An Insider's Guide to Austin, Texas
Heading to Austin for this year's South by Southwest Festival? Be sure to check out these must-visit spots to stay, play and eat.
There are few events that can bring Bruce Springsteen, The Alabama Shakes and Jay Z to Central Texas, but that's exactly what happened at last year's South by Southwest Festival held in Austin. This year's festival promises to be even bigger than the last, with 109 films set to screen, music performances on over 100 stages and five days of presentations from the best and brightest in innovative technology.
Created in 1987 as a local music festival, SXSW has expanded to become a convergence of three festivals: SXSW Music (which celebrates original music), SXSW Film (which focuses on new directing talent and independent films), and SXSW Interactive (which has earned a reputation as a launching pad for new and creative technologies). From March 8 – 17, the population of Austin will grow by over 30,000 as music, film, and tech enthusiasts descend upon the capital city.
Will you be part of the crowd this year? Here's our guide to the best restaurants, bars and hotels to visit in the "Live Music Capital of the World."
Simply put, Austin is a food town. Most people don't realize that Austin's unofficial motto, “Keep Austin Weird” is a call to support local businesses, and it definitely applies to the dining scene. The recently opened Sway serves up modern Australian-style Thai cuisine from the restaurateurs behind Austin's other local favorite, La Condesa. Diners can enjoy a la carte menus including crispy whole market fish or stir-fried mussels with crawfish, bacon and garlic, or simply make reservations for the “Moo Sway," a 10-person family-style feast.
A trip to Texas wouldn't be complete without bar-b-q, so skip the line at Franklin and try Stubb's, where you might even catch a live concert (we love the brisket!). Local food connoisseur and “Top Chef” winner Paul Qui is curating a selection of gourmet food trucks called SouthBites for SXSW attendees this year. Located on the corner of Rainey and Driskell streets near all of the largest venues, SouthBites will be the perfect stop between events for thousands of festivalgoers.
Where to stay
No hotel captures the indie spirit of Austin better than the W Austin Hotel, a luxury property located in the Second Street District. The Living Room lobby area has four distinctly designed sections, one of which includes The Records Room featuring over 8,000 vinyl records from a variety of artists and genres. If the stress of attending so many events starts to get to you, relax at AWAY spa, raise some endorphins at the SWEAT fitness center or take a dip at the WET pool deck.
Hampton Inn & Suites also has a brand-new property located in the center of Austin that features a 10-foot rotating guitar in the lobby, a rooftop pool with breathtaking views, and amenities including free hot breakfast and high-speed internet access. Rather not stay at a chain? Try your luck at reserving one of the seven rooms at Austin's newest boutique hotel, the Heywood Hotel. Each room is custom designed, allowing guests to select a room that fits their style and budget. Bikes are free, too!
Experience Austin like a local
There's no shortage of activities during SXSW, but for a real taste of Austin, it may be worth escaping the festival's main areas. SoCo (or South Congress Avenue) offers a great mix of vintage shops and trendy boutiques. To make the most out of Austin's mild spring weather, rent a stand-up paddleboard or kayak at Lady Bird Lake.
When night falls, try an absinthe cocktail at Austin's only pre-Prohibition-style speakeasy, Péché. Although avoiding the tourist area of Sixth Street will be difficult, a great alternative is the Rainey Street neighborhood, where old bungalows have been turned into bars and cocktail lounges. Try the saloon-inspired Clive Bar or check out Lustre Pearl, which will feature a Dickies-sponsored music showcase during SXSW.