Enjoy Austin? Then Consider Visiting These Similar Cities


The number of Austin, Texas residents has doubled since South by Southwest made its festival debut in 1987. Austin has gone from a small, government-reliant state capital overshadowed by San Antonio, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth to a self-sustaining supercity in just a generation.

SXSW and the Austin City Limits Music Festival helped introduce Austin to the masses, and the self-proclaimed "Live Music Capital of the World" frequently ranks atop many "best-of" lists. Not coincidentally, the Austin area swelled in size to more than 2 million people, according to recent U.S. Census estimates, and the city's population ranks 11th nationally.

In fact, only seven other cities attracted more new residents from 2014 to 2015. Five of the top 11 fastest-growing cities last year hailed from The Lone Star State, including three from Central Texas. As a consequence, Austin may no longer be the same city that attracted so many visitors and newcomers in the first place.

Fortunately, there are many mid-sized cities that may qualify as "The Next Austin." Here are a few potential candidates to consider visiting based on population trends, education levels, entertainment opportunities and weather. Places where the hype already meets or exceeds Austin — such as Portland, Nashville and Denver — were purposely left off the list.

Columbus, Ohio

There are a lot of similarities between Austin and Columbus, the most-populated city to make this list. More than 850,000 people call Columbus home, the 15th-most nationally. And similar to Austin, Columbus also boasts a state capitol and a major college, The Ohio State University.

That college environment is reflected in both cities' median age, 31.8 years old, according to U.S. estimates, or more than 5 years younger than the rest of the country.

Not surprisingly, both cities also have low unemployment rates that are well below their respective state averages. So there is plenty to do in Columbus upon visiting, although it might make sense for Austinites — and those who love Austin's favorable weather — to consider visiting during the warmer months when the Major League Soccer season is underway.

Columbus Crew SC is an MLS original franchise known for its enthusiastic fan base, which is responsible for creating a unique environment in Mapfre Stadium, the league's first soccer-specific venue.

Tulsa, Oklahoma

While it would have been easy to point visitors to Oklahoma City, another state capital in a favorable weather climate, there is far more culture and things to do in Tulsa.

OKC may have Bricktown, a lesser version of the San Antonio Riverwalk, but Tulsa is perhaps best known for its Blue Dome District. This area next to downtown Tulsa offers the same comfortable, laid-back vibe that once defined Austin. Many of Tulsa's entertainment districts offer similarly casual atmospheres. And because the city is growing at about one-fifth the rate as Austin, there isn't all the hype surrounding Tulsa despite its thriving music and festival scenes.

What Austinites may know as Texas Country is called Red Dirt Country in Oklahoma, but the emphasis on talented singing and songwriting remains. There are plenty of small venues throughout Tulsa where visitors can enjoy great music from local talent. In fact, a lot of touring bands roll through Tulsa before or after a gig in Austin.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe is easily the cultural capital of New Mexico, a beautiful and off-the-radar southwestern state. And best of all, a small-town mentality and strict building code helps prevent Santa Fe from losing what makes it so appealing in the first place.

Santa Fe also offers a more rich history and esteemed artwork than Austin as well as a diverse climate that allows for seasonal outdoor activities not found in Central Texas. That means skiing in the winter and mountain hiking the rest of the year.

The city is also an hour's drive from Albuquerque, which may be best known by pop culture junkies as the filming location of "Breaking Bad," arguably one of TV's greatest programs. That show's success sparked a spinoff series, "Better Call Saul," which is also filmed in Albuquerque, creating the foundation for an entertainment industry that could one day rival Austin's — especially now that state film tax credits are no longer offered in Texas.

Tucson, Arizona

The same eclectic crowd of musicians and artists that once made Austin "weird" can still be found in Tucson, another college town that sometimes gets a bad rap by its northern neighbors in the Phoenix area.

But Dallas and Houston once perceived Austin similarly — until the tables recently turned. Those non-believers especially judged Austin's "Dirty" Sixth Street the same way Arizona outsiders sometimes shame Tucson's famed 4th Avenue. The college-fueled corridor bustles with day and nighttime activity and even hosts a twice-annual art show similar to Pecan Street Festival in Austin.

There is also a bustling college environment immediately adjacent to the University of Arizona that is eerily similar to "The Drag" on Guadalupe Street in Austin. The two popular Tucson areas are connected by streetcar similar to how Austin's downtown and The Domain entertainment center are connected by light rail.

Raleigh, North Carolina

North Carolina is experiencing the same economic resurgence that helped Austin and the rest of Texas recently thrive. Raleigh, the state capital and home of North Carolina State University, edges Charlotte and Asheville on this list because of its proximity to Durham — where Duke University is based.

The highly educated Raleigh-area population makes for a more adult experience without feeling too old (that may or may not be a knock on Charlotte, statistically the country's oldest major metropolitan area, based on U.S. Census data). Raleigh also offers several high-profile museums that exceed anything found in Austin.

Oh, and the city's proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, about a two-hour drive from Raleigh, also helps. As nice as the Texas Gulf Coast can be, nothing beats the actual ocean.

Joe Lanane covered Central Austin as the editor of a thriving hyperlocal print publication. More of his Parachute articles can be found here.