Whether it’s the breakfast tacos at Tamale House East, the always-on music and entertainment scene, or being able to bring your pup with you just about wherever you go, we get it: Austin is a great place to live. No matter what it is that makes you want to rent an Austin apartment or scope out Austin homes for sale, there’s no denying you’ve picked a winner.
“There’s always a show going on,” says Austin-based photographer Kate Zimmerman. “The foodie scene is booming here too, which is really fun.” Her work frequently showcases the city’s great food (and also her dog, Hank, who is her constant companion). But her favorite thing about Austin might be the Barton Creek Greenbelt, with its 12-plus miles of trails in the center of the city. “You’re all of a sudden in this amazing blue lagoon that is totally refreshing. It’s just a really cool spot to hang out and spend your summer,” she says. It’s clear that Austin’s pull is strong: Photographer Hunter Lawrence and his wife recently returned to the city after two years of living in Denver, CO — and he couldn’t be happier to be back. “We moved back at the end of June,” he says. “We’ll be out on a Saturday or even a Tuesday night, and it feels like we’re on vacation. There just aren’t a lot of places that feel like that.”
We asked Zimmerman and Lawrence to help us answer one question: What should everyone know before moving to Austin? Here’s what they had to say.
1. There’s a to-do list for your first week in Austin
Becoming an Austinite means making a point of checking the essential experiences off your to-do list ASAP. First off? Lady Bird Lake — formerly known as Town Lake. “Walk Lady Bird Lake,” says Zimmerman. “It’s about 5 miles, but you can do a 3-mile loop. You get a good introduction to Austin that way.” Lawrence agrees, but suggests Austin newbies scope out the views from the water. “Get a kayak and just paddle around,” he says. “It feels like Italy out there sometimes.”
Then head to South Congress Avenue. “As touristy as it can be,” Zimmerman says, “it is a good reflection of the Weird Austin vibe. Go check out the East Side and get some food at one of the food trucks there.” Next up: “Go to Zilker Park for a picnic,” advises Lawrence, and cool off at Barton Springs Pool while you’re there.
2. There’s no “perfect” Austin neighborhood
The truth is, they’re all great, and finding your perfect neighborhood match comes down to finding the perfect balance among a few key benchmarks: how close to downtown you want to be, how much traffic you’re willing to put up with every day, and your price range. “All the neighborhoods across Austin have a unique thing that’s special about them,” says Lawrence, who lives in the Crestview neighborhood, far from where he had previously lived in Austin. “North Austin just now feels like part of the city, so we’re OK being north of where we’ve lived in the past.”
Zimmerman took the opposite approach, and bought her house in Travis Heights, closer to the heart of the city, in 2015. “I had been living north of the river and kind of close to campus,” she says, referring to the University of Texas at Austin. “I landed my dream spot. I’m a 10-minute walk from South Congress, which can be really touristy on the weekends but is a really fun spot to go eat and hang out. And I’m also pretty close to the highway, you can’t hear it, but it makes it really easy to get places.”
3. Austin isn’t just for creative people (but it can feel that way)
“I’ve always loved Austin as an artsy community. It’s just a great place for creatives to collaborate and work together,” says Zimmerman. “There’s a lot of building each other up, helping each other with jobs. Starting out as a photographer three years ago completely freelance, that was really attractive.” But, she emphasizes, Austin isn’t just a city for those who are into the arts. “The vibe is very relaxed and really cool,” she says. “It’s just a very unpretentious, friendly town.”
4. Don’t be intimidated by the competition for rentals
“Austin has a rep of just being so expensive,” says Lawrence. “You can get pretty discouraged looking at the market here sometimes.” But even if moving to Austin seems intimidating from afar, the reality is that it’s much more approachable once you’re in it, Lawrence says. The toughest thing about the rental climate, according to Lawrence, is the competition: “Homes will go up for rent, and like 10 people will call in an hour,” he says. But it’s still no comparison to cities like Los Angeles, CA, or San Francisco, CA, where the competition is much more fierce.
5. Affordable real estate does exist
“I had two dream neighborhoods: Travis Heights and the Bouldin Creek area,” says Zimmerman. “But as Austin’s getting popular, the prices are just ridiculous. It came down to what I could afford. Even though my neighborhood is one of the pricier areas, I happened to find a house that fit my budget — and also there’s a park about three blocks away with a creek in it for my dog, so that was a huge selling point.” You might have to extend your search, move a bit further away from the heart of downtown, or be willing to take on a fixer-upper, but make no mistake: There are still real estate deals to be found in Austin.
6. People will be jealous that you live here
“Where do I even start? It’s like all the fun things that you’d have in a really big city. But it’s really not that big,” says Lawrence. “I think we have some of the best food in the country. The Texas Hill Country is at our back door. The music and entertainment culture here is amazing. There’s always something happening, whether it’s a new festival or some new food. Austin [is] just kind of always wanting to push the envelope.”
7. The heat won’t keep you indoors
“It gets pretty hot here, but it makes it OK when you have the Greenbelt, and the lake, and all the activities you can do outside,” says Zimmerman. “There are parks everywhere, and streets like South Congress that are so lively.” Lawrence agrees. “The thing that I love about Austin is that it’s summer, and it’s 105 degrees, and the city is just moving. How cool is it that we live in a place where people don’t let the heat keep them inside?” That said, you’ll still have seasons, so don’t throw away your coats just yet: The average low in December and January is around 40 degrees, and the high is 60 degrees.
8. You might not always love Austin’s big festivals
When it comes to the fanfare surrounding festivals, “it’s pretty much a nightmare,” says Zimmerman. “I kind of thought it would be really cool as a photographer and artist to be in a city that hosts these things, but it’s quite the opposite. You really can’t get anywhere, and I live in an area where it’s all happening. I’m pretty much on lockdown.” But she’s found a silver lining: To get away from the crowds and the traffic, Zimmerman rents out her house during the city’s two major festivals, Austin City Limits and South by Southwest. “It works out nicely,” she says.
9. The mark of a true Austinite
“Complaining about traffic; complaining about all the change and the growth. That’s always a conversation that Austinites bond over,” says Zimmerman. But there are also things Austinites know about their city that they rarely share, like the hidden entrances to get into the Greenbelt or the lake. “There are secret coves and secret parking areas that Austinites keep secret and don’t tell their friends,” she says. “You’re lucky if someone shows you. If they get discovered, it’s definitely an upset.”
For Lawrence, there are two ultimate markers of a true Austinite: “When you’ve endured really bad traffic and still can be really joyful about the show you’re going to, and when the festivals are over and you’ve endured another city moving in for the weekend. It’s going to happen next weekend, and the next weekend, and the next. People keep coming back to Austin for a reason, you know?”