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There are several loosely defined neighborhoods in Austin: North Austin, downtown, South Austin, West Austin, East Austin, UT Campus area, and Westlake Hills are some of the neighborhoods to check out. Austin has grown a lot in the last 20 years, and it's not always pretty. In fact, there's a lot of a "strip mall" aesthetic that some visitors may not like. But just be sure and check out what's inside the strip malls -- it may surprise you! There are great local businesses all over Austin.
North Austin is mostly residential. This part of Austin doesn't have a lot that would attract a visitor, particularly given the other options. It's mostly suburban, with some high-end shops and malls, but nothing funky or all that unique. The Arboretum is located in North Austin, but it's mostly stores you would find in a mall, with a few exceptions. Luxury brands have staked out at the Domain, but once again, mostly stores you would find at other high end shopping centers.
Downtown has a lot going on 24/7. The Sixth Street Entertainment District is located along Sixth Street, east of Congress Ave, and features numerous bars, music venues, t-shirt and souvenir shops and a few restaurants. Other popular spots in the downtown area inlcude -- the music venues and bars along Red River Street (from Sixth up to 10th), the Warehouse District (4th and Congress over to 2nd St ), and the activity centered around the Whole Foods/ Waterloo Records nexus at 6th and Lamar (West 6th (near Whole Foods) has its fair share of eateries and galleries). Great local places to check out in the Red River/ E. Sixth Street include Esther's Follies (an extremely funny and boisterous revue show, may be a little on the risque side for some), Emo's, Beerland, Stubbs'. In the Warehouse District check out -- Rainbow Cattle Company, Antones (legendary blues club), Opal Divines Freehouse, and the Gingerman with its amazing selection of beers on tap. Further west on Sixth, near Whole Foods you'll find Waterloo Records, Waterloo Ice House, Amy's Ice Cream, Shoal Creek Saloon (N. Lamar at 10th St) and the legendary Tavern (at 12th and Lamar). Ask your locals for their picks when you arrive. Stream on line the great hometown radio stations KUT 90.5 FM and KGSR 107.1 FM to get a feel for the wide range of original live music performances 365 nights a year in the Live Music Capitol of the World .The Colorado River (Lady Bird Lake) geographically separates north and south Austin.
South Austin is historically a diverse area. Prior to reliable flood control upstream through damming the Colorado River, it was often separates from the central downtown on the north shore. Make note of the wide sweep of the Congress Avenue Boulevard, which begins at the State Capitol Building. Stroll the downtown and note the architectural details of many historic structures. Batmania abounds directly under the Ann Richards - Congress Avenue Bridge as it crosses the Colorado River and leads into South Austin. The bridge is home to the largest urban bat colony in North America. The bats put on a show as they emerge from under the bridge at dusk, roughly March - October. A Civil War Veteran founded and platted the now renowned, hill top Travis Heights neighborhood. His original home still stands on Travis Heights Blvd . South Congress is now a popping shopping district that began with the renovations carried out by a few now- iconic Austin businesses who began rescuing what had been in decline. Thanks to owners of Lucy in Disguise, Guerro's Taco Bar, Magnolia Cafe south, Rues' Antiques, The Continental Club, the San Jose Hotel and Jo's Coffeehouse, Yard Dog Folk Art, Texas French Bread, Amy's Ice Cream among others, you can nosh your way from one end of the strip to the other. These are just a few of the many Austin businesses along South Congress Ave. The San Jose and the Austin Motel make a home for your out of town guests to become happy campers as the Continental Club is across the street and Egos is downhill for live music options, in easy walking distance. Lots of original boutique shops, it's become an area in strong trendy transition. Don't miss Auditorium Shores, the Botanical Gardens and Tanaguchi water garden at Zilker Park, Umlauf Sculpture Garden, and the Jewel of the City, Barton Springs Pool. There is also the great "hike and bike" trail that circles Town Lake. Also check out the HEB's Central Market South Austin -- a great grocery store.West Austin is home to several older neighborhoods in central Austin. Here's where you'll find many historical homes, located in Pemberton Heights, Old West Austin, and the Enfield and Tarrytown neighborhoods. The panoramic views from the western area of the City of Austin are created by the Balcones uplift which follows the Colorado River as the land ascends into the West Lake Hills area. There are award winning 4 Star dining establishments (Jeffreys), Lakeside dining options (Mozart's coffeehouse and Lucy's), Z Tejas and the Ditch, the 24 hour Magnolia Cafe Lake Austin Blvd location, and many other unique iconic Austin options. The treasured spring fed Deep Eddy Pool is a destination park among the many Austin pocket sized parks scattered in the western city.
East Austin has increasingly become a place to be in Austin. In addition to being home to some of the best Tex-Mex dining in the city -- Nuevo Leon, El Azteca, and Los Comales are three favorites, there are many restaurants, coffee houses and bars on the east side. The hot spots are on Manor Road, East 5th-East 7th, and, more recently, the Mueller Development and the Cameron/Corona intersection, with Nomad Bar and the Corona Cafe. Eastside Pies, Salvage Vanguard Theatre, Yokuba Coffee and an old-fashioned drive-in movie theatre are highlights. In November, the East Side Studio Tour offers an amazing opportunity to check out art galleries, large and small, some in people's private homes, some in renovated strip malls and warehouses, and even in a former bakery on Tillery Street. Highly recommended.
The UT Campus area is north of Downtown. The recently opened Blanton Museum of Art is the largest university art museum in the U.S. The Harry Ransom Center usually has some interesting exhibitions, and a walk down Guadalupe (the "Drag") is a lot of fun. Check out the Cadeau (a boutique store that's been there for a long time) and get the student vibe. Cactus Cafe is a great and small venue for live music -- it's part of the student union.
Westlake Hills is west of West Austin. It's upscale suburban, but if you drive out far enough, you'll get to Lake Austin and Lake Travis. Southwest of town in Driftwood is the famous Salt Lick BBQ, an Austin tradition.