Texas : Safety by City
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Austin, Texas, is weird, wild, and wonderful.
The latter of those three comes from U.S News & World Report, which ranked it as the Lucky #13 Best Place to Live.
Known for two decades by the slogan Keep Austin Weird, the phrase was displayed on t-shirts, hats, and bumper stickers across the globe.
This isn’t your typical stuffy and politically reserved capital city.
If there was a place in America for the “Cool Kids,” Austin would be a top contender.
The mix of college life, nightlife, entrepreneurial lifestyles, and good old Texas charm make it a great place to visit.
I’ve been to Austin twice in my life, and I never thought I’d spend hours just to see bats fly from under a bridge, but it’s one of the top calling cards here.
The other is the live music that streams from South Congress Avenue and beckons you for a closer listen.
The phrase The Live Music Capital of the World is even trademarked when referencing Austin.
This is also home to the uber-popular South by Southwest (SWSX), a film and media festival, which is more commonly called South By.
Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy exploring the Texas Hill Country and Lake Travis, taking a break from the city scene in exchange for some fishing, boating, or hiking.
Warnings & Dangers in Austin
OVERALL RISK: MEDIUM
If you ask the Lieutenant Governor of Texas, he says the city is a "disaster" and "one of the most dangerous in America." There is very little to back up his statement. It's one of those cities teetering between low and medium risk, mostly because of crime rates that are *this close to being average but still tipping in the wrong direction. However, due to the influx of crime in the past two years, we're going with medium risk.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
CapMetro is the bus system and rail line service in Austin. Uber, Lyft, and a variety of cab companies are available, and plenty of rental cars are available at the airport. There's a low risk. Be warned - whether you blame it on the drivers or the traffic or both, Austin's traffic is congested and aggressive. It could have something to do with the city growing by 20% in the past decade and not having enough infrastructure to keep up.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: MEDIUM
There were nearly 350 pickpockets and purse snatchings reported in 2020. Just seven of those were actual purse snatching, so pickpockets are pretty slick around here. This is a city with around a million people, so by comparison, the numbers aren't that bad. You do have to use standard safety practices to avoid being a petty theft victim. Don't let down your guard even if you're drinking and dancing the night away.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
Don't laugh when I say there could be a hurricane impact in Austin. While the coast takes the direct brunt, the tropical system moves inland and dumps tons of rain, and can spawn tornadoes. Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are possible throughout the year, as is flooding. Winter storms are rare, but there was one in 2021 that dumped half a foot of snow in Austin. There's a medium risk because of all the possibilities.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
25% of the robberies in 2020 happened in public places, and the robbery rate is 40% higher than the national average. There's a low risk, but a possibility, it might happen to a tourist. While Austin is a nightlife town, use extra caution when you're visiting South Congress Avenue. There is a lot going on, and people lose their inhibitions in this fun town. Stay in groups and don't cut through alleys or dimly lit neighborhoods.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
Being the state capital of such a large state as Texas, there's an elevated potential risk. Overall, there are larger Texas targets for a terror group to seek out.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
Throughout the year, the typical utility and police scams happen. The biggest threat is when big events like South By are happening. In 2021, there was a trend of fake QR Codes being placed around town. People scanned the code to buy tickets, not knowing they were going through a fraudulent vendor who took their money.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: MEDIUM
Sexual assault rates are 20% higher here than the national average, and it's a town of young people looking to have fun. That can lead to danger. There's a medium risk because of all the possibilities a woman faces, from drunk people hitting on her to the dangers of walking around at night. I can honestly say I've walked around South Congress alone, as a younger woman, after having a few drinks, and I didn't feel like I was in danger - but it wasn't comfortable for me at all. There is a bit of sensory distortion with so much going on, and you'll see some shady, erratic, and drunk people. Only taking drinks from bartenders and keeping your glass covered when you're not taking a drink.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
The 2021 Water Quality Report shows no violation and full compliance with state and federal standards. During the late winter storm, water pressure dropped, so the city issued a boil water order. This was out of an abundance of caution, and no violations happened during that time.
Safest Places to Visit in Austin
The Colorado River and Lake Austin are within the city limits.
There are plenty of boat rentals, and you can choose from a traditional boat for relaxing or a party boat to amp up the energy.
There’s a riverboat for rent and kayaks available to enjoy a day on the water.
Austin’s Duck Adventures takes people on a bus that transition to a boat, so it’s a great way to see a lot of the city in just 75 minutes.
LGBTQ+ lifestyle reigns in the Downtown Warehouse District.
Bars and nightclubs range from tropical-themed to Latino music pumping to laid back to elegant.
The Neon Grotto has amazing rooftop views of the city.
For county guys and gals, get your line dancing boots ready for the Broken Spoke.
It’s a Texas dance hall so authentic, you’ll be expecting Bud and Sissy from Urban Cowboy to walk through the door.
Live music can be found in any neighborhood, and there are nearly 200 options, so you should review AustinTexas.org to find the one that suits you best.
I can’t even begin to tackle all the options here!
The website also goes through all the distinct entertainment districts in town.
The Texas Capital is truly a tour-worthy place, starting with its stunning exterior that is sort of a salmon and pink color.
Be sure to enter from Congress Avenue to take “The Great Walk” and see some of the statues and memorials on the way inside.
Now we’re at the point where I tell you to reserve a seat to see bats fly.
The Congress Avenue Bridge has the largest urban bat colony you can find in America.
From spring through fall, people reserve a seat on the bridge, grass, or water hours in advance to see 1.5 million bats take off into the sky.
Grab a copy of the Austin Film Tourism Guide, and you can do a self-guided tour of movie locations throughout the Austin area.
You’ll be surprised how many moviemakers live here and keep creating films with the city as a backdrop.
Austin is one of many cities in Hill Country, so get outta town and do some exploring of the other unique towns here.
(Trust me, after a few nights of the Austin bar scene, you’ll want a break.)
Take note, if you’re trying to put Green, Texas in your GPS but can’t find it – the city is spelled Gruene.
Places to Avoid in Austin
It’s a good idea to stay east of I-35 to avoid the more dangerous parts of the city.
The Rundberg area is so risky that the city has an initiative called Restore Rundberg to help support and revitalize the neighborhood.
One of the best parts and biggest challenges of Austin can be the eclectic mix of people.
The average tourist might not know the difference between a group of people getting loud and having fun or a group of people doing drugs and ready to go break into cars.
There are a lot of homeless people either passed out or being pushy about you giving them money.
As I walked back to my hotel, a man kept pace with me, demanding that I set the aliens free (????).
So yeah, electric and a bit odd, but so much fun mixed in with the concerning moments.
You might inadvertently avoid places you didn’t want to in Austin as it’s a city brimming with speakeasies.
For example, there isn’t a floppy disk repair shop.
It’s really a bar with a secret code that even the prettiest smile or biggest muscles won’t get you into.
You have to ask around to find out the unique ways to get access to speakeasies.
I’m not telling you the secrets I know.
What happens in the speakeasy stays in the speakeasy.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Austin
- You still dial 911 for emergencies in Austin, but there’s a 311 number for non-emergencies or any concerns you have 24/7.
- Download the Austin Police Department app. You’ll thank me for this tip. You can read alerts, submit a crime tip, chat with an officer, search crime maps, or link to the police department’s social media accounts.
- Look for rainbow-colored police badge signs at various locations. This is a safe place for people being harassed or targeted by hate crime criminals.
- Austin Police also provides an easy-to-use interactive crime map. The map allows you to choose an address, zip code, or draw a boundary, and you’ll get a list of the crimes in that area with a map showing locations and details of each crime.
- Do not text and drive (or bicycle) while distracted. There’s a fine of up to $500 if you get caught. The only exception is if you are calling 911 or 311.
- Texas has an open carry law that allows people to carry a handgun in a holster even without a permit. Don’t be jarred if you see many people with guns. Amusement parks, government buildings, bars/nightclubs, and any business with a “No Guns Allowed” sign don’t allow people with guns inside. The guns can legally be carried anywhere in public outdoor areas.
- An opioid epidemic is sweeping the national, and many of these drugs come from Mexico. Add in a college town with an eclectic mix of people, and there are drugs on the streets of Austin. With the Fentanyl overdose rate increasing at an alarming rate, people must help stop the drug problem as much as possible or not be afraid to report drug activity to the police. The Narcotics Hotline is (512)974-8609.
- Austin Travis County Sexual Assault Response and Resource Team encourage anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault to speak up. There are reassuring FAQs on the police department’s website that clear up a few potentially confusing points. Yes, sexual assault can happen between people of the same gender or gender-fluid individuals. You should have a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) within five days of the assault, but you do NOT have to file charges (though you are encouraged to do so). It doesn’t matter if you were drunk, on drugs, dressed provocatively, previously intimate with the person, engaged in a certain level of intimacy, etc. There is NO reason someone should force you to do something you don’t do.
- If you suspect or have information about gang activity, call the Gang Hotline at 512-974-8610. While many of the violent crimes in Austin are gang-on-gang incidents, those groups also lead the drug trade and have a cavalier attitude about the safety of innocent bystanders around them.
- True story – I was in Austin walking around, and I pushed the button to get a green light to cross the street. I thought I was alone. Suddenly a voice boomed from behind me, and I can only say my reaction was a combination of Kung Fu and Zumba. I even managed to slap myself in the face with my own purse. I tell you this, so you don’t face the same reaction I did – the city’s main intersections have a voice in addition to the pedestrian signals. The voice will say something like, “The walk sign is on across XX Road. Proceed through the crosswalk.”
So... How Safe Is Austin Really?
2021 was the city’s most deadly year on the street, with a record number of homicides.
89 people were killed.
One of the homicides started as a robbery but ended with the victim being shot.
He later died.
Another robbery victim was attacked while pumping gas at a well-lit gas station.
In a 2022 attack, a man was found dead at Auditorium Shores at Town Lake Park after being pummelled with large rocks.
A jogger found the body.
You just can’t fight back against the violent criminal in Austin, I don’t care where you are from, and it’s not worth risking your life.
Robbers and violent criminals here generally travel in groups.
73% of the violent crimes that happened in 2020 were against strangers.
That’s an unusually high number and more of a reason to use a lot of caution while enjoying Austin.
Just 37% of violent crimes happened in homes.
48% of thefts were related to car break-ins, so don’t leave a car unlocked or with the windows rolled down.
Not even a crack in the window is safe because thieves can easily push it down.
Don’t leave anything in plain sight, and never leave a vehicle running while you are away from it.
Even just a few seconds is enough time to be one of the 4,000 people who were motor vehicle theft victims in 2020.
The police chief admits the homicide rate will likely increase.
Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon told CBS Austin, “Homicides sometimes are so spontaneous there really isn’t a good way to prevent those.
What we try to do is look for the trends and patterns — if we’re seeing gang activity or more that are happening that are family violence related.
We have not seen those patterns strongly emerging to where we’d be sounding the alarm on it.”
While Austin is far from the most dangerous city in America, it’s still a city of around a million people, not just some fun college town.
You have to keep situational awareness at all times and do every smart safety step to enjoy your time here.
How Does Austin Compare?
|New York City||67|
|Buenos Aires (Argentina)||60|
You'll need a U.S. Visa to get through Customs at the airport or when you cross the border. You can travel throughout Texas without showing your visa, but you'll need it for the return trip.
Use credit cards or pre-payment options for tickets as much as possible. For cash, you can only use the U.S. Dollar. There are some restaurants that are cash only, so you might want to hide a small amount of cash in an inside pocket.
The weather is mostly mild throughout the year but can get hot and humid in the summer. Bring various layers and sleeve/pant lengths so you can adapt to the different weather throughout the day. It's rare you'll need a thick winter coat, but double check the forecast in winter. Both times I visited here were in early spring, and the weather was just perfect day and night.
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is on the southeast side of the city and 15 minutes from downtown. San Antonio's International Airport is an hour south of Austin.
You definitely want to consider travel insurance here for all the adventures that could lead to accidents. It's better to be safe than end up with a large hospital bill. Make sure you know how much accident insurance you have on the rental car too.
Austin Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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Texas - Safety by City