Austin: So much to do and so little time—especially during SXSW. But while there are a ton of awesome panels and programs (oh hey, including ours) to attend and, obviously, plenty of parties to keep you busy, it would be criminal to come all the way to ATX and miss out on the unique, non-SXSW aspects of the city that define it during the other 51 weeks of the year.
Thankfully, we’re here to help, and to ensure you properly take advantage of your time in Austin—and make the most of the little free time you’ll have between program-hopping, reporting and/or partying—we’ve compiled a list of must-do activities and must-see attractions.
(We left live music off the list, because, well, we don’t think you’ll have any shortage of that.)
Sick of staring at a screen? Take a break from Tweeting and trade networking for nature with Austin’s trails, parks and watering holes. (Because welcome to Texas—where, yes, it’s probably hot enough to swim already.) Zilker Park is minutes away from downtown and offers 351 lush acres on which to lounge, while Barton Springs Pool serves as a beautiful, albeit freezing, place to take a dip. Mere minutes from downtown is Town Lake, which is encircled by a 10-mile hike and bike trail and can be experienced via stand up paddleboard, kayak or canoe, all of which are easily available for rental from multiple establishments. If you’re in the market for a spectacular sunset or sunrise, Mount Bonnell provides an awesome view, and if, say, skinny dipping is up your alley—hey!—we’ve got you (un)covered via clothes-optional watering hole Hippie Hollow.
But wait—there’s more! Barton Creek Greenbelt serves as an oasis in the middle of the city and boasts 809 scenic acres (equipped with some pretty sweet waterfalls) that are ideal for hiking, biking and rock climbing.
We’re just going to assume you had harnesses and helmets on your SXSW packing list.
SCOPE OUT SOME ART
While Austin may be predominantly known for music, the visual arts scene is also impressive, and there are plenty of museums in the city worth visiting. The Blanton is located on the University of Texas campus and currently has a very cool ‘90s-focused show on display, while the Mexic-Arte Museum is dedicated to celebrating traditional and contemporary Mexican, Latino, and Latin American art and culture (and is located, conveniently, right down the street from the Chaotic Moon office). The Umlauf Sculpture Garden features statues and greenery, and The Contemporary Austin offers an array of interesting exhibitions.
There are also plenty of galleries boasting impressive art that’s actually for sale—you know, if you’re in the market for a SX souvenir that isn’t just a bundle of business cards you’ll likely never look at again.
VISIT LEGENDARY SPOTS
If you want to get your tourist on—it’s okay we won’t tell—there are some pretty sweet and legendary spots around Austin that you should stop by, if only for the Instagram opp.
In terms of iconic signage, see Daniel Johnston’s famous mural near campus, which features a bug-eyed frog and words “hi, how are you,” or snap a pic in front of the famous “i love you so much” graffiti on the side of Jo’s Coffee Shop on South Congress. And if you want a whole park full of art (or are just looking for a particularly awesome photoshoot location), the HOPE Outdoor Gallery definitely deserves a slot on your schedule.
As for other interesting pitstops, the The Cathedral of Junk is an impressive (and admittedly bizarre) architectural feat, and the State Capitol features impressive grounds that serve as the perfect place to picnic, no matter your political views. If you’re looking to combine refreshment and sightseeing, Hole in the Wall is a legendary spot to grab a beer while The Little Longhorn Saloon is an Austin institution with a fittingly strange Sunday tradition known as Chicken Sh*t Bingo.
In case you haven’t noticed, we take the “keep Austin weird” thing pretty seriously.
EAT TACOS AND BARBECUE…FOR EVERY MEAL, OBVIOUSLY
For breakfast, for brunch. For dinner, for lunch….
Apologies for the Dr. Seuss-esque words of wisdom, but if there was an official Austin food pyramid, these two items would be at the top, so plan your meals accordingly.
For a variety of tasty taco options, check out Taco Deli, Torchy’s, Taco Shack, Taco Joint and The Vegan Nom. (Keep in mind we said and, not or.) As for barbecue, if you’ve got hours…literally hours…to kill in the morning, head to Austin’s famed Franklin Barbecue, where the line starts at the crack of dawn and not even Kanye is allowed to cut. Other options include Salt Lick (which is impressive, but a bit of a pilgrimage); Cooper’s on Congress in the heart of downtown; La Barbecue on East Cesar Chavez; and…because this is Austin…vegan options via BBQ Revolution. After all, what’s SX without soy curls? (Don’t answer that.)
+ HOW TO GET AROUND
In terms of events, what’s just as important as the where and the when is the how in the hell you’re going to get there. Fortunately, there are a plethora of options available to help you navigate the city, and—if you missed the informative email from SXSW—we’ve got some choices listed for you here.
The SXSW shuttle, for example, is FREE and runs between the Austin Convention Center and various venues every 7-10 minutes. Alternately, you can go green (and burn off at least some of that free food) by renting a bike from Austin B-cycle, or let someone else pedal you around on a Pedicab. For public transportation (and prime people watching) Capital Metro has you covered with extended routes and hours during the fest, and for your eventual departure, there’s even a shuttle that runs to the airport. (Download the app for schedules and up-to-the-minute info.)
Plus, of course, there’s always Uber and Lyft (new riders can get $20 off their ride with the latter service using the promo code SXSW2016). Just beware of surge pricing—that three-block commute to your hotel probbbbbably isn’t worth fifty bucks.