What are the cool small towns in Texas?
June 1, 2012 9:51 AM   Subscribe

What are the best small Texas towns?

I currently live in Austin and work for a state agency. I'd like to move quickly up the ladder and the best way to do that is to be willing to take a position in the agency in a smaller town. What towns are most livable and why?

I'm only looking to keep this position for 3-5 years, so rental prices are important, sale prices aren't. I have a dog, so some semblance of hiking activity would be awesome. I was thinking west Texas would be good for this, but other than Marfa are there any good towns? Places with cool landmarks / sunsets / etc would be great.

Politically, I'm pretty liberal but I don't really care about living in a sea of red. I'd prefer DIY-libertarian spirit to suburb-Baptist conservatism, though.

posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
What are your options? If you know what your choices are, you can plug the zip code in and get some decent info.

I like Claritas Prizm for helping evaluate an area. I find their market segmentation fun and easy to understand.

Here is a link to their segmentation by zip code. It's limited info, but it's a great start.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:56 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Surely you don't have your pick of every city in Texas, right? What are the options? Marfa is tiny.

Some places on the edge of the Hill Country seem nice and are not too far from larger civilization or Austin. I'm thinking about Fredericksburg, Kerrville, and Lockhart. San Marcos and New Braunfels would be nice too, if they aren't too large.
posted by grouse at 10:05 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

West Texas, eh? I'd say "cool" small towns are few a far between out that way (Marfa being the one with the most style due to a culture centered on the arts), although there can be some pretty desert/brush scenery. Having grown up in Abilene myself, I can say that things are pretty quiet out that way. If you're willing to look northward, Amarillo might be a good option due to its proximity to Palo Duro Canyon. Living in Midland or Pecos would make it easier to get out to Big Bend. Any of the cities just mentioned will have very reasonable rates for renting. Living out in West Texas can be isolating, though, depending on where you are and how you fit into the community (which often centers on churches and football...Friday Night Lights was not wrong on that point).

I do, however, tend to agree with grouse on this. The "cooler" cities seem to be down in the Hill Country. There's still hiking to be had and you're going to find a lot of interesting cultural influences in the area (Mexican, Spanish, and German culture are all strong in that part of the state). My sense is that it might be a bit more expensive to live there, although I have not done any research to prove that notion.
posted by singinginmychains at 10:17 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you're looking for hiking, unless you are down pretty close to Big Bend, you will be out of luck. Most of west TX is F-L-A-T. Seriously. Alpine might work, and Sul Ross State Univ is there, so maybe there would be a little more to do. I've only been to Marfa once, but other than the James Dean and Marfa Lights stuff, there is *nothing* there.

Also, living in Austin, with its lush greenery, be prepared for the almost complete lack of vegetation if you go the west TX route. Bonus, fewer allergies than in Austin, unless you are allergic to dust. How do you feel about dust storms?

I lived in Odessa for 3 years, which is probably bigger than you are thinking, and it's still pretty boring, especially compared to Austin. Usually what I did for fun was go somewhere else.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:23 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

How small is small? Obnoxiously but somewhat accurately, people sometimes call Denton Little Austin.

I have several friends who grew up in Midland/Odessa. They all made active decisions to never set foot in West Texas again. As you go west, the The Hills Have Eyes vibe increases. Except for, you know, the hills until you get to El Paso where the I'm-about-to-get-kidnapped vibe increases.

I've never been, but I have friends who love visiting Smithville.
posted by cmoj at 10:39 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stay out of North Texas. Especially the northwest of DFW 287 corridor.
posted by narcoleptic at 10:47 AM on June 1, 2012

I loved Denton when I visited last year.
posted by brand-gnu at 10:52 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's hard to imagine that Denton, or any other locality in the DFW metro area, is the sort of small town that you'd get employment kudos for being willing to move to.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:12 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Grew up in Midland/Odessa. And I really really try to not set foot anywhere near there. Except there are a few really tasty burrito places.

Memail me for details on that particular area if you like.
posted by countrymod at 11:21 AM on June 1, 2012

Tyler in East Texas might be worth a look.
posted by shoesietart at 11:25 AM on June 1, 2012

I like Kerrville. Fredericksburg has turned into a theme-park version of itself. Marfa is tiny, but Alpine is a reasonable-sized town out that way.

San Marcos and New Braunfels are turning into suburbs of Austin and San Antonio, respectively.
posted by adamrice at 11:33 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

We drive up US 59 from Houston about once a month, headed to Northern Louisiana, and we've passed through and/or stayed in a few of the towns along the way.
Diboll: At least along 59 seems well put together. There's what seems like a very nice library (always a good sign), and there's a fruit/veggie stand we stop at to pick up locally-grown produce.
Lufkin/Nacogdoches have colleges and seem like cool towns. The people we've talked to there seem to like living there, and haven't struck us as too "red".
Beyond Nacogdoches you end up in fracking country.
We have some quite liberal friends who live in Grand Saline and love it.
posted by Runes at 11:38 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just came back from Comfort, which is near Fredericksburg and Kerrville and it is really pretty and cute.
posted by rmless at 11:39 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lukenbach Texas.
posted by roboton666 at 11:43 AM on June 1, 2012

You might have some luck in the outlying central Texas towns. People in this area are conservatives, but more along the lines of mind your own business conservatives. Bastrop is a pretty nice little town for this, lots of country terrain, yet only about a 30 minute drive to Austin. Elgin is about the same distance. You might also go down toward Lockhart and Luling. Again, a very white, and fairly church-going group of people, but not busybodies, and not likely to have any quarrel with anyone.
posted by Gilbert at 12:17 PM on June 1, 2012

Marble Falls might be a decent place to live. Beautiful countryside, town is big enough to have its own HEB but small enough that traffic isn't a big deal, and you're close enough to Austin that you can drive in the next time Matisyahu plays at Stubb's.
posted by AMSBoethius at 1:01 PM on June 1, 2012

Not much hiking, but beach walking -- Rockport. Fun little fishing town, very laid back, and very close to Padre Island. Close enough to Corpus that you have access to big box shopping when you need it, but far enough away that it retains that small-town vibe. And big enough that your agency might have an office there. And Rockport is generally pretty affordable, though it depends on where in town you live and whether you want to rent a house or an apartment.
posted by devinemissk at 5:32 PM on June 1, 2012

I've lived both in Austin, Dallas, and in two small east Texas towns. As a non-church goer, my takeaway is that if the population is over 30-40,000, you're probably going to be fine (Tyler TX would be as small as I'd go). Once you go below 30-40,000, the social webwork in the town is harder to break as it's founded on years of school/church bonds rather than through casual meetings, and, well, you're always the outsider. That's not to say you can't find friends, but it's going to be really hard unless church is your thing. So I'd kind of go by population unless it's clearly a bedroom community for a large town or city (e.g. Rockwall or Bastrop), in which case your odds will be a whole lot better.

I also agree with West Texas being much more conservative and probably being harder to fit in with. The cities are okay, but I'd stay away from the outlying towns.

In my experience most people in rural Texas, even out in the sticks, are really nice... if you have a breakdown they'll stop and help you and even call their friends to get you fixed up. But the skin color thing helps, sad to say... we own one small parcel out in rural east Texas and one of the neighbors who pulled up after we bought it, offered me a beer out of his truck and 5 minutes later was talking with disdain about some "niggers" who used to lived down the road.
posted by crapmatic at 6:45 PM on June 1, 2012

Paris is dirt cheap and attracts some arty types for it's relatively well-preserved architecture around town. It does suffer some long-running economic depression and racial issues.
posted by GPF at 7:53 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Someone above mentioned Amarillo. I grew up in this part of Texas, and can recommend it with a couple of caveats.

You get a little bit of both the libertarian spirit that you mention, and a whole lot of the suburban conservatism. It's a big-R Republican stronghold, for sure.

However, it also has its surprising little (very little, but still there) pockets of liberal strangeness. It's extremely cheap to live there, and it has absolutely awesome sunsets. Hiking in Palo Duro canyon is also well worth it, as previously mentioned.
posted by owls at 12:23 PM on July 6, 2012

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