If you’re looking for the best neighborhoods in Austin for world-class entertainment, look no further.

The best things to do in Austin include learning the city’s history, enjoying the Austin music scene and exploring the coolest neighborhoods in Austin.

The best way to experience a city is to walk it. Explore it on the ground peeking into side streets, wandering the neighborhoods, strolling the parks and other green spaces.

For that reason, I’ve created walks that take you through the best neighborhoods in Austin that offer the coolest entertainment options.

These walks let you explore the city systematically within a geographic area allowing you to pick and choose what interests you and ensuring you don’t miss a thing.

Best things to do in Downtown Austin – Congress Avenue Area

Let’s start with a walk down Congress Avenue, Austin’s main thoroughfare, and also the oldest street in town.

Texas State Capitol

At the northern tip of Congress Street is the imposing Texas State Capitol, the seat of government designed in the Italian Renaissance Revival architectural style.

Inside you’ll see an impressive rotunda showcasing portraits of state governors and other local notables.

The dome of Austin's capitol building in downtown Austin, one of the best neighborhoods in Ausitn.
Interior dome of the Texas State Capitol

The majestic building stands on a hill so the view of the surrounding area is outstanding.

On the southeast corner of the capitol grounds, you find the Capitol Visitors Center. The center has exhibits and displays to educate visitors on the history of Texas.

Insider tip: Take advantage of the free tours available at the center. They last about 1.5 hours.

Cathedral of Saint Mary

Just south of the visitor’s center is the graceful neo-Gathic cathedral of Saint Mary dating back to the 1850s.

If you love architecture, this is for you. The cathedral boasts magnificent stained-glass windows and an abundance of historic artwork.

It’s also one of the few places that still do masses in Latin.

The Paramount Theater

South of the cathedral on Congress Avenue off 7th Street is the iconic Paramount Theater.

Designed in the Classical Revival style in 1915, this theater has hosted everything from vaudeville to silent movies to cinema premiers throughout its long history.

Anybody who was anybody in the artistic world performed here; The Marx Brothers, Sarah Bernhardt, Helen Hayes, Billy Joel, Willy Nelson and many others.

The Driskill Hotel

Further south just off Congress Avenue is the famous Driskill Hotel, one of the most famous hotels in the southern United States.

The Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin, one of the best neighborhoods in Ausitn
The legendary Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin

Finished in 1886 in the Romanesque architectural style, it is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Auston.

What’s impressive about the hotel is its facade and scope. Spanning over half a city block with four main entrances, the hotel is three stories tall with elaborately carved decorations.

Insider tip: Having a drink at the Driskill is sort of a “must-do” of the best things to do in Downtown Austin.

The best part about the Driskill is that you can stay there for the historical experience.

Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que

Although this post promises to explore Austin beyond the BBQ, it’s really almost impossible to talk about the best things to do in Downtown Austin and NOT mention BBQ, a virtual culinary religion.

Cooper’s Old Time BBQ, on Congress Avenue south of East 3rd street is reputed to be the favorite BBQ joint of former U.S. President George Bush.

Dating from the 1950s, Cooper’s offers a variety of smoked meats including cabrito, or goat. The meats are smoked in an open pit with mesquite, different from the traditional BBQ.

One of Cooper’s claims to fame is their BBQ sauce, a unique proprietary blend of heavenly ingredients.

Insider tip: There is always a line to get in here. And with good reason. The BBQ is phenomenal. Try to come in an off hour like 2PM to not wait so long.

Insider tip: If the first floor is too crowded, they also have a second floor which is easy to miss.

The Museum of the Weird

Austin’s motto is “Keep Austin Weird” and the city takes it seriously.

Just a couple of blocks east of the Driskill Hotel on 6th Street is Austin’s Museum of the Wierd.

This aptly named very weird museum is one of the last of the ole-time-dime-museums.

The museum features oddities like shrunken heads, a one-eyed pig, a real mummy, freak animals and a collection of live tarantulas. Bizarre doesn’t begin to describe it.

There is a life-size monster exhibit featuring the usual suspects; Dracula, Frankenstein and the Phantom of the Opera with whom you can take photos. Lots of fun not only for kids, but for kids at heart too!

Insider tip: There is a live show at the end of the tour for those who dare.

One block south of the museum is Brush Square surrounded by three delightful museums.

The Susana Dickinson Museum

Susana Dickinson was a survivor of The Alamo who brought the news of its fall to San Houston.

This led to Houston’s defeat of Mexican general Santa Ana and eventually to the independence of Texas.

The Susana Dickinson Museum is Dickinson’s former home and houses period artifacts in the original home constructed in 1869.

O. Henry Museum

This picturesque Victorian cottage was the former home of the famous writer, William Sydney Porter, better known as O. Henry.

The house was restored in 1934 and opened as a museum showcasing Porter’s personal items and documenting his life. It is now a National Register of Historic Places.

Rounding out the trio of museums in Brush Square is the Austin Fire Museum.

Congress Avenue

The avenue itself is a National Historic Place. Stroll the avenue from the capitol building all the way down to the Rio Colorado River.

On either side of the avenue, you see galleries, restaurants, music venues and cute shops selling everything from chocolate to pet clothing.

Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail

The Lady Bird Trail is a 10-mile-long green belt that hugs the bank of the river. It is wide enough for both pedestrians and bikers, and is pet-friendly and free.

The trail is lovely any time of year but especially beautiful in spring. There are many entry points, parking, picnic areas and shade.

The Lady Bird hike and bike trail in Austin.
The beautiful Lady Bird Johnson hike and bike trail

This is a lovely

walk along the river and one of the best things to do in Downtown Austin if you enjoy exploring a city on foot..

Congress Avenue Bridge

At the end of Congress Avenue, straddling Lady Bird Lake is the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, named after the state’s former governor.

So what’s the big deal about a bridge? Well, it houses the world’s largest colony of urban, Mexican free-tailed bats.

These bats live in the crevasses beneath the bridge. Every evening at dusk the bats fly out and across the lake looking for food.

It is quite the unique spectacle and attracts thousands of tourists a year. You can observe the bats from the bridge, banks, and even boats.

People watching for bats under the Congress Avenue Bridge
Waiting for the bats to appear

You would think that I’d have a photo of the bats flying out from the bridge. That’s what these folks are waiting for.

In fact, I waited for over 2 hours and I only saw 4 lone little bats drift out from the Congress Avenue Bridge. Not even close to the thousands of bats that were promised me.

Just know that these bat sightings are not guaranteed.

Congress Avenue Bridge
Congress Avenue Bridge now name the Ann Richards Bridge

Where to stay in downtown Austin.

Austin’s Street Art

You’ll find street art in all the best neighborhoods in Austin.

The city celebrates its street art and would be offended if you called it graffiti. And hunting for its finest art is one of the best things to do in Downtown Austin.

Among the most famous street art murals is the Welcome to Austin sign on historic 4th Street.

Also of note is the Human Insect Hybrid mural and the Floating Spaceman with Pizza

The iconic Welcome to Austin sign
Welcome to Austin

Explore Austin’s Music Scene in the best neighborhoods in Austin for music

Another one of Austin’s monikers is “The Live Music Capital of the World” and true to it’s name, there are plenty of live music venues around. Austin nightlife is in a class by itself.

It’s impossible to name them all. Exploring them is one of the best things to do in Downtown Austin.

A music sign in the shape of a guitar in Ausitn
Austin is all about music

The Continental Club

Further south across the bridge into so cool South Congress or So-Co, is The Continental Club.

Opened in 1955 as a high-end supper club, this venue has been serving up all types of music for 60 years.

Take your pick from swing, country, rock and blues. Oh, and Monday night is jazz night.

This iconic club considered to be among the best in the U.S. is the perfect place to chill and listen to top performers in a welcoming, cozy environment.

Parker Jazz Club

Located in Austin’s booming Warehouse District, Parker Jazz Club is the ultimate jazz club for serious lovers of jazz.

The basement room is built specifically for jazz with excellent acoustics, cozy couches and a view of the stage from every seat.

The club is the brainchild of musician Kris Kimura who wanted to create a world-class jazz club in Austin.

“I wanted something you would see if you went to New York and spent an evening at Dizzy’s Club, or went to London and visited Ronnie Scott’s, or went to Paris — a truly timeless, world-class venue,” says Kris.

“But also, it couldn’t be too stuffy because this is Austin. People in Austin are cool.

We wanted to kind of mix that high-end thing with this hip, distinctly Austin thing, and I feel like we’ve hit the mark.”

Kris Kimua

Monk’s Jazz Club

This jazz club started out doing live streaming during the pandemic from the owner’s living room.

The venture took off and they secured a location in East Auston at 591 Pedernales Street.

Monk’s Jazz Club is big enough to house a full band. The calendar features top local jazz talent as well as performers from just about everywhere you find great jazz.

Austin is truly a mecca for the jazz aficionado. Spending an evening at a jazz club is one of the best things to do in Austin.

The Elephant Room

Open 7 days a week, The Elephant Room is right on Congress Avenue and 3rd street.

The venue is in a basement with the band all the way in the back. This may limit your ability to see the band but you go for the music.

It’s a fun place with good bands and a welcoming vibe. A great place to go alone or accompanied to listen to solid jazz. And they take requests!

Insider note: No cover charge on a Sunday or Monday.

Broken Spoke

Love country music? If you do, Broken Spoke is the place to go.

Listen to country music, take dance lessons in Two Step / Swing and more. Check the calendar to see when to catch the best country music in Austin.

For the culture vulture

Austin has some of the finest collections of art in the southern United States.

Some of the best things to do in Austin are to explore the many fine museums. You’ll find them in the best neighborhoods in Austin.

The Mexic-Arte Museum

Dedicated to showcasing the richness of Mexican and Latin culture in general, The Mexic-Arte Museum features a permanent collection of over 5,000 works, both historical and contemporary.

The museum is located south of East 5th Street near the Driskill Hotel.

The Blanton Museum of Art

This is the mother of fine museums in Central Texas. The Blanton houses art from all corners of the world with a focus on American and Latin American art.

It houses over 20,000 pieces in both its permanent and rotating collections.

The Bob Bullock Texas State Museum

Everything you ever wanted to know about the history of Texas is right here.

The Bob Bullock Texas State Museum has educational exhibits as well as period pieces.

There is something for everyone here.

The Contemporary – Austin

With two locations; downtown Austin and Laguna Gloria, The Contemporary houses works from contemporary artists.

The art is avantgarde, unusual and frequently surreal. As it is in the middle of downtown Austin, the museum is easy to combine with other nearby attractions.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

This place is a joy for flower lovers and anyone else who appreciates the beauty of nature. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is famous for its native plants but its gardens are also a marvel.

A wonderful place to spend a couple of hours just chilling. Just walking in the gardens will lower your blood pressure.

The LBJ Presidential Library and Museum

The LBJ Presidential Library and Museum sits on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.

It is 30 acres of history showcasing the achievements of the 36th president of the United States.

Among the exhibits are historical documents, photos and even hours of recorded telephone conversations.

The objective of the museum is to increase public awareness of of the American experience through exhibitions and educational programs.

LBJ was president during some of the most turbulent times in U.S. history; the Vietnam War, the Civil Liberties struggle.

The museum goes a long way to helping visitors understand those important events.

The best neighborhoods in Austin for live music

Rainey Street

Looking for one of the best neighborhoods in Austin for general entertainent? Head to Rainey Street.

It is east of the Congress Avenue Bridge in the southeastern part of downtown Austin.

This buzzy Austin neighborhood features luxury highrises mingling with trendy neighborhood bars.

Look for live music, cocktails and a major party vibe. One of my favorite neighborhoods in Austin.

Originally a collection of wooden houses, the area was destroyed by a flood in 1935 and was rebuilt.

To maintain its character, the area was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

Fast forward to the 2010s and beyond and the area is now a lively enclave featuring trendy restaurants, cool bars and one of Austin’s claims to fame, food trucks.

Stroll around the neighborhood to appreciate the area’s lively scene.

Some of the best Austin nightlife is here at Clive Bar rooftop and Icenhauer’s for karaoke.

Red River Cultural District

Would you rather club-hop from one live music venue to another?

The Red River district, definitely one of the best neighborhoods in Austin, is where you can hear bands of every type up and down the streets.

The Red River Cultural District is packed with independent performance venues. It is located along Red River Street intersecting with 6th Street.

Take your pick from dozens of live music venues which gives Austin its nickname, The Live Music Capital of the World.

This is a great place for Tex-Mex,and that’s really sayign something in Texas. Try Pelon’s Tex-Mex Restaurant and the to-die-for taco at Vaqueo Taquero.

You can also get Asian fusion in Koriente and many other ethnic varieties of cuisine here.

a plate of Tex-Mex food in Second Street, one of the best neighborhoods in Ausitn for food.
Can’t beat the Tex-Mex at Red River

Second Street

Second Street is just a little sliver of an area 4 or 5 blocks wide fronting the river, but it packs a major entertainment punch.

This is the go-to area for shopping in chic boutiques as well as vintage shops for everything from fashionable footwear to hand-crafted jewelry to toys.

Recuperate from prowling the shops at any one of the restaurants in the area. This is one of the most eclectic neighborhoods in Ausitn.

Can’t get enough of Tex-Mex? Head to ATX Cocina.

In the mood for a James Beard award-nominated restaurant? La Condesa is your answer.

Or maybe you just want a great cup of coffee? Then it’s Jo’s Coffee, an ideal place to people-watch with a cup of Joe.

Sixth Street

This eclectic thorofare extends about 13 blocks from N. Lamar in the west to route 35 in the east with bisected by Congress Avenue midway.

It is one of the coolest neighborhoods in Austin.

Walk up and down this street. That’s the best way to get to know it. By day you’ll find interesting little shops restaurants.

street art on Second Street in Ausitn
Sixth Street street art

At night it’s a different story altogether. You’ll discover speakeasies and dark dives where they play Mexican videos of vampires decimating Mexico City.

This place is…shall we say…different. But all good fun. Just walk in and out of the clubs to find the one you like best.

There is no cover so you’re free to explore without committing.

This is another one of Austin’s foodie districts where you can have sushi at TenTen as well as Dim Sum at Lin Asian Bar or outstanding Tex-Mex at El Arroyo.

The Warehous District

In one of my favorite neighborhoods in Austin, the Warehouse District was until recently, well… an area filled with warehouses.

As the neighbrhood gentrified, the area became home to prime restaurants and LGBTQ+ establishments.

Today you’ll find top-notch restaurants like Red Ash for steaks, Peche (it means sin in French) for French inspired cuisine and Group Therapy for Southern fare.

As appealing as the foodie selection might be, the Warehouse District is actually all about the Austin nightlife.

Head to The Courtyard at fourth & Co, for drag shows, or The Roosevelt Room for serious cocktails.

South Congress Avenue or SoCo

You can’t really talk about the best neighborhoods in Austin without mentioning South Congress, or SoCo, as the locals call it.

This is where you’ll find the legendary Continental Club. You’ll also discover cool restaurants on both sides of the avenue with a focus on the city’s ubiquitous Tex-Mex.

This is, in fact, another one of Austin’s best neighborhoods for Tex-Mex.

The area is also a shoppers paradise with both high-end brand stores as well as the quirky, independent shop. Many of the stores have a focus on Western wear, especially boots.

This is a great place to spend the entire day listening to music, shopping and savoring the local cuisine.

Where to eat in Downtown Austin

There is no shortage of fine restaurants in Austin from the Michelin-starred yet mundanely named PastaBar to some of the best food trucks and taco stands in the south.

Savoring Austin’s cuisine is definitely one of the best things to do in Austin. Some highlights include:

Barchi Sushi

Located in the warehouse district in downtown Austin bordering 2nd street, Barchi Sushi has one of the best Happy Hours in town from 4 to 7 daily and all day Sunday.

Diner Bar Downtown Austin

The name is deceiving. It is anything but a diner. It is an experience. The food is modern American cuisine, think pork shoulders, pasta and seafood.

Where Diner Bar restaurant shines, though, is with its oysters. There are numerous types of oysters to try and, as of this writing, the Happy Hour oysters are only $2.00 each.

The enormous bar and hand-crafted cocktails are also worth writing home about.

Perry’s Steakhouse

You can’t talk about Texan restaurants without mentioning a steakhouse. And Perry’s Steakhouse is the one to visit.

The restaurant is located three blocks south of the capitol building in the historic Norwood Tower, once the tallest building in Austin.

The ambiance is ultra elegant, and suitable for special occasions. If you want a classic steak dinner, go here.

Start with a dry martini, and warm rolls and dig into a fine steak accompanied by a glass of excellent red wine in a lovely old-world charm restaurant.

At Perry’s, it’s as much about the experience as it is about the food.

Quattro Gatti on Congress Avenue

In the mood for Italian? Quattro Gatti is your go-to.

This reasonably priced Italian restaurant near the capitol building between 9th and 10th street, in one of the best eighborhoods in Austin, has a small menu which, in my opinion, is always a good sign.

This means they do a few things really well rather than a lot of things “meh.” The food is classic Italian; pasta, pizza and the second is like steak or fish.

This is a family-owned eatery whose owners originally came from New York City where they had a restaurant on the Upper East Side, a mecca for fine Italian dining.

The Salt Lick

Not in the downtown area but still, The Salt Lick is perhaps the most famous BBQ destination in Austin. And for good reason.

This is the real deal with BBQ so good it falls off the bone and virtually melts in your mouth.

steak in an Austin restaurant
Austin BBQ

The restaurant is not in the downtown area. It is about half an hour southwest of Austin but it is worth the trip for a truly memorable experience.

How to get to Austin

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) serves the Austin, Texas region with international and domestic flights.

Airlines that fly into the airport include Allegiant Air, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and others.

If you are driving, highways that serve Austin include U.S. 79. U.S. 90, U.S. 183, and U.S. 290.

You can rent a car at the airport and locations throughout the city.

The Austin MetroRail goes to the airport from downtown Austin and vice versa for $33.00 as of this writing. It will take you straight into any of the Austin neighborhoods.

CapMetro runs regular bus service to and from the airport for $1.50 one way on the Cap 20 line.

An Uber from the airport to downtown Austin will cost you about $30.00

How to get around Austin

Capital Metro is the public transportation system in Austin.

The Capital MetroRail consists of several lines servicing important points throughout the city like the Convention Center and Downtown Austin. This makes it easy to get aroud the Austin neighborhoods.

The easy-to-follow Austin subway map is a useful tool to have with you.

The Capital Metro Bus System is served by more than 82 routes throughout the city. Busses run regularly on major roads throughout the city, especially the downtown area.

Both Lyft and Uber are available in Austin as are bike and scooter rentals.

Austin is an eminently walkable city with wide avenues, green spaces and paths.

A Brief History of Austin

Early Austin

In the 1830s non-native settlers began to arrive. Before then the area was inhabited by Native American tribes.  

At that time the area was still part of Mexico. In 1836 Texas gained independence and the Republic of Texas was created.

The new republic established the capital city by the Colorado River. In 1839 the city was named Austin after Stephen F. Austin in recognition of his contributions to the growth of the city.

Austin was the capital of the Republic of Texas until it was incorporated into the United States in 1845.

Growth into the 20th century

Austin experienced steady continued growth in the 1800s and 1900s driven by agriculture, cattle, and education.  The University of Texas was established in 1883.  

The city continued to grow and develop into the 20th century adding new industries like technology, and healthcare. The city began developing a reputation as a center of higher learning.  

The late 20th century brought with it a major tech blossoming as tech companies, startups and venture capital firms were drawn to the city earning it the nickname of Silicone Hills.  

It was during this time that Austin began to establish itself as a major music town hosting music events and festivals

Austin today

oday, the city is thriving billing itself as the “Live Music Capital of the World.” It’s recognized for its culture, outdoor spaces and an unquenchable entrepreneurial spirit.

Austin continues to attract people from all over the world. They are attracted by the fine quality of life and opportunity.  

The Best time to visit Austin

As in so many other cities, the best times to go to Austin are March to May and September to November.

At these times the temperature ranges in the delightful 70s and 80s. The summer months from June to August are hot, hot, hot!

What are you thoughts on the best neighborhoods in Austin for entertainment? What would you add? Let us know in the comments.

When visiting Austin, bring a copy or download one of these helpful guides.

What are our thoughts on the best things to do in Austin? What did I miss? Let us know in the comments.


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Talek Nantes

This blog was created to inspire your travels and to explore experiences in fascinating locations. What you will find are thoughts on how to immerse yourself in local culture, food, history and people. On your way to these adventures I hope to provide you with useful information to help you get there. Come see the world with me!

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