The Complete Guide To Austin's Famous Rainey Street

Texas is home to many fun and affordable cities that are bursting with diverse cultures and creativity, Austin certainly being one. Austin's Rainey Street is just one of the many neighborhoods that are worth a visit if you find yourself in the area, and the street provides a unique experience to travelers and locals alike. Although Rainey Street is now known for its nightlife and quirky bar scene, the strip of bungalows turned bars actually has plenty more to offer visitors with different interests, making it a perfect destination for couples or groups of people who have different travel styles.

Before heading out to one of Austin's most popular downtown spots, it's wise to know just what you're getting into. Rainey Street has its own particular vibe, being rich with both culture and activities. From the history of its famous late-night bungalow bars to more family-friendly activities, here is our complete guide to visiting and living unforgettable moments on Rainey Street.

Know the history and culture

Austin's Rainey Street wasn't always a hot spot for late-night activity and pub crawls, but it was once a close-knit community made up of blue-collar, working-class families. According to CultureMap's Austin-focused blog, after the flood of 1935, these families' homes were wiped out and people fled to other areas of Austin and were replaced by a community largely made up of Hispanic residents. The bungalow-style homes that were built during this time to accommodate incoming families are the same buildings that now house the bars and restaurants that make up Rainey Street's boozy strip.

Rainey Street has seen a lot of changes in its time, and they just keep coming. It wasn't all that long ago that the street was purely residential, with the bungalows' transformations only occurring after 2005. Texas Monthly's picture comparisons of Rainey Street's bar renovations and their previous lives of residential homes show just how recently the people living on Rainey Street moved from the area, with the throwback pictures looking like they could be found on Google Maps even today.

The popular street is in yet another transition, with the bungalow bars seemingly on their way out to make room for more development. This, combined with the last of its residential homes going on the market for $10 million, makes the future of the little street unknown. It's all the more important to experience the strip before it's gone.

Where to stay on Rainey Street

While it's pretty normal for Austin locals to Uber into Rainey Street for a night of fun and travelers do the same if staying outside of the area, Rainey Street is home to a number of options when it comes to lodgings. Surprising for a place known for its divey bar scene, the accommodations on Rainey Street are, for the most part, quite upscale. Hotel Van Zandt is a trendy luxury hotel that is perfectly placed in the heart of Rainey Street, offering the perfect location to make the most of everything the street has to offer as well as some of the hotel's own offerings, like its fourth-floor pool and music venue.

There are plenty of short-term rentals available right on Rainey Street as well, and the Natiivo home-sharing tower offers quite a bit of upscale rentals with a wide range of prices. One such Airbnb appeals to business people looking for a collaborative space and is listed for upwards of $1,000 a night. Another home-shared rental is a fraction of this price, but still booking at upscale and luxurious prices.

Staying near Rainey Street doesn't have to burn a hole in your pocket, though, as there are very affordable options. Under a 10-minute walk from Rainey Street, Downtown Austin's Native Hostel offers a great way to stay in the city at a great price while still living in style.

Where to park while visiting

Trying to find parking on Rainey Street can be nightmarish — don't spend your whole night circling the streets looking for prime parking. Street parking is free on Sundays and metered every other day at various times. Since cars are able to hold spots for up to 10 hours without moving, you've got a better chance of making it through Rainey Street without seeing a group of frat boys with drinks in their hands than finding street parking — just ask Reddit. Parking garages and lot prices aren't too bad for a high-traffic tourist area, and there are a few in the area that you can use.

70 Rainey Street Garage has a prime location for anything you'd want to get to in Rainey Street, but it is one of the most pricey parking options — short of getting towed. 703 Lambie Street offers a small free lot and the Mexican American Cultural Art Center offers free parking on Sundays as well as affordable parking on other days of the week; both parking options are a stone's throw away from Rainey Street.

However, if you're going to be bar hopping and drinking, it's best to use a ride-share app like Uber or Lyft. If you are staying in the area at one of the local hotels or rentals, Rainey Street is just a short walk to anything you'd want. so it's best to keep your car in whatever parking accommodations your lodgings have.

Traversing the street by foot

Rainey Street is incredibly walkable. From top to bottom, the neighborhood is only about half a mile long and all its best attractions are packed in close to one another. It's entirely possible to spend an entire day just exploring Rainey Street, so if you're not staying close to the strip, catching an Uber or finding parking for the length of your stay and then hoofing from stop to stop is a perfectly acceptable way to travel while visiting the busy destination.

Rainey Street has a Walk Score of 90 out of 100, making it a "Walker's Paradise," which is the highest level an area can achieve. The only thing that brings the score for the street down is the lack of schools in the area, which isn't exactly something that travelers who are interested in the area are concerned about anyway.

It's worth noting that the southern tip of the street is littered with trails that more or less follow the flow of the Colorado River and Lady Bird Lake, which spreads much further than the distance of Rainey Street. If travelers are interested in indulging in these trails, they will need to adjust their expectations about how walkable the street is with the added mileage of the trails.

Historic bungalows turned bars

Rainey Street's claim to fame is its various bungalows that have been turned into interesting and diverse bars. Although there seems to be a shift as new developments take the place of some previous mainstays, there are still plenty of bungalow bars for visitors and locals alike to enjoy.

Lucille is one popular bar that pub crawlers like the visit. The classic dive has a bar inside and one out on its expansive patio, both of which are fully functioning and offer a number of creative cocktails and local-to-Texas draft beers. Placeholder Tiki Bar has transformed a former bungalow into a colorful and tropical bar that has a number of attractive cocktails. They offer a 15% discount for patrons wearing Hawaiian shirts, so pack one if you're planning to stop in for a mai tai. Augustine is another of the street's converted bungalows and its deep green color is used to represent both the rich history of Rainey Street and its place in the modern day. There are a number of other bungalow bars that a stroll down the strip will reveal, all of which are worth a visit.

Best restaurants in the area

Drinks may be a focus of Rainey Street, but that doesn't mean food is sparse. There are plenty of great places to grab some grub, no matter what you're in the mood for. Banger's Sausage House and Beer Garden is a great option for those who want it all. Not only is it one of the street's famous bungalow bars, but it also offers over 200 beers on tap and serves up some fantastic bar food, and they're not limited to just sausage either. The German-inspired restaurant has an extensive menu of burgers and appetizers as well as items in the sausage section – they even have a menu item just for patrons' furry friends!

According to Yelp, Anthem is the number one restaurant in the area and has around four times the amount of reviews as Higher Ground, which nabbed the number two spot. Anthem is an Asian fusion bar with a pretty thorough and well-thought-out menu that offers private events as well as walk-in seating, a venue fit for most ventures.

Food trucks are also popular, and worth checking out at the food truck lot located near the middle of the strip of bars and restaurants. Tacos, sandwiches, frozen bananas, and even lobster can be found within the various stylized food trucks in the area — perfect for a group who can't decide on what they want for dinner.

Best outdoor spaces for a pick me up

Rainey Street is, of course, packed with fun bars. Bar hopping from indoor space to indoor space can get a little repetitive, so breaking it up with a nice patio or two is a great idea. When the weather is nice, a restaurant or bar that has an outdoor space can elevate the pub crawling experience immensely. Parlor Room is pretty much a necessity when outdoor entertainment is on the agenda, as the renovated bungalow not only has a spacious patio area, but they make use of a number of outdoor games in the backyard area of the bar.

While the food trucks down on the floor level of Rainey Street are certainly great options for having lunch or dinner free of four walls, we're taking it to the rooftops for the next outdoor space. For travelers who have chosen to stay close to Rainey Street in Hotel Van Zandt, they don't have to look further than their own lodging's top floor for a great venue and bar. The rooftop bar of Geraldine's not only offers a fantastic view of Rainey Street and the surrounding area, but also fantastic food, drinks, and live music performances.

Where to see live music on Rainey Street

For being just a small area of Austin, Rainey Street has a pretty big music presence. With a big bar scene and bustling nightlife scene, it makes sense that live music would be popular in this location and many bars have a small stage for performers. Geraldine's is just one of the popular spots for local musicians to showcase their talents.

Named for the iconic song, Stagger Lee is home to live music almost every night. The swanky bar focuses on its music scene and is a prime venue for dancing, as it has ample open space with various areas for socialization. Lustre Pearl is another Rainey Street favorite, so much so that the popular bar now has multiple locations. The OG Rainey Street version, though, is still a mainstay in the area and attracts crowds as a live music venue that serves up some stellar food and drinks. Both Stagger Lee and Lustre Pearl have their own resident food trucks, the former preferring BBQ and the latter providing delicious wings to patrons. Icenhauer's is another bungalow turned bar and its backyard has been turned into a type of live music venue with a small stage.

Art to see on Rainey Street

The appeal of Rainey Street doesn't stop at just food and drink destination, the street also is pretty visually appealing and has attractions of note that revolve around the arts. We've already covered the music scene, and Rainey Street certainly does appreciate the performing arts, however, it isn't just music that is being appreciated on Rainey Street. Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center works to preserve Latino art and culture and though it will be closed throughout 2023 and 2024, its work will be continued in other areas while it undergoes expansion.

The Art in Public Places program has helped ensure that Austin has murals and public art pieces scattered throughout, and Rainey Street is certainly home to some beautiful paintings on or in buildings. The bungalow bars and their renovations are an art form in and of themselves, but some of the bars, like Stagger Lee, have beautifully painted murals that add to their vibe or theme.

Activities for the whole family

Just because Rainey Street pulls in huge crowds for bar hopping throughout the day and night and has a bustling nightlife full of music and drunken antics, doesn't mean it has nothing to offer families with children. Plenty of people do choose to bring their children to breweries and social bars, but Rainey Street is also home to some pretty amazing trails. The Tejano Trails are over five miles long altogether. The walking trail is just under five miles, but adding in the Music Legends Trail just may be worth the extra distance. If walking isn't your family's thing, the trails can be traversed by bike or a number of other quicker transport options.

Whether your family made the hike on foot or not, a trip to the food trucks for dessert at Little Lucy's is a treat well-earned. It's also worth noting that Rainey Street, and Austin in general, is very dog-friendly, trails and bars alike, so there's no reason really to not include your four-legged friend on your family vacation to the area.

Get out on the water

Most travel to Rainey Street for land-loving activities like bar hopping, but there is plenty to do on the water there as well. Texas is full of jaw-dropping beaches, but Austin boasts a different kind of water access. Near the Tejano Trails on the southern tip of Rainey Street and expanding out on the Colorado River, Lady Bird Lake offers a picturesque body of water that is good for kayaking and paddle boarding. There are plenty of things to do on Lady Bird Lake, and the waterway opens Rainey Street up to other areas of Austin otherwise only seen by car — taking the water route is much more unique and picturesque!

Taking a canoe out on the water allows more than one person to get on the water in one vessel, sharing the burden of paddling and navigating the boat. Paddling toward Congress Avenue Bridge could result in prime bat watching, as the swarm of bats that live under the bridge take flight together around sunset and create a rare experience.

Rainey Street's unique shopping opportunities

If you're planning a visit to Rainey Street, chances are your budget is mostly geared toward food and alcohol. This is valid, seeing as spending a little extra money on bar hopping will allow you to see more of the unique buildings and bars in the area, but you should set aside a little extra for shopping and bringing home a souvenir of your time in Austin.

While Rainey Street isn't a huge shopping district or destination, it is home to Frida Fridays, which is a unique market worth a trip to the neighborhood all in itself. Named after iconic Mexican painter Frida Khalo, the monthly creative market is geared toward promoting women of color and BIPOC creators as well as celebrating their many cultures. Checking out the regular market on Rainey Street will not only allow you to support the community and local artisans, but you also will improve your odds of finding a unique piece of art with a story behind it to mark your time spent in the unique destination of Rainey Street.