Paint me a picture. A picture of Austin, Texas.
August 23, 2014 12:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm a 31-year-old female looking to relocate to a cool, fun and relatively inexpensive urban area. What can you tell me about Austin, Texas?

I've heard so much about how awesome and up-and-coming of a young urban area Austin is — the music scene, youth culture, etc. And that is all great. But I was hoping to get a clearer picture of daily life there.

One of my biggest points of consideration in relocating is career-related: Is Austin a good place to be young and building a career in communications/media?

I would also super-appreciate feedback regarding your run-of-the-mill daily living stuff:
  • Any insights into the cost/quality of life would be helpful.
  • What's public transit like? Will I need a car?
  • What is the creative community like? I'm interested in writing and book groups.
  • How would you characterize the night life?
  • What are your favorite things about living there? If you're a transplant, what do you like most about Austin, compared with any other city/cities you may have lived in?
  • Overall impressions/vibes?
Many thanks, Metafilter peeps!
posted by shelle to Grab Bag (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I moved from Minneapolis to Austin last week, so I clearly don't know Austin well. Or at all, really.

On the car front... let's put it this way, after 12 years of having a driver's license, I now own a car as of this week. I moved for a job that is totally inaccessible by public transport and nigh on inaccessible by bike. If I had a job downtown, I'd be trying to remain carless, but I think it would be much harder than anywhere else I've lived, and it was starting to become a bit frustrating in Minneapolis (where I essentially never left the city limits other than the rare jaunt into St Paul).

Rent also seems higher for what you get than in Minneapolis (sometimes considerably higher for things like house shares, sometimes not so much). Food is a little cheaper here (Austin) I think, though I thought food noticeably expensive when I moved to Minneapolis.
posted by hoyland at 1:01 PM on August 23, 2014

Where are you moving from?
posted by John Cohen at 1:16 PM on August 23, 2014

It is very very hot there in the summer.
posted by mollymayhem at 1:38 PM on August 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

I moved away from Austin about 5 years ago, so most of my insight into it as it is today comes from visits and reports from friends who are still there.

You do need a car, or you need to be prepared for a lot of inconvenience and difficulty. Public transportation is not great - buses that don't cover the whole city at all and are infrequent in lots of parts of town. There's no subway. Life is pretty walkable/bikeable in some neighborhoods, but those are generally more expensive.

The bad things about Austin (in addition to the lack of good public transit) are: traffic, heat and expensive housing. The public infrastructure hasn't kept up well with the growth and it's made the city less livable, I think. Housing prices aren't at SF/NYC levels yet, but compared to other up-and-coming, good-for-young-people cities, Austin is getting pretty pricey.

In general for lots of professional "creative class" style jobs Austin is a employer's market. It's famous for being a cool place to live, and lots of people come to the city for college/grad school. So there is a constant influx of educated young people vying for similar jobs. Of course, it's a pretty booming economy too, so there are lots of jobs out there, you'll just have to compete heavily for them. Plus it is the state capital, so if you're wanting to do a political angle with the media that's probably a plus.

The creative community is great. There's tons of theater, art, writing, music, all kinds of things. You'll have your pick of writing/book groups to get involved with. It's big enough that there are a lot of robust subcultures you can get connected with.

It does have UT, which has something like 50,000 students, so there are a lot of students and young people around. It can get annoying but it's easy enough to avoid if you don't live in a student-y part of town.

Night life: Lots going on. There is plenty of bar/live music/restaurant stuff, plus a lot of one-off events that are wacky and fun, plus big acts come through town, plus lots of local artsy stuff and performances to go see.

More on culture: I don't know if this kind of thing matters to you, but Austin is very racially segregated, and somewhat segregated by income. A lot of times it feels like it's really for white, upper-middle-class, educated, creative liberal people. It can be weird to see how much the culture there caters to a particular population and leaves others out. Also it can sometimes feel like Austin is a little too proud of itself for being "weird"/hip/liberal. It has a strong culture and sometimes that is annoying, though of course it depends on the circles you run in. One more culture observation: there are a lot of creative young people who work at coffee shops or restaurants or similar jobs while pursuing (or not) their creative stuff, and a lot of people who seem to be in Austin while they figure out what's next in life... my friend calls it "the velvet rut," and I think that's very accurate. Not to say that there aren't plenty of very ambitious people there, but the velvet-rut feeling is kind of part of the broader culture there.

In all, the good is: tons to do, lots of cool people doing interesting and creative things, fair amount of greenery/outdoorsy stuff, great culture, healthy economy.
The bad: Really hot for a lot of the year, traffic, expensive housing, competition for jobs, can sometimes feel like an echo chamber.

In all, I like Austin and there's a good chance I'll move back there at some point. But if I didn't already have ties to the area I think I'd look seriously at other similar cities too.

(whoa, this got really long, sorry!)
posted by aka burlap at 1:39 PM on August 23, 2014 [9 favorites]

Austin is no longer relatively inexpensive. Housing prices have gone nuts. People are getting (not just asking) $300K for empty lots in sketchy neighborhoods. Austinites spend more on food (both in restaurants and in grocery stores) than people in any other city in the USA.

Public transit: If you happen to live close to a line that happens to be going where you want to go, it's not too bad. Otherwise I consider it worse than all other options, walking included. I have lived without a car here. It takes commitment, and friends with cars who will humor you.

Creative community is strong. There is a very strong DIY ethic here, IMO. As a friend who is a professional fine artist put it, Austin is a great place to become an artist, not a great place to be an artist. (He left.)

Nightlife is varied. The "live music capitol of the world" slogan is trite, but the fact that I can see good live music at a grocery store has to count for something. If you can't find something to do, it's your own fault. Check the listing in the Austin Chronicle.

Professionally, Austin is probably a good place to be compared to other Texas cities. Not sure how it stacks up against the rest of the nation.

I have long-term concerns about the increase in summer temperatures and the decrease in water availability.

I've been living here for over 20 years, so this is where all my friends are. I think that more than anything else, that's why I live here. To some extent I live in a bubble of longtime Austinites, so my experience of the town is one where Austin still feels like a smaller town than it really is. Sometimes I get a little outside that bubble and the town has changed so much, so quickly that I literally do not recognize where I am.

The official sport of Austin is nostalgia for how much better it used to be, and you only need to be here for about 15 minutes to play.
posted by adamrice at 1:39 PM on August 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

Oh yeah, and mollymayhem is right, it's crazy hot.
posted by aka burlap at 1:40 PM on August 23, 2014

I've lived in Austin for four years, CA transplant. On preview, adamrice and akaburlap have it mostly covered and I'll just repeat the whole hot/expensive thing again.

Things are getting more expensive rapidly; rent seems to have increased about 20-25% since I arrived in the good central residential neighborhoods that are on major bus lines and near good businesses. Studios start at $850 or more in any neighborhood that's decent, and well over $1000 if you want to get pretty close to downtown. Unless you have a trust fund, actually living downtown in a condo that wasn't there five years ago will be out of your price range. Only a handful of the bus lines are reliable and frequent, and the light rail is pretty limited.

As mentioned, weather is a major consideration in the decision to move here and own/not own a car. Our summers really are brutal and late August here is about as walkable as anywhere in MN in late February. The high has only passed 100F a handful of times this summer and that still counts as relatively mild.

Night life is 6th street; Red River and east of there, it's hipsters and the indie music scene, west of there it's the opposite, nightclubs that either attract a mid 30s and older crowd (tech bros with more money than taste) or the frat and sorority crowd when UT is in session. Festival season in fall and spring is a big effing deal, whole swaths of downtown are upended several weekends a year. Football is almost as bad. I don't know much about the art scene outside music but we have at least three good independent book stores and other venues that host the kinds of things you want.

Life is relatively "easy" here compared to either of the coasts. It will still be affordable on a young professional salary for at least a few more years. Everything is casual, expectations and pace and status anxiety are lower than the big coastal cities (the 'velvet rut' feel akaburlap is talking about). I'm in the sciences and I may stay here and transition to the tech sector soon. This is one of the few smaller cities where I could do that and still have access to a cultural scene.
posted by slow graffiti at 1:57 PM on August 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not native, but I'm a midwesterner who's been here since 1998. A lot of the above posters have it covered, especially with respect to the expensive housing and traffic. It does get hot in the summers, but this summer has been awfully sometimes you do get lucky. However my car just told me it's 102 today ;)

You will almost certainly need a car, unless you work downtown and can afford to live downtown. (Even so...things like grocery stores are in short supply there.)

W/r/t nightlife -- there is sixth street, and then there are a whole bunch of better options. I don't know of anyone over 25 who really sets out to go to sixth street for a good time. It's like Bourbon Street without the charm....and more pee and sweat. Fortunately, there are lots of other places to go hear music and hang out. If you like a "club scene," you may be disappointed, but if funky food trailers, live music, and patios with strings of lights up are your thing, you're golden.

The thing I love most about Austin, is the openness and friendliness. There is a nice mix of natives and people from other places, and a good amount of "churn" between the university and state government in town, so that everyone knows what is was like to be the new kid, and is glad to show you around. There is some grousing about "Austin used to be so great before everyone starting moving here" but it's pretty limited. We like it chill....or we'll ply you with beer and tacos until you get on board with that.

Bookpeople for books and cool author events.
Blanton for "fine art" -- East Austin Studio Tour for the funky stuff.
Torchy's for queso.
Alamo Drafthouse for film.
posted by pantarei70 at 2:35 PM on August 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm back there a few times a year and my biggest observation is that the traffic is horrible now. Between the sprawl of the city and the traffic it's just super bad to get around. FWIW, I'm using Southern California traffic as my benchmark. Austin isn't LA bad, but its bad.
posted by 26.2 at 3:01 PM on August 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's been years, but I remember reading a blog post by a woman who lived in Austin about how at certain times of the year the pollen gets so bad that it coats their parked cars in thick, yellow layers and you can watch clouds of the stuff blow through the streets. As an allergy sufferer, the image made me feel like Marky Mark in The Happening.

I remember the same woman talking about some horrible conservative thing the Texas government did that made her stop and go, "Oh, that's right. This is Texas." Apparently Austin is enough of a lefty bubble that it's easy to forget you're living in Bush country.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:02 PM on August 23, 2014

Native Texan opinion: Yep, Austin is a good place to get the kind of job that you want since lots of people have clustered there to do those things. If you are reasonably competent, you should do just fine career-wise.

Austin, as everyone else has mentioned, suffers from the same heat as the rest of Texas. Right now, at just before 5pm, it is 102F and it will be like that for most of May through mid-October.

Austin has one rail line, MetroRail, and a bus system that covers about half of the metro area. They are going to the ballot with another light rail proposal but it's linked to spending more dollars on sprawl-highways.

Inside-the-city-limits portions of Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and (to a lesser extent) Fort Worth are no longer what the rest of the country calls "cheap."

One thing that no one has really mentioned is that Austin is the very liberal (moreso, average, than Dallas or Houston) dot in the middle of very conservative Texas. State government plays a pretty big influence in Travis County affairs. You will find a lot of people openly mocking and making fun of your brand new state because Texas politicians are not known for being intelligent. Like Ursula Hitler just pointed out, it can be insulating but it can also be quite irritating because the City of Austin and State of Texas do not get along at the government level or, by and large, at the populace level.
posted by fireoyster at 3:04 PM on August 23, 2014

I haven't lived in Austin in almost 20 years. It was a lot more fun when I did, as everyone has figured out that it's a cool place to be. See above comments for the consequences. That said, I'm surprised that they didn't focus on the natural beauty of the area. It's not at the level of Colorado or Utah, but it's better than most of Texas. If you like being outdoors (note: not in August, it's hot), you'll like Austin quite a bit.
posted by learnsome at 3:46 PM on August 23, 2014

I agree with most of what was said before, but here's a few exceptions:

rent: Don't let the $850 for a studio scare you off. Most of my friends are paying $550-650 a month for rent in houses assuming they have roommates. House prices are pretty unreasonable though, so folks I know who own their own homes tend to be further out from the city center.

need a car: My household has a car, but we only use it about once a week. Instead we bike. If you live within 4-5 miles of the river, that means pretty much everything you need will be within a reasonable biking distance. I actually have some friends who only take public transit. I wouldn't recommend that personally, but it's clearly doable. Assuming you're along the main north/south passages which are the most bus heavy.

Students can be annoying, but if you're into creative arts, it can be great to have a bunch of young people around who are newly enthused about the arts and working on cool projects.
posted by tofu_crouton at 4:05 PM on August 23, 2014

It's been years, but I remember reading a blog post by a woman who lived in Austin about how at certain times of the year the pollen gets so bad that it coats their parked cars in thick, yellow layers and you can watch clouds of the stuff blow through the streets.

This is no joke. Even if you don't currently have allergies, a lot of people develop them when they move to Austin. Depending on how bad your reaction is, it can seriously affect your quality of life.

Austin is full. Don't move here.
posted by donajo at 4:22 PM on August 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't live in Austin, but I've visited it every year or two for the past 30 years.

The heat was always there - it's not new. The allergies were always there. I got cedar fever just from visiting and have been struggling with allergies ever since. When you think you're getting a cold every night for weeks? You're not getting a cold. The sore throat and miserable feeling are allergies.

What are new are the endless houses that crest every hill. Every time I go, they've scraped away and dug out another patch of scrub to put in another housing project. The hill country is vanishing. A relative's $40,000 house is now $450,000, with taxes to match.

The water is vanishing, too. It's not sustainable. The traffic, which was nothing, is terrible.

On the other hand, the "new" airport is nice. There is ALWAYS something to do. The caliche limestone is gorgeous. People are mostly friendly. The grocery stores are fabulous (I've watched Whole Foods go from one little store to a grocery palace).

I used to want to live in Austin. I don't anymore.
posted by clarkstonian at 5:51 PM on August 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love Austin- I live outside Houston, but lived with an Austinite for 4 years and now visit Austin for long weekends every 2-3 months because most of my friends have fled there. So I have a frequent-visitor-who-stays-with-local's view, so take it with a grain of salt.

It's really, really hot. I cannot stress this enough. Hot. Public transit is terrible. It's just not viable. As others have said, buses are rare and don't cover the whole city. Plus in summer, you'd need to wait outside in the heat for a while. Cedar fever is a real thing- I have allergies, but visiting Austin in high allergy season means I'm shot for a week afterwards. Pack benadryl.

The creative community is great. My friend had a writing group within two weeks of moving there, and still loves it 2 years later. Book People is a brilliant independent book store that has a lot of great events and is a great place to find community groups. I can only speak for the Forever Young Adult group, but I've had some great experiences with them. The Alamo Drafthouse(s) in the city are also great about holding quirky events where you can meet likeminded people.

Nightlife, I can't really speak for. 6th Street is where most people go, but there are some good bars and places popping up further south.

My favorite thing about Austin is the food- there are so many great places to eat. Lots of food trucks trying new things. Lots of great established places, too. The shopping is good, too, and the people are pretty fantastic.
posted by Torosaurus at 8:13 PM on August 23, 2014

I'm currently trying to move away from Austin, after eight years living here. Mostly my complaints are the same ones that others have mentioned in this thread: rents have gone up shockingly quickly, competition for jobs is intense, getting around (by car, bus or bike, doesn't matter) is difficult, and the summer weather is SO AWFUL.

That said, I've really enjoyed most of the time I've lived here. I've met great people, gotten involved in all sorts of interesting hobbies and comunities, and seen a bunch of fantastic theater. The weather is lovely and balmy and clear for eight or nine months out of the year, the food's great, everyone's nice. The river and the parks around it are gorgeous. Book People is a phenomenal bookstore.

One thing that frustrates me that I haven't seen mentioned upthread: Austin is very liberal, but it is still part of Texas and that matters for a lot of reasons when you live here. It isn't just that people will mock your state on the internet (though yeah, they'll do that too). Taxes are low, meaning that municipal/state/county services are worse than you're used to if you're coming from the northeast or west coast. There's less protection for tenants' rights than you're probably used to. UT, one of the largest employers in town, is forbidden by state law from offering any sort of benefits for same-sex domestic partners. Women's reproductive healthcare is being systematically dismantled by the state legislature. Stuff like that.

I don't know. I'm burned out on dealing with the hassles of living here. But if I earned more (or was okay living with roommates for the rest of my life, which is a thing plenty of people do here), and was less frustrated by spending lots of time in traffic, and didn't have a Yankee's inflated expectations about stuff like gay rights, I'd probably be pretty happy.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:18 PM on August 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am sort of in the place you're envisioning yourself - I live in Central Austin, work downtown and do not own a car. My primary transport is bike and bus, though the Car2Go carsharing program takes more of my money than I'd like to admit, especially in August. I do this partly for my sanity (the traffic is horrible, the parking is worse, the drunk driving culture is real) and partly because there is no way I could afford to live where I do with the added expense of car care/gasoline. I moved from my last place, when it was sold and the rent was raised by 50%. I probably will have to consider moving permanently in the next three years.

I love this city. I love it. It's a beautiful city with a heck of a lot to do and a varied creative scene. And it is changing SO FAST. You can probably tell in the tenor of some of these responses, but the pace of the change can make some of us who live here a little jittery, prone to saying things like (ahem) "Austin is full." Some of us even have the t-shirt. It makes it hard to gauge the place for yourself.

I'm in kind of a weird place, because I work in the tourism industry and I am constantly interacting with people who are having their first experience of Austin. Most of them love it too - I'm always hearing what a cool city we are, how nice everyone is, how great the food is, how pretty it is, how lucky we are, how different we are from the rest of Texas. Move here, you'll hear it too. But like some others have said already, it can get pretty old hearing the same old praise all the time, and sometimes it feels like we keep talking about how cool we are to cover up any real problems we're having as a city. There are SERIOUS issues of diversity in Austin. Drought and water management is a big deal and not being well managed. The public transit/traffic situation does not have any foreseeable solution. The rapid development of downtown is leading to a strange shoving of the homeless population out of the center core and into less accessible, less visible areas. Honestly, if I were in your place, the hell we are going through trying to protect abortion rights would be my deciding factor against moving anywhere in this state.

So....okay, I'm writing a novel because I'm talking out of both sides of my mouth. If I was talking to you as client, this is what I would say: "Yes. Austin is great. You will find a community here if you're good with people. The nightlife is fun, please don't drive drunk. Try not to have a car, it's great if you can hack it."

But if I was talking to you as a friend, I would say: "If you move here, for god's sake do more than talk about how great we are. Be involved, become a member of the community, vote, listen, act. Scream when necessary. It is an amazing city, but there's a lot more here than just drinking until 2am and then waking up to breakfast tacos. Though that is also amazing."
posted by theweasel at 9:10 PM on August 23, 2014 [9 favorites]

Native Texan, lived in Austin for 9 years.

What is happening recently is enough to make people I know who have lived here 20+ years think it might be time to get out of Austin. As many others have noted above, the real estate/rental market is unbelievable right now. People are paying 300k+ for teardown shacks in sketchy neighborhoods. The new apartments just built near me (east side) start at $1100 for a studio. It seems like it will burst eventually, but in the meantime, looking for a new place to live is difficult and depressing. People are coming in from CA and buying places in cash for 10-20% over the asking price.

Other than that huge worry, I'd say the heat is the next big issue. It really is not for everybody. We have had relatively few 100+ F degree days this summer and everyone is exclaiming how it's been a mild one. A few years ago we had basically 3 straight months of 100+ weather -- that's much more usual. It might be fall-like in November if we are lucky.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:24 AM on August 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, and yes, you will find plenty of adults with good jobs *waves* living in shared houses with roommates, so if that's not an option for you that's another thing to consider. We are basically at or over capacity in the rental market and have been for the past couple of years.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:26 AM on August 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Amazing answers!!! Thanks errbody! You've given me much to mull over, and I'm sure I'll be referring back to this thread when making my decision. Thanks all who have highlighted Austin's liberality vs. conservative Texan policies, good heads up.

And yes, Texas is very, very hot. Noted. :)
posted by shelle at 6:05 PM on August 24, 2014

Another native Texan here. No, I have not lived in Austin. I have visited and it's fun...but to me, it's just another city with a music and art scene. If you are, for example, Robert Earl Keen's little cousin, or for some other reason music is very important to you, then it's the place...but seriously, there are a ton of other great places to live. There is no way in HELL I would move there from out of state. The people I know there are progressives who migrated from their Texas hometowns to be around other like-minded people while still being able to see their grandparents.

This does not mean that Austin is no good. But come on, it's just one option of many.
posted by 8603 at 7:45 PM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a P.S.: the people I know there are in pretty tight groups by hometown or HS or college...and we're pushing 40. I am sure there are awesome options for social contact if you're from somewhere else, but think it over.
posted by 8603 at 7:48 PM on August 24, 2014

« Older How can I get rid of a time share?   |   What modern beer tastes most like old-fashioned... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.