Here we go. The roller coaster that’s SXSW rolls out this week starting with Interactive and spanning film, education, sports and the mainstay - music. The two-week whirlwind leaves virtually everyone with a sense of overwhelm. Where do you go? What do you see? And where do you recharge?
With President Obama and the First Lady just announced as this year’s Interactive and Music keynote speakers, respectively, expect this SXSW to be the most epic to date.
So how do you navigate it all? Follow some of these tips to make sure you have a kickass SXSW.
With a zillion events occurring each day, it's very easy to experience FOMO. Accept it. You’re going to miss out on a ton, but you’re also going to encounter incredible people, parties and bands that you can’t anticipate.
Plan around that one artist, panel or party that you can’t miss. And arrive EARLY. Beyond that, be open to the unexpected. You never know who you’ll meet, what event you’ll stumble upon, or what secret show you’ll be invited to.
CYO Wristband [CYO = choose your own]
Most day parties are free and open to the public (no SXSW badge or wristband required). However some of the bigger parties like Fader Fort and Hype Hotel, require specialized wristbands. If you decidedly want to be stationed at these venues throughout the week, commit to standing in line at the start of SXSW Music to pick up your wristband. It might take some time, but once you’ve got the goods you’ll be set with some go-to venues to enjoy music and maybe even a back massage to work out those SXSW kinks.
Commit. Or Don’t.
Nighttime can be trickier. All the official venues require SXSW badges and wristbands for entry. However admission is never guaranteed due to capacity (and everything always reaches capacity). If you find yourself waiting on a never-ending line, now would be the time to make some friends and hit up an unofficial party - of which there are plenty. If you do have a SXSW badge or wristband and are dead-set on attending a specific party: get there right when doors open and commit to being there for the night. Otherwise prepare for a never-ending line, and witnessing everything from the sidewalk.
Walk It Out
Austin traffic is bad as it is. Add in road closures, construction, and a massive influx of people, and downtown basically comes to a standstill. Depending on where you’re headed, walking will be your best bet for getting around downtown. Biking is a great option as well, and Austin has loads of B Cycles available for rent all around the city. Of course Lyft and Uber are great options if you do need a ride – just be sure to add on extra time for arriving at your destination.
Now that we’ve reviewed some of the basics, hopefully you are starting to have a grasp on how SXSW goes down.
Outside of the panels and exhibits held at the Convention Center, the epicenter of SXSW takes places a few blocks North of the on what the locals call “Dirty Sixth” (for self-explanatory reasons). This is where you’ll see bands spilling out of every.single.bar in sight. Despite the endless snacks and drinks handed out at these events, the time will come when you want a good sit-down meal and a break from the festival. When that moment strikes, seek out these “Dirty Sixth” hidden gems for deliverance from hunger:
Hidden Gems Near Dirty Sixth
Casino El Camino | 517 East 6th Street
Burgers, Bloody Marys, a backyard and a jukebox. What more could you ask for?
Easy Tiger | 709 E 6th St
A beer garden with a hearty selection of brews, and seriously elevated pub food.
Koriente | 621 E 7th St
Pan-Asian fare with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. You can’t go wrong with the Obake Bowl
Daruma Ramen | 612 E 6th Street
A small, unassuming noodle shop with some of the best Ramen in town.
East Side King at The Four Horsemen | 310 E 6th St
Celebrity Chef Paul Qui’s Asian-fusion food trailer concept has multiple trucks and brick and mortar locations around Austin due to demand. One of the most recent outposts is inside The Four Horseman. Some of the best eats you’ll find in the heart of Dirty Sixth.
Waller Creek Pub House | 603 Sabine Street
Only steps away from Sixth street on a quiet little alley, Waller Creek Pub House has a charming patio and hearty selection of beers and grub.
The Townsend | 718 Congress Avenue
While a bit away from dirty 6th, The Townsend has some of the best cocktails in town. It’s also across from one of the most historic venues in town – The Paramount. If you really want to indulge (while still catching some music), take a detour for the cocktails and the mouth watering small plates.
1886 Café & Bakery at The Driskill Hotel | 604 Brazos St
If you’ve had your fill of “dirty” hipsters on 6th street, head to The Driskill Hotel Café and treat yourself to a lovely lunch in this beautiful building and iconic piece of Austin history.
The Backspace | 507 San Jacinto Blvd
Flakey thin-crust pizza and small bites in an intimate, rustic setting.
BEYOND SIXTH STREET
While downtown serves as the SXSW epicenter, there’s much to explore beyond 6th street. Be sure to experience some of Austin’s weird and wonderful surrounding neighborhoods as well. While this serves as a very brief guide, here’s some recommended watering holes where you can enjoy a drink and music in a different setting:
Stay Gold | 1910 E Cesar Chavez St
Repeatedly rated one of the best bars in Austin, Stay Gold has a stacked lineup of unofficial SXSW parties all week long (including the Sound Dessert Day Party on March 17th), plus a killer cocktail menu, a delicious food trailer, and a fantastic patio.
The White Horse | 500 Comal St
For some good old-fashioned Texas honky-tonk, cheap drinks, and then some, head to East Austin outpost, The White Horse. Some of the best Americana bands in town will be playing here all SXSW long.
Hotel Vegas | 1500 E 6th St
A live music institution, Hotel Vegas has hosted some of the best rock and psychedelic bands on its stage, including secret shows performed by Spoon and White Denim. Expect endless tunes and plenty of brews.
Hotel San Jose | 1316 S Congress Ave
Hotel San Jose turns their parking lot into a huge party every SXSW. Enjoy a killer lineup and savor a Michelada on their idyllic neighboring patio.
Guero’s Garden Stage | 1412 S Congress Ave
Enjoy local flavor on the Guero’s patio, paired with a salted margarita and tacos el pastor, made right in front of you.
ABGB | 1305 W Oltorf St
ABGB stands for the Austin Beer Garden and Brewery. It’s just enough out of the way to make you feel far removed from the action downtown, while still offering all the Austin staples: music, an idyllic patio, delicious food and an ample beer selection.
Spider House Café and Ballroom | 2908 Fruth St
This iconic, quirky Austin café has multiple stages for live music of all kinds each day of the week. From the music to the food, there’s something to appeal to everyone.
Space 24 Twenty | 2420 Guadalupe St
Urban Oufitters owned, Space 24 Twenty, features live music, a marketplace, restaurants and a food trailer lot. With everything in one place and an impressive SXSW lineup, there’s no reason to leave.
Lustre Pearl | 94 Rainey St
The celebrated Lustre Pearl gave birth to the Rainey Street neighborhood. Last year it shuttered and reopened on the east side, only to announce shortly after that it was opening another location back on Rainey Street where it belongs.
The Blackheart | 86 Rainey St
This Victorian whiskey bar features over 90 whiskeys, an intimate indoor stage, and a roomy outdoor stage. Look closely behind the bar and you’ll find photos from NOLA’s red light district dating as far back as 1897.
May this guide aids you in having a better handle of what to expect and where to go during SXSW. If you end up visiting any of these places during SXSW, be sure to share and tag #outwithlocals.