To start: we are not the first company to provide insight on visiting Austin during South By Southwest, and this is not a definitive guide. However, as a team populated with born-and-bred Austinites, we hope we can offer you a little local flavor to the behemoth of an event originally started as a small, regional music festival by Louis Black and staff at the Austin Chronicle.
This will be the trickiest part of your pre-SXSW planning. Hotels fill up ridiculously fast at sky high prices. Despite more rooms coming on-line from new mega hotels like the JW-Marriot, supply is still tight. If you are not on a corporate expense account it will be challenging to stay in a hotel remotely near downtown. I'd recommend checking out our friends at HomeAway (a local Austin company) for short term rental options that can better fit a budget. You won't be in the heart of downtown, but you can find options nearby. Especially if you can band together with a few other attendees.
Neighborhoods to check out that might fit your needs include the cute and close Clarksville. About as close as you can get without staying immediately in the downtown hullabaloo. For a more affordable but potentially rowdy experience, look into spots in West Campus. UT students are on Spring Break SXSW week so a stay in an apartment is possible. A definite gamble, but a good, close option none-the-less.
Slightly further North, but a quick Uber into downtown, are the Hyde Park and Bryker Woods neighborhoods. There are some great restaurants in this area, and the mix of housing types should allow for reasonable accommodation options.
Staying near the action during SXSW is not cheap, but these neighborhood options allow for a more authentic taste of Austin.
With as many events, parties, sessions, panels, and meet-ups you are trying to pack into your day, finding a decent cup of the black brew is imperative to most. If a basic drip coffee is your choice, check out one of the many sponsor lounges for a free coffee. Hopefully from one our local shops! If you need something more involved or immediate, downtown has many great, local options including HoundsTooth Coffee on the corner of 4th and Congress, Hideout on Congress between 6th and 7th, Jo's Coffee on 2nd street, or Cenote, just east of I-35 on Cesar Chavez.
Barbecue and breakfast tacos are the cuisines du jour in Austin for a good reason. The filling and affordable breakfast taco is a tin-foiled wrapped gift from the gods, and the perfect rejuvenator after a long night of "networking," and "brand building." In this author's humble opinion--and voracious appetite--the best in the city are available from Veracruz All Natural. With 2 trucks just east of downtown, these tacos are made completely from scratch, with loving care and craft. So while not always a quick bite (calling ahead can be a good idea) they are well worth any wait.
However the fine art of the breakfast taco is executed by many in this city. So from Taco Shack to Taco Deli, almost any choice will be filling. Many local coffee shops also bring in others' excellent tacos, so grabbing both morning staples together isn't too difficult.
If you are headed into the heart of downtown for SXSW panels, sessions, and especially parties, TRY NOT TO DRIVE! This will be the biggest headache you can ask for even if you find parking. By the end of a long day, even responsible attendees may not be in a fit state to drive. Car share services like Car2Go are the best bet if driving is your only option.
If you are a badge holding attendee, then use the conference provided buses. In addition, Cap Metro, the local bus and rail system, has some options available, including late at night.
Taxis, Uber, and Lyft might be pricy at different times due to demand and surge pricing on the latter's part, but compared to a $10,000 fine for DUI, or worse, it's always going to be worth the dough if you're staying out late.
And for the more active and intrepid among you, riding or renting a bike can be a great option too. Check out our friends at SpokeFly for on-demand bike rental.
Our Tex-Mex is awesome and naming 20 restaurants worth a visit wouldn't be hard. But, Austin's culinary profile has raised considerably in the last decade, so the choices for restaurants and flavors at all different price points has exploded.
It will be a challenge to get into the restaurants with the highest national profile this week. That's okay! Qui, Perla's, Uchi, and Franklin's are worth a return trip to Austin all on their own. Instead, check out options slightly off the festival path.
In the Hyde Park/North Loop area, Foreign and Domestic has an amazing and constantly varying seasonal menu. It is a small space that doesn't take reservations, but call ahead to see how it's looking.
Also north of campus is the gastro-pub Hopfields, and bakery/bistro Texas French Bread. Though not as renowned as local star Hopdoddy, Hopfields has an excellent burger and you wont need to wait an hour for the privilege.
TFB is great for all times of day with excellent sandwiches and baked goods. This leads into a local ingredient focused, French Bistro inspired menu in the evenings. You can even get a reservation on OpenTable!
If eating in the immediate vicinity of downtown is imperative, go east on 7th street to possibly the best deal in Austin: Takoba. With solid cocktails and well executed interior-Mexican, you can impress your fellow attendees, prospects, or clients with a local gem. Your pocketbook won't take a beating, and they have a great outdoor patio/garden when the weather is nice!
...if you don't like it, just wait 15 minutes, it'll change. This holds true during SXSW as best as any other time of year. You can expect 85º and sunny or 45º with wind and rain. So make sure to pack layers, a flexible-use jacket, and carry sun screen and water.
Staying hydrated is also crucial with all the free libations and walking you will be doing. You cannot have a good time passed out on the middle of 6th! (Though you were probably doing great 10 minutes before then...)
Well you won't catch me sharing it all! But the true spirit of SXSW is catching musicians, movies, and companies that aren't well known and watching them pick up momentum as the conference goes along. Perhaps they even sky rocket afterwards. Don't waste your time trying to catch Kanye at some McDonalds sponsored showcase, go check out Austin locals Shakey Graves (already established) or Residual Kid (growing up as we speak), among thousands of others. They may not be playing with proper sound checks, or venues with perfect acoustics, but their hustle exemplifies the spirit of South By.
In that same vein, here are some of the resources we use to keep up with ridiculous amount of official and unofficial events happening during this time of year.
@SXSWmafia and #sxswmafia
That's where we will leave it! Follow us @written to see where we will be out and about during the festival. Publishers and bloggers you can learn more about licensing out your own content here. Brands interested in licensing articles and audience, reach out today, or read more.