I moved to Austin from LA just over two years ago. It was a big decision Part 1 and one that I’d happily make again. I’ve fallen in love with Austin and while there are certainly things I miss about Los Angeles, I haven’t really looked back.
That said, there is a learning curve when you move to a new city. It takes time to get to know the neighborhoods. It is a journey to create deep relationships with new people. It can be scary when you move without work, needing to find something relatively quickly so you can start paying bills.
Over the past couple of years, I have learned a lot about my new home here in Austin, Texas. I’ve moved a few times within the city and recently put down real roots after purchasing a house. I’ve made friends, I’ve gone on weekend trips, I’ve had a couple of jobs, I’ve been to festivals, celebrated holidays, and adapted to this incredible new city.
My First Few Months in Austin
I moved to Austin at the end of April. The weather was warming up. It was just about time for that famous Austin heat. Perhaps it was the perfect time to arrive as summers in Austin are something special.
I moved into a small apartment on the west side of downtown, near the Trader Joe’s in the Seaholm area. I didn’t have a job, but I had plenty to get done.
There were two things on my mind for those first couple of months: legally transferring my life to Texas and trying as many BBQ restaurants as possible without getting sick.
The former obligations weren’t very exciting, but felt important. I wanted to be sure that I was good to go in my new state. I needed to be sure that my vote would count in the upcoming elections. I wanted to be sure my car was registered and that I had my toll road pass set up. And most importantly, I wanted to be sure I was no longer paying California taxes; instead, starting my new life in a state that has no income tax. Winning!
The latter obligation was a bit more fun. I made a list of all of the top BBQ spots in Austin and, as I didn’t have a day job for the moment, took advantage of the midweek hours to check out places like LaBarbecue, Micklethwait, Kerlin, Valentinas, or even Franklin while the locals were at work and the tourists weren’t yet running rampant around town.
The other activity that kept me rather busy was contacting any connection that I had within the city, making plans to meet for lunch or coffee or beer. Be it a friend of my cousin or an old work acquaintance, I found it to be extremely helpful to speak with other people who had either moved to town relatively recently or lived here for years.
I learned a lot from these meetings about the little things that make a city a home. It was a great way to hear about the bars or restaurants that aren’t within the tourist circle, job opportunities that may be on the horizon, or the simple things that you wouldn’t necessarily think about – like which is the best supermarket or which is the top movie theater in town.
How Austin Did (and Didn’t) Meet My Expectations
It takes time to really get to know a city. The first 6 months felt like vacation. Everything that I wanted out of Austin was coming true. I was eating at new places, going to events, seeing concerts, spending occasional weekends on a boat or a kayak. I found a job that, beyond allowing me to afford a nice life, provided me with a couple of new friends. I was getting everything that I wanted out of life and everything felt easy and breezy.
Austin was great. People are so much friendlier than they are in LA. If you’re sitting at a bar, people will talk to you and you might even end up spending the day with them. It’s a very casual city. Shorts are a uniform that rarely change. Happy hour is a real thing because you can actually get somewhere at 5pm without worrying about being stuck in an hour of traffic, plus people tend to leave work at a normal hour rather than burning the midnight oil. It’s great.
I came from Los Angeles, hoping for the benefits of a large city, but with the friendliness and slower pace of a small town. Austin really hit the mark. Southern charm with big city attitude.
To be quite honest though, after a year or so in town, there were a few things I started to realize that weren’t utterly perfect about the city.
I lived downtown, so I was lucky to not have to worry much about traffic, but I did begin to learn that this city isn’t really built for the million people that now live in and around Austin. Traffic during rush hour is pretty miserable. But, to Austin’s credit, unlike LA where traffic is essentially 18 hours a day, here in Austin it’s a true rush hour. A couple hours in the morning and a couple hours in the evening and then it opens up completely – at least by LA standards.
The other part of Austin that I wasn’t loving and took some getting used to, in comparison with Los Angeles, is the lack of international cuisine. Back home in LA I could get Indonesian food on a whim, hit up a Jewish deli in nearly any neighborhood, and if I wanted Korean BBQ, there were literally hundreds of options. Austin has a few random international spots, but for the most part it is lacking, thought it continues to grow.
Similarly, while it is a city big enough for a lot of great art, there aren’t any true museums, there is just one primary theater for Broadway musicals, and even though this city is absolutely filled with live music, a lot of the larger bands skip Austin in lieu of Dallas or Houston.
The only other thing that I really miss from LA is the beach. I clearly had no expectations of a beach in central Texas, but I never thought I’d miss it as much as I do.
Coming from a city as large and diverse as LA, I think it would be impossible not to miss some of these opportunities when moving to a smaller town. It’s certainly something to consider, but I wouldn’t say a reason to keep you away. For a mid-size city, this place is pretty spectacular. You just need to know it isn’t LA or New York.
Downtown: A Place to Start, but Not Finish
As mentioned, my first apartment here in Austin was on the edge of downtown. I soon moved into another apartment downtown, a nicer one. I enjoyed life in the heart of the city, despite the fact that most locals hate what it has become over the past decade.
I always found it funny as I moved to Austin with a vision of Texas in mind. I thought I’d be in a house, a dog running around the yard as I smoked a large piece of meat for dinner. Instead, I found myself living in the most urban residence that I’d ever experienced. I was on the 16th floor of a high rise, a pool fit for a hotel, and a concierge who would sign for my packages or let my friends up the elevator.
Was this the Austin experience? No. Absolutely not. But I did love it. I was walking distance to Dirty Sixth or Rainey. I could have an after work cocktail at a stellar speakeasy. Grabbing dinner without reservations, sitting at the bar of one of the best restaurants in Austin was a part of regular life. I was a quick Lyft to East Austin where I could visit my favorite coffee shop on a Saturday morning or enjoy some of the best woodfired pizza in the country on a Friday night.
I think that living downtown was the perfect place for me to begin my life in this new city. By LA standards, the prices are absolutely fair and it allowed me to really enjoy everything that Austin has to offer.
BUT, eventually the party comes to an end.
After a couple of years, I was craving a more legitimate experience of living in Texas rather than renting in Texas. I wanted that backyard for my dog and a place for my grill.
After looking in East Austin, where some of the hippest bars and restaurants exist, the northern suburbs in burgeoning neighborhoods, and checking out some of the more southern suburbs, my wife and I decided that a quieter life just south of the 71 highway made the most sense for us.
Some of this decision was financially based. The South Congress or Lamar areas are essentially priced the same as LA these days. East Austin and North Austin still have some good options, but the areas are still growing up and the amount of space that you get isn’t ideal for the price that you pay.
I’m still just about 12-14 minutes from Downtown and maybe 18 minutes to the east side, and by LA standards, that’s really, really close. Also, my house cost less than half of what it would in SoCal, so we’re happy.
Becoming and Austinite
Moving to any new town is rough. But Austin is full of great people.
My wife had been here for a couple of years, so she had a small group of friends who instantly took me in as one of their own.
I had a couple of acquaintances who lived in town, so I was able to reach out and at least have a couple of people to share a beer with, even if they weren’t going to become my best friends.
I found a job at a small company and quickly became close friends with my coworkers, both of which had lived here for a long time and helped show me around.
As a new member of the community, everything excited me. While I was complacent in Los Angeles, I was exuberant in Austin. I was always down for a drive out to hill country for an event or pushing to get a group of people to whatever the newest bar or restaurant was.
I worked in the beer industry for a long time and was able to meet some people within that industry here in Austin by attending an event or two. This led me to bottling wine for a couple days out in Fredericksburg, spending time at breweries like Vista or Celis where the owners took me in as a friend almost immediately.
I quickly learned where the best places were for coffee, beer, wine, Italian food, or Japanese cuisine. I started hanging out on patios like it was my job to do it. I added bug spray to my daily regimen if I was going to be hanging outside and applied sunscreen constantly. I got a dog and started taking her to outdoor bars. I bought a pair of Birkenstocks because the humidity made a long walk in my Rainbows unbearable. I slowly became more and more “Austin” and less “LA”.
It’s nice. It’s nice because in Austin you can just be nice rather than trying to be cool.
Life 2.5 Years Later
Just this past weekend I spent 3 days showing one of my best friends and his wife around Austin because they too are considering making the move from LA. It was a nice moment to reflect on what I like and don’t like about the city.
I laid out some of the same things that I’ve mentioned here. It’s a town with great character. It’s a place where you can live a happy life without needing to work 70 hour weeks. The local bars are filled with nice people who are happy to become friends with you over a margarita. Sure, there are some things missing here that you can only get in a melting pot of 10 million people like Los Angeles, but overall, the pros far outweigh the cons.
Buying a house was nearly as large of a decision as moving in the first place as it turned what could have been a 3 year vacation into a more permanent place of residence. But this decision never really had a chance of going any other way. My wife and I are both excited for what the future in Austin holds.