Living In Texas: Comparing Houston vs Dallas vs Austin vs San Antonio

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If you’re thinking about moving to Texas from out-of-state — or you’re a Texas local who wants to buy a house there — you’ll find no shortage of places to look for a new home. Before you pull the trigger, however, you may want to do a quick comparison with other big cities in the Lone Star State. From Dallas to Houston and San Antonio to Austin, the people and perks of each city are as unique as Texas is wide. 

When comparing Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, which is the best place to live in Texas? Each of these cities has their pros and cons, and a side-by-side evaluation can be helpful when considering where to buy a home or otherwise settle down. 

Life in Dallas: The Big D

Nestled in the heart of North Texas, Dallas is a bright star among cities in the Lone Star State. You’ll enjoy neighborhoods with a focus on family, an abundance of churches, museums, kid-friendly parks and eateries, and plenty of luxury shopping opportunities. The list of best places to live in Dallas is a long one.

What makes life in the Big D so grand? Dallas offers both culture and commerce. Home to 7.5 million residents, Dallas dwellers enjoy the perks of a thriving metroplex with robust employment and education opportunities. Dallas has more than three dozen institutions of higher learning, and is home to 24 companies in the Fortune 500

Dallas has also evolved into a major high-tech hub, attracting IT and telecommunications firms from both coasts, thanks to favorable tax incentives and lower building costs — all factors which make Texas an ideal location for those on the move. 

In terms of the real estate market, despite its popularity and skyrocketing growth, Dallas is still an accessible market and the median home price is $335,000 for single-family homes, townhomes, and condos, according to Dallas housing data as of May 2021. While some cities in Texas are seeing incredible bidding wars and their available housing stock snapped up overnight, the average number of days on market for homes in Dallas is just under 30, which means buyers won’t have to bid on homes sight unseen to stand a chance at landing a deal. 

Life in Houston: The Space City

Home to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Houston is a melting pot of cultures with a thriving international community. More than 90 languages are spoken in the Houston area and residents enjoy a diversity of entertainment opportunities from the thriving arts district, local theater groups, coastal beaches, and access to haute cuisine with seafood fresh from the Gulf of Mexico. 

What makes home buyers flock to Houston? Houston lays claim as the energy capital of the U.S. and is the world’s fourth-largest port city, attracting transplants from all over the world. Home to Anadarko Petroleum, employment opportunities in Houston center heavily around the oil and gas industries, which also makes the Houston real estate market resilient and robust. 

In terms of schools, Houston’s prestigious Rice University and the University of Houston are world renowned. Houston also hosts an active community of home-schoolers who appreciate the multitude of museums and science attractions. 

The Houston real estate market is booming and buyers will need to bring their best game to play this Bayou City. The median price of a home in Houston increased to about $295,000 by May 2021—about 21% more than the same period the year before. That said, this resilient market is still an investor’s dream, and home buyers are making good use of historically low interest rates to get the biggest bang for their budget. 

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Life In Austin: The Capital City

Austin is consistently ranked as one of the best cities in the U.S. to buy a home. and has previously been voted the top place to live in America based on affordability, employment opportunities and quality of life by the US News and World Report. Home buyers want to love where they live and access to entertainment, nature, and opportunities to spend time with those you love makes Austin a premier destination for those on the house hunt. 

When it comes to the hipness factor, Austin is hard to beat. Known for its vibrant music scene, Austin has earned the unofficial title “The Live Music Capital of the World,” and the downtown area is a hot spot for artists, young professionals and students. The University of Texas at Austin is one of the largest schools in the nation, ranked among the top 50 national universities by U.S. News & World Report, and nearby St. Edward's University is in the top-10 regionally.

A favorite for California transplants, Austin is known as a health- and fitness- focused city. Housing, food, transportation and healthcare are a fraction of the cost compared to the West Coast. The median price of a home in Austin is $460,000 as of May 2021, and the real estate market is one of the hottest in the nation. The perks are definitely worth the price in Austin with its positive job and population growth, cultural diversity, and natural beauty.

Life in San Antonio: The River City

You’ll never forget the Alamo with a city as sweet as San Antonio. With its vibrant history, culture, and incredible entertainment and shopping along the River Walk, San Antonio is one of the best places to live in Texas. 

San Antonians consider their town one of the state’s best-kept secrets, but this Texas city is quickly making a name in the housing market as a top place to live, play, and raise a family. With its abundance of museums, markets and historical landmarks and wildlife, San Antonio offers an ideal small town feel with all the perks of big city living. 

San Antonio is home to 300,000 active military personnel and Fort Sam Houston, Randolph Brooks and Lackland Air Force Bases, and is considered one of best places for veterans to live. San Antonio is also host to the world’s largest Mexican-free tailed bat colony at the Bracken Cave Reserve. 

House hunters will find a varied inventory of housing from urban apartments for the city dwellers to family homes in quiet neighborhoods for those seeking shelter in the suburbs. The median price for a home in San Antonio is $271,000 with an average price of $145 per square foot. 

Comparing cities: Which Texas city is best?

Still not sure which of Texas’ four biggest cities might be best for you? Let’s do side-by-side comparisons of Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio: 

Austin vs. Dallas

With a fusion of cultures, Austin is an iconic destination for foodies seeking delicious regional fare, from classic barbecue to street tacos and new American cuisine. Dallas has its culinary side too, and farm-to-table restaurants, pop-up food trucks and celebrity chef restaurants are peppered throughout the DFW metroplex.  

Austin explorers need not travel far and enjoy hiking the hill country, exploring local caves and caverns and enjoying the Lady Bird hike and bike trail. Dallas residents enjoy slow strolls along the Katy Trail, kayaking at White Rock Lake and exploring the seasonal installations at the Dallas Arboretum. 

Austin top picks: Kimchi Fries at Chi’Lantro, Innerspace Cavern Tour, sunset picnic at Mount Bonnell. 

Dallas top picks: Pecan Lodge BBQ, shopping at the Galleria and drinks at Jaxon Beer Garden

Houston vs. Dallas

Houston residents enjoy touring the Houston Museum District and the city’s popular Theater District, which has the second-highest seating in the country behind New York City. The proximity of Space City to the Gulf Coast also means that weekend trips to the beach are a frequent treat. On the flip side, however, the weather in the southern part of the state is far more humid, and homes are vulnerable to tropical storms and hurricanes, so selecting a reputable home insurance company is critical to those settling in this seaside city.

Dallas offers a more moderate climate conducive to indoor-outdoor living, and equally abundant choices for those who enjoy good food, family fun, and the fine arts. Dallas is home to the world-famous State Fair of Texas, which features yearly culinary wonders like fried ice cream and Fletcher’s Corny Dogs and award-winning restaurants like the Commons Club (owned by billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson).  

Houston top picks: Dinner at Brenner’s on the Bayou, touring the Space Center Houston, watching an Astros ball game at Minute Maid Park.

Dallas top picks: Pecan Lodge BBQ, shopping at the Galleria and drinks at Jaxon Beer Garden.

Austin vs. Houston

Both Austin and Houston are popular cities among those with eclectic culinary tastes. The capital city is home to eateries like Bombay Dhaba, Tito Adobo Filipino-American food truck, Old Thousand dim sum restaurant, and Contigo, which is known for its ranch-to-table menu.  Houston, meanwhile, boasts everything from homestyle Vietnamese cooking at Huynh, to funky fusions, like the blend of Korean and Mexican flavors at Oh My Gogi, and exceptional seafood straight from the Gulf.  

Food isn’t the only favorite among Austinies and Houstonians: Both cities tout an impressive nightlife scene and novelty bar concepts. Old school style drinks and retro video games are served all night at Austin’s Barcade while Houston offers out of this world dancing at the Space Houston Nightclub, where light shows and celebrity DJs create a stellar ambiance. 

Austin top picks: Savoring Kimchi Fries at Chi’Lantro, visiting the local art scene at Hope Outdoor Gallery and enjoying drinks at Barcade. 

Houston top picks: Indulging in dinner with rock shrimp tempura at Nobu, attending the Houston Symphony, and dancing the night away at the Space Houston Nightclub.

San Antonio vs. Austin 

The rich history and entertainment along the iconic River Walk makes San Antonio an ideal location for young professionals and families alike. Locals enjoy lazy weekend brunches,  riverboat rides and strolling the 35 acre San Antonio Zoo. 

Home to the state Capital, Austin offers a variety of entertainment for the young and the young at heart. Austin  has no shortage of venues from upscale dining to honky tonk bars, epicurean restaurants,  and outdoor activities from sailing on Lake Travis, biking along the windy hill country roads and floating the San Marcos river.

San Antonio top picks: Having margaritas at Rosario’s, touring the Alamo, unwinding amidst 300 acres of wildflowers at the Windflower Spa.

Austin top picks: Taking a dip at Barton Springs, playing a round with the family at Peter Pan Mini Golf,  savoring unusual sweet treats at Lick Honest Ice Creams. 

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How to decide where to buy a home in Texas

Texas is a top contender in the nation for those on the house hunt and each of the cities on this list offers a wide array of attractions, natural wonders, and entertainment opportunities. 

When facing a decision with so many desirable cities to choose from, where to buy may depend on your family’s current and growing needs. Consider your family’s interests and the pace you hope to set for your “rule of life,” like your desired commute time, proximity to work or local attractions, lower and higher education needs. With so many premier places to live in Texas, you can find a home that meets your wants, your needs, and your budget. 

Still not sure? Browse Orchard’s listings in each of these markets, and/or take our Home Match quiz to see whether homes in those areas have what you’re looking for. 

Writer Vanessa Bailey contributed to this post. 

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