As a long-time New Yorker with over a dozen years in the Big Apple under my belt, the idea of moving to another city always seemed pretty laughable. Why would I bother when the best of everything can be found in NYC? Of course, crippling rents, frigid winters and soon-to-be-defunct subway lines can also be found in NYC. For these reasons, I decided it was time to give another city a try, but I knew that I didn't want to give up the fantastic culinary, nightlife and shopping scenes I'd become used to in New York. I had to find a warmer, cheaper but equally-vibrant city, and my search ultimately led me to the most eclectic spot in Texas: the capital city of Austin.
Moving to Austin, A Guide
With a population of nearly one million, Austin definitely qualifies as a major city, and residents have access to plenty of urban conveniences and amenities. Austin's reputation as a foodie mecca is well-deserved, and it's known as the live musical capital of the world for good reason. When it comes to getting around town and finding the best places to eat, drink and shop, here's everything you need to know.
Transportation: Most Austinites use cars as their primary mode of transit. Several highways pass through the city (Interstate 183, Interstate 35 and Interstate 1). Parking in the city can be found on the street (the meter costs $1.20 an hour) or at one of many parking garages.
Austin hosts numerous ride-share options, from Uber, to Lyft to RideAustin, a local favorite non-profit. While RideAustin tends to cost a bit more than Uber or Lyft (rates are based on distance), their drivers make a more equitable wage.
As far as public transit goes, Austin relies on the CapMetro bus system. Bus rides cost $1.25 for a one-way trip, and unlimited daily passes can be purchased for $2.50.
Austin's highly-walkable, particularly downtown and in the neighborhoods surrounding Lady Bird Lake. The cycling scene is growing rapidly, and Austin has its own bike-share program known as B-Cycle, and you can get a day pass for $12.
Food: Austin is renowned for its culinary prowess, and the city takes great pride in its local specialities. Breakfast tacos and queso dip count among these Austin-specific favorites, and while great examples of these dishes can be found all over town, you'll want to seek out the very best. For breakfast tacos, head to Veracruz All Natural, an East Austin standby with a second location in South Lamar. Their signature Migas Taco (eggs, tortilla chips, avocado, pico de gallo and Monterey Jack cheese on a flour tortilla, $3.50) holds accolades from the Food Network, Eater, and Zagat (it's not hard to understand why). When it comes to queso, the undisputed best version can be found at Torchy's Tacos, a beloved local Tex-Mex chain. Their Green Chile Queso ($5.95) boasts the perfect blend of smooth texture and well-spiced cheesiness.
Nightlife: The drinking scene in Austin relies heavily on locally-made beers and liquors. Austin Beerworks, Hops and Grain and (512) Brewing Company count among the city's top breweries. Booze distillers like Tito's Handmade Vodka and Nine Banded Whiskey hold down the fort on hard liquor.
Austinites love to take in live shows and enjoy a night of dancing, and they can do both at many venues in the city. Honky-tonks like Broken Spoke and The White Horse attract swarms of cowboy boot-wearing revelers ready to take in some country music and do the two-step. Rock fans gravitate to celebrated spots like The Continental Club and Threadgill's.
Shopping: Austin contains an abundance of independently-owned boutiques, vintage stores and curiosity shops, as well as a few large-scale shopping centers like The Domain in North Burnet, the Barton Creek Square Mall, and the Arboretum at Great Hills.
Austin Cost of Living
When I moved to Austin, I came into a very fortunate living situation: A friend who'd been in the city for a few years had an open room in her 2-bedroom apartment, so I had the chance to take the bedroom and an adjoining bathroom for the bargain rate of $600/month (completely unheard of by New York standards!) I paid around $100/month for electricity and Google Fiber internet.
While rents in Austin remain pretty reasonable compared to cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, prices are on the upswing due to the city's recent population growth. Median one-bedroom rent in Austin hovers around $1,130, with prices spiking in the city's downtown business district and dipping in outer neighborhoods and the suburbs.
Gas prices in Austin currently hover at around $2.45/gallon. In terms of food, it's easy to eat on the cheap here, as long as you're willing to stick with tacos and queso. Fine-dining prices in Austin rival those of other major metropolitan centers, with tasting menus ranging from $45/person (at Lenoir) to $150/person (at Counter 3. Five. VII). For a local favorite that's somewhere in-between in terms of price, you'll want to hit up an Austin BBQ joint like the legendary Franklin Barbecue, where smoked brisket can be ordered for $22 per pound.
When drinking in Austin, the budget-minded should go for local brews, which cost a few bucks less than their foreign counterparts. Cans of Lone Star can be bought for $2 or $3 at any Austin bar, and fancier drafts usually run $5 at a dive bar or $6 to $7 at a more upscale establishment. If you're in the market for an artisanal cocktail, that'll run you upwards of $9 to $10 (but machine-made margaritas with discount tequila can be found for $5 pretty much anywhere).
Moving to Austin, Where to Live
If close proximity to the city center and easy access to bus routes are your priorities, Downtown Austin and the surrounding neighborhoods are your best bets. However, the convenience of these areas comes at a price: Rents in Downtown Austin are the highest in town. If you're moving to Austin from California, take a look at the super hip neighborhoods of South Congress and East Austin. If you are coming from Silver Lake (or even Williamsburg, Brooklyn), they'll will make you feel right at home. If budget is a concern, North Austin and far-south neighborhoods like Westgate and Garrison Park feature lower rents and a quieter pace of life.
Moving to Austin Alone
When I moved to Austin, I had the benefit of my friend/roommate, who introduced me to her friends and took me out on the town. While I still missed my friends back home, I felt less isolated thanks to this support.
If you're coming to town on your own, you'll quickly notice the overall friendliness of Austinites. Cities like NYC aren't interested in making newcomers feel at home, but Austin? They want you feeling happy, comfortable and ready to enjoy the town. As far as meeting new friends goes, you've got plenty of options. Meetup groups are popular here, so if you're a writer or an artist or a book club enthusiast, you'll find plenty of ways to hang out with folks with similar interests. The University of Texas also offers non-degree classes, so if you want to relive those college years and make some friends in the process, that's a valuable choice. For the ladies out there: Bumble makes its headquarters in Austin, and its BFF program matching women with potential friends is especially active here. Log on and find a new partner-in-crime!
Moving to Austin Without a Job
Over the past several years, Austin has welcomed a massive tech industry boom, earning it the nickname of "Silicon Hills". If you're a coder, a software developer or an engineer, the Austin job market will be very good to you. Another fast-growing employment sector in Austin? Hospitality. Because the city's foodie cred keeps increasing, the need for qualified service professionals remains robust.
Moving to Austin, Advice
As with any major city, making the transition to Austin life can be a tricky adjustment. But once you relax and let yourself enjoy the beautiful weather, the friendly people and the unbelievable breakfast tacos, you'll find yourself wondering why you didn't move here long ago. So get out there, soak up the natural beauty, enjoy a locally-brewed beer, nosh on some top-rated barbecue and commit yourself to keeping Austin weird!