Learning to love Austin, TX
May 24, 2011 1:09 PM   Subscribe

How do I learn to love where I live? (South Austin,TX)

I've just moved to Austin, TX about 3 weeks ago. I've moved in with my boyfriend and another couple. While I know that making friends come with time, that part is certainly taking a toll on me. However, what's even harder for me is Austin in general. It's a nice, friendly city..... made out of highways.

I live to the east of 1-35 (just off of Stassney) and just south of 71/Ben White. It seems that to go anywhere/ do anything I NEED to be in a car and on a highway. Even worse, when I search out new places they turn out to be in shopping centers/ strip malls and have a wonderful view of asphalt.

I'm not opposed to taking the bus (311 and 7 are by me) , though I do have a car. A bicycle might be in my future, but in about 2 weeks I'm going to actually become busy so I don't know how much I'll use it. I don't know if I could comfortably bike more than maybe 3 miles at once.

Where should I go for a drink (coffee shop type) and an ok view to work for a little bit?
What can I do to feel less trapped in concrete?
What fun things should I check out that don't take 15 minutes to get to?
Am I expecting too much? Are most cities just like this?
posted by raccoon409 to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Have you lived in Texas before? Austin is one of the more bike/feet/bus friendly cities that I know of.

Anyway, there's lots of stuff to do. I'm speaking as an outsider, so people who actually live in Austin will likely have much better recommendations, but above all, Austin has a wonderful music scene. I won't recommend any specific venues, because I have no idea where your personal taste runs, but keep an eye on concert listings and look out for festivals--the two big ones are South by Southwest and the Austin City Limits Festival. Whatever you're into, I can almost promise you'll find good live music in Austin.

You also ask what you can do to not feel surrounded by concrete. Urban development seems to have become more prevalent in recent years, but try visiting the Zilker Botanical Gardens or some of these parks. You may also want to keep an eye out for events in Zilker Park, if you'd rather have open meadows.
posted by byanyothername at 1:19 PM on May 24, 2011

Best answer: Did you sign a lease for the place you are now? If not, I would recommend moving into central Austin. It'll be more expensive, but where I live, which is east-central, there are good deals, or at least there were last year (I moved here less than a year ago). You just have to be careful, since there are some bad blocks in east Austin. But some good ones, too. Where I live, there are about 7 restaurants within a 5 minutes walk, 3 coffee shops within 10 minutes, and the east side of the UT campus is 15 minutes away.

As you probably know, it's about to get really f'in hot, and you may not feel like being outside even if you weren't surrounded by concrete.

Where are you moving from? I grew up in New England and came here from rural upstate New York, and yeah, all the concrete was super-horribly depressing, but I deal with it by pretty much never leaving the central city. If you're inside central Austin (you would need to be both north of Ben White and, if you're south of Town Lake, west of I-35) then the city can actually be charming, with some real neighborhoods and walkable bits, etc.

Other people who have lived here longer than I have may have different or better advice, particularly if moving isn't an option for you.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 1:34 PM on May 24, 2011

Best answer: When I first moved to Austin (I've since moved away and miss it every day), I was pretty close to where you are now, but on the west side of 35. I know what you mean about it being kind of a concrete/highway mess out there.

Getting a bike changed everything for me, even though I was in no shape to ride it. After about a month, I was just fine, regularly riding the 4 miles to campus and back, stopping at all the great places on s. 1st along the way.

Once you find a comfortable way inside the meaty center of Austin, you'll feel much less surrounded by roads.

For my wife and I, moving into a smaller apartment closer to Town Lake & downtown really made the difference, though. We even got rid of our car.
posted by activitystory at 1:37 PM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't know the area that you are in too well, but I just moved to Austin less than a year ago and can relate to wondering where to find the parts of Austin that I would actually like. Needing to drive/take a bus everywhere is unfortunately part of the reality of this city for those of us who aren't super-bikers. But from what I've found, the distances are generally not too bad, and if you can find routes to take that avoid the highways (especially around commute times) it helps make it more bearable.
Austin is basically made up of many smaller areas/neighborhoods and there are definitely some that are less concrete-jungle and more pretty to look at, so I definitely encourage you to keep exploring.
I live in the Hyde Park area and really like it. Around 43rd St and Duval is a little shop and restaurant area which contains my current favorite cafe/place to hang out and read, drink coffee or have a glass of wine, Dolce Vita. I guess the view is still parking lot, but the ambiance is nice. (This is the second time I've recommended it on here in a week).
Down the street on Duval at 51st St is Flightpath which is another nice cafe/place to work with a shady patio.
Also, look into Zocalo in Clarksville, which has great food and a pretty patio in a cool neighborhood.
For outdoorsy things, I'm sure you know of Barton Springs which is beautiful and great for a swim.
Yes, everything I've mentioned will probably take you 15 minutes to get to, so I guess my recommendations might not be at all what you are looking for. But there are lots of other little spots I've grown to love, so please feel free to memail me for other ideas if you'd like!
posted by Ginkgo at 1:38 PM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a similar culture shock moving to Austin for graduate school and it took a while for me to get used to things there. The city definitely grew on me, though. I've moved away now and still miss it quite a bit.

One factor that may impact your view of the city is where you're living. You are very highway adjacent, and in one of the "sprawlier" sections of town. Since you're on the bus lines, I'd recommend spending more time in Central Austin just exploring. The Bremond Block and other historic homes around the capitol are really charming and a shortish walk/bike ride from lots of nice things in and around downtown (e.g., 4th, the new Food Truck Scene, the Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail, 6th St.)

I also second Zilker Park (I got married there!) as a pretty oasis in the city. Don't forget to take a dip in Barton Spring (a must in the summer!). There are other nice parks in the city too. Pease Park, for example.

South Congress is fun for shopping and eating. El Sol y La Luna, drinks at Hotel San Jose, Coffee at Jo's. All highly recommended.

There are a ton of hike and bike trails, the bus is dirt cheap and there are a ton of quirky pockets in the city. Get out and explore and I'm sure you'll start feeling more at home soon.
posted by goggie at 1:38 PM on May 24, 2011

Mozart's is a pretty scenic location for coffee and hanging out.
posted by jph at 1:39 PM on May 24, 2011

I can't speak for other coffee shops; but my favorite, Epoch, is 2 blocks from a stop on the 7 bus route. It's address is 221 W. North Loop Blvd and the bus stop is at the corner of W North Loop and Avenue F. you would then walk 2 blocks west and cross the street. Epoch has a good crowd of regulars and a generally nice staff of barristas.

The panoramic view from Mount Bonnell is pretty awesome; and as an added bonus, the stone steps up to the overlook can give quite a workout if that's your bag.

There are sections of greensward all over Austin; some highly visible and some not so much.

Bicycles can be taken on the bus; two per bus, first come - first served. I highly recommend getting a bike for anyone living in Austin.
posted by schade at 1:42 PM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

A forgotten link to Epoch
posted by schade at 1:43 PM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Some places to hang out that are more south-
Green Muse on Oltorf
Jeanie's Java at the Great Outdoors on South Congress
Bouldin Creek on South 1st, which I believe recently moved
And of course all the places on the South Congress corridor
posted by jaksemas at 1:44 PM on May 24, 2011

(Oh, I should have mentioned that both Dolce Vita and Flightpath are on the 7 bus route).
posted by Ginkgo at 1:49 PM on May 24, 2011

My favourite places in Austin, TX

a) The Alamo Drafthouse movie theater! Especially the one in Lamar/South Austin!

b) Drink beer in the draughthouse's parking lot.

c) Barton Springs pool

d) Town lake (Lady Bird Lake)

e) The future Bill and Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex.
posted by jchaw at 1:49 PM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Bouldin Creek moved but not far - it's now at S. 1st and Mary. Further down Mary is Thai Fresh and Cafe Caffeine (now technically called something else because Thai Fresh bought it, but they hadn't changed the signage as of this weekend.) They're particularly nice because they're in a residential neighborhood, not on a busy street at all.

Definitely love the Drafthouse - there's also a ton of stuff south of there along Lamar. Opa is a wine bar/cafe that a bunch of my friends particularly like.

You're definitely a little southeast for walkability to things, but not too far to get to a lot of interesting places.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:00 PM on May 24, 2011

Best answer: I'm going to second the Epoch recommendation, although schade forgot my favorite part: GREEN! Waller Creek runs right behind Epoch and it's a generally pretty, walkable neighborhood with nifty shops up the street (you'll see those right after you get off the bus).
posted by MuChao at 2:04 PM on May 24, 2011

We are practically neighbors in Austin terms. Check out First St. just north of Oltorf. There are a lot of cool little shops, bars, and restaurants. Of course, S. Congress (SoCo) is great too.

Sixth St. is the hub of Austin's nightlife. You'll always find music there.

S. Lamar has some good places, too. Aside from the Alamo, there's Gibson's, Opa, and a bunch more.

Once you start meeting people you will love it more. Come to the next Metafilter meetup. I think we're due for one. Also, try meetup.com. Every time you meet someone, friend them on Facebook.

I moved here nearly four months ago and I've never regretted it. Of course, I moved from a place where it's even more of a concrete jungle. In comparison, Austin is a lush paradise. Welcome!
posted by xenophile at 2:04 PM on May 24, 2011

Seconding Mozart's coffee shop and Mt. Bonnell.

I didn't see the Wildflower Center mentioned yet. That is a nice place to visit for some peace and quiet (they do charge a small entry fee). It is located in Southwest Austin.

Go to downtown and take a walk on the townlake hike-and-bike trail. Zilker park and the Barton Springs pool nearby are awesome.
posted by thewildgreen at 2:38 PM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I live in Austin. Some years ago, I contemplated moving to approximately your area from Hyde Park to save money. Couldn't do it. So I sympathize.

There's a lot to love in Austin, but not a lot to love in your immediate area. And while I'm a big proponent of cycling, the area you are in is kind of bike-hostile, especially if you want to get to a different part of town. Not impossible, but it sounds like you're not a confident cyclist.

There is some good stuff on east Oltorf not too far from you. Check out Java Noodle, which is excellent. But the real solution is to move closer to the city center. North of Oltorf and/or west of I-35 is more liveable, IMO.

Austin is definitely car-centric, and gets more so the farther away from the middle of town you get. I'm not a big fan of our bus system, which I have found can be slower than walking.
posted by adamrice at 3:43 PM on May 24, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all the input so far. I've lived in NJ (but not by a highway-y mess!) and MI, mostly recently I've just come back from a small town in France. Everything was super walkable there but also really boring which I guess is the trade off.

I think I'll take tomorrow to explore the bus system (anyone know where I can pick up physical route maps, I've seen the website?) A bike may be in my future as well. As some people noticed, I'm not a confident biker, but I'm willing to try.

Moving might be a possibility in the future, but right now it's not possible (renting from a friend and unemployed so I can't give up the 200$ plus utilities/month)

I love the suggestions of green spaces, particularly those that are closer to me. Don't worry, I'm already very familiar with Barton Springs!

Thank you for all the suggestions- I'm going to try to work my way through them all.

I'll still be following the thread so I would love more suggestions.
posted by raccoon409 at 4:30 PM on May 24, 2011

Get down to South Congress. I think you can take the 7 to the 1.

Jo's coffee down past Monroe is a pretty awesome spot to hang out and meet people.

Barton Springs (cash only!) down in Zilker Park (a 30 minute walk from Jo's, a ten minute bike ride) is your friend.

Nthing Java Noodle on Oltorf.

Where you live, unfortunately, kinda sucks compared to the rest of Austin. You are at least 15 minutes (door to door, 10 minutes in the car) from everything you'll most likely want to do

North East Austin, south of Airport is a great place to find cheap duplexes and whatnot, and you will be just inside the ring of awesome.

Here is my rough "Austin Ring of Awesome":

North of Woodward/Lightsey
South of 2222
A little to the west of Mopac all the way across to a little to the east of 35

There are spots outside that, but inside there you can find mucho concentrated goodness.
posted by roboton666 at 4:48 PM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The thing that helps me endure the weight of the concrete jungle in summertime is swimming as much as I can, especially once the death heat is upon us. Barton Springs in Zilker Park has free swimming every night from 9-10 pm (and, I believe from 5-6 AM, but I've never been able to make it there early enough to confirm it), and it is lovely. There are usually lots of other good local swimming holes, although not in this unholy, excruciating drought. If you have the chance and inclination, I encourage you to explore Krause Springs, without question my very favorite spot in the hill country.

If you do get on your bike, you might find this bike map helpful (Click on the pdf link about halfway down the page.) And welcome!
posted by pogo at 4:48 PM on May 24, 2011

Best answer: Here's my list of things:

Cheer Up Charlies (big dirt lot with a tiny bar)
Brixton (cool little bar)
Beerland (great place to see shows)
Mohawk (another great place to see shows)
Barbarella (dance)
Plush (dance)
Stubbs (great for touring acts)

Zilker Park
Barton Creek Greenbelt (HUGE greenbelt in the middle of town, connected to Barton Springs)
Pease Park
Mt. Bonnell
Deep Eddy
Stacy Park (really close to you)
Mabel Davis (really really close to you)
Fiesta Gardens area (East Austin)
Hike and Bike trail
Shoal Creek Trail
RedBud Isle
Lady Bird Johnson Lake (AKA the Colorado River)
Lake Travis
Pace Bend
Enchanted Rock (70 miles away)
Pedernales Falls (30 miles west)
Hamilton Pool (30 miles west)
For a cool bike ride, ride around the university of texas and north up in Hyde Park. Lot's of cool houses and old trees.

Food and Coffee:
Torchy's Tacos on South First
Jo's Coffee
Ruta Maya on South Congress (near 71)
Vespaio ($$$ Italian)
Guero's (S. Congress)
South Congress Cafe
HopDoddy (S. Congress)
Homeslice Pizza (South Congress)
Hut's Hamburger's (West 6th)
Z Tejas (West 6th)
24 Diner (North Lamar by Whole Foods)
Whole Foods at 6th and Lamar
East Side Cafe
Chuy's on Barton Springs Drive
Daily Juice on Barton Springs Drive
Maria's Tacos on South Lamar
Mr. Natural on South Lamar or East Ceasar Chavez
The Salt Lick Down in driftwood
Ironworks down by the convention center
And about a thousand more...

Anything on South Congress will get you started
posted by roboton666 at 5:20 PM on May 24, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Closest coffee shop is Red Table Coffee on S. Congress North of Wm. Cannon It doesn't have a view but is independently owned. Over on Manchaca (Man-shack) North of Stassney there's a 24 hour coffee place, a diner, a sno cone stand, a taco trailer, thai, a used bookstore, a library, and Full English - an English restaurant.

McKinney Falls State park is just East of you, like 3 miles. The waterfalls will suck until we get rain, but there is good hiking and biking. Learn a bit about local plants and you'll see beauty everywhere.

Check out Ruta Maya on S.Congress just north of Oltorf. It's an Austin institution with free yoga daily and other cool stuff. There's a restaurant called Opal Divines there that people like. Also, the best martial arts school (Fit and Fearless) and a nudie bar.

Get a map on the bus behind the driver. The 1M and 1L and great lines that run up Congress

Love your car and don't try to make Austin fit the mold of NJ.

Feel free to message me for more info. I'm a rare native and I live near you.
posted by kristymcj at 5:55 PM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Move to Hyde Park, the rent increase will be offset by nearness of banking, grocery, post office, employment, & spiffy loitering zones. Flat terrain makes it an easy pedal too.

Sorry about your 'hood. Keep Austin weird!
posted by buzzman at 6:50 PM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think I'll take tomorrow to explore the bus system (anyone know where I can pick up physical route maps, I've seen the website?)

You can generally get a map for each bus line on the bus itself, and sometimes there will be maps for other lines as well. You can buy the system-wide book at the Cap Metro office at Congress and 4th. If you program the Cap Metro phone number into your phone (474-1200), you can also call them up during normal bus hours and an operator will help you plan routes and tell you when the next bus will be at your stop, etc.
posted by donajo at 7:00 PM on May 24, 2011

Haven't lived in Austin for 20 years, but- holy crap, nobody mentions beer gardens? Sholz, etc? Man, with summer coming on, I can't think of a more pleasant way to spend an afternoon, evening and early early morning.
posted by carterk at 8:07 PM on May 24, 2011

Best answer: Summer in South Austin is great because there is so much free shit going on. Check out Blues on the Green, Unplugged at the Grove, and the Austin Symphony in the Park for some free music before or after your swim at Barton. Zilker Hillside Theater is doing a production of Love's Labour's Lost and later this summer, the Zilker Theater will put on Footloose the Musical (all free!). Other great places to recreate and cool off are Hamilton Pool, Reimer's Ranch (& the Pedernales), or Pace Bend within 45 min west of Austin.
posted by ch3ch2oh at 8:33 PM on May 24, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all the recommendations everyone. I think if I stay in Austin longterm, there will certainly be a move to another part of the city, though that's not quite on the table right now. I will work through this list of things to do in the meantime though!
posted by raccoon409 at 7:03 AM on May 25, 2011

I suggest you check out the really friendly group of people at r/Austin. They have regular meetups for a variety of activities, including house parties and game nights. There seem to be a variety of ages represented, but I think the majority are college-aged.
posted by Brody's chum at 10:50 AM on May 25, 2011

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