them all over the city, serving up anything and everything from ice cream to chicken and waffles to pad Thai.
Basically, if you love food, you’ll love Austin.
Where to begin . . .
A better question than “What kind of music is there in Austin?” is “What kind of music isn’t there in Austin?” The city is reportedly home to more live music venues per capita than any other city in the country, many of which are clustered in and around the Sixth Street historic area. Pick a club, any club, and you’re bound to chance upon some seriously talented musicians.
While unknowns try to make a name for themselves in basement jazz clubs, big-name performers are drawn to Austin’s many music festivals and events, such as Austin City Limits, the Urban Music Festival, and Blues on the Green. Tickets for all of those events sell out quickly, so plan ahead if you want to partake in the festivities.
There are numerous world-class museums located throughout Austin, such as the Austin Museum of Art, the Blanton Museum of Art, the LBJ Presidential Library, and the Texas Natural Science Center. The Texas State Capitol (which is taller than the United States Capitol) and the iconic tower at UT Austin are also historic attractions that draw many locals and tourists alike. Not sure where to start? The Austin Museum Partnership has all the info you need on upcoming exhibits and events.
With so many artistic and creative people calling it home, it’s no wonder Austin has a vibrant culture of performing arts. From stand-up comedy to full-blown Broadway productions, there’s a wide array of entertainment to be enjoyed any night of the week. Catch a play at the Long Center for Performing Arts, enjoy a few laughs with Second City at the Paramount Theatre, or sit back and be blown away by the innovative artists at the VORTEX Repertory Company.
Here are just a few of the many events Austin hosts each year:
- Austin Marathon: Held in mid-February
- South by Southwest (SXSW): Held in March in various locations throughout Austin
- Austin Reggae Festival: Held in April at Butler Park
- Eeyore’s Birthday Party: Usually held the last Saturday of April at Pease Park
- Pecan Street Festival: Held in May on Sixth Street
- Fourth of July Fireworks and Symphony: July 4 at the Long Center for Performing Arts
- Blues on the Green: Held throughout the summer at Zilker Park
- Austin City Limits Music Festival: Held in October at Zilker Park
When you think of Texas, images of a vast, flat prairie or a barren, windswept desert likely come to mind. And you will find some of that in various parts of the state. But not in Austin.
Austin is located in Texas Hill Country, where the state’s generally flat landscape gives way to rugged hills, snaking rivers, secret watering holes, and even an Enchanted Rock—all of which translate into plentiful adventures for outdoor enthusiasts. Here are just of few of the activities Austin has to offer:
- Kayaking and paddleboarding on Lady Bird Lake
- Tubing on the Guadalupe River
- Jet skiing or wakeboarding on Lake Travis
- Swimming in the chilly water at Barton Springs on a hot day
- Camping at McKinney Falls State Park
- And of course, watching the bats take flight from the Congress Avenue Bridge!
Austin is the largest U.S. city without a major professional sports team. But that’s okay, because UT Austin’s football team does a fine job of keeping everyone on the edge of their seats. The Longhorns are a huge draw for the city, and on game day, the whole of Austin seems to be decked out in burnt orange. Tickets can be difficult to come by, but there are plenty of great restaurants throughout the city where you can relax and watch the game. Or you could partake in the grand Texas tradition of tailgating.
If you’re not much of a football enthusiast, Austin recently opened the Circuit of the Americas, a multi-purpose facility that hosts racing events, such as the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix™.
In 2012, the FBI named Austin the second-safest major city in the United States. Though property crimes have increased slightly in recent years, violent crimes have dropped, to the extent that Austin boasts the third-lowest rate of violent crime of large cities in America. In general, Austin is a very safe place for college students, but, as in any city, you should still be aware of your surroundings at all times and avoid going out alone late at night.
As Austin’s popularity has grown in recent years, so has the cost of living. Apartment prices recently reached an all-time high of $1.15 per square foot, due in part to the simple law of supply and demand: the city’s population growth has outpaced apartment construction. But while Texans from other parts of the state might be startled by that figure, it may not seem so bad to those of you coming from pricier regions of the country.
If you’ll be living on a college campus, you can expect to pay a little less than what you’d pay for an off-campus apartment. Room and board at St. Edward’s University comes to around $1,200 per month for the academic year, and at UT Austin, room and board comes to around $1,400 per month—that may seem steep, but remember, that’s for shelter and food.
Yup. It’s not just a stereotype. Texas is hot. Really hot. Not all year, but when it’s hot, it is hot! If you’re coming from outside the state and plan on traveling back home during the summer, you’ll be spared the worst of it, but you’ll still catch the tail end when you head back to school in August, when the average daily high is 97 degrees—that’s average, meaning sometimes it’s even higher.
But don’t let all that fire-and-brimstone talk deter you. For one thing, Texas has a lot of one very important thing to help you beat the heat: air conditioning. And for another thing, those hot summers also mean Austin enjoys mild winters, with the average daily high topping out at 62 in January and lows rarely dipping south of freezing.
Colleges and universities in and around Austin
Here’s a list of some of the great colleges and universities located in and around Austin:
- The Art Institute of Austin
- Concordia University
- Huston-Tillotson University
- St. Edward’s University
- The University of Texas at Austin
Major companies with headquarters or offices in and around Austin
Interning at GM, Apple, or Whole Foods' HQ? Not too shabby.
- Cirrus Logic
- Dimensional Fund Advisors
- General Motors
- Home Depot
- National Instruments
- Whole Foods
Just for fun
Folks who were born or have lived in Austin
- Wes Ansderson, film director and screenwriter
- Sandra Bullock, actress
- Walter Cronkite, broadcast journalist
- Michael Dell, businessman, founder and CEO of Dell, Inc.
- Ethan Hawke, actor
- Mike judge, animator and filmmaker
- Matthew McConaughey, actor
- Owen Wilson, actor
- Renée Zellweger, actress
Need more reasons to love Austin? Check out these fun facts from www.365thingsaustin.com.
- Famed taco joint Torchy’s Tacos has a “secret menu.”
- Austin has a proud tradition of adopting versus breeding dogs and is a no-kill city.
- The stretch of Guadalupe that runs along the western edge of UT Austin is known as “The Drag.”
- Each year, Zilker Park erects a Christmas tree that stands 155 feet tall and has a 380-foot circumference.
- Breakfast tacos are a food group among locals.
- Austin is the birthplace of Whole Foods.
- Located right on the water on Lake Austin Boulevard, Mozart’s is a delicious alternative to Starbucks.
- Pedicabs are an acceptable alternative to regular cabs, especially around Sixth Street.