Barton Springs vs. bayou. Black Pumas vs. Beyonce. Live Music Capital vs. Energy Capital.
As Austin expands into "boomtown" status, it's become subject to a growing rivalry between another storied Texas city: Houston.
While Houston still edges out Austin in population—it's the fourth-largest city in the U.S. and boasts a metro of over 7 million compared to Austin's 2.3 million—Austin has been generating significant buzz as tech CEOs, Californians and migrants nationwide begin to call the Texas capital home.
Most Austinites will tout their Hill Country beauty, world-renowned live music and the proud "weirdness" that has long defined their city. But some say Houston's signature self-deprecating humor and status as the most diverse city in the nation gives them a leg up
It's time for these quarreling siblings to duke it out.
Here's how Austin and Houston compare, mapped out in five categories:
Affordability: Houston 1, Austin 0
Ask anyone in Austin: the city is not what it used to be. That change is no more apparent than in the skyrocketing housing market, which has shot from an average median home price of 189,000 in 2011 to a peak of $482,364 in June 2021, a 255% increase.
The exploding housing market is one of the best examples of Austin's "boomtown" status and is great for current homeowners, but it's a near-death sentence for many with an average income looking to survive. In fact, Austin is expected to become the least affordable metro outside of California by the end of 2021.
According to Salary.com, this translates into the cost of living—it's 11% more expensive to live in Austin than its southeast Texas neighbor.
With both cities nestled in Texas, a state well-known for its bang-for-your-buck housing, both are still attracting ex-pats from expensive metros across the nation. But Houston's reputation as an affordable city lingers.
A study by Property Club in 2019 found that a homebuyer in Houston with $250,000 could purchase 1,204 square feet—six times more than in NYC and more than 49 of 50 global cities studied.
That affordability is conditional, however—the fourth-largest city in the nation differs drastically in price in different neighborhoods. And Houston's housing market is beginning to heat up just as Austin's slightly cools, with home prices up 15.7% in September 2021 as compared to the year before.
"We are witnessing the most energized Houston real estate market in history," Houston Association of Realtors Chairman Richard Miranda said in a June 6 monthly update. "It's difficult to predict how and when this incredible housing run will end."
But with a median home price of $285,000, Houston's housing prices are still just a rumble compared to Austin's boom. Kevin Quist, a Houston urbanist activist, said that comes down to the cities' different zoning policies.
To the chagrin of struggling Austinites everywhere, Houston takes the cake with this one.
Economy: Austin 1, Houston 1
Austin has come a long way from its days as a college town. While a major employer for the city continues to be the University of Texas and the Texas Capitol, the city has been dubbed "Little California" by recent move-in Elon Musk for a reason.
The area's tech boom, headlined by Tesla CEO Musk and his upcoming Giga Texas plant, brought in tech transplants including Oracle, blockchain companies like Blockcap, and 35 others in 2020 alone.
With Fortune 500 companies like Dell and national brands like Indeed and Bumble already in the area, Austin has become the darling of startups looking to relocate to a California-esque utopia with no state income tax.
But the Energy Capital earned its namesake for a reason—the city is home to 24 Fortune 500 companies and over 500 oil and gas firms. With a seven-mile-long Energy Corridor and nine refineries, Houston's opportunities abound.
Still, Austin's job market is projected to expand by 47% in the next decade to Houston's 30%. While both sit under the national average of 5.2% unemployment rate in August 2021, Houston saw a 4.9% unemployment rate compared to Austin's 3.8%. And with many parts of Houston experiencing higher poverty rates than others, Houston's average income is nearly 20,000 less than Austin's $71,579 at $52,558.
Austin may be hard to live in, but its current economic opportunity outpaces Houston.
Janice Omadeke, CEO of startup The Mentor Method, is one of many startup CEOs in Austin. (The Mentor Method/Facebook)
Diversity and Culture: Houston 2, Austin 1
According to Wallethub, Houston was the United States' most diverse city in 2021. By contrast, 38th-place Austin has become more cosmopolitan in recent years but is losing some minority residents—census data shows the city's Black and Hispanic populations decreased from 2010 to 2020.
That's not to say that Austin doesn't have culture—it's a majority-minority city that has seen its Asian-American population skyrocket and diversify. It's not uncommon to find Spanish spoken in Austin, with a quarter of residents speaking Spanish at home and Spanish-language chants like "Dale ATX" chanted at the city's first professional soccer team, Austin FC.
That diversity bleeds into food. The breakfast taco hub is home to Tex-Mex eats of every creed, and residents can grab bites from all the world's cuisines at its ample food truck locales. But with 145 languages spoken in the metro, Houston's dining scene far outpaces Austin's in variety,
While Austin beat Houston in socioeconomic diversity in the same Wallethub study, that may be more due to economic segregation than anything else. According to the city of Austin, an "island of affluence" has emerged to the west even as some means of residential segregation have improved. Houston, on the other hand, often sees "newly poor" neighborhoods right next to their more affluent counterparts.
While neither topped the charts in religious diversity, Houston is the third-most religious area by percentage of population in the U.S., slightly edging out Austin when it comes to places of worship.
It looks like being a truly global city does have its perks. Houston is once again up, 2-1.
Himalaya Houston pairs fried chicken with Pakistani flair for a truly Houston dish. (Himalaya/Instagram)
Identity: Houston 2, Austin 2
Whether it be the Live Music Capital or Keep Austin Weird, Austin has always known what it is. Legends including Willie Nelson and Janis Joplin helped join a massive musical movement in the 1970s that saw hippies, outlaws and cutting-edge artists flock to the Live Music Capital of the World in the mid-to-late- 1900s. By 1991, the city discovered it had the most live music per capital, and an iconic name was born.
Houston, however, has seen a few failed slogans—see an "Austin City Limits" knockoff, "The City With No Limits," or even worse, "Houston's Hot." The city's new unofficial slogan, "Houston. It's Worth It," embraces its imperfections as what makes it special, a name that is aptly fitting for the city's signature self-deprecating humor.
While Houston has finally found its niche as an imperfect place for imperfect people, Austin has known its identity for years-even if some say it's beginning to blur.
The tech boom has seen some of that laid-back Austin swagger morph into a more corporate feel, accentuated by new developments such as The Domain. Every year, new move-ins and natives alike lament about the legendary "old Austin" and its wacky eccentricities.
But the world-renowned music festival Austin City Limits still exists. Weirdness is still accepted in this city like no other-from The Austin World Naked Bike Ride to playing bingo with "chicken shit."
That historic identity shines through, albeit less bright, in every corner of the Texas Capitol. Austin ties it up 2-2.(Charles Reagan/ACL)
Lifestyle: Austin 3, Houston 2
In June, Texas Monthly instigated a war when they wrote an article imploring Austinites to move to "an affordable, weird city: Houston."
"Those Austin amenities that people swear they could never do without—the live music! The outdoors! The progressive attitude!—exist in every other major metropolis in one form or another," writer Evan Mintz said.
But as stated before, that weirdness is not quite matched even in global cities like Houston. In fact, Houston's big-city status may be what hinders it from certain Austin-y amenities.
Even as things change, remnants of Austin's small-town charm still shine through in pockets of seemingly millions of local cafes, wacky mom-and-pop shops and character-filled neighborhoods. Festival culture abounds, from the Moontower Comedy Festival to SXSW, to give residents a fiesta feel all year long.
While Houston has Austin beat in sports ventures—think Astros and Texans—Austin professional soccer team Austin FC has made Q2 Stadium "the biggest party in Austin," and University of Texas tailgates are unmatched. Not a fan of watching? Join sports teams from Quidditch to pickleball.
The Hill Country beats the bayou, as well—a Texas beach isn't too far from Houston's interior, but a river cuts through downtown Austin, improving residents' quality of life with its acres of hiking trails, swimming holes and more.
Houston defeats Austin in sheer numbers of things to do, but Austin takes it home in the lifestyle category to beat its fellow Texan sibling once and for all.
Austin FC matches are just one of many ways to get your party on in Austin. (Austin FC/Twitter)
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The holiday season is upon us, so get ready to celebrate with carols, snacks and light shows galore. Austin is full of holiday festivities spanning throughout all of December so get out and enjoy the cool weather while it lasts.
Don't miss these nine holiday-themed light shows.
Austin's most famous annual light show and a Readers Choice of USA Today's 10 Best Public Displays of Holiday Lights, the Trail of Lights will be drive-thru again this year Nov. 27-Dec. 31. For 57 years in a row, the Trail of Lights has lit up Zilker Park with games, food, local vendors and more than two million lights gleaming for the holidays. The event, as always, is free to the public and you can reserve slots here. The Zilker Tree is already up, so you can already see it if the holiday cheer is too much to bear.
Coming back for the second year in a row, Peppermint Parkway will transport you to COTALAND, where six million lights gleam and Christmas is just a one-mile drive away. The hybrid event will have you drive through the display of lights, dancing elves and unique little villages before you hit the walking plaza, where you can grab a bite to eat and meet Santa. Tickets range from $40-$95, some including a lap around the COTA track, running from Nov. 26-Dec. 26.
Dreamland Dripping Springs has been transformed into a winter wonderland—running throughout the month of December, the venue's first-ever holiday display is taking over with activities for the whole family. Plus, running from Nov. 20-Jan. 4, a pop-up ice skating rink will really bring the holiday cheer for $10 or $5 Monday specials. The lights display will feature half a million lights and warm, festive sips from the taproom.
With events galore for the holiday season, winter is really when the Hill Country Galleria thrives. Starting with its Light Up The Plaza event on Saturday from 6-8 p.m., where visitors can see Santa, gaze at the official lighting of the holiday tree and hear some live tunes from rock band American Authors. The Galleria will also hold a holiday market every Thursday, Friday and Saturday leading up to Christmas Eve and periodic photos with Santa at Buenos Aires Cafe.
Deck the Halls at the Driskill Hotel
(Courtesy of the Driskill Hotel)
This holiday season, the Driskill will deck out every nook and cranny of the historic hotel from the grand staircase to the 16-foot Christmas tree in the lobby to be lit on a Dec. 1 ceremony that will be open to the public. Touches of Driskill festivities can also be seen at Dell Children's Hospital with a gingerbread village for its annual "Cookies for Caring" event.
Kicking off the lighting of the tree on Saturday, Dec. 4, Austinites will gather on the steps of the Texas Capitol at 6 p.m. to sing the 45-foot tree to life. Afterward, local band Los Coast will close out the night with a free concert. The fun doesn't stop there though as the Downtown Austin Alliance will host the Downtown Holiday Stroll, with "holiday passports" and stamps to collect for local restaurants and stores, and a Frida Friday Holiday Market at Republic Square.
Combining festive holiday lights and the beautiful native plants of Central Texas, Luminations at the Wildflower Center is back with thousands of lights, luminarias and a lit-up look at Fortlandia. This year will also feature an interactive light maze called "silvana" by Ben Busche of architecture firm Brut Deluxe, which will be the maze's first appearance in North America. The event will run Thursdays-Sundays from Dec. 2-Jan. 30 for $10-$25 per person.
Reserved tables are back for Mozart's Coffee Roasters annual Christmas Lights Show for $20 four-person tables and $30 six-person tables—so get your tickets early because these tables are likely to sell out. The light show will also feature a festival-style Bavarian marketplace for those last-minute gifts. If you're too late to reserve a table, don't worry, there will be standing room available for free so come one, come all, and come early for parking.
From Dec. 2-4, Old Settlers Park will light up with holiday displays, family activities, festive refreshments and live music. Watch the balloons hover above the lake as you sip on a hot chocolate or give to those in need, with stands for Round Rock Operation Blue Santa, which is taking toys for kids in need, the Play For All Foundation, which is accepting cash donations for disabled children, and the People & Parks Foundation, accepting cash donations for green space in the community. Admission to the event is free, along with most of the activities in the park.
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In this season of gifts, giving, and gratitude, Tito's is making it easy to shop for your friends and loved ones while helping our community.
The beloved Austin company's Love, Tito's retail space, downtown at 215 Lavaca Street, is fully stocked with great gear. 100% of net proceeds of whatever you purchase—a new collar for your four-legged friend, a Tito's tee, some branded barware—go to the nonprofits they support. From the environment to animal rescue, you can choose your cause while choosing a new copper cocktail kit… or old school cap… or golf polo.
The store is stocked with stuff that the online experience just can't offer: never-before-seen swag, doggy photo booths (to say it's a dog-friendly space is an understatement), a record player to spin some tunes, and a bar finder listing local spots serving mean Tito's cocktails. Locals and out-of-town visitors alike can enjoy wonderful distractions while kicking back in an environment designed to cater to Tito's fans.
While you can't enjoy a cocktail there due to Texas liquor laws, the store offers unique experiences for any and all fans of the brand, and gives folks a chance to find what resonates with them while taking home a piece of the Tito's story.
*At our Love, Tito's store in Austin, net proceeds constitute an average margin of at least 25% of the retail price of a product, excluding the cost of tax on the purchase. We are not deducting cost of our people, the store rent or other operating costs.
NFTs, which are essentially unhackable codes used as one-of-a-kind "certificates of authenticity" paid for with cryptocurrency Ethereum, have been cropping up in the Austin art scene and worldwide—and they're quickly evolving into a sports fans' paradise as a new way to snag some bragging rights through digital trading cards, tickets and highlight reels.
Here are five Austin-based athletes and sports venues now involved in NFTs:
NiftyHorns—emerging Texas NFT producer
🚨🤘🏽Player Announcement!— Nifty Horns (@NiftyHorns) September 24, 2021
First up to the plate - a man who capped a scorching spring with postseason heroics in Omaha - from El Paso, TX…
Ivan Melendez! @ivanmelendez17_
NFT trading cards for the Hispanic Titanic will be available this fall as part of our first pack drop. pic.twitter.com/2xI3aMd6Tv
College sports' entrance to NFTs originally came from another Austin—a picture of Stephen F. Austin's women's basketball team as they made their first NCAA championship berth was the first to break into the market in March 2020.
Now with NCAA NIL rules in their favor, it's easier than ever for Texas athletes to cash in on their clout. The University of Texas' LEVERAGE Lineup looks to serve as a database to connect even walk-on Longhorn athletes—like Surly Horn's "Burnt Ends" tight ends deal—to lucrative sponsorship contracts.
But there hasn't yet been a database that gives each player their own Robinson-esque NFT trading card—until NiftyHorns stepped in with an NFT business model that they hope to one day have officially linked to the school.
They've already made headway with an NFT for Longhorns baseball player Ivan Melendez using the same blockchain utilized by TopShot.
"(We want to) not make it exclusive to star players or just the big three sports," NiftyHorns co-founder Josh Pitel said. "We feel very fortunate to be in a space where the fan base is large enough and passionate enough to actually support a wide variety of athletes."
Bijan Robinson—Candy.com trading card
With nearly 130,000 followers across Twitter and Instagram, Bijan Robinson is a star on and off the football field. He's used that clout to his advantage and partnered with Raising Cane's, Athletic Brewing and Centre Apparel.
And he's now following in the footsteps of NBA's TopShot with his very own NFT. Trading cards are a growing commodity in the NFT community, with TopShot raking in $700 million on cards, highlight reels and more last year.
Robinson's 100 Rare NFTs currently sit at $250 and feature a hero shot, his jersey number, position and an animated signature with a sleek, high-tech gold finish.
COTA NFTs—360 views and tickets too
Each of the two NFTs feature 360 views of different aspects of the COTA track. (Circuit of the Americas)
Back in October, Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein appeared to embody his promise to make the 2021 U.S. Grand Prix the "biggest event on the planet this year" as an estimated 400,000 attendees made it through the gates for the Formula One weekend event.
To commemorate the event, the circuit decided to leap into the trendy NFT scene with two 360-degree panoramas, set at minimum bids of $30,000 each. And like many who look to tack on physical elements to the mystical crypto world, the circuit includes two VIP passes for MotoGP or Formula 1 events this year or next.
"Circuit of The Americas hosts some of the world's most iconic sports and entertainment events," Epstein said in a press release. "Just as visitors realize how unique and special COTA is, we know collectors will appreciate the significance behind our designs as well as the premium hospitality associated with the winning bids."
Campbell-Williams Field NFT Collection—a true UT NFT
Check out this dope project I did for the Campbell-Williams Field NFT Collection!— Bryson Williams (@artofbryson) September 11, 2021
Titled "Longhorn Legacies" Made in collaboration with @VybHouse and @Rickthelaureate
For more info check out https://t.co/XFr5gDSFta pic.twitter.com/SRCyWsjVqM
As the school's two Heisman Trophy winners, UT football legends Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams made sports history at their times as running backs for the Longhorns football team—and they encouraged others to become part of sports history themselves with a rare collection of 100 NFTs in honor of the renaming of the school's historic football stadium.
In collaboration with UT, Campbell and Williams created the collection a year after the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium was renamed in their honor. The "Campbell-Williams Field NFT Collection" included:
- The Campbell-Williams Experience NFT, which gives its owner two VIP tickets to the 2022 Super Bowl and Williams' Super Bowl 2022 party in Los Angeles,, dinner with Earl Campbell and friends and a 'UT Legend' memorabilia package.
- The ArtofBryson NFT, which included two tickets to The Red River Showdown (UT vs. Oklahoma) on Oct. 9, a Zoom call with both Williams and Campbell, signed cleats from current running back Robinson, and other care package add-ons.
- The Moon Ticket: six NFTs that grants its owners to an out-of-this-world astrology chat with Williams
- And the 100 trading-card style NFTs featuring artwork and both players' digital signatures.
USMNT—and their NFTs—come to Austin
As the U.S. Men's National Team headed to Austin's brand-new Q2 Stadium to play Jamaica in October, so did its Only Forward Art Series. This edition of the months-long series featured a poster design from Austin artist Phoebe "Feebee" Joynt.
Joynt incorporated her specialties in graphic design, street art and logo work to create the gameday poster, which was featured around town, at Austin FC's downtown store and online as an NFT.
"I was thrilled to work with FootyCon and U.S. Soccer," FeeBee told the USMNT. "I've always had a passion for soccer after being introduced to the sport by my dad as a young child and I'm so excited to create a piece inspired by the game that also references and is in dialogue with the amazing city of Austin that I call home."
The rare free NFT became available to all fans attending the Oct. 7 World Cup Qualifier as well as via purchase on the NTWRK app the day before the game.
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