Welcome to the Taco Street Guide to Living in South Austin!
I’m going to be your best-friend-spirit-guide of the Taco-lined streets of South Austin. You’re coming as a newbie, and will be leaving an expert. We’ll laugh & cry together. Go through an epic journey. It’s going to be great.
Think about what comes to mind when you think about Austin. The pictures next to that I love you sign. That cool “Austin” picture you’ve seen on Instagram. Pictures of ACL, Pictures of live music venues, funky art spots. That quirky hippie-cowboy vibe. The infinitely cool Greenbelt. Zilker Park. Barton Springs Pool. That cool junkyard-backyard place.
That’s South Austin.
But South Austin isn’t as easy as saying ‘South Austin’. We’ll look at the subtle differences in each region of South Austin. Specifically, I’ll be covering the (78704) zone. It may be the most important neighborhood in the entire city.
By the end, you’ll be like “I totally maybe want to live here!” or “Hell no! I’m going somewhere else!”
Let’s get into them!
Cost of Rent in South Austin
South Austin has a wide variety of housing options and price ranges. I’ll dissect the price ranges based on the two major types of apartments here.
Older & Renovated Apartments (Before 2006)
1 Bedrooms: $1200+
2 Bedrooms: $1600+
3 Bedrooms: $2100+ (hard to find)
Modern Mid Rise Apartments (After 2006)
1 Bedrooms: $1350+
2 Bedrooms: $1900+
3 Bedrooms: $2500+
At first, South Congress was an important place with important things. Then things kind of went haywire. Then South Congress had that exciting drugs and prostitutes and crime thing going on back in the day, but not anymore! Now it’s important and cool again.
Chances are you’ll come to South Congress on your first visit. It’s the closest thing we have to a tourist district. It’s a rapidly developing area lined with bars, restaurants, apartments, office buildings, boutique shops, and music venues. It’s everything you have in your head about what Austin is. That annoying “I love you” mural is here, which I guestimate accounts for around 68% of dating-app profile pictures in Austin.
South Congress is a great place to hang out for a day with friends and family. You can check out some shops and food joints every now and then. Once you go further down South Congress, past Oltorf, the walkability and charm ends. You’re back to generic looking strip malls and commercial buildings with some ocassionally cool things scattered around.
So do people actually live here? Yes! There’s some apartment complexes right on South Congress, with very pretty and expensive homes tucked into the adjacent neighborhoods.
However, South Congress is not high on my list for places to live in Austin. To me, it’s much more of a tourist area rather than a locals area. Few people I know hang out here.
For the quality of housing, it’s very expensive. You can higher quality housing elsewhere East Austin, or other parts of South Austin for lower prices. It’s worth having on the radar, but not very high.
What’s cool around here?
What about those cute popular tourist places? Hopdoddy? Amy’s Ice Cream? Guero’s? Nope. Overrated. Move on.
If you want cool local dive bar vibes, hang out at Crow Bar.
But we’ve got a little pocket of coolness further down on South Congress.
South Lamar is the long road that stretches from Downtown to Ben White. I would argue its the main part of South Austin, at least from a local perspective. It’s home to a flurry of businesses, grocery stores, shops, offices, homes, and restaurants. It’s not nearly as walkable as South Congress, but it’s got a ton to offer.
I think it’s one of the best places to live in Austin if you want to have an authentically local lifestyle while being near Downtown. It’s got a ton of housing options, so you’ll be able to find something decent around here.
What’s cool here?
The Alamo Drafthouse. Objectively the coolest theater in the universe. While it’s far from the only one in town, it’s my favorite one to go to. The local Highball hosts the locally known “Tittle Bingo” which is as absurd and fun as you think it is. It’s tucked into the packed Lamar Union complex. Known for things like Lick Ice Cream which is stellar.
Uchi is the most famous sushi in Austin. It’s expensive AF, so I still haven’t been. Maybe if you let me help you find you an apartment I’ll be able to afford it!
Barlata has some excellent Spanish food.
Odd Duck is an amazing high end experimental restaurant.
Ramen Tatsuya – If you know the first thing about me, it’s that I’m obsessed with this place. Some of the best ramen in North America. Objectively of course.
Matt’s El Rancho. You should totally ignore it since it actually sucks, but people will try to bring you here anyways. You’re welcome in advance.
On the nearby Manchaca (which locals stubbornly insist on pronouncing Manchack), is one of South Austin’s most famous venues, Radio Coffee & Beer. A super rad bar with blue glass every week. Radio is also home to, in my opinion, the best food truck in Austin – Dee Dee, which serves Northern Thai food.
I FN love South First! It’s one of the coolest streets in Austin. Few places have preserved the quirky Austin spunkiness more than South First. Murals, quirky food trucks, coffee shops, cute little side streets. It’s an awesome place to spend time. Other than maybe East 6th, it’s got the most densely packed collection of amazingly cool places to eat and hang out. If I lived in South Austin, I would be here all the time.
It’s main downside is housing inventory. Compared to South Lamar and South Congress, its lacking, but you can still find some great places to live.
So what’s so great around here? So much!
Mellizoz Tacos – It’s my favorite breakfast tacos in Austin.
Fresa’s Chicken Al Carbon – Man this place is cool! It’s a super funky chicken taco joint with a beautifully lit backyard area. One of the most authentic ways to experience South Austin.
Gourdough’s Big. Fat. Donuts. – Is what you think about when you think of the word Gluttony. Do it, but only once (maybe twice).
Dolce Neve – This place ruined gelato for me. It’s some of the best stuff you’ll find ever. Definitely my favorite ice cream/gelato place in Austin.
Sway Thai – Modern High end Thai. One of the best restaurants in Austin.
Elizabeth Street Cafe This is a gorgeous French-Vietnamese joint. One of the best date spots in Austin.
7th Flag Coffee – Obnoxiously cute bungalow coffee shop.
Barton Hills & Barton Springs
Barton Hills is a classy and distinctive part of Austin. It’s the part of Austin that feels preserved from the 60’s and 70’s. It’s the kind of neighborhood where you can indulge in your moderately sized mid-century modern home fantasies. It’s also home to the crown jewels of Austin; the Greenbelt, Barton Springs Pool, and Zilker Park (Home of ACL Fest). Barton Springs road may just be the soul of Austin.
Unsurprisingly, those cute mid century homes are now worth like a bajillion dollars now. But fret not! Despite the expensive fancy stuff here, there’s actually a lot of reasonably priced places to live here.
What’s cool here?
Aside from the above-mentioned crowned jewels, there’s lot’s of famously cool spots here.
Other than the Greenbelt and things like that, the other most important historical icon is Tacodeli a 20 year old taco institution of glory and wonder.
Uncle Billy’s is special to me, since it’s where I made most of my friends when I first moved here.
Square Rut is a cool kava–coffee bar type place to try our kava, that exotic Polynesian drink that definitely tastes like dirt.
House Wine is a cute little wine-shop bungalow house. Perfect for a date spot.
The Carpenter Hotel is a awesomely funky hotel inside what looks like a 1970’s college dorm room brick building.
Shady Grove is a classic Austin music venue & restaurant.
The Picnic Food Truck Park is an awesome collection of food trucks.
Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum is a beautiful place to hang out, especially with family. The name is weird though isn’t it? Umlauf??
You may miss out on it, but the super nice Zilker Botanical Garden and occasionally has dinosaurs.
Misc South Austin
Outside the main districts I mentioned above is a large network of quiet neighborhood streets. Devoid of big buildings, loud stuff, and general business, this is where you’ll experience the quiet beating heart of South Austin. Since it’s scattered everywhere, I figured I would just bunch it all up together.
Some cool stuff
Thai Fresh – Fantasticly tasty thai joint with some of the best coconut milk ice cream you’l ever have. Look for the Cookie Monster flavor.
Whip In – Oh man this place is cool. It’s a former gas station turned convenience store turned indian restaurant – wine store – music venue. Cool AF. Sneaky cool date spot.
Taco Joint – Fried Fish Tacos to melt your face off!
The ABGB – Another classic Austin venue. It’s an award winning brewery, fantastic pizza shop, and two-stepping music venue. Super cool lit-up outdoor area!
Traffic & Commuting
Unfortunately, South Austin is virtually all car based. Aside from a few bus routes, there is no significant public transportation to speak of. You’re gonna be driving everywhere. The main roads of South Congress and South Lamar have the most traffic, but it’s usually manageable. Crushing your soul is what I35 and Mopac are for! To get North or South, that’s what you’re going to deal with. If you work in North Austin, I would re-consider living here since you’ll be dealing with a lot of traffic everyday. Downtown and Far South Austin are much more accessible.
Overall Pros & Cons
- It’s the soul of Austin. Living here will make you feel like you’re living in Austin.
- Very close to Downtown
- Tons of stuff to do!
- Easy access to out-doorsy activities like the Greenbelt.
- Did I mention the Greenbelt?
- South Austin has the main Austin crown jewels like Barton Springs & Zilker
- Lot’s of housing inventory to choose from.
- It’s not cheap, but there are some relatively affordable older apartments
- You’ll need a car to get around
- Traffic to get to North Austin will be brutal
I really like like South Austin. The Greenbelt alone makes South Austin a spectacular neighborhood. It’s one of the coolest natural luxuries a city can have.
In South Austin you can live near all the main action of Austin. Downtown is nearby. The prices can be high, but are manageable. It has an extremely diverse collection of housing options, places to eat, and things to do. So you’ll never be bored.
Despite its popularity, you can still find examples of the things that made Austin cool and weird in the first place. Rather than being washed away in a sea of generic gentrification, South Austin is maturing into something else entirely. It’s modernizing fast, but isn’t letting go of the roots that made it cool in the first place.
The South Austin Map
Here’s a google map with everything I’ve pointed out above, and more! You can click each icon for the location and my commentary. This will help you glide through South Austin like a F’n pro! Cheers!