What’s With All The Hype About Austin? (Jon Stewart Figured It Out 7 Years Ago)

Austin has gotten a lot of national attention recently, and there’s a lot that the national press doesn’t seem to understand. For instance the New York Times ran a piece on how Austin ‘became one of the least affordable cities in the country’. That’s actually not a mystery (they pin it on too many people moving to Austin, and not enough housing supply but never ask why). Like in many cities zoning laws prevent increasing the supply of housing where people want to live and that prices people out.

But the trend of moving to Austin far predates Elon Musk and Tesla, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Samsung and Google joining long-time major employers Dell, Whole Foods, the IRS and UT Austin with major presences here.

Austin is cheaper and administratively easier than heavily taxed and regulated California, and cheaper and warmer than New York. And it’s still a place that Californians and New Yorkers are willing to call home. I grew up in New York and went to school in California.

Shortly after I moved to Austin in 2014 Jon Stewart hosted his show from Austin in a series called “South By South Mess” and they sent a correspondent to the border to investigate the immigration crisis. The reporter was standing on the side of the freeway investigating immigration into Austin.

They interviewed locals and one offered, in effect, ‘Austin is nothing like it was when I moved here six days ago.’

When I moved here for a change and different quality of life after 18 years in the Washington DC area there were (3) things people complained about in Austin, and each one was an improvement for me over the Capital Region.

  1. High real estate prices. It was expensive for Texas

  2. Traffic. The city had experienced growth, but no one had ever been at I-495 at the 270 spur at 5 p.m. on a Thursday. (Let alone on the Long Island Expressway Eastbound Friday evening in the summer.)

  3. Heat in the summer. Central Texas summers are hot but Austin isn’t Houston. It’s nowhere near the water and we don’t get Houston humidity. I left a place literally built on a swamp. I’d gladly take 100 temperatures over 95 degrees and 90% humidity.

And those were the ‘bad things’ about Austin, I hadn’t gotten to what was good yet. I first came here on a barbecue pilgrimage. I’d never visited prior to 2012, and we met up with Summer Hull (Mommy Points from The Points Guy) along with her husband for dinner our first night in town. We knew they did meat exceptionally well here, but had no idea that we’d discover while there were few truly world class dining establishments here nearly every place was above average.

Come here and there’s no shortage of very good food. Get to know Kemuri Testsuya, El Naranjo, Foreign & Domestic, Lenoir, Dai Due, Clark’s, Lambert’s, La Barbecue, Odd Duck and Sour Duck, and Loro.

When Donald Trump supporters warned in 2016 that there’d be ‘taco trucks on every corner’ if Hillary Clinton won, between chains Torchy’s, Tacodeli, and Veracruz All Natural it seemed like I had glimpsed our collective future and it was glorious.

Austin is known for music, there’s live music at the airport, and it’s called “the live music capital of the world.” But we found music was only a small piece of the creative scene here, and enjoyed the experimental theater just as much.

We kept coming back for visits, looking for things we wouldn’t like about Austin. We accelerated and returned monthly. No warning signs developed, and we decided to make the move.

After moving here I spent two weeks trying to figure out how to get a business license. I couldn’t find any information on it. It never occurred to me that’s because I didn’t need one.

When I lived in Arlington, Virginia I needed a business license for my website, because there was advertising revenue. I had to physically go down to the county offices to get it. But first I had to have an approved parking plan. I literally had to draw my car in my parking space in the underground garage of my building and get it stamped before they’d take my form and money and issue me a license.

Austin isn’t just Austin, it’s also Texas. Those two things sometimes have an uneasy coexistence but also benefit from each other. Austin a cosmopolitan city, with a compact downtown, that I often compared to San Francisco when I arrived in 2014. But it has the administrative benefits of being in Texas. No business licenses, no state income tax, high speed limits. Not everything is easy, it has some of the most onerous occupational licensing rules. But overall it was a liberal city in a bit of a laissez faire state.

I’ve been here long enough, going on 8 years, that I’m no longer an interloper. I’m not longer one of the outsiders invading the city the waiting to be documented by Jon Stewart’s cameras. There have been successive rounds of people ‘discovering Austin’. This sped up during the pandemic.

When I moved here Austin was big on tech jobs but there wasn’t much tech money. That’s changed. Now in affluent areas and top restaurants Range Rovers have been replaced by Teslas. I thought I’d missed the window of home affordability as prices rose in the middle of the last decade. I bought my current home four years ago and Refin thinks it’s appreciated 80%.

Austin isn’t perfect. It still lacks good Southeast Asian food like you’ll find in Houston. It congratulations itself on its progressivism as it’s one of the most gentrified places you’ll find. It sees itself as compassionate while voting to kick the homeless out of unsightly camps. And during the pandemic it voted for a new rail system when what it lacks is the density where rail makes sense.

The city was underrated when I first got here. It’s probably no longer underrated, but correctly rated. Although it’s fair to wonder whether, when American Airlines Chief Revenue Officer Vasu Raja starts calling Austin his “love language,” the city might even have jumped the shark a bit.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The problem with those who move to Austin from California and elsewhere is that they bring their ultra liberal stupidity with them – and, over time, turn cities like Austin into another California. No thanks – stay away and go ruin some other city – your ignorance and stupidity is not welcome here. FYI – I live in Texas and I know what I am talking about. I have seen first hand what these whiny liberals bring with them.

  2. The same liberal clowns who destroyed California and New York are moving to Austin. Given enough time they will work their dark magic and flush Austin down the toilet as well.

  3. You should be honored by my lateness. That I would even show up to this fake sh*t. –K. West

    Texans and Austinites should be grateful for the progressive, human values being instilled into the local area. Without CA and NY transplants, women in Texas would be stripped of reproductive choice. The LGBTQ+ community would face more discrimination. BIPOC would not feel as welcome. Texas is improved for humankind because of the transplants. A little more traffic and a little more rent to pay is a small price. Plus, think of the Bilt points.

  4. Lifelong Texan (DFW). Austin is turning into San Fran. (crime, homeless people, drugs) If it didn’t work in California, why would you want the same laws in Texas? It blows my mind.

  5. Too bad Austin is in Texass. Maybe start a go fund me to build a wall around the City to keep out the Taliban and hillbillies.
    Don’t forget to buy plenty of semi-auto rifles and machine guns and give one to each of your children once they become 7 years old (the age of consent in Texass).

  6. @ Davis R. Miller — I assume you are referring to the former Trump administration. The guy is such a low-life piece of garbage that he would intentionally expose others to COVID. Nice. There is a special place in hell for his type.

  7. @Wokeflyer

    You are delusional. Everything you tout as good is in fact cancer. If Texas and Conservatives ever get serious about their freedom, Austin would be the first city to be walled in. Leftists take advantage of conservative policies and we shouldn’t let them.

  8. The Texas descriptions in the movie “Bernie” are surprisingly accurate:

    People’s Republic of Austin – hairy-legged women and liberal fruitcakes

    Dallas – snobs with their Mercedes

    Houston – carcinogenic coast

  9. Went to Law School at UT Austin. Moved to DC and NoVa for a long legal career. Finally retired and moving soon to the Hill Country near Austin and San Antonio. Close enough to both to be there in an hour but far enough away for quiet evenings and beautiful sunsets.

  10. Austin’s been more liberal than most of Texas since even before I used to get the “Houston isn’t really Texas” line as a Yankee transplant to the Lone Star State who was taught about Sam Houston, the Alamo and Texas before being taught about George Washington and the US.

    Even the so-called conservatives that moved to Texas as part of the state government were rather notorious for being hypocrites.

    Somethings never change, except to just exaggerate what was already the case.

  11. @ Amy — “Leftists take advantage of conservative policies”. What kind of nonsense is that? So, it is OK for conservatives to “take advantage” of others by supporting lower wages and lesser voting rights and healthcare access for POC, while avoiding paying taxes? It is called SELFISH, and Donald Trump is the poster child for it. If you want brown people waiting on your entitled self for cheap and without healthcare, you better wake up and support immigration because the fat, lazy white people of America will just sit back while they collect their free “conservative” handouts.

  12. To UN- wokeflyer – you and your values are a classic reason why neither you nor your “values” have no place in Texas, much less Austin. Stay away , and if you must relocate, do it somewhere else and screw up that city – we Texans have no need for your “ignorant “wokeness”.

  13. It’s still overrrated, traffic is terrible, and it’s really hot and far from things. Yes there are nice restaurants.

  14. Everybody disagreeing with my comment is definitionally a mysoginist, homophobe, and/or racist.

  15. The best thing about Austin is that it is helping us in San Francisco get rid of some of our more insufferable tech bros.

    The other good thing is the brisket.

  16. Moved to Austin the first time in 1997, moved out in 2004 back 8n 2005. Left again in 2011 back to stay in 2018. While I think the city of Austin has a huge set of problems, mainly caused by the current City Council and Mayor, we live in Williamson County. Very close to Austin city center but much more affordable. Greater Austin and Texas is a great place to live, but please the rest of you stay away!

  17. @Courtney, you have been brainwashed by your white male supremacist neighbors. Please join a feminist group and liberate yourself. I am rooting for you.

  18. I live in DC (the city, not suburbia) and visited Austin and just didn’t get the hype. It was so sprawled and not pedestrian friendly at all–didn’t feel like lively city meant for walking. It felt like a glorified suburb in search of a city. I could understand that if you live in the suburbs and don’t get the benefits of city life (no driving, no traffic, easy walk to stores, restaurants) then Austin wouldn’t be a step down, but if you go from a place like Capitol Hill to a place like Austin you lose all those conveniences. Would be so much worse for my life to go to a place where I had to drive a car every day and couldn’t walk a couple blocks to get what I want (or have access to to a subway to go longer distances). No comparison from the perspective of someone who lives in the middle of the city and not the burbs. Austin can’t compare to a decent city.

  19. @David R. Miller
    yeah and soon we will have a poop map like the proud liberal haven of San Francisco

    — a transplanted Austinite from China for 38 years, in these days this place feels more & more like “home”

  20. @Wokeflyer #BLM, you don’t know me… how possibly could one think that of another without know them? Why would you even think I’m white? Because people of color cannot think for themselves? You don’t know me. There is something seriously wrong with you to comment on another person in the manner you have.

    People like you, who judge people before knowing them, who believe they know what’s best for others, who believe minorities are too stupid to think for themselves are the problem in America. We are more educated than you think, we can think for ourselves, and we are just as American as you are. You truly are a white supremacist and it is unfortunate because you don’t even realize it.

  21. I just think that @Davis R. Miller and @Alan’s a**holes are quivering for a good fisting from former trump at their trailers in rural Texas. You should be thanking God liberals are making Texas relevant again. Soon enough we will flip it like AZ and GA.

  22. In a state with grossly diminished reproductive rights, loose gun laws, prospective book burnings at schools, nasty state government, intense gerrymandering, (politicians choosing their voters instead of the other way around), serious racism, hurricanes, power outages, and too many aholes like some above here. (And the anti-vaxxers, flat-Earthers, and Christian Taliban spreading Covid before dropping dead). You can keep Elon Musk. At this point I won’t even go to Tx to change planes in DFW.

  23. So many people are blaming the Californians for making Austin liberal, but Austin has been a blue voting city for decades. Californians are moving here, not all but many, because it is more conservative than what they had and they are more conservative than the typical Austinite, on average.

    (And it’s not Range Rovers being replaced by Tesla’s, it’s F150s).

    The population has doubled since I moved here 20 years ago and you can tell who is not Texan/from here by their comfort level in talking to strangers. We talk in line, in the elevator, and say hi when we pass each other. It’s not the politics that are ruining Austin, if anything, but the lack of adaptation to Texan friendliness. Wave thank you when someone let’s you in on the hwy (and let people in!), Say hi to strangers and teach your kids to say hi when they stare instead of just telling them it’s rude, yield to people getting on and off the hwy, wait for people pulling out of parking spots, turn your lights on in the rain but not your flashers unless you are in distress, and invite your neighbors when you have a party. Oh…and learn how to say the street names.

  24. DRM- Your first message starting these comments absolutely is a whine. And I don’t think Texans successfully brag about outside ‘ignorance’ in a state that’s #35 for pre K-12 schooling, and #42 for educational attainment. (and everything I mentioned above is true- those things may not be *important* to some people, but they are to others).

  25. garyleaf – Wow – you had to did deep to find flaws – but that is what you snowflakes do when confronted with undeniable facts that dispute your incessant whining. Off to your safe place, enjoy your quiche and rose flavored bong water. Ciao, cupcake….

  26. I’m gonna be that guy…you type this in the lounge after a few whiskeys? I lost track of all the typos after Refin.

  27. At least Gary loves where he lives. Could be much worse, he could be like Lucky and constantly complain about Miami/actively avoid living there because he hates it so much

  28. I live downtown and haven’t driven my car in 2 weeks. If you’re in 78701, 78703, or 78704 you should never have to deal with traffic.

    Most criticism directed at Austin comes from people that don’t live in Austin and it’s fueled by a little bit of jealousy and a little bit of ignorance. Excellent article, Gary. There really are very few US cities that can match the quality of life that Austin provides.

  29. @Jeff – I live in Adams Morgan in DC and agree with you. I have friends in Austin and I enjoy visiting them every now and then and think the food is good. But in general, I dont get the Austin hype. Good for those who enjoy it, but it’s not for me.

  30. I opened up the comments hoping to read some takes about Austin and instead find it’s yet another place for the Magat party members to whine, scream, bitch and moan. What a shame. Do you folks ever take a moment to turn off the instinct inside you that causes you to verbally strike out at others? Can’t you find yourself a safe space to enjoy? If not, how about a tall building or parking garage to leap from?

    I lived in Atx for 25 years mostly near Mount Bonnell. It was indeed lovely but when a 1.5 mile drive to Central Market starting to take 20 minutes, when my property taxes climbed to over 20k as my planned age of retirement neared, and as I became really, really tired of walking outside at midnight into 95 degrees sweltering heat, I moved out of state.

    Fortunately Austin doesn’t have a monopoly of real estate price appreciation. Nor on good live music venues, rivers, or hike and bike trails. A business license requirement is not something I’ve run across ever. Not in TX. Not in CO. Not in NM. Not in AZ. Not even in CA!

    TX is known for an energy grid that’s subject to complete failure at any time. Water and energy rates at least double what it costs in many other parts of the country. Disgraceful and congested freeways with few other transportation options. And of course poorly educated angry white trailer trash who showed up in this comment section with their usual bitching and moaning.

  31. Robert E. – Nice rant. Wherever you now reside, they must enjoy your presence – you say you now reside in another state, well good. I can assure you that you are not missed. I do find it amazing that you complain about the “sweltering heat” , I guess it was not a problem for you during your 25 year residence until your retirement age neared. Every growing city in the U.S. faces increasing road congestion, that is just a fact. As for the”poorly educated angry white trash” that you speak of – you can thank the liberals that rule Austin and surrounding areas and their liberal school boards.

  32. David R. Miller – You should tell us about that time former trump grabbed you by the dick before sliding his first up your a**hole and making you a puppet. That’s pretty much all anyone see’s when they read your comments. trumptards gonna tard.

  33. ss_ flyer — It is obvious that you are a brainwashed lying liberal snowflake. Question – what does “ss” stand for? My guess is ” stupid shit” – it fits.

  34. Gary complains about Californians and his comment section screeches about “ultra dumb liberals”.

    Same crowd pretends like the coastal elite looks down on them and that it is totally unfair and disrespectful.

    Gotta keep combining fake patriotism, victimhood with a hatred of your fellow American. You guys are the best!

  35. @David R. Miller, @Alan and @Roberto Amen amen amen! The destruction by the liberals is palpable in Austin, and only going to get worse with all the libs escaping their blue states and the big government clown decisions they voted for, only to move into Texas and Florida and bring their stupidity with them. Let the homeless and addicts set up their camps at the Austin politicans’ homes and see how long they last. Does Austin have a poop map yet?

  36. Any progress on the homeless situation in Austin the last year? When I visited a year ago, it was simply awful. Tent camps on street corners awful. My family was collectively shocked: this isn’t the Texas we know. Last month, I visited the region again and decided to spend my time elsewhere. Cities like San Antonio and Ft. Worth are WAY more pleasant if you want Texas urban life (which, honestly, you probably don’t — the real charm of Texas is in its small towns).

  37. Back in the 1980’s we had bumper stickers that said “Don’t Californicate Colorado.” It didn’t work. We got Californicated.

  38. Well said Courtney. The Wokeflyer type has now discovered Boise. Too bad. It was a nice city also.

  39. @chopsticks When I was there a couple years ago, I was shocked at the decline. There were homeless people screaming at people, one guy was chasing another screaming profanities for kids and families to hear. Why some people are OK with this is beyond me.

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