Budget Travel: Austin, Texas

Summary: Located “deep in the heart of Texas”, Austin is the capital of the Lone Star state and a center for technology and education. It is also an incredibly diverse and progressive community with a rich history and culture that makes it unlike any other place in Texas.

Originally named Waterloo when it was first founded back in the 1830’s on the banks of the Colorado River, eventually the city was made the seat of government for the newly founded Republic of Texas. Following the Republic’s war for independence with Mexico, it was renamed Austin after Stephen F. Austin, who was instrumental in the early colonization of Texas. Since that time, the city has grown into the fourth largest in the state and the 16th largest in the country.

Austin boasts an eclectic nightlife, a vibrant art and film community, more than 200 live music venues, and an interesting mix of cultures. And with an unofficial motto of “Keep Austin Weird”, you know that you’re in for a very different experience when you come to Central Texas.

Getting in: Austin-Bergstrom International is a medium sized airport that offers service by all the major airlines, and several budget carriers, including Frontier, Jet Blue, and Southwest. Cheap, non-stop flights into Austin from most major cities are plentiful and easily obtained.

Driving to Austin is also easy, as the city sits just a few hours south of Dallas and west of Houston, with major highways allowing for easy access. Having a car in Austin allows visitors to see more of the city and escape to the near by Texas Hill Country, with it’s beautiful vistas and quaint small towns.

The city is also serviced by Amtrak and Greyhound, offering two other inexpensive options for getting to Central Texas.

Where to stay: Austin has a wide range of accommodations, from large national chains to small bed and breakfasts, with pricing starting at the low end and stretching all the way up to luxury levels. But travelers on a budget don’t have to skimp on the laid-back atmosphere that Austin is so well known for. For instance, the Austin Motel is a local favorite for it’s retro-cool vibe, and location in the heart of the hip downtown area of South Congress Ave or SoCo as it’s known locally. This family owned hotel has been open since 1938, and offers affordable and unique rooms that often attract celebrity guests.

There are also several good low-budget options available as well, with the HI-Austin ranking amongst the best. This 42-bed hostel costs as little as $19 per night, and is located near Lady Bird Lake, making it a short walk or bus ride to much of the downtown area.

What to see: Austin literally has something for everyone, with a ton of activities going on at tall times of the year. But the city is known as the “Live Music Capital of the World” and music buffs will find plenty to love. On nearly any night, you’ll be able to find bands playing in any number of locations around the city, with places like Stubb’s Barb-B-Q and The Continental Club offering up inexpensive entertainment. Check out AustinLiveMusic.com to see who will be jamming in Austin while you’re in town.

Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty to do in and around Austin as well. The Texas Hill Country offers great hiking and mountain biking, while the local rivers and lakes are excellent for canoeing and kayaking. Head to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area for great scenic views from the top of a 425 foot giant granite dome that is a favorite of local rock climbers as well.

A visit to Austin isn’t complete without dropping by the Alamo Drafthouse to take in a movie. The Drafthouse is an Austin staple and is consistently named the best movie theater in the country. Watching a newly released film while sipping on beer or wine, then ordering a pizza, sandwich or just the traditional popcorn is a real treat when you have waiters taking your order at your seat. And attending one of their unique special events will leave you wondering why there aren’t more movie theaters like this one. For instance, in the week leading up to the recent release of the new James Bond film Quantum of Solace, the Drafhouse sponsored a week long game of Assasination, culminating on premiere night where they also had a Casino Royale party featuring poker, roulette, and other games.

The list of things to do in Austin goes on and on, even when traveling on a budget. For instance, from mid-March to early November take a walk by the Congress Ave. Bridge to watch more than 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats take flight into the Texas night. Stop in to Mellow Johnny’s , Lance Armstrong’s bike shop, for a sandwich or expresso, and maybe Lance will drop by to say hello, then head over to Barton Springs to take a dip in the natural pool that is a constant 68 degrees year round. In the evening, move over to 6th Street to for drinking and dancing or stroll through the nearby Warehouse District for a more relaxed environment to enjoy a frosty beverage.

Where to eat: Austin has so many great restaurants, it’s difficult to recommend just a few. But when you visit Texas you’re generally looking for two things when it comes to culinary delights, namely barbecue and Mexican. There are a number of great places to find barbaque in Austin, but if you ask the locals where to go, more than likely they’ll recommend The Salt Lick, which has more than 30 years of experience providing delicious barbecue beef, pork, chicken, and more. You’ll get more food for your money than you thought possible, and no one leaves hungry.

For some of the best Mexican food check out Guero’s Taco Bar or Nuevo Leon. Both offer excellent, fresh food, and are well known for their margaritas, all at a very affordable price.