Know Before You Go: Austin
As a belated Christmas gift to myself I embarked on a trip to Austin, Texas during the first weekend of January. I couldn't have timed it better, given that the weather in my state dipped below zero. My flight was through Frontier, a budget airline in the United States, and one that I had a good experience with. Seriously, the co-pilot played the ‘Imperial March’ from Star Wars and said “May the Force be with you.” A pilot after my own heart!
Arriving in the early morning of Friday, I was able to enjoy a leisurely weekend exploring for three days with Monday being my departure. Travel pro tip: Look at booking flights at smaller airports that are close to big city (1-3 hour drive). You’ll easily save $100 or more. I did San Antonio and drove the hour to Austin (highly recommended).
Where to Stay
Austin has several places you can stay ranging from Airbnbs, hotels, motels, and even hostels. Where you stay is up to you, though discounts through membership programs (AAA!) can definitely affect the long-term cost. I saw hotels as cheap as $75 and as expensive as $325 a night. Downtown Austin hosts a number of places to stay, but be warned that parking is at a premium and you’re likely going to be paying extra to pay your car. I snagged a hotel outside the central part of the city and saved that way.
I got a rental car and I’m glad I did. You can easily spend a significant amount of time exploring the downtown area, but there’s a lot of fantastic nature spots and areas to check out that aren’t within the main part of the city (Hamilton Pool, Zilker Gardens).
I can’t talk about driving and Austin without mentioning how horrible driving and parking in downtown Austin is. Once upon a time parking in Austin was free in the downtown area. Now, you have the option of parking on the street or using a parking garage. Street parking involves prepaying for parking or affixing a sticker from one of the parking machines lining the streets. Parking garages are to be used carefully as some will charge a lot more or have a high minimum fee.
Also, the roads in Texas are horrible (are taxes not being used to fix the roads?) Oh and don’t go less than five miles under the speed limit, you’ll get run over. Also, don’t expect to have someone always let you over when you give your turn signal in advance.
Safety and Atmosphere
While I never felt unsafe in Austin, I also avoided areas that I could tell were not the safest at night. It’s important to note that there is a large homeless population in Austin. I was approached once for money, which I think is typical of large cities. It paints a picture of how the increasing cost of living in Austin has affected many (and reading articles online confirmed my thoughts).
Some of the buildings in the downtown area do look very run down. I went by a luxury hotel in one of the ‘rougher’ parts of the city and did some shopping in that area, but again, never felt unsafe during the daylight hours. Would I go there at night? Probably not.
Food in Austin
If you leave Austin feeling hungry or feel that you didn’t have enjoy good food, you did Austin wrong. Austin is not short-changed on food options which range from Irish pubs to tacos to dessert eateries to sandwich shops. A quick google search can help point you in the right direction, depending on your preference.
Some of my personal recommendations are:
- Amy’s Ice Cream Shop
- Epoch Coffee
Food prices can range, but I did notice a price increase in some places compared to what I’m paying where I live (outside of Washington D.C.).
What to See
Austin sincerely has something for everyone. You like to kayak? You’re covered. You want to take an Irish dance class? You’re golden. Love movies? Have your pick. Even with three days in Austin, I felt that I missed out on seeing a lot of things, such as the Hamilton Pools. Below are some of my personal favorite picks.
Zilker Municipal Gardens
Museum of the Weird
One of five locations in Austin.
Austin is a fantastic place to take a weekend trip. As stated earlier in this article, there is something for everyone. Realistically, you'll find there's more to see than you have time to do, but Austin is reasonably budget friendly and a weekend can easily cost less than $500 for two.
One thing to be wary of is that the cost of living in Austin is higher than some other cities. I found myself having a minor sticker shock at some of the prices. Case in point, the tickets at The Alamo in downtown Austin were $11-12 each, but the same ticket in Northern Virginia were $9.
It's likely I personally will go back to Austin. There are a ton of entertainment venues and restaurants to check out, in addition to the high number of outdoor activities. The weather is warm during the winter months, but once summer hits, the temperatures are less than pleasant. Austin is best enjoyed between the months of October-June, with temperatures increasing during the other months.
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