Sibling cities, San Antonio and Austin, while only about an hour apart physically, are lightyears apart in personality. Truly, you couldn’t find two more divergent cities that also happen to be close together if you tried. And, as it is with most siblings who live in the same household but are polar opposites, rivalries abound. San Antonio and Austin have long bickered over which city is better – better to visit, better to live, or just better in general. Today, we settle the debate for good. Read on for 7 reasons why San Antonio is better than Austin from a completely unbiased, 20-year-long resident of San Antonio who loves her city and KNOWS it’s better than Austin.
A Quick History Of The San Antonio/Austin Taco Debate
It has always felt like San Antonio has had a bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to Austin. Austin’s reputation for being hip/cool/alternative/weird has always left us SA residents feeling a bit like we have to justify our own city (“yeah but, we have the Riverwalk and the Alamo!”). But all that changed in the blink of an eye back in 2016 when the great breakfast taco debates between the two cities erupted into an all-out war.
In February 2016, Eater Austin published an article entitled How Austin Became the Home of the Crucial Breakfast Taco and the reaction in San Antonio was swift and vicious. SA residents had long put up with Austin’s crap status as the front-runner for coolness, but they weren’t about to tolerate Austin taking the credit for something that was so puro San Antonio. So, they fought back. And HARD.
In the end, the debate was decidedly settled in San Antonio’s favor by a little actual historical research that Eater Austin neglected to complete. But the victory for SA went far beyond its established ownership of the “crucial breakfast taco.” San Antonians began defending not just the taco, but everything about their city, and Alamo pride swelled to new heights. With SA no longer content to sit in Austin’s shadow, San Antonio’s newfound self-confidence translated into a whole host of new developments, with SA residents pleased and proud to be from here, fully convinced that San Antonio is indeed the better city.
And I am inclined to agree with the sentiment. Austin who?
Does San Antonio or Austin Have Better Food?
Breakfast tacos aside, no article on which city is better is complete without addressing the food. The food of each city is something that residents are zealously protective of. And rightly so. Both cities are heavy hitters when it comes to cuisine, Austin having recently been named to the top 10 best cities in the country for food by Food and Wine magazine and San Antonio, one of only two US cities to be named a UNESCO creative city of gastronomy.
While Austin definitely had a leg up on SA for many years when it came to food, San Antonio no longer lags behind. With a number of world-class restaurants, James Beard Award finalist chefs, and extensive variety in cuisine, San Antonio is on the cutting edge of food these days, right next to Austin. Whether you are in the market for some quality barbecue, Tex-Mex, or international cuisine, either city will suffice.
I guess we can call this one a draw.
7 Reasons Why San Antonio Is Better Than Austin
1. Cost of Living
Austin is expensive. Stupid expensive. Even Austin knows this about itself. According to RentCafe, the average cost of living in Austin is 9% higher than the Texas state average and 1% higher than the national average. San Antonio’s cost of living, on the other hand, is commensurate with the state average and a whopping 8% BELOW the national average. Everything from real estate and utilities to groceries is considerably cheaper in SA.
While San Antonio has not been immune to the inflation plaguing the whole country, it remains a very affordable place to live, especially when compared to Austin.
Austin tends to be less diverse than San Antonio. According to the Austin Relocation Guide, Austin is approximately 49% white, 34% Hispanic, 8% African American, and 7% Asian. Conversely, San Antonio is, according to Data USA, 65% Hispanic, 24% white, 6% African American, and 3% Asian. It is no surprise then, that San Antonio is home to a number of thriving cultures and cultural experiences.
Additionally, San Antonio’s vast military presence serves to bolster the city’s diversity. Nicknamed “Military City, USA,” San Antonio’s military presence dates back more than 300 years, and today, San Antonio is home to four large military bases, 80,000 active-duty service members, and 159,000 veterans.
Photo Credit: Betsy Newman Photography
Along with the diversity described above comes culture. San Antonio’s rich Mexican heritage influences just about every aspect of city life. Food, art, architecture, and special events all reflect this strong cultural tie, and citizens across SA have embraced the city’s unique culture.
Photo Credit: San Antonio Riverwalk
No offense on this one, Austin, but San Antonio runs circles around you in this arena.
The city of Austin, TX was founded in 1839, 121 years after San Antonio had been established. San Antonio’s deep history is reflected in the historical missions (see our complete guide to the San Antonio Historical Missions, for more information) that run along the river through the southern part of the city.
San Antonio celebrated its tricentennial anniversary in May 2018 – only 116 more years to go till you have yours, Austin!
5. Traffic, Congestion, and Crowding
All you gotta do is Google, “Is Austin crowded?” and result after result will be a resounding YES.
Let’s do a little math here. The city (proper) of Austin lies over approximately 272 square miles while the population of the entire metro area is around 2.3 million.
The San Antonio area covers almost twice that of Austin’s at 505 square miles and has a metropolitan population of around 2.6 million.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that Austin crams a whole lot of people (only slightly less than San Antonio’s population) into a space nearly half the size of San Antonio’s land area. The result – traffic and congestion.
I can’t remember ever having driven through Austin, at any time of the day, on any day of the week, without encountering some kind of traffic. The city simply wasn’t designed for the kinds of growth it has experienced over the last 20-30 years and it is limited in how it can grow to accommodate all the people. As such, commutes are long and painful (according to the GPS maker TomTom, travel during peak hours in Austin takes 57% longer than it does in normal free-flowing traffic).
Like all cities, San Antonio certainly does experience traffic, especially during peak times like rush hour or when construction is occurring - and yes, it does feel like there is construction at ALL. THE. TIME. But the city’s size and ability to expand has seriously cut down on the sense of congestion that so plagues Austin. For that reason alone, San Antonio never breaks into the lists of the top 20 worst congested cities in the United States (Austin, coming in hot at number 19). San Antonio is simply less crowded, a remarkable feat for the 7th largest city in the United States.
San Antonio is just plain friendly. It really is. People here are largely warm and welcoming.
But don’t take my word for it, a recent study by HomeAdvisor ranked San Antonio in the top 5 cities in the country for having the friendliest neighbors. And every few years, San Antonio manages to crack into the top 10 list of friendliest cities according to travel publication, Conde Nast Traveler.
While San Antonio is a larger city than Austin, it has a distinct small-town feel, unseen in Austin. That small-town feel translates to friendly people and lots of family-friendly activities. Visitors to San Antonio have their choice of any number of family-friendly activities to participate in and enjoy.
Photo Credit: NIOSA
7. The NBA Spurs
Clearly, Austin, you know we’ve got the goods here. The NBA Spurs are a San Antonio institution. With 5 championships under their belts and a whole host of playoff appearances, the San Antonio Spurs are a commanding force in basketball. And we here in San Antonio are devoted fans. We love our Spurs.
But so do you. And if the recent record-breaking, sell-out crowd at the Moody Center where the Spurs played for the first time is any indication, you’re fans too. While it looks like we will be loaning them out to you occasionally in the future – which we are mostly okay with – don’t forget who the Spurs REALLY belong to.
The Relationship Between San Antonio and Austin Today
Today, the relationship between the two cities is generally one of tolerance and goodwill. I remember being in a cab in NYC years ago and the driver telling me that the people who live in Manhattan and the people who live in Brooklyn generally recognize the good that each other’s cities have to offer, but neither would ever want to live in the other city. The same goes for San Antonio and Austin.
The cities are just so different, which means the populations are different. Those in Austin like the Austin-y aesthetic and edgy lifestyle. Those in San Antonio prefer the more laid-back, easy-going way of life offered in the city. For me, and the other couple million who call the Alamo City home, we can respect Austin, but also firmly believe that San Antonio is the better choice.
Austin, we get it. You’ve got your live music scene and your vibe and your “keep Austin weird” thing and that’s all well and good for you. We’re even good to encourage people to go and check you out and see what Austin is all about.
But we’ve got our things too. Things that we are dang proud of. The Alamo and the San Antonio Riverwalk for sure, but also the historical missions, the theme parks, Fiesta, and the NBA Spurs. San Antonio is a totally worthwhile city. And those 7 aforementioned reasons why San Antonio is not just worthwhile, but better than Austin, prove it.
Oh, and did we mention the breakfast tacos? Because they’re ours too.
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