Amtrak (250 N. Lamar Blvd.) offers train service into Austin on its Texas Eagle train, which travels daily between Chicago and San Antonio. It’s another travel option if you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, but know that the Texas Eagle is often behind schedule; that you’ll definitely need a wireless card, and that you should bring snacks for the trip. Amtrak also offers connecting service between San Antonio and Los Angeles three times each week on the Sunset Limited.
Road trip! If you’re driving to Austin, Interstate 35 is the major north-south route. It’s also the “NAFTA Highway”—keep going, and you’ll eventually end up in Mexico. Recent toll roads offer even more options to drive into town from elsewhere, including extensions to Loop 1 (Mopac); State Highway 45; State Highway 130; and U.S. Highway 183A. Go to www.texastollways.com to get specifics on the best route before your trip. If you’re renting a car and driving into town from the airport, directions to downtown are well marked. East Seventh Street will take you straight into downtown and is an easy route to follow.
Greyhound Bus Lines also offers services into Austin; the station is northeast of the city (916 E. Koenig Lane) and is open 24 hours, every day.
Austin-Bergstrom International is the city’s main airport. Carriers include Alaska, American, Branson, Continental, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Sun Country, United and US Airways, and you can get nonstop service from Austin to 38 cities around the country. The airport does have free wireless service—but it’s limited to the blue kiosks near Gates 8, 12 and 15 and at baggage claim near the Visitors Center. Otherwise, it’s $7.95 for a 24-hour pass via Boingo, so be sure to bring your wireless card. Major car-rental companies include Advantage, Alamo/National, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz and Thrifty. Hotel shuttles, shuttles for hire (SuperShuttle), limousine services and taxis are readily and easily available and can get you to the heart of downtown in about 25 minutes, depending on traffic. Capital Metro, the city’s bus system, is another option. It’s on the lower level of the airport, and buses leave every 40 minutes.
There are always a zillion pedicabs downtown on the weekends, and quite a few during the week, and they’re a fun way to get around town if you’re not going too far. Drivers don’t charge per se, but they work on tips. Having said that, suggested “tips” are generally $10 per person, but if you’ve got a particularly heavy load, ate too much at dinner or your driver is particularly creative when it comes to taking shortcuts and getting you where you want to go quickly, it’s a good idea to be a nice person and give more. Charming horse-drawn carriages are another option for downtown tours—mostly up and down South Congress and the Capitol area. Prices are per carriage (which can hold up to six), and start around $50 for a 30-minute ride. Be sure to bring cash; some services charge an extra $10 for credit card transactions.
A 5-minute cab ride is worth it to avoid blisters from high heels, and taxis are plentiful most days of the week. Yellow Cab, Austin Cab and Lone Star Cab are the top three cab companies in town, plus many private car and limousine services (ask your concierge for his or her recommendations).
Public Austin transportation now includes two modes: bus and—finally!—light rail. Launched in 2010 and run by Capital Metro, the city’s bus service, the MetroRail is adding routes slowly, but surely, in a phased plan. As of now, MetroRail’s 32-mile Red Line has service on weekday mornings and afternoons from Leander (a far north suburb in Williamson County) to downtown Austin. There’s no evening service yet from Downtown (which would be a huge plus for revelers who live north of the city), but that’s in the works. Capital Metro’s MetroBus offers service from more than 3,000 locations around town; check www.capmetro.org for schedules and maps. There are also specific downtown routes (like Congress Avenue), which are a great option if you’re exploring popular downtown-area tourist attractions, such as the State Capitol, LBJ Library and Barton Springs. Adult local one-way fares are $1, but the day pass—good for 24 hours of local bus service—is a better option for just $2.
Austin is pretty easy to navigate, but ongoing construction means you might be navigating traffic and the occasional alternate route. Rush hour in Austin can be challenging, especially on Interstate 35 and on Mopac (so-named because it parallels the old Missouri-Pacific railroad line)—the major north-south thoroughfares. Be prepared when you’re heading north or south of the city, since delays can range anywhere from 35 minutes to an hour. Even still, Austin traffic isn’t as bad as many other large cities, and most traffic tends to clear out by about 7 or 7:30 each evening. As for the weekend, driving anywhere is relatively painless, with minimal traffic, unless there’s a road construction project or special event scheduled that weekend. Parking is pretty cheap—but the tickets aren’t, so be sure that meter isn’t expired or that you’re not in a tow-away zone. The city installed cool new parking meters about a year ago—they’re solar powered and have three language options: English, Spanish and Chinese. And they take credit cards, so you’re not stuck digging for change as your friends head down the street without you for an early happy hour. Be prepared to feed the meter from 8:30AM to 5:30PM on weekdays (maximum time is three hours), but the meters are free on weekends. Downtown lots and garages are also available after 5PM; weekday prices range from $5 to $7. Weekend parking is another story if you’re out partying downtown. Get there for happy hour or an early dinner, and you can usually find free parking. But arrive late, and you’ll likely pay up to $10 to park near Sixth Street or the Warehouse District.
With the expansion of the Second Street District, and the ongoing traffic to Sixth Street and the Warehouse District (Fourth Street), walking safely to restaurants and bars is an easy prospect. Austin is a mostly walkable city in the downtown area, but taxis are a good idea if you’re heading from one side of town to the other—like from dinner in the Warehouse District to a show at the Continental Club on South Congress.