Neighborhoods Archives - 365 Things to Do in Austin, TX

When I first moved into the Zilker neighborhood several years ago, the hyper local list serve gave me my first clue that not everyone was happy with changes afoot in our urban enclave. Lamentations of “downtown encroachment” and “McMansions” gave me pause, for example, because we’d moved here, in part, because downtown was encroaching. And while our home would be considered backhouse-sized in Rob Roy, it is decidedly not an original 900-square foot cottage. (Tip: If you’re not sure if your home is a McMansion, it probably is.)


The longer I’m here, however, the more I realize that while there’s a lot to disagree about (e.g. impervious cover rules, urban coyotes and the cost-benefit ratio of ACL), there’s just as much most of us appreciate, including the Mayberryesque en masse walk to Zilker Elementary, the Bluebonnet Market, Fairy Alley, and our proximity to Barton Springs. Indeed, while the “Californiacation” of home prices and citified traffic problems are legitimate gripes, there is a lot for locals and visitors to love about this little piece of South Austin.

Zilker Vibes

If you look at an “official” map, the densely-populated Zilker neighborhood runs north to south from Lady Bird Lake to Barton Skyway. East to west, it goes just east of S. Lamar to around Robert E. Lee Rd. There’s a lot of good eatin’ and drinkin’ and whatnottin’ in those few square miles that add up to plenty of reasons to spend some time up here.

Butler Park Pitch & Putt or Peter Pan Mini Golf—If you’re looking for something somewhat active and outdoorsy, hit the itty-bitty-links for a few hours of fun.


Bluebonnet Market—If you’ve ever parked in the neighborhood and walked down Bluebonnet Rd. to an event at Zilker Park, you may have noticed this local treasure, where you can get agave nectar, organic milk, kale chips and locally-made falafel to go with your Coke Zero and bag of Cheetos.

Fairy Alley—Next time you stop in at Vox Table for smoked hamachi or the Highball for a little Alamo Drafthouse pre-party, wander (quietly and politely) into the alley just behind the theater to see the magical space a lovely Zilker resident has created for all to enjoy.

Zilker Nights

Odd Duck—Moscow mules, a chill atmosphere and little plates of local, delicious, slightly unusual bites add up to one of the best restaurants in town.

Backbeat—A sister scene to North Austin’s Drink.Well., Backbeat serves up really good cocktails and a small but tasty menu in combination with a nice rooftop patio.

Saxon Pub—Recently “rescued” from relocation by a local investor, this quintessential Austin music venue will remain in its South Lamar location and continue hosting the likes of Walt Wilkins and Patrice Pike—hopefully, for decades to come.

Zilker Days

Moonlight Bakery—If there’s a European bread snob in your life, stop by this unassuming, Zilker resident-owned place for your daily bread, macaroons and fresh pastries.

Irie Bean Coffee Bar—Just a hop-skip up up the block from Moonlight, you can pick up a fine cup of Texas Coffee Traders’ best and enjoy it on their back patio.

Shops Galore—There are loads of cute shops on S. Lamar, including wine lounge/home goods dealer Aviary (currently being remodeled), specialty beer store WhichCraft, contemporary design store Nannie Inez, women’s boutique Strut, and the the cool CoffeeSock factory, where you can buy reusable, organic cotton coffee filters and other coffee gear.


About the author: Jill Coody Smits is the author of Expedition Austin: A Kid’s Guide to the Weirdest Town in Texas. A freelance writer of many things, she lives south of the river with her husband, daughter and two four-footed sons. After nearly 20 years in Austin, she is still in love with this little big town.


Our “A Day in the Life” series is presented in collaboration with Greg Walling of Moreland Properties. See the bottom of this article for his listing in the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood, or visit his website for more information on living in downtown Austin.  

One of the older Austin neighborhoods, Bouldin Creek, located just south of Downtown Austin and a bordered on the east by South Congress Avenue, was created in the early 1900s. The focal-point of the neighborhood, the ever-growing South First Street, is a bustling but not overwhelmingly busy strip that has everything you’ll need for a perfect day in Bouldin. Here’s that perfect day.

Stop in at Once Over for an espresso. No need to rush—ask for a small shot of seltzer water on the side, and head to the backyard deck. Sit and relax for a bit before that hunger of yours starts to grow.


Next up, for breakfast, head north to Bouldin Creek Café. Carnivores be warned, but do not be scared: this hallmark Austin eatery is 100 percent vegetarian and vegan. Do not fret. Everything on the menu is delicious, but for breakfast, grab a glass of organic apple or orange juice and an El Tipico plate, which comes with scrambled organic eggs, homemade potato hash cake, and toast. Spice it up with a “fire” puree, and throw some cheese on it too. Why not?

Head back toward Once Over, where, next door, you’ll find what is in my opinion the greatest record store in the world. You can (and I have) spend hours digging through stacks of intricately organized vinyl records. New releases come in daily, so be sure to check that section out first. Make your way to the back of the store and check out the impressive vintage hi-fi and speaker section. For those who love to also create music, End of An Ear has added a small music shop back there, where you can splurge on a vintage Ludwig drum kit, if you feel so inclined.

The "Greetings from Austin" Mural at Roadhouse Relics.

The “Greetings from Austin” Mural at Roadhouse Relics.

Drop in at Roadhouse Relics, a vintage neon sign store and gallery, where you’ll get a chance to view some of the most quirky and authentically Austin pieces of art in town. If you’re feeling like a true patron of the arts, and you’re in the market for a piece of kitschy Austin signage, plunk down the plastic and take one home.

It’s lunch time, and one of the best Mexican joints in town is right there, on South First. Grab a seat on the patio at Polvos, order a house frozen margarita, and go check out the expansive salsa bar. Grab a couple to sample, plus some escabiche, and order some queso and the chili relleno al nogal— a stuffed poblano pepper with cheese, vegetables, and a choice of pastor, chicken, or ground beef, and topped with a pecan cream sauce and jack cheese.


For dinner and drinks, you really can’t go wrong in this neighborhood, but if you visit the area, you have to eat at Elizabeth Street Café. A hybrid French bakery and Vietnamese café, Elizabeth Street has dozens of menu items and everything is great. Get an icy cold Kronenbourg draft beer or a sake punch, and order some poached shrimp spring rolls as an appetizer. For lighter appetites, try the spicy pork meatball bahn mi sandwich. The braised brisket pho is delicious too, though I love the drunken noodles—with chicken sausage, jalapeños, mushrooms, thai basil, and crushed peanuts when I’m feeling underfed.

Above: Elizabeth Street Café; photo courtesy Molly Winters.

Want to live in this neighborhood? Check out this listing from Greg Walling of Moreland Properties:


2303 Forest Avenue.

Just west of downtown Austin lies Clarksville, one of the most unique neighborhoods in the entire state of Texas. The area’s rich history began in 1871, when Charles Clark settled here after being freed from slavery. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Now almost frozen in time, Clarksville harkens back to the days of an older Austin, filled with historic homes, quirky restaurants, and mom-and-pop shopping. If you’re looking for the quintessential Austin experience, spend a day exploring this truly walkable neighborhood.


Start your day at Sweetish Hill Bakery, an Austin institution since 1975. Grab a Texas Coffee Traders espresso to enjoy with a cinnamon roll or a schnecken, a traditional German sticky bun. Then take a fresh-baked baguette and a chocolate croissant (or two) to go.

One of Austin’s oldest gallery spaces Artworks, features original paintings, sculptures, glassworks, and more. Head over to the 5,000-square-foot space to take it all in.


Next, stop at Nau’s Enfield Drug, a no-frills soda pop shop that will transport you all the way back to the days when you could grab a flat-top cheeseburger and a chocolate malt in the back of a pharmacy. The prices are a bit higher than they were in 1951, when Nau’s opened, but not by that much.

Walk down to 6th and Lamar to Waterloo Records, open since 1982, when vinyl was still king. This megastore still carries new and special release vinyl records, used classic albums, and a large variety of films, books, shirts, and even toys and trinkets. Whoever said that the record store was dead surely hasn’t been here.

End your day at Jeffrey’s, opened in 1975 and revamped in 2013. It’s been named one of the top 10 Best New Restaurants in America by Bon Appétit magazine. Get there early and sit at the bar for some crispy fried oysters and a Hokkaido Highball, a Japanese twist on the classic cocktail. Stay for dinner, and try one of four cuts of Wagyu beef topped with one of eight different classic toppings, including the ultra-decadent foie gras butter—an amazing way to cap of the day.

Here is one of our favorite Real Estate listings in the neighborhood.


For more information on Austin real estate contact Greg Walling of Moreland Properties



Bounded by 24th Street and 29th Street on the north and south sides, and MoPac and Lamar Boulevard on the east and west, Pemberton Heights is one of the smaller and more exclusive neighborhoods in Austin. There’s also not much to do here in this sleepy haven. That’s largely why it’s one of the most coveted zip codes inside the city limits. In 1998 Town & Country magazine named it one of America’s top-25 “platinum neighborhoods.” Not even gold—platinum.

But this neighborhood, even though it is the Beverly Hills of Central Texas now, was just a farm in the late 1800s. When the Fisher family inherited what is now Pemberton, they established the Austin Land Company, which in turn constructed a bridge across Shoal Creek in 1927 and developed the area until the early 1940s.

Greg Walling Ad

Now consisting of 640 households, Pemberton is unique for many reasons. It’s just northwest of downtown Austin, but doesn’t suffer the same pitfalls as other neighborhoods close to the epicenter of the city, namely: traffic, noise, and crime. There are also ample green spaces within the tiny community, including Hartford Park to the west (plus Tarrytown Neighborhood park just over the MoPac boundary) and the Shoal Creek greenbelt to the east.

While commercial development is pretty much null in Pemberton (another plus, if you’re a resident), there is a plethora of closely located things to do. Head just north of the Pemberton boundary and you’ve got breakfast at Kerbey Lane, happy hour beers at the Draught House, and a fancy dinner date for two at Uchiko. Just south is Clarksville, and if you need something to do in this historic neighborhood, we have you covered here. And, of course, with that central location and proximity to the highway, you can be just about anywhere in town shortly.

Want a house to join the neighborhood? Here are two of our favorite listings in Pemberton.

1506 Westover Rd ALN


2620A Jefferson St-print-001-1-Exterior Front 121-4200x2728-300dpi

For more information on Downtown Austin real estate contact Greg Walling of Moreland Properties





In the last few years, the Second Street District has exploded, transforming from an underused strip of downtown to an urban mecca. These days, Austinites can get everything they need within a few tree-lined blocks. From world-class hotels and high-rise residential buildings to fine dining and incredible live music, see why the Second Street District has become a sought-after neighborhood in the heart of the city.

Waking up in Second Street has its perks. From the amenity-laced W Hotel and two Amli residential buildings, there’s no shortage of comfort and luxury here. Grab an espresso and a fresh Easy Tiger baguette from Royal Blue Grocery, or an iced turbo from Jo’s and head out for some of the best shopping in town.


W Residence #2104 listed by Greg Walling

Stores like Swatch, Eliza Page, and Bonobos are steps away if you’re looking to update your wardrobe. Doing some home decorating? The district features a plethora of home goods stores. For a funky new rug, check out Flor. Hacienda is the spot for custom kitchenware. And that Eames chair you’ve coveted for years is waiting at Design Within Reach. After all that shopping— and a little disco nap—hit milk + honey for a rejuvenating massage or a blowout and you’ll be ready for an epic night.

For happy hour, drop in at La Condesa for a classic margarita and some ceviche, or head over to Lamberts for an ice-cold Modelo and half-priced bar food. Both spots are worthy dinner locales, but if you’re really hungry, you can attempt to put down the 32 oz. tomahawk ribeye at III Forks.

Greg Walling Ad

Or, combine dinner and a movie into one date at Violet Crown Cinema, where you can watch everything from classic foreign films to Oscar-nominated blockbusters while kicking back with a mescal cocktail and a plate of chicken pesto pizza. Insider tip: Book a pair of seats in the first row for extra comfortable lounge chairs and unlimited legroom.

If you’re in the mood for a much bigger night, check out a concert at ACL Live, where the stage will be graced by artists like Widespread Panic, Iggy Pop, and Bonnie Raitt in the next month alone. And before you finally call it a day, don’t forget to pay your respects to the living, patron saint of Austin: Willie Nelson.

For more information on Downtown Austin real estate contact Greg Walling of Moreland Properties

The First 14 Blocks

In 1839, shortly after the tiny village then-known as Waterloo was selected as the new capital of the Republic of Texas, the city’s first mayor, Edwin Waller, designed downtown’s first 14 blocks. Streets running north and south were named for Texas rivers with the exception of Congress Avenue. Streets running east and west were originally named for Texas trees, though later changed to a numbered system.

A Bustling Downtown Business District

By the late 1840s, a bustling downtown business district was well established featuring hotels, saloons, stores, restaurants and government offices. Many of early Austin’s most prominent families built stately homes in the northwest corner of downtown. The Bremond family, which made its fortune in dry goods and banking, was one of the first to move in the 1850s. Family members went on to build six Victorian homes in a well-preserved area now known as the Bremond Block Historic District.

The Start Of The Driskill Hotel

Around 1885, Frank Rainey and Jesse Driskill began developing a more modest neighborhood for the middle class in the southeastern portion of downtown, now known as the Rainey Street Historic District. Driskill, a cattle baron and entrepreneur, also built the Driskill Hotel on East Sixth Street the following year, described at the time as “the finest hotel south of St. Louis.”

At the turn of the 20th century, Congress Avenue was crowded with pedestrians, buggies and streetcars. The grand avenue remained unpaved and riddled with potholes until 1905, when brick was added – making it the first paved street in Austin. As car ownership increased, many upper and middle class families moved to the suburbs, leaving mostly working class families and ethnic minorities living downtown by the 1920s. As suburban development accelerated in the post-war era, retailers began their own exodus out of the urban core.

By 1970, downtown’s population had fallen by more than half. Falling rents helped usher in a thriving bar and live music scene along East Sixth Street, but empty storefronts, seedy bars and surface parking lots began to characterize the once-proud Congress Avenue. By 1980, just 3,000 people lived downtown, down from 12,500 in 1940, and many Austinites found little reason to visit.

Downtown Becomes A 24-Hour Community

City leaders made the revitalization a priority in the 1990s with a vision of transforming downtown into a 24-hour community where people lived, worked, shopped, ate and enjoyed entertainment beyond the bars of Sixth Street. Presidential daughter Luci Baines Johnson was one of the first to invest in new downtown housing when she spearheaded the redevelopment of the historic Brown Building at 708 Colorado St. from offices into lofts in 1998.

More Than 1,000 Apartments Built

The City of Austin played an active role in the revitalization from the beginning, often leveraging underutilized city properties to lure new development, a process that continues today. In 1998, the city signed a long-term lease with Post Properties to redevelop a three-acre utility storage yard along Shoal Creek into the 293-unit West Avenue Lofts on the southwestern edge of downtown (now Gables West Avenue). More than 1,000 apartments and condominiums were built downtown in the next three years, despite the tech bust that had hit Austin’s economy.

Downtown Grows Up

The Frost Bank Tower, home to Heritage Title’s main office, became the first new downtown high rise in nearly 20 years when it opened in 2004. In 2010, the ultra-high end, 56-story Austonian condo tower at Congress Avenue and Second Street became the tallest building in Austin.  Today, downtown has evolved back into being a desirable and vibrant neighborhood. In 2016, more residential buildings are under construction with  5th and West, the Independent, and the Proper Residences all expected to be completed in 2018.


Information included was provided by Heritage Title Company of Austin.

For more information on Downtown Austin real estate contact Greg Walling of Moreland Properties