Where to Stay in Austin first time: 9 Best Areas & Safety

In this post, I will help you to find Where to stay in Austin first time (for couples, families). We will discuss about the best areas to stay in Austin (with a video and map), best hotels in Austin for all budgets (including the hotel where I stayed), and the safest place to stay in Austin.

Settled in 1839, named after Stephen F. Austin, Austin is the state capital of Texas, the Live Music Capital of the World, and the 11th largest city in the entire United States.

A sun-soaked metropolis, filled with a blend of American and Hispanic cultures, where the built-up heart and more natural outskirts are just as important as one another, there’s no better place to get a true feel of what Texas is all about than right here in Austin.

Where to stay in Austin first time?

The best areas to stay in Austin for tourists and first-timers are Downtown Austin, Red River Cultural District/ 6th Street, Rainey Street, Zilker, East Austin, and South Congress. These are popular and safe neighborhoods for tourists, offering a wide variety of attractions and amenities.

Downtown Austin is the overall best place to stay in Austin for first-timers. It is the heart of the city and has a high concentration of accommodations, restaurants, bars, and shops. Staying here puts you in the middle of action, easy access to tourist attractions and amenities.

Downtown and SOCO are some of the best areas to stay in Austin without a car. They are walkable and are well-connected to public transportation such as buses and MetroRail, making them great locations for car-free travelers to explore the city.

If you’re looking for a thriving nightlife, look into the Red River Cultural District, the legendary 6th Street, and Rainey Street. If you are traveling as a family with small children, look into Zilker, with its wide-open spaces and easy access to the city center.

Austin is a moderately safe place for visitors, you should avoid walking at night in the neighborhoods a bit north of E. 6th. You should be aware of surrounding and take some basic precautions as you would to travel to any other cities.

Downtown, Old Enfield, Hyde Park, Rollingwood are some of the safest neighborhoods in Austin. The downtown area and many of the popular tourist areas are generally safe, especially during daytime hours when there is a larger presence of people and law enforcement.

Where did I stay in Austin?

When I first visited Austin, I stayed for 3 nights at the beautiful Fairmont Austin. It is located in Downtown, easy walk from shops/cafes, short Uber ride from 6th East Street for nightlife. I had nice breakfast buffets with a wide selection of dishes. My room was spacious and clean.

💖 Best Area for First-Timers:Downtown Austin
💎 Best luxury hotel:The Driskill, in The Unbound Collection by Hyatt 
🏨 Best mid-range hotel:The Stephen F Austin Royal Sonesta Hotel
💰 Best budget hotel:Aloft Austin Downtown

Map of Best areas and neighborhoods in Austin for tourists:

Map of Best areas in Austin for first-timers and tourists
Map of Best areas in Austin for first-timers and tourists

9 Best areas to stay in Austin for tourists are:

1. Downtown Austin

Downtown Austin

Downtown is the best area to stay in Austin for first-time tourists due to its central location and proximity to major attractions such as the Texas Capitol. It is the heart of the city, offering easy access to top sights, restaurants, bars, and shops.

Located on the north bank of the Colorado River, Downtown is centered around Congress Avenue, stretching from Lamar Boulevard on the west to Interstate 35 on the east, and from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Lady Bird Lake.

Downtown Austin has several sub-area including the nightlife district of 6th Street, Rainey Street Historic District, and the shopping hub of 2nd Street District. Double Decker Austin hop-on-hop-off bus is a good way to explore the downtown.

Downtown is packed with historic landmarks including the historic late-19th-century State Capitol Building and its stunning grounds, the Texas State Library and Archives, the Texas Governor’s Mansion, and the Texas African American History Memorial.

You can learn about the history of the city at the Bob Bullock Museum of Texas History. It has more than 500 artifacts dating back as far as 13,000 years. Other popular musuems are the Austin Children’s Museum, Museum of the Weird, which is a dime museum with many strange artifacts.

Austin is also known for its art museums. Art lovers have the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin, with nearly 18,000 pieces collection of art. There are also The Contemporary Austin and the Mexic-Arte Museum displaying Mexican and Latina art.

Other places of interest are the Willie Nelson statue, Harry Ransom Center, Austin City Hall, Paramount Theatre, and the Frost Bank Tower which the 33 stories at a height of 515 feet building in a prime location on Congress Avenue.

Downtown is also within walking distance to the Lady Bird Lake and Zilker Park Boat Rentals which are great places for outdoor enthusiasts, boating, and kayaking.

Be sure to check out the Congress Avenue bridge, famous for its nightly bat flights, attracting many visitors from March to October for bats watching. Every evening, around sunset, the bats emerge from under the bridge in search of food.

On every Saturday morning, you will find the SFC Farmers’ Market Downtown by the Sustainable Food Center, with lots of fresh produce, local vendors, and live music.

Austin hosts several music festivals during the year, including Austin’s Free Week in January, Austin City Limits in October, Rodeo Austin in March for Texas’s cowboy roots, and a couple of festivals in April about blues, bluegrass, reggae, and rock.

Austin is home to many music venues like the Nutty Brown Amphitheater, ACL Live at the Moody Theater. If you like the bar-music vibe, you can visit Broken Spoke and the Little Longhorn Saloon.

Austin has unique restaurants and food trucks scenes. You can enjoy southern comfort food, Mexican food, biscuits, deep-fried chicken, and BBQ. There are also plenty of bars, clubs, cafes, and shops lining the streets.

Being at the heart of the city not only means you can freely stroll around to witness all of this, but you won’t have to worry about paying for parking either. Downtown Austin is very walkable, you can easily explore on foot.

Downtown is often considered one of the best areas without a car due to its walkability, accessibility to buses and light rail, as well as a wide range of amenities and attractions.

Downtown has a wide range of accommodation options from budget hotels to boutique hotels and business-style hotels. It is also home to the most luxurious hotels in the city such as the oldest hotel and also a historic landmark in Austin, Driskill Hotel.

Best Places to Stay In Austin Downtown:

luxury ($$$): The Driskill, in The Unbound Collection by Hyatt, 5-star historic hotel in central Austin, one of the best hotels in Downtown Austin for all visitors. Easy access to the Austin Music Hall and Texas State Capitol.

mid-range ($$): The Stephen F Austin Royal Sonesta Hotel, great 4-star hotel, centrally located in the heart of Austin, one of the best bases for first-timers and car-free traveler. It is within walking distance to popular State Capitol building and Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.

budget ($): Aloft Austin Downtown, 3-star hotel located in the heart of the city center. It has an on-site restaurant that features American cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There is a coffee bar, a cocktail bar, and a mini-market.

2. Red River Cultural District /6th Street

Located adjacent to downtown Austin, just to its east, the Red River Cultural District is between the 4th and 15th streets. That said, the experience you will get here is noticeably different, as this is the location of the most visited neighborhood Austin, world-famous Sixth Street.

If you’re looking for good nightlife and a live music scene, the 6th Street Historic District is your best choice. Lined with bars, clubs, restaurants, music venues, and tourist attractions, It is undoubtedly the place to visit for those looking to experience the edgier side of Austin.

Mohawk Austin, Cheer Up Charlies,  Pelons Tex Mex, Stubbs, Barbarella nightclub, Swan Dive, and Beerland are some of the famous bars and clubs in this area.

Street performers roam the sidewalks, performing tricks and acts you may associate more with places like the Las Vegas Strip or Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

Bars are filled with live performances on any given night of the week, from well-known performers to amateur jam sessions, all displaying the type of blues that Austin is famous for.

Even the dining options are a little more unusual, with chain restaurants like Bikini’s and the local Voodoo Donuts offering food more akin to bars and dinners than you would find in a high-end destination.

You can see the bizarre exhibits in the Museum Of The Weird, a challenging afternoon trying to break out of the escape rooms at The Escape Game Austin, or a night watching the stars of Anarchy Championship Wrestling battle it out at The Mohawk would be more to your liking.

Whatever you’re looking for, if it’s the wild side of Austin you want to experience, then this is the place to do it, as nowhere better represents the city’s motto of Keep Austin Weird than right here.

Accommodations in this neighborhood are varied from from moderate to expensive, there are airbnb, and budget guest houses.

Best places to stay In Austin Near 6th Street:


3. South Congress (SOCO)

South Congress (also known as SOCO by locals) is a trendy neighborhood, located on the south of the Colorado River. It’s known for its unique blend of eclectic shops, trendy boutiques, art galleries, live music venues, and a diverse range of restaurants and food trucks.

South Congress Avenue runs through this neighborhood, which is known for its vibrant and eclectic atmosphere, unique shops, restaurants, and cultural attractions.

A more residential neighborhood than our previous options, this is where I personally stay when I’m in the city, as it beautifully combines a more laid back, local, authentic Texan feel, with the convenience of being able to quickly get back into the thick of things.

With plenty of awesome bars, restaurants, and shops in the area, including the Fiesta supermarket and bakery, which will give you a perfect opportunity to experience the Hispanic culture of the area, this is a location where you can comfortably enjoy your lazy days, without having to worry about all of the hustle and bustle.

Then when you do want to explore the inner parts of the city, you are just a 10-minute car ride down the I-35 from the State Capitol, making it a quick and easy job to get back into the thick of things. There are no light-rail system, but you can find bus lines at South 1st Street, South Congress, South Lamar to the city center.

To see the music, visit Continental Club for live performances; Ego’s, the best karaoke bar in town; Continental Club Gallery; C-Boys Heart & Soul; and Guero’s Oak Garden.

Austin is famous for its art and music, South Congress offers amateur musicians, dancers, living statues, to perform on the streets. You can also have many opportunities to pose photos with graffiti artwork.

Some of the famous murals are “I love you so much” on the side of Jo’s Coffee; “smile! even if you don’t want to”; The Yard Dog Art Gallery displays a wide range of pieces from artists in North America.

For anyone wanting to get a true feel of what it’s actually like to live in Austin, or those who want a perfect balance of both slow and fast-paced days on their vacation, I would highly recommend staying in South Congress.

South Congress has apartment rentals, vacation homes, motels, family hotels, and upscale boutique hotels that suits all kind of travelers.

Best places to stay in Austin in South Congress:


You can continue reading for more detail of each area, or if you a car-free travelers, you can also read this article: best areas to stay in Austin without a car.

4. Zilker

If you’re looking for a family-friendly area with a lot of outdoor activities, look into Zilker. Located on the southern edge of the Colorado River, Zilker is about as close to the heart of the city center as you can get without actually being in it.

Not only is this convenient, but it also provides you with some of the most incredible views of the city skyline that you are going to find.

Its most famous attraction is Zilker Park, a beautiful 361-acre park, right off Lady Bird Lake, popular with walkers, runners, and pretty much anyone who wants to enjoy the great outdoors without even having to leave the confines of the city.

Zilker Park is also home to the Zilker Zephyr train and Barton Springs Pool, which is a great place for swimming on warm days.

Its beauty and convenience also mean events such as the Austin Kite Festival, the Austin City Limits Music Festival, and the 4th of July celebrations are held here, giving you a perfect opportunity to be right in the heart of the festivities if you choose to stay here.

Next to the park lies the Barking Springs, a dog-friendly park; Other places of interest are the Zilker Botanical Garden, Austin Nature and Science Centre, Umlauf Sculpture Garden.

At only a 45-minute walk to the city center, you can leave the car at the hotel and take a pleasant stroll through the stunning landscapes and past some iconic Austin locations and institutions, such as the Stevie Ray Vaughn Memorial and Sandy’s Hamburgers, for a slightly slower-paced experience.

Best places to stay in Austin in Zilker:


See more:

5. East Austin

East Austin is one of the coolest neighborhoods in Austin, located next to downtown. It’s home to some of Austin’s best food trucks, barbecue restaurants, taco shops, speak-easy style bars, and live music venues.

Things have changed here recently though, as investments into the area have quickly brought it in line with the rest of the inner sections of the city. Now East Austin has a reputation as a vibrant, up-and-coming neighborhood. 

This hipster neighborhood offers a wide range of live music venues, vintage shops, vinyl record stores, restaurants, and clubs. The White Horse Honky Tonk is a great place to to catch live bluegrass and country-western.

If you like walking, check out the Tejano Walking Trails, which is a 4.9 miles path consisting of 22 culturally significant sites along the walking trail, covering an expansive part of American history, starting in post-Civil War times.

If you are interested in the history, East Austin has several museums and cultural attractions. Texas Museum of Music has a unique collection that tells Texas’s musical history.

There are also the Museum of Natural & Artificial Ephemerata, Cultural and Genealogy Center, and George Washington Carver Library.

With less notoriety comes lower prices on both accommodation and pricing in the surrounding areas. As such, East Austin has developed a vibrant, lively atmosphere, with many younger travelers and those on a budget flocking to the area and enjoying their days relaxing in bars, cafes, and restaurants, for a fraction of the price they would elsewhere.

Known primarily for its artistic entertainment, with a number of galleries and a massive quantity of street art, East Austin also gives you the chance to enjoy attractions in your surrounding area, while the more famous attractions in the city center are just a short trip away.

East Austin has quick access to I-35. There are also a bus on CapMetro. While it’s best to have a car, you can also use rideshares such as Lyft or Uber to get to other parts of Austin.

Best places to stay in Austin in East Austin:


6. Rainey Street Historic District

Rainey Street was once a residential district filled with bungalows. Today, it is an area filled with bars, clubs, and other entertainment venues, often using the original historic buildings. This is a neighborhood that attracts young professionals.

You can find some famous bars like the Container Bar, Craft Pride, Half Step, Geraldine’s, Emmer & Rye, and Lustre Pearl and you can also try many cuisines from all over the world such as Dimsim in Emmer & Rye restaurant, G’raj Mahal for Indian, Anthem, and Via 313 food truck.

There are newer parts of Rainey Street as well, modern high rises that have slightly changed its historic character. The proximity of downtown is certainly an advantage when looking for a place to stay in Austin. You have access to its main attractions. 

There are murals on many of its walls and for that alone, Rainey Street is marked out from the concrete and steel used elsewhere to modernize the city. Some walking trails start in Rainey Street and head out to other places of interest.

To learn more about the Latin culture, visit the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC), Trail of Tejano Legends statues; the Tejano Walking Trail will across the historically Hispanic East Cesar Chavez and Holly neighborhoods.

Accommodation incidentally ranges from B&B to high-rise apartments for rent, and a handful of hotels in the neighborhood for bachelor or bachelorette on Rainey Street.

Best places to stay in Rainey Street Historic District:


7. University of Texas Campus

Budget travelers should also look to this campus area because of the presence of off-campus students regularly living on a budget. Not surprisingly, it is a neighborhood dominated by the younger generation. There are plenty of cheap places in the campus area to eat and drink, day and night.

There are both cheap hotels here, but also apartments for rent if you want a longer stay. Given that students are on vacation during the summer, many student apartments are empty during those months with landlords looking for tenants. 

The Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium is a 5-minute walk from the heart of the campus. The Blanton Museum of Art is a great place for those who appreciate modern art, and the work of several Latin American artists.

Other attractions here are The UT clock tower, and the Skyspace exhibit, and its spectacular natural lighting.

Best places to stay in Austin near the University of Texas Campus Area:


8. North Loop

Located just northeast of the University of Texas, North Loop is a popular local meeting place among students and campus people. The name comes from the loop of a highway providing access to both. It is a busy area offering a wide variety of restaurants and shops. You will also find cheap movie theatres for entertainment. 

It is a district with plenty of clothes, vintage shops, and bookstores. If you are looking for presents, or souvenirs, here may be the place to start. The most famous shops are Blue Velvet, BookWoman, Room Service Vintage, and a record shop of Breakaway Records.

Coffee shops and food trucks are also found in these streets. There are no hotel chains here, but you will find choices in 2 and 3-star accommodations and motels near Capital Plaza shopping center.

There seems no likelihood of more hotels moving in despite the appeal of the North Loop. If you are happy with a clean room, go for it and enjoy what the neighborhood has to offer.

Best places to stay in Austin in North Loop:


9. Southeast Austin

Southeast Austin is located on the outskirts of town and, while it has its perks, it is definitely a location that is suited to visitors with more specific needs.

For starters, Southeast Austin is located incredibly close to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. This makes it very convenient for people who prefer to stay close by, whether that be to save them carting their luggage around because they are only in the city on a flight layover or for any other reason they may have.

Then, there is the specific set of attractions located in the surrounding areas.

You have the Roy Kizer Golf Course, one of the finest in the city, as well as the Circuit Of The Americas, home to many motorsport events, including the Formula 1 American Grand Prix.

Anyone either attending or participating in an event at either of these two locations would be well suited to staying in this area.

Then there is McKinney Falls State Park, possibly the most beautiful outdoor location in Austin, featuring cascading waterfalls, the flowing waters of Onion Creek, numerous hiking trails, including Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail, and sites on the National Register Of Historic Places, like the Smith Rock Shelter and the Ruins Of McKinney’s Stone House.

Anyone wanting to explore the more natural side of Austin will be able to spend days here, wandering the trails, seeing the sights, and examining the animals and plant life of the area.

Stay in Southeast Austin if you need to stay near the airport; you want to play a few rounds of golf; you are attending an event at the Roy Kizer Golf Course or the Circuit Of The Americas; you want to explore McKinney Falls State Park.

Best places to stay near McKinney Falls State Park:


Check out my virtual tour about the best places to stay in Austin in this video:

See Also:

To sum up, Downtown Austin, Red River Cultural District/ 6th Street, Rainey Street, Zilker, East Austin, and South Congress are some of the best places to stay in Austin for first-time travelers and tourists. They offer plenty of things to do and see for all visitors.

Overall, Downtown Austin is the best area to stay in Austin for first-time tourists due to its super central location and wide range of accommodations for all budget travelers. If you stay here, you will be located within walking distance to major attractions, as well as restaurants, bars, and shop.

About Author: Linda Smith

I'm Linda Smith, the Hotel Expert, an experienced travel blogger who passionate about traveling. I'm here to share with you all my travel experiences and tips. I cover a wide range of travel topics, specializing in sharing information about the best areas, neighborhoods, and hotels in each city. I hope all these things will make your travel easier.

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