Driving Around in Austin – How big is Austin?

Austin MapMany people don’t realize how geographically spread out the Austin Metro area is. I’m going to share with you an example of the actual drive Sylvia and I made yesterday while tending to some listings.

We live in Oak Hill (‘A’ on the map), which puts us about 12 miles from Downtown Austin. We left there to go check on a new listing in South Austin (B) and put out some flyers. From there we drove a straight shot up IH35 to a listing in Round Rock (C) to stage the property and put out some new flyers. From there we came back down IH35 to North Austin to check on the painters at a new listing (D) that’s still being worked on. From there we headed out toward Lake Travis to Steiner Ranch in NW Austin to check on a listing (E) and put out some new flyers. From there it was back to Oak Hill (A) through Lakeway.

Looking at the accompanying map showing the destinations, how long do you think this excursion took and how many miles do you think we drove? At first glance, it doesn’t look that far does it? The total drive was about 120 miles (including a small detour for lunch) and was about 3 hours of pure drive time and about 5 hours total trip time. This was on a Saturday with normal traffic and encountering no accidents.

Many people don’t know this, but the city of Austin is over 300 square miles in size. Check the light yellow shaded areas on the map. That represents our actual city limits. 300 square miles is larger than “bigger” cities such as Atlanta and Boston, in terms of square miles. Accordingly, our city government has a lot more miles of roadway, sewer lines, water lines, etc. to maintain than “larger” cities that have denser population. And we keep expanding. Including the 5-County Austin Metro Area, we are a huge city in terms of driving and getting from one destination to another.

That said, our commute time tolerance is lower in Austin than what I hear from people in California and other places with heavy congestion and longer commutes. In general, Austinites don’t like driving more than 30 minutes to and from work. People we know from the East Coast and California tell us anything under an hour is ok. Personally, I’m in the 30 minute or less crowd, but as you can see, practicing real estate in Austin can make for some long days on the road. I would never have attempted the route shown above starting at 2PM on a weekday.

Likewise, when we have buyers who are not set on which part of Austin they want to live, it’s sometimes hard to explain that we won’t be able to effectively show them the entire area in 1 day. Often, they’ll think we can see South Austin, then go check out Round Rock, then out to Leander or Cedar Park. That would be a long, long day if trying to see a lot of homes in all those areas.

Typically, South Austin alone can take 3 to 5 hours (depending on how fast or slow the buyers are at looking) if we’re going to show 10 or 12 homes, cover many different neighborhoods (some just being drive-through tours) and possibly include a trip out to Belterra and Dripping Springs. 10AM to 3PM is the best time to look, as far as driving goes, and we find that by 3PM people start getting tired anyway and it becomes hard to remember all the homes. Heading up to Round Rock at 3PM after a day in South Austin would be murder.

If you’re planning a house hunting trip to Austin, and you really want to explore all corners of our metro area to decide which areas feel best for you, you should plan on 2 or 3 days (5 hours being a “day”) of touring and driving. Weekends are best for getting around. We often recommend to our buyers that they plan an unstructured day of driving and scouting on their own as well. Finding your way around Austin with a map can help you learn the area better than simply being driven everywhere by a Realtor.

As you consider your next home in Austin and pick an area, know that our traffic, though not terrible by some standards, is going to keep getting worse. Maintaining close proximity to your most frequest destinations (work and play) should always be a top consideration unless you don’t mind spending a lot of time on the road.

7 thoughts on “Driving Around in Austin – How big is Austin?”

  1. I have lived in North and South Austin. When I moved to Austin in 1986 I lived North, when Research Blvd. & US Hwy. 183 was a divided 4 lane road. I worked downtown. After two years of that commute I moved to South Austin and I was a born again Bubba. The beauty of South Austin is that once you learn the streets, you rarely need to use MoPac or IH-35. I can leave the house at 6:45 AM and be downtown in 20-25 minutes with no stress or hassles.

    North Austin (especially in the Research/MoPac area) has a lot of great shopping. I am not big on shopping but sometimes it is required. Usually I make the trip on the weekend or week days between 7:00-9:00 PM and either make the purchase or go on-line to find a better price. Now that Southpark Meadows is open (and is currently the largest shopping development in Austin), I find I rarely go North of the River.

    Now if we can just get a Fry’s Electronic Store in South Austin life would be complete…

  2. Somehow I have a feeling if you cut off item C (Round Rock), you would save 1/3 of your time and distance. Ih-35 is something I would avoid at all cost. The other one is highway 290 off Oak Hill.

  3. > Somehow I have a feeling if you cut off item C (Round Rock), you would save 1/3 of your time and distance.

    You’re probably right, but it is where it is, and we had to go there along with the others. Same could be said about item E in Steiner. It’s a long way out there. For an agent that lives in Round Rock, Circle C is a long drive. The point is, Austin’s Metro area is very spread apart geographically and many newcomers don’t realize that until they get here. Many still think of us as a “smaller city”.

    > Now that Southpark Meadows is open (and is currently the largest shopping development in Austin), I find I rarely go North of the River.

    I have to admit, other than eating at Willie Nelson’s restaurant, I haven’t shopped at all at Southpark Meadows. I’ll have to check it out closer. I know it’s still growing.


  4. There is no way the route as you have it mapped out is 120 miles. I mapped it on Google and it is around 85 miles.

  5. Hi FM,

    Actually, I mapped it at 97+ miles with Google, but the actual drive was 117.8. There was a detour for lunch and some extra driving in Steiner previewing some homes, but 120 is an accurate round number.


  6. I have 20 years experience in the residential appraisal business and am looking to move to: 1) a metro area with the most opportunity for my profession, 2) good weather, activities, entertainment, music, etc. What is the growth rate expectation for Austin over the next 5-10 years?

  7. Randy, Austin obviously has a large growth rate and will for 5-10 years. Keep in mind that if you have established
    20 years worth of contacts that you will be starting over per networking. You also will be dealing with a completely
    different housing stock, so a learning and experiential curve can be expected. It sounds as if you are in an area with
    a slowdown in sales, which has put a damper on your appraisal business. Keep in mind that you still have an active network where you are, and that your area will pick up again soon enough, a few years at most. Also keep in mind that
    Austin is cyclical like all other areas, and may experience a slowdown here and there, though the long term curve is
    up. That being said, there obviously is opportunity in Austin per apprasals, but it will take some time and lots of effort
    to build up a referral base. If you have enough cash to ride out the experiential curve for a year or so, and are willing
    to really get out there and hustle, I’m sure you can make a living out in Austin. One last thing…..you said you have
    20 years experience in appraisals..that would put you at about 40+ agewise. Austin is a VERY young city, with a median
    age of around 28. It’s a very active, vibrant, youthful place, with bands everywhere and festivals every week-end.
    It is truly a blast. I’m 45 and live in Austin, and, much as I love it, I feel VERY old here. Truthfully, it doesn’t bother
    me that much, but I do have problems finding available women to date that are 30+. If you have a family, that point
    is moot, but if you are single, it will be a challenge. I would suggest that you come out here for a few weeks and get a good feel for the place. If you don’t mind being one of the older people in the crowd(i honestly don’t very much mind),
    you might not feel comfortable here. I really love Austin, and though obviously I wish I came out here when I was younger, what can I do? Finally, Austin makes you feel young again just being around such a vibrant and fun city.
    Better to be old in a young place, than young in an old place………I’d say give it a shot Randy. Why not?
    You only live once!

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