As established locals know, Austin is becoming increasingly popular. What's more, tens of thousands of people are moving to the eccentric city to take advantage of the bustling economy and endless activities. Further, as one of the fastest growing cities in the country, Austin is expected to hit one million residents by 2020 – which would make it just one of 11 U.S. cities that have a population of at least one million residents.
Perhaps so many people are drawn to the Texas capital because of its progressiveness, culinary offerings, or its booming live music scene (Austin features a whopping 250 live music venues). However, because this city is packed with activities, it can sometimes feel overwhelming to navigate and plan your itinerary – especially when it seems as if there's just too much to do.
If you're contemplating a visit to this beloved city and looking to save some dough along the way, you may want to consider a late-winter visit, when the weather is still warm enough to hike, bike, and partake in many other outdoor activities – sans the crowds and higher prices (temperatures hover around high 50s to mid 60s from December - March).
Additionally, if you're looking to experience a new side of Austin, there's no better time to explore than now. With fewer tourists and less crowds (locals tend to lay low during these "chilly" months), head to the Texas capital for a one-of-a-kind, fun-filled, and budget-friendly trip.
When to Visit
November through February
Excluding the holiday chaos of December, visit anytime through November to February to experience the city as a local. The two most popular Austin-based festivals are South by Southwest (SXSW), which runs for two weeks in March, and Austin City Limits (ACL), which takes place during the last two weekends of October. Visit the city after ACL and before SXSW so you can enjoy crisp fall weather, fewer crowds, and, of course better prices.
The Smart Places to Stay
Thanks to Austin’s increasing popularity, new hotels have been popping up all over town. As a result, visitors can benefit from competitive fares and discount packages, especially during the slower months of January and February.
The LINE Austin opened in June 2018 and is one of the city's newest luxe hotels. However, despite it being a luxury property, the hotel is offering winter visitors value-packed promotions. Located downtown and within walking distance to major nightlife and shopping attractions, the 428-room hotel embraces a minimalistic aesthetic that is a happy marriage of natural textures and industrial chic design. After browsing The LINE's incredible collection of local contemporary artwork, take a dip in the heated outdoor infinity pool (which features picturesque lake views), or curl up with a blanket and a cocktail on a lounge chair by the fireplace. When it comes to dining, there are tons of options, as the property features two onsite restaurants. What's more, in March, the hotel will open P6 on the rooftop (think good food, refreshing drinks, and scenic views). Rates from $263 per night.
If you’re looking for a more intimate Austin experience, consider a stay at the 14-room Hotel Eleven, where you can unwind on the arty strip of East 11th Street — just minutes from the hustle-and-bustle of downtown. If you’re craving a bite to eat, head across the street, where you’ll find a food truck court (a staple of Austin culture). Post-lunch, head back to the hotel and stop at Louie's Lounge (which is named after a friendly black cat who likes to hang around the property) for cocktails. After you order drinks, move on to the cozy rooftop deck to take in the scenic city views. For dinner, reserve a table at the French-inspired Blue Dahlia Bistro, which is right next door (dinner entrees from $14.50). Rates from $199 per night.
What to See and Do
In early January, local bars and music venues attempt to draw the locals out of hiding and entice tourists with Free Week. During this seven-day period, tons of music venues and bars offer free entry.
However, post-Free Week, not much changes, and many venues keep their cover charge down to $5. Take advantage of the low prices and check out Elephant Room, a candle-lit basement jazz club. Also be sure to stop by Beerland to catch live music from up-and-coming indie bands, and Flamingo Cantina to listen to reggae music and mingle with locals on the upstairs patio.
When your ears start ringing from a few too many concerts, there's the 350-acre Zilker Park, which is great for scenic hiking, biking, and walking. Each December, the park also features the Austin Trail of Lights in honor of the upcoming holidays. Looking to participate in more daring and adrenaline-pumping activities? Every January 1, the city hosts a free Polar Bear Splash at the beloved Barton Springs swimming hole (also located in the park).
Austin offers educational-based activities, too. If you're a history buff, check out the impressive Texas State Capitol Building, which offers free tours year-round. After your tour, stroll down South Congress Street (also known as SoCo) and peruse independent arts and crafts shops. Post-shopping, be sure to stop by either Lucky Robot for authentic Japanese street food (lunch entrees from $11), or Magnolia South for brunch and Tex-Mex staples (everything is under $16). In the evening, check out the Continental Club, where you'll find local and national acts ranging from rock to blues. The iconic club was renovated back in1987, restoring it to look like it did in the '50s.
If you want to shop, Burnet Road in central Austin is great for strolling vintage and thrift stores, sampling some pastries at one of the several bakeries on the strip, or catching a game and enjoying a cold beer at Pinthouse Pizza (be sure to order the queso here, too). If you prefer more high-end shops, head to the relatively quieter north side of the city to check out The Domain, a shiny complex of beautiful boutiques, top-notch restaurants, unique bars (some of which feature Jenga and cornhole), and even a three-story nightclub.
Tips to Save More
With so many bars and restaurants in Austin, it's normal to be overwhelmed by the amount of happy hour specials offered throughout the city.
Here's a money-saving tip: If you're in need of a light snack to hold you over until dinner, most Tex-Mex eateries will bring you overflowing baskets of straight-out-of-the-oven chips with salsa (for free) – before you even have a chance to look at the menu.