Where to Stay in Austin: 8 Best Areas

Where to stay in Austin

The best areas to stay in Austin really come down to what you’re looking for, but there should be a neighborhood for just about anyone. We’ve picked out eight of the coolest and most popular neighborhoods with a particular emphasis on tourists, and we’re ready to help you find out where to stay in Austin for your needs.

Just keep in mind that you should pay particularly close attention to which neighborhood you pick to stay. Austin isn’t a city with a particularly robust public transit system, and that means that getting around town means either footing the bill for regular rideshare services or getting behind the wheel and dealing with traffic yourself.

Where to Stay in Austin: 8 Best Places to Stay in Austin

1. Downtown Austin, best place to stay in Austin

Downtown Austin is pretty similar to the downtown of a number of American cities. It’s the portion of the city most densely populated with skyscrapers, and that high concentration of business buildings means that downtown Austin is arguably the best place to stay in Austin for business travelers. 

If you’re hopping from conference to meeting to conference, the easy accessibility is a godsend, and the downtown district has understandably adapted to match. 

Since there are so many large hotels downtown, supply tends to outpace demand except for the instance of special events. For that reason, you can usually get a great deal on a downtown hotel – and that’s especially true if you’re trying to book a room during the weekend. 

What’s especially cool is how much the downtown district can change over the course of just a few hours. While downtown may be absolutely thrumming with activity during the workdays, it tends to die down when the business travelers go their separate ways. 

But the density of hotels means that you should be able to find something decently priced even on traditional workdays.

And while downtown itself might not have a whole lot going on culturally, it’s readily accessible to the neighborhoods that are more tapped into the local flavor. In fact, if you want a taste of everything Austin has to offer, downtown might just offer the best location for exploring the town. 

And the close proximity to the Red River Cultural District means that you’ll have plenty of options available if you’re looking to party outside of the spots that downtown has to offer. 

There are also a decent amount of cultural landmarks downtown – with the Bullock State Texas History Museum and the Austin Children’s Museum making a persuasive argument for settling in downtown Austin for a family vacation.

2. 6th Street/Red River Cultural District, where to stay in Austin for nightlife

The Red River Cultural District is close enough to downtown to be considered a de facto annex, but it has a sense of personality all its own. In fact, it’s among the best Austin neighborhoods for those looking to explore the nightlife

Austin’s live music scene is legendary, and there’s no better neighborhood for experiencing live music than the streets that make up the Red River District. 

Whether you’re an old school punk, a hip-hop head, or a country music fan, you’ll find something for your tastes in Red River. That’s doubly impressive considering that the whole neighborhood constitutes an area of only about three city blocks.

But there’s one stretch of the Red River Cultural District that typifies the neighborhood more than anything, it’s Sixth Street. The whole area is rich with music and clubs, but Sixth Street is uniquely eclectic and definitely worth a visit if this is your first time in Austin. 

At night, Sixth Street becomes a lively party, overflowing with locals and particularly with college students. It’s enough to grind the traffic to a standstill, so positioning yourself in the Red River Cultural District or nearby downtown is a great way to enjoy the nightlife without getting caught in traffic. 

By day, Sixth Street is just as entertaining. It’s one of the best places in town to find a unique new local brew, and there are plenty of trendy bars willing to pour you out a creative house cocktail.

Also worthy of note is the Warehouse District, which is sometimes considered its own neighborhood but evokes much of the mood of the greater Red River Cultural District. This is the hub of queer culture in the city and offers everything from extravagant drag clubs to classier cocktail bars. 

Wherever you decide to stay in the Red River Cultural District, you’re likely to find lodgings that will meet your needs. But whether you’re booking an Airbnb or a traditional hotel, you can generally expect less gaudy amenities. 

The appeal of Red River is your ability to get out and explore rather than kick back and relax in bed.

3. East Austin, cool neighborhood

Austin isn’t a city known for being particularly pedestrian-friendly, but the growing neighborhood of East Austin tells a different story. Pedestrian sidewalks stretch all over the neighborhood, and it continues to maintain that accessibility for foot traffic even as its personality continues to develop. 

This part of Austin is growing faster than any other, and that’s a trend that ensures there’s almost always something new to do. 

East Austin used to be a blue-collar neighborhood, and it’s managed to maintain much of the local color – and colorful personalities – with its transition into a hipper and more in demand part of town.

The walkability of East Austin is further enhanced by the abundance of local street murals. The George Washington Carver library offers one of the most impressive works of street art in town, but it’s just one of many murals that dot the streets of East Austin and celebrate the unique Tejano art style. 

And the library’s somber reminder of those lost in the middle passage is more than reason enough to secure tickets to the George Washington Carver Museum – one of the most authoritative centers for African-American history in the American South. 

If you’d like to explore that heritage of Tejano culture more, there’s a completely free option available to you. The Tejano Walking Trails are clearly marked and offer an immersive look into the rich Latin heritage that’s played such a large role in the neighborhood’s history. 

And there’s no starker contrast between Old East Austin and New East Austin than Alamo Street – the block that splits the traditionally modest residential homes of blue-collar East Austin from their modern and more affluent neighbors.

East Austin also has the advantage of being centrally located. It’s next door to downtown – providing you with a gateway to some of the best neighborhoods in town – though you’ll want to take a slightly closer look at where you decide to get your lodgings. 

East Austin is a pretty big neighborhood, so would-be city explorers will want to stay a little closer to the western margins if they want more ready access to all the hottest parts of town.

4. Rainey Street Historic District, bars, clubs and event venues

If you want to see what East Austin will probably look like in a few years, be sure to check out the Rainey Street District. What was once a neighborhood filled with bungalows built in the 1930s is now bursting at the seams with bars, clubs, and event venues. 

Fortunately, most of the renovations haven’t been performed with an overabundance of bulldozers. Many of these spaces still retain the architecture and personality of when they were built, and the results are some of the most homey and distinct hangout spots in Austin. 

The crowds tend to be fairly young professionals of a bent slightly less “weird” than many of Austin’s other neighborhoods.

But as is often the case with Austin neighborhoods, Rainey’s store is one of progress. While many of the historic buildings remain, they’re abutted by some glistening modern highrises that dilute the historic appeal of the neighborhood.

This is just another effect of downtown’s proximity, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The city’s creep into quieter neighborhoods also means better access to just about everything, and Rainey Street continues to be a distinct enclave of traditional design among a city increasingly composed of steel and concrete.

Even if you aren’t going to stay in Austin in Rainey, you should take the time to walk its streets. Dazzling murals line many of the walls – even as more generic landmarks come to dominate the landscape. 

The Tejano Walking Trails extend into Rainey Street, and the neighborhood is actually home to some of the best Latinx murals around. That also means that you can get scenic access all the way through East Austin without even having to get in a car. 

This is a part of town that’s split between the old and the new, and that’s the case for lodgings as well. 

Whether you’re looking for a highrise penthouse that overlooks Austin’s sprawling downtown or an aging house transformed into a cozy bed and breakfast, there’s something to suit your tastes and budgets on or around Rainey Street.

5. University of Texas Campus Area, where to stay in Austin on a budget

The most obvious appeal of the University of Texas is obviously going to be to students looking to live off-campus. But the same advantages that make the surrounding neighborhoods a good choice for students is also going to make it ideal for travelers looking to come to town on a budget

Whether you’re coming to town for an on-campus conference or you’re simply seeking out an affordable place to stay in Austin, the areas surrounding the University have you covered. 

There are plenty of cheap hotels here, but you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck if you’re looking to stay a little longer. 

Apartment complexes have adapted their prices to suit the neighborhood’s demographics, and that makes it pretty easy to get a good deal on an Airbnb or short term rental. That’s especially true in the Summer, when many of the students go home for break.

If you asked a hundred people what the coolest neighborhood in Austin is, chances are that University of Texas won’t top the list, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty worth exploring on or around the campus. 

The option to walk to a Longhorns game at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium – a five-minute walk from the heart of the campus – will thrill fans and alumni, but there’s a lot more to UT than just football. 

The Blanton Musem of Art is the premier destination in Austin for appreciators of modern art, and it also houses an expansive and unique collection of pieces from various Latin American artists. 

Then there’s the campus itself. True crime fans might find a morbid fascination with the infamous UT clocktower, but you’ll find a more enlightening and soothing experience at the local student center. 

The Skyspace exhibit crafted by Jame Turrell for the center’s roof is a natural observatory offering some stunning natural lighting, and it’s one of the best places in town to kick back and take a contemplative rest.

6. North Loop, good for shopping

Locally owned and locally operated is the dominating ethos of the North Loop. Situated adjacent to both the University of Texas and downtown, the North Loop earns its name from highway loop that provides ready access to both.

The eclectic variety that the shops here has to offer makes it a frequent destination for residents beyond just their daily commutes. 

The North Loop’s businesses included some incredibly low-priced movie theaters as well as locally treasured restaurants and shops that can offer everything from imported Japanese toys to exotic candies and exotically flavored fudges.

But you’ll probably spend more time checking out retro goods than you will hunting down rare new imports. The North Loop quite likely offers the highest volume of vintage clothing stores per capita in the city, and it’s equally as bountiful with record shops and book shops too. 

Sprinkled between them are plenty of local shops offering custom-made goods that would make perfect souvenirs for friends and family. 

And it’s easy to catch a break once you’re done shopping. Some of the most beloved coffee shops in town are located in the North Loop, and it’s where some of the most revered food trucks tend to set up shop.

Perhaps best of all is how diverse the residents here are. While college kids and artists can frequently be seen scouring the vintage clothing stores and coffee shops, it’s also home to a decent number of young professionals and families. 

The North Loop has stubbornly defied attempts at sterilization. Chain stores are few and far between, and the goods here tend to be unique and not explicitly targeted towards the tourist crowd. That also means that traditional hotel chains can be hard to find. 

The North Loop is one of the best places to stay in Austin, but your top options will likely be Airbnbs or lodgings found on other shared rental services.

7. South Austin/Zilker, great neighborhood in Austin for families

Zilker’s claim to fame is right in its name. This quiet and sedate neighborhood is named for Zilker Park – and Zilker Park is widely regarded as the most beautiful and famous park within Austin’s city limits. And you could reasonably spend days or even weeks exploring everything this stretch of natural majesty has to offer. 

Barton Springs Pool is a great way to beat the heat on a sweltering summer afternoon, and that’s something you’ll definitely need if you decide to embark on the sometimes arduous hiking and biking trails that criss-cross the park.

Zilker Park is also the home of the South by Southwest Music Festival, and that means that accessibility can vary wildly depending on when you decide to visit. It may be ready to pop during festival months, but it recedes into a quiet and peaceful calm through much of the year. 

Zilker Park – and most of South Austin by proxy – is one of the friendliest, safest, and most residential neighborhoods in Austin

Greenspaces are abundant and extend well beyond the park grounds. But despite the suburban feel, South Austin is still home to some very solid modern restaurants and relatively close proximity to downtown Austin.

These neighborhoods may be dominated by houses and more quiet residential plots, but that unfortunately also means that hotels are a little harder to come upon. You can find a room, and find one at a reasonable price, if you’re willing to look – but you may be better off opting for a private rental. 

Also bear in mind that Zilker Park and South Austin in general are a little off the beaten path when compared to some of the other neighborhoods in our guide. If you want to stay in South Austin but still want to really explore the neighborhood, it may be worth shelling out the cost for a rental car.

8. South Congress, shopping district

The picturesque view of Austin as a strange but charming city of weirdos is perhaps best typified by South Congress.

Like the North Loop, it’s practically overflowing with stores offering vintage clothing, vintage records, and off the wall toys. Unlike the North Loop, it’s not nearly so focused on retail – and it’s somewhat more urbane.

The live music here is second only to the Red River District, and it actually has more shows to offer in terms of raw numbers. It is significantly larger in size after all. The heart of South Congress is the Continental Club, and it’s as much a local historical landmark as it is a music venue.

If you need something that you can’t (or would rather not) find at Target or Wal-Mart, chances are that it’s available somewhere in the streets of South Congress. Traditional Latin art and culturally tongue-in-cheek costumes sit side by side with more serious designed clothing stores and boutique outlets. 

And the usually busy streets of South Congress draw tourists and local shoppers, but they also bring in a whole flock of street performers. Musicians, jugglers, and all sorts of other artists ply their trade on South Congress’ streets, and the local art scene here is just as diverse and eclectic. 

We recommend Yard Dog Art Gallery, home to a refreshing selection of artists with a focus on creators from the American Southeast.

While nearby downtown may be dominated by large hotel chains and some of the more far-away neighborhoods are dominated by Airbnb and hotel rentals, the places to stay in Austin in South Congress tend towards the boutique

It may be a little more expensive, but most of the hotels and hostels here offer a one-of-a-kind ambiance or at least something that makes them stand apart from more cookie-cutter chain hotels.

Photo: Shutterstock

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