For those who haven’t seen it yet, make sure to check out the video Ace made highlighting all that Austin has to offer. It’ll give you SXSW-ers a great idea of what stuff going on around town. If anything in the vid is unclear, here’s your unabridged guide to all things ATX.
Austin Downtown Districts
Below is a color-coded guide of the various downtown districts where many of our featured venues can be found. It will give you a glimpse of what each district has to offer.
The Red River district is home to music venues that aren’t hung up with trying to be pretty or impress the people looking for the raw, uninhibited rock talent they showcase. The Red River district has risen from Austin’s rough underbelly to become city’s epicenter of live music.
East 6th Street
The heart, soul and history of Austin lies in the 7 blocks that make up 6th Street from Congress to I-35. Here visitors will find any type of music that tickles their fancy and dozens of bars all within walking distance of the Austin Convention Center.
West 6th Street
6th Street entertainment couldn’t be contained in just 7 blocks so the good times continue as you head west. West 6th Street is the more grown up, less rowdy side of 6th where you’ll find plenty of patio hangouts and upscale surroundings.
New and trendy, the SoCo district boasts a kitschy combination of everything eccentric. South Congress Street is sure to please those looking for awesome music venues, vintage shops, tattoo parlors and some of the best food in Austin.
The Warehouse district takes a step back from fast pace of 6th Street with a variety of laid-back bars, restaurants and shops that are housed in former warehouses. Those looking for live music in a more relaxed atmosphere should check out this area.
Urban cool is a running theme in the 2nd Street district. Newly renovated, the 2nd Street district took a few notes from European cities by incorporating wide sidewalks, lots of outdoor seating, and pedestrian-friendly features.
The East Side
It doesn’t get more authentic than the East Side. It’s an up and coming district that features flair from south of the border, oodles of art, and new hipster hang outs that are sure to peak pique the interest of SXSW attendees.
The Great Outdoors
Northerners and internationals that come to South by Southwest are sometimes surprised by how nice weather is during the conference. Austin in March is like an adult playground for locals that know 100 degree temps are right around the corner.
Just a few blocks south of all the hullabaloo downtown you’ll find Lady Bird Lake, one of the most serene and beautiful spots in all of Austin. Take a run on the Hike and Bike Trail that runs around the lake or just find a spot to chill out for a minute or two. You can also rent canoes and kayaks at a number of locations.
If you’re looking for a swim Barton Springs is your spot. The natural spring pool is open 365 days of the year and always registers at a revitalizing 68 degrees. Right around the corner you can warm back up with a short game of golf at Butler Park Pitch and Putt or putt through a whale’s mouth at Peter Pan Mini Golf. BYOB (no glass)!
Of course we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Zilker Park, Austin’s Great Lawn, which spent the past year getting a major facelift and looks more like a golf course than a city park.
Other highlights include the shopping districts on South Congress and UT’s Drag, and the Bats under the Congress Street Bridge, the largest urban bat colony in all of North America, always draw a lot of attention on a nice night. BYOB.
Make Sure to Also Check Out:
Deep Eddy Pool – take a dip in Austin’s oldest public pool.
Zilker Botanical Gardens – acres of beautiful flora and fauna with bits of outdoor art
SegCity – It’s a little pricy but touring Austin downtown on a SegWay is super fun.
Austin is stocked with an entertainment culture that’s second-to-none. Of course there’s 6th Street and all the madness that comes with the entire downtown district during SXSW, but we’ve got much, much more for you to check out if you’re up to it.
Just west of downtown you’ll find three of our favorite watering holes - Donn’s Depot, The Deep Eddy Cabaret, and Mean Eyed Cat – that offer a good change of scene from the hustle and bustle of their central counterparts. Donn’s and Mean Eyed Cat both offer live music if you’re looking for dancing, and Deep Eddy boasts one of the best jukeboxes in town, but the real allure of these three spots is that they make it easy to sit around a table, have a drink or two, and share a few laughs.
Other great musical spots off the beaten path include The Continental Club, The Hole in the Wall, The Broken Spoke, and both Threadgill’s locations. Be sure to bring your dancin’ shoes – and by that we mean cowboy boots – to the Spoke.
Austin also has a wide array of museums if you get a little free time during the day. Learn about the history of our 36th President at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum on the UT campus or check out some art at one of Austin’s three hot spots: the Blanton Museum of Art, the Mexic-Arte Museum, and the Austin Museum of Art.
Make Sure to Also Check Out:
Esther’s Follies – People regularly pack the house to see Esther’s original mix of music, improve and comedy.
The Ginger Man – more beer on tap than you could ever choose from.
Lovejoys – You can find locally brewed beer just down the road from the convention center at LoveJoys.
Live Oak Brewery – Live Oak also calls the east side home. Get to Live Oak on Saturday at noon and you can go on a Free tour of the brewery.
Oh yes, the food. However you spend your time during SXSW, please take the time to eat some local fare.
There are a few notable places in town where you can get your brisket fix – we are still in Texas after all. Check Stubb’s Barbecue and Iron Works, not too far from each other on Red River Street, or Lambert’s if you want to get a feel for what ‘gourmet’ barbecue is, or just walk out of a bar smelling like meat instead of cigarette smoke. And remember, beef is what Texas does best.
Looking for Mexican food? There are great spots to be found all over town, and out-of-towners always tend to gather around Chuy’s and Guero’s, but our allegiance lies at Curra’s and Polvo’s, both of which specialize in interior Mexican. Clear your schedule before you delve into a Strait Plate at Maudie’s. Just the thought of three cheese enchiladas and topped off with a fried egg is enough to put us out for the rest of the day.
And if you get a craving for some food in the later hours, the new 24 Diner is your answer for everything from pork chops to chilli hash. Austin staples Magnolia Cafe and Kerbey Lane are up all night, too. Try the gingerbread pancakes at either spot.
Of course there are all kinds of treats and delicacies to be had that may not constitute as actual meals. Torchy’s makes some of the best tacos in town, and the Hey Cupcake! and Mighty Cone trailers on South Congress Street both tend to always have people lining up for sweet treats that are uniquely Austin.
Make Sure to Also Check Out:
Flip Happy – Crepes out of a trailer! No wonder Bobby Flay brought his TV show here.
Home Slice Pizza – The best New York style pizza in Austin. Don’t be surprised if there’s a wait.
Frank – Who knew hotdogs could be so good. You’ll be amazed at how many things they’ve successfully put bacon in.
Best Wurst – Look for the food carts downtown for some of the city’s best late night eats.
Amy’s – This is the place to go for ice cream in Austin. It may sound plain, but the Mexican Vanilla is anything but.
We’ve highlighted a handful of the activities and places we think make Austin such a great place, but we’ve hardly scratched the surface of the city’s appeal.
However, if you find yourself still struggling to find what’s going on, The Austin Chronicle, Austin American-Statesman, and The Austinist are all great resources for those who want to be in the know.
Have a great time, and welcome to Austin!