After Texas separated from Mexico, a small frontier town called Austin sprouted up.

The University of Texas was founded in 1884. Austin City Limits was filmed here in 1974. The South by Southwest Festival began in 1987.

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The city's neighborhoods give shape to those ebbs and flows by showcasing different aspects of Austin's character. These are the best neighborhoods in Austin if you're looking for something to do.

In the Rainey St entertainment district, Augustine cocktail lounge is typical of the neighborhood, full of converted bungalows © Kelly Jobe / Shutterstock

1. Downtown 

The heart of the city is downtown. There is a cluster of museums and hotels that cater to politicians, business travelers and convention goers.

Downtown also plays hard. There are many entertainment options in the neighborhood, including the wild shot bars of 6th Street, the more low-key bars of Red River and the upscale Warehouse District.

It's best to head downtown for the center of the action. The state capitol was built in the late 19th century. The claim that everything is bigger in Texas is supported by the fact that this state capitol is the biggest in the US. Look up at the dome and you'll see the whispering gallery that's created by the curved ceiling.

There are museums and restaurants along Congress Ave. It shows off the history of the Lone Star State from when it was part of Mexico up to the present, with interactive exhibits.

One of Austin's best-beloved sites is a funnel cloud of up to 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats that swarms nightly from March to November.

Austin is home to the largest urban bat population in North America. If you want a more leisurely bat-watching experience, Lone Star Riverboat and Capital Cruises are good places to go.

The wild, bar-lined section of one of Austin's major thoroughfares is called Dirty 6th. Comedy troupes, cinemas, live performance halls, and a range of music clubs can be found in Congress Ave and its surrounding areas. The Red River District is home to many popular live-music venues.

Think comfortable seats and no use of cell phones in them. The Alamo Drafthouses are now scattered across the state. You can check the online calendar for movie parties.

Food trucks are one of the best ways to experience Austin's lively culinary scene © stock_photo_world / Shutterstock

2. East Austin

New buildings are being built along East 6th St, which is rapidly gentrifying. The neighborhood has a down-to-earth feel but the cool kids hang in this area. East 6th is a great place to eat dinner and hop on a dive-bar.

It would be easy to say it was a good night if you spent an hour at the bar or band on the patio.

Coronavirus measures in Texas
Ciscos on historic East 6th St is Austin's oldest Tex-Mex restaurant, founded in the 1950s © Dave Crea Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Licha's Cantina is a small Mexican restaurant located in an old bungalow. It's a good place to get some food and drink before you leave. Don't tell anyone we told you about it because it's a favorite hole-in-the-wall. You can get a margarita for $5 from 4pm to 6pm on Tuesdays to Fridays.

The White Horse is a bar and mini-dance hall next to an apartment building. It seems like it works in Austin. It is a good place to learn to two step before the band starts. Craft beers and whiskey are available. Food truck and patio too.

If you want to hide out while sipping your well-crafted Texas mule, go to the dark confines of the Liberty Bar.

American Express At Austin City Limits Music Festival 2019 In Austin, TX
The popular Waterloo Records store hosts in-store performances © Rick Kern / Getty Images for American Express

3. Market District, Clarksville and North Austin

The Market District is a busy place with pedestrians and cars going to the large natural-foods market. A graffiti wall is similar to a spray paint artist's work.

One of the city's older neighborhoods is located in the east part of the city. There are a few great restaurants and watering holes in North Austin. Hyde Park was the first suburb of Austin.

You can find some of the best Thai food in the city at Thai-Kun's new brick-and- mortar location in Domain Northside, which is an outdoor shopping plaza.

Locals love Uchiko for its fresh and delicious seafood dishes. The quality of the fare is reflected in the prices. Do you mean on a budget? Eat early, don't despair. Happy hour is when you can sample the food at wallet friendly prices. Several rolls are $8 while a half dozen small bites are $10 and under. Beer and wine prices range from $5 to $10

Waterloo Records is located across West 6th Street. There is a lot of stock in the store. You can buy and sell new and used music. There are a lot of Texas Artists in the inventory. Performances can be found in-store. No old-school record store snobs are welcome here.

Book People feels like an old friend if you're into books. Staff recommendations are underneath the packed-tight shelves. The travel section is strong. Every year the store holds tons of book signings, so there's likely someone interested in in-house on any given week You can take a break at the cafe.

If you're sweating the Texas heat, jump into the icy-cold Barton Springs © stock_photo_world / Shutterstock

4. South Austin

South Austin is an offbeat and oh-so-Austin neighborhood that used to be marginal. The city's soul is found in this quirky but festive area. The locals call it South Congress despite the fact that tourism types call it Soco. Most of the rest of the street is residential and the main thoroughfare through the neighborhood.

South 1st St. is filling up quickly with coffee shops and independent eateries that are just as good as their better known neighbors. Bouldin Creek Cafe is a good place to get coffee.

Don't worry if you're in Texas. When the temperature is 100F, you'll shiver in a jiff after jumping into the springs. In 1947, the bathhouse was built. The area around the pool is filled with people on hot summer days. There will be a lifeguard on duty in February.

The open-air UMLAUF Sculpture Garden + Museum is located kitty-corner to the park. There are thousands of pieces by 20th century American sculptor and former UT art professor Charles Umlauf in the indoor museum's collection and in the sculpture garden.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is located southwest of downtown Austin and is a great place to learn about Texas flora and fauna. The center, founded in 1982 with the assistance of Texas' beloved former first lady, has display gardens featuring nearly 900 species of plants native to Texas.

The University of Texas campus cuts a huge swath across the city © f11photo / Shutterstock

5. UT and Central Austin

You can find the main tower at the University of Texas just north of downtown. If you want to maximize your time, you'll need a plan of attack because this youthful neighborhood is a pleasant place to stroll.

The south end of the campus is home to several museums. There are two museums on the northeast fringe of campus devoted to Lyndon B Johnson and natural history. Even if you aren't a Longhorn or a museum-goer, the campus is a good place to wander.

There's a replica of the Oval Office during Johnson's term, as well as an exhibition about the assassination of JFK.

The Blanton Museum of Art is one of the best museums in the USA. The Blanton has a variety of styles and you're bound to find something to interest you. The permanent installation of Misso/Misses requires 600,000 pennies, 800 communion wafers and 2000 cattle bones.

Mount Bonnell Iconic Landmark View Central Texas Austin
For a pretty sunset view, it's hard to beat Mt Bonnell © RoschetzkyIstockPhoto / Getty Images

6. West Austin

Outside of Lady Bird Lake there are a few great places to relax and waste time. Hikers and nature lovers are drawn to the parks along Lake Austin. Austin day-trippers can find great restaurants and microbreweries in Dripping Springs.

It is hard to beat Mt Bonnell for a sunset view. It is the highest point in the city and overlooks Lake Austin.

The Hamilton Pool Preserve is a creek-fed swimming hole with limestone cliffs and lots of greenery. It's $12 per vehicle, plus $8 for each adult, and children 12 and under get in free at the pool, which is in a protected preserve. The per person entrance fees are cash only and you can make the reservation online in advance. It's a good idea to book up a few months in advance for the summer weekends.

The article was published in June 2021.