It’s easy to fall into a routine. Take the same roads to work. Take the same shortcuts through the neighborhood. And visit the usual stores, restaurants and bars that never seem to let you down.
It’s a blissed life. But it also needs a good shake up from time to time, and one of the many great options in Austin is to get out and explore the neighborhoods — big, small, quaint, strange, luxurious, rundown and otherwise.
So set a little 2015 goal to not just see a few new neighborhoods — but experience them. Set aside a morning or afternoon. Bring along your spouse, family or a friend. You can really add to your experience if you’re able to bring bicycles along or walk through neighborhoods. That provides a little extra time to slow down and maybe even catch a smell of what’s cooking as you walk by the interesting properties that other people call home.
A neighborhood tour should center on your interests, first and foremost. If you’re looking for a home and love spending time at lively coffee shops, make it your mission to scout out the available properties before hand (we’ve got you covered with detailed neighborhood maps), and don’t forget to jot down a few potential pit stops should you desire a cup of coffee or a snack.
A few choice spots you may want to check out on a neighborhood exploration: Public parks, locally-owned restaurants, unique retail shops, public paths and trails and local school grounds.
Now, where to go?
You can hardly go wrong in Austin. But let’s take a look at a three popular and interesting neighborhoods for different types of explorers.
North Loop: A Haven For the Hip
This is the type of funky, middle-class neighborhood that has helped boost Austin’s reputation as an eclectic, vibrant city. It’s noticeably outside the University of Texas main campus area, but it still has a significant student and young adult population that fill up coffee shops, bars and restaurants every day and night of the week.
Bike lanes criss-cross the tiny North Loop neighborhood like tracks on a railroad yard. A unique grouping of commercial development has risen along North Loop between Lamar and Airport Boulevard. And the neighborhood is home to a growing number of condos, apartments and new homes, many of which were built atop recently demolished houses.
Now, some fun spots to check out:
Coffee shop: Epoch Coffee, 221 West North Loop Boulevard, is a fairly large coffee shop with separate patios for smokers and nonsmokers. And it’s right next door to Breakaway Records and Blue Velvet Vintage Clothing.
Restaurant: Foreign and Domestic, 306 East 53rd Street, serves interesting American-European food along with craft beers and wine. It gets busy, and they seat on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Bar: Get a taste of North Loop’s lively nightlife with a stop at Workhorse, 100 East North Loop, for a bustling bar scene or swing by Drink.Well., 207 East 53rd Street, for delicious and inventive cocktails and a slightly fancier crowd.
Oak Hill: Bliss For Young and Maturing Families
They take their Live Oak trees seriously here. So much so that members of the neighborhood teamed with the greater environmental community in Austin to save the so-called “Taco Bell tree” that was in the way of a major road construction and development project at the intersection of South 290 and William Cannon.
But the sprawling Oak Hill neighborhood has a lot more to offer. It’s heavily populated with places to shop, eat and explore nature. But its neighborhoods are largely tucked away from the bustling commercial areas. It’s a diverse community, largely made of young family and maturing families who love its relatively close proximity to downtown, great schools and all the nearby staples.
Oak Hill blends relatively seamlessly into similar nearby neighborhoods. For example, Legend Oaks is a well-planned community that has retained many of its old-growth Live Oak trees. It’s a family-friendly neighborhood with tucked away cul-de-sacs, large homes and pedestrian- and biker-friendly streets.
Some places to hit up:
Restaurant: Hecho En Mexico, 6001 West William Cannon, has a menu packed with amazing Mexican foods. Sure, they’ve got the staples, such as enchiladas and tacos, but you come here for the interior Mexican specialties, such as the Mole Poblano, a delicious plate of grilled chicken or pork with the difficult-to-make mole sauce.
Ice Cream: D’Lites, 4404 West William Cannon Drive, serves up some delicious treats and coffee. If it weren’t for the advertising, you might not know that it’s a gluten-free, low carb, low sugar place. If you’re looking for something unique, consider the French toast flavor that rotates in and out of their menu.
Public Park: Dick Nichols Park, 8011 Beckett Road, is a 150-acre park that has short hiking and biking trails, picnic tables and water play area for kids. Though technically just outside of Oak Hill, the park is a neighborhood favorite.
Public Park: Twin Springs at Barton Creek Greenbelt: Near the northern boundary of Oak Hill — and the boundaries of several neighborhoods — is the Barton Creek Greenbelt, a favorite place for hiking, biking and the occasional swim.
Tarrytown: Luxury Living Just Beyond the Downtown Hype
For those who want to be outside of the hectic downtown area, but don’t want to navigate much traffic or be too far away from it, Tarrytown is a bit of a dreamscape.
Soak up the historic homes. Maybe take a challenging bike ride on some of the tougher hills in the neighborhood. Whatever you do in this neighborhood, it will likely be the diverse mix of architecture that captures your eye.
Homes here date back to the late 1800s. But there are many examples of newer homes as well, providing some contrast between styles. One option is to drive west from downtown on Lake Austin Boulevard until the road becomes Scenic Drive, just beyond Hula Hut and a few other businesses. Keep left and you’ll coast along a skinny road that parallels the Town Lake.
Just dip in and out of the neighborhood to get a taste of the interesting homes and get a sense of the tucked away feel it has while still being an easy bike ride to downtown.
Tarrytown is a relatively small area that is almost pure neighborhood, but there are businesses at its borders. Here are a few options while you’re in the area:
Restaurant: Able’s On The Lake, 3825 Lake Austin Boulevard, serves up a wide variety of food and drinks. It has TVs you can catch the game on, but the view of Town Lake is probably the most attractive aspect of this establishment. Their large deck sits above the water and can be opened during good weather or closed up with pull-down windows when it’s chilly.
Golf: Lion’s Municipal Golf Course, 2901 Enfield Road, is a public course at the edge of Tarrytown. It may not be the best course in Austin, but it’s one of the oldest and most popular — as well as being well maintained. Golfers have been swinging out at Lion’s since it opened in 1928.