Five Vibing Texas Towns That Aren’t Austin
Migration and housing activity in the state capital has surged, but these slightly less competitive markets also have plenty of culinary and cultural cachet on offer
Austin may attract most of the attention from non-Texans who adore the city’s funky atmosphere, vibrant music scene, foodie credentials and outdoorsy lifestyle, but it’s not the only place in the vast state with those amenities.
While Austin residents hope to “Keep Austin Weird,” the city’s explosive growth from out-of-towners means that some current and would-be Austinites are considering other locations to set down roots.
Texas, the second largest state by area with more than 268,000 square miles, and the second largest state by population with nearly 29 million people in 2019, is also the fastest-growing state, according to the Census Bureau. Between July 1, 2019, and July 1, 2020, 374,000 people moved to Texas, including Elon Musk.
There are plenty of locations to explore in the vast state. Depending on what Texas lifestyle you’re looking for, some other Texas towns to consider include:
If you’re hoping for an active outdoor lifestyle to compare to the kayaking, paddleboarding and swimming in Austin’s famous Barton Springs Pool, Lake Austin or Lake Travis, Corpus Christi may be for you. Located on the Gulf of Mexico and sheltered by Padre Island and Mustang Island, Corpus Christi offers water access for boating, fishing and proximity to beaches. The town is home to the Surf Museum of Texas.
“You can keep a boat at most of the homes on Corpus Christi Bay, but the bay isn’t very deep, so you need a flat-bottomed boat,” said Zoe Gottlich, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Pacesetter Steel Realtors in Corpus Christi. “We get a lot of wind here, so kitesurfing and windsurfing are really popular. People who want to keep a bigger boat tend to live on Padre Island where they can easily access an intracoastal waterway to the Gulf of Mexico. But there are also several marinas and boat docks in Corpus Christi.”
In addition to outdoor life, Corpus Christi has the food, culture and music venues that people love in Austin, just on a smaller scale, said Ms. Gottlich.
More: There’s Still a Window of Opportunity to Invest in U.S. College Towns, but Move Fast and Know Where to Look
“We have lots of great restaurants, especially seafood restaurants, including one at the Art Museum of South Texas, which is right on the bay,” she said. “The music venues are all together near the marina and the Surf Museum. We’re getting more tech people and business owners moving here from Austin and other places because Corpus Christi is a little more relaxed, has less traffic and is close to beaches.”
The most sought-after luxury properties, usually priced from $1 million and up, are located on Ocean Drive, which curves around the Corpus Christi Bay. For example, a $1.95 million property recently listed by Ms. Gottlich on Ocean Drive includes 7,175 square feet with six bedrooms, five bathrooms and a yard that slopes to a bulkhead on the bay.
Fort Worth, the 12th largest city in the U.S., offers cultural amenities and a lively music and nightlife scene, with numerous small and large music venues such as Billy Bob’s and Cowtown Opry.
“Fort Worth is a culturally well-rounded place to live, with a vibrant food scene, world-class art museums and performing arts centers,” said John Zimmerman, an agent with Compass in Fort Worth. “Fort Worth has one of the most attractive business climates in Texas, so we’re seeing many business owners from California, Illinois and the East Coast relocate here.”
Many of Fort Worth entrepreneurs and their families were patrons of the arts, which has made the city a cultural center for Texas, Mr. Zimmermann said. For example, Kay and Velma Kimbell, business owners, art collectors and philanthropists, established the Kimbell Art Museum with their collection.
“The Fort Worth Stockyards has multiple restaurants and music venues, and new ones are planned,” he added.
While some people envision upscale Texas properties as vast ranches, many luxury buyers in Fort Worth want to live closer to downtown. One new development, called Montrachet, where the homes start at $1 million, is located about a 10-minute drive from the city, Mr. Zimmerman said.
“It’s a unique opportunity to get a new home in a community with 24-hour security and 50 acres of parks and open space,” he said. “There are also older established communities such as Rivercrest near the city with luxury homes on one-half-acre lots.”
About 15 minutes away from downtown, Mr. Zimmerman is selling a $5.475 million estate on 2.25 acres that matches the fantasy of a big Texas property. The compound, which includes an 11,615-square-foot main house and a guest house, has a putting green, a swimming pool and extensive indoor and outdoor entertaining areas.
Well off the beaten path in the Big Bend region of Texas is Marfa, a town with less than 2,000 residents that is internationally renowned for its art and culture. While the region was primarily a ranching community, the small walkable town gained its reputation as a mecca for artists and art collectors in the 1970s when minimalist artist Donald Judd moved there. Today, the town is home to numerous art galleries and the Judd and Chinati Foundations.
“The big challenge of Marfa is that it is remote,” said Lauren Meador Fowlkes, an agent with Far West Texas Realty in Marfa. “We’re 2.5 hours from the nearest major airport, although we do have a municipal airport. Driving to San Antonio and Austin takes more than five or six hours.”
In addition to being a destination for art-lovers, Marfa’s high-desert location on the edge of mountain ranges appeals to people who want to escape the heat and humidity of other parts of Texas, Ms. Fowlkes said.
About a decade ago, Marfa pivoted from an agricultural area to a tourism-based economy with “phenomenal” restaurants and boutique hotels, she said.
“We have a strong community of people here who own second homes, especially since fiber optic came in a few years ago and made it easier for people to work remotely here,” said Ms. Fowlkes. “Most people live right in town, which is only 1.5 miles from one end to the other, so our homes are typically on a 5,000-square-foot lot.”
The luxury market in Marfa starts at about $500,000 and includes some unusual properties. For example, Ms. Fowlkes is selling a 3,600-square-foot contemporary-style building that is part art gallery and part residence for $1.5 million. The property has a contiguous lot where owners can add a pool, an outdoor living space and additional living space beyond the one bedroom in the main building.
While only 90 minutes from Austin, San Antonio offers some of the same attributes as its neighbor: music venues, great restaurants and a Hill Country location. San Antonio’s Hispanic-Tejano culture infuses the foodie culture and music scene, which covers the gamut from country to heavy metal to hip-hop to Latino styles. Celebrities who have chosen San Antonio as their home include actor Tommy Lee Jones and musicians George Strait and Emily Burns Strayer of The Chicks (formerly the Dixie Chicks).
“San Antonio attracts people who are looking for more privacy,” said Tamara Strait, an agent with Phyllis Browning Co. in San Antonio and George Strait’s daughter-in-law. “You can get more land for your money than in Austin. Luxury homes here start at around $1 million, but you’d pay more than that for a similar home in Austin.”
Many neighborhoods in San Antonio have homes set on 1 to 7 acres, Mrs. Strait said.
“People move here from other parts of Texas, from California, Seattle and New York because they like living in the Hill Country that surrounds downtown and yet have the convenience of being close to the city,” she said. “There’s plenty of luxury shopping and great restaurants in town, and then people like to take day trips to the wineries and music venues nearby in places like Fredericksburg and Luckenbach.”
The luxury homes around San Antonio typically have 5,000 to 10,000 square feet of living space and most include a swimming pool and outdoor entertaining space, said Mrs. Strait. She is listing her father-in-law’s hilltop estate in the Dominion neighborhood for $7.5 million, a custom-built adobe house with 14 fireplaces that sits on 12 acres with views of downtown San Antonio and the Hill Country. The property includes an infinity-edge pool and spa surrounded by a mosaic-tile deck.
Sometimes called “Little Austin,” San Marcos is a Hill Country town sandwiched between Austin and San Antonio.
“San Marcos used to be a sleepy place in the 1990s, then Texas State University started expanding,” said Kimberly Adams, an agent with McNabb & Co. in San Marcos. “Now there are about 40,000 students and around 70,000 permanent residents here. So, we’re still small compared to Austin, but we have the Hill Country amenities and a great music scene here.”
Cultural life in San Marcos includes outdoor concerts, monthly “Art Squared” events with local artists, artist booths at the farmer’s market and work by local artists displayed at many restaurants, Ms. Adams said.
“We practically take it for granted here, but there’s always live music of every type everywhere around us in Hill Country,” Ms. Adams said. “A lot of the vineyards nearby provide a showcase for musicians. We have a lot of country musicians who live here, and the alternative rock group Blue October is based in San Marco.”
Floating on the river, a popular pastime in Austin, is equally popular in San Marcos, where two rivers cut through town, Ms. Adams said.
Some residents of San Marcos commute to Austin, which is about 30 miles away, she said, adding that newer residents are coming from California and Colorado to the town.
“Our typical luxury homes are priced from $1 million and higher and sit on one-half acre to more than an acre,” Ms. Adams said. “These homes typically have a swimming pool, outdoor entertaining space with a fireplace and an indoor fireplace for winter.”
For example, Ms. Adams is selling a 1-acre property with a 6,825-square-foot home for $1.675 million. The property has five bedrooms, five bathrooms and overlooks the Purgatory Creek nature preserve for a quintessential Hill Country view.