Every March, Austin hosts South by Southwest ("SXSW"), one of the largest music festivals world. The music passes are very expensive, but there are enough free music shows going on every day to keep you busy, so it's worth coming even if you don't get a music pass. Just don't expect to be able to book a hostel or hotel unless you book your room maybe about a year in advance.
You have to go to Barton Springs. You have to eat at the bakery at Toy Joy (a toy shop -- the best thing in the world). You have to eat at Veggie Heaven.
The nightlife in Austin is mostly centered downtown on 6th Street, starting at Red River Street and going west from there. If you find that 6th Street isn't your style, try the alternative music spots along Red River Street, or for the older crowd try the Warehouse District on 4th and 5th Streets, roughly between Guadalupe and Congress Streets.
I lived in Austin for nine years. Austin is very cool, except that it's so darned hot in the summer. Check out Barton Springs pool in Zilker park, an enormous spring-fed pool, always seventy degrees, perfect for a scorching day. A music reviewer for the Austin paper once wrote "Who's playing this weekend? Ho, hum, the usual embarassment of riches." No kidding. You can find live music any night of the week. Halloween in Austin is a sight to behold, thousands of people partying downtown.
Austin is the political and music capital of Texas. It's home to the University of Texas at Austin as well as several smaller universities and colleges so the population tends to be young and hip. It's also a mecca for hipsters and progressives even though it's deep in the heart of a conservative southern state. There are just a few hostels in Austin, so be sure to make contact with them to book in advance.
Austin's social scene is diverse. When you're staying in an Austin hostel, if you want to go out and get crazy, you can catch a bus or a cab and head downtown to 6th Street between Red River Street and Congress Avenue. That area is packed with bars and crowds of 20-somethings almost every night of the week. For live music and more hipster-style bars, stick to the Red River Street area between 6th and 10th Streets. For a slightly older crowd head to the Warehouse District area west of Congress Avenue around 4th Street. If you're looking for something "Texas-y," try the Broken Spoke on South Lamar for some honkytonk music and country line dancing.
If you're interested in art and museums, there are plenty of those in the downtown area pretty close to most of the Austin hostels. However, there are art galleries all over the city, especially on the east side of I-35 and south of downtown on Congress or in the 78704 area. Most people in Austin are also very into being outdoors, so if you're interested in hiking, biking, boating, swimming, disc golf, or league sports, you name it and someone is out there doing it. There are trails, parks, and wilderness areas all over and around the city. Just be prepared, the weather here can be really hot and humid.
You should be able to find a bed in an Austin hostel most times of year if you make a reservation a little bit in advance. However, if you plan to visit during the SXSW (in March) or the ACL (late September / early October) music festivals you need to plan months in advance because the city draws in huge international crowds and even the most expensive hotels sometimes get fully booked around those times of year.
Hi, I'm David,
the Hostelz.com local expert for Austin hostels. Welcome.