We love Austin. We love the vibe. We love its rock-‘n’-roll lifestyle. And most of all, we love heading there every year to enjoy South By Southwest. At this point, navigating the city is an old hat to us, but there are plenty of newbies out there (or old hats looking to spruce up their trip) who are trying to find a unique, fun, a truly Texan way to enjoy the festival. Whether you are looking for a bit of culture in between shows, living on a budget, or hoping to thrift something special, here are three killer ways to do the festival. Warning: Addiction to breakfast tacos is imminent.
The Harry Ransom Center
It’s important to remember that the University of Texas at Austin is one of the finest institutions in the U.S., and its facilities are beyond awesome. The best case in point is the gorgeous, hallowed Ransom Center, which, in its most basic iteration, is set up to preserve documents. Think 16th century literature, country-shaping political documents, and original manuscripts by writers like Beckett, Kipling, and Vidal. The Ransom Center is, in many ways, dedicated to living history.
Juan In A Million
Are you ready for a breakfast taco? We said…are you ready for a breakfast taco?! Californians and New Yorkers are always shocked to try Austin’s Mexican food, which is so different from their own regional takes on the cuisine, because Austin serves straight-up, rib-stickin’ Tex Mex — with a particular down-home flair. The perfect example is the breakfast taco, a filling, delicious, and totally Texan offering filled with eggs, potatoes, and whatever-else. And nowhere does a morning taco quite like Juan In A Million.
Every city has the bookstore — a super-curated collection of tomes, art books, and magazines that immediately makes visitors realize how much more they need to read. DOMY has a couple of Texas locations, but the Austin outpost is quirky, gorgeous, calming, and is known for its own SXSW showcases with a particular DIY spin. The only problem: Once you buy your book, you’ll have to carry it around all night. Alas.
Most Austin residents swear by the tip-top vintage at Feathers, which ranges from complete retro finds to more on-trend, vintage-inspired used goods. The ladies at the shop take good care to stay on top of trends and are incredibly, positively, totally friendly. The entire shop is decently priced, and a trip to SXSW wouldn’t be complete without some dusted-up cowgirl boots or a well-worn denim vest. Another plus: All of South Congress is a perfect shopping trip, so your visit will be well worth it.
Happy Hour At The Driskill
There is a reason The Driskill is booked months, nay, years before SXSW: It is the most chic, luxurious, and old Austin accommodation around. Expect to see celebs and musicians holding court, and enjoy the glamour without spending loads by taking advantage of the incredible happy hours. From 5-7 p.m. on Mondays through Wednesdays, you find $5 specials, but hours are extending Thursdays through Saturdays, when deals kick off at 4 p.m.
ike Rental at University Cyclery
Okay, $100 for a week isn’t exactly “cheap,” but do the math: Being able to make it from the east side to downtown in five minutes without fighting with 18 people over a cab or haggling with a rickshaw driver ispriceless. And if you divide the time you will be there by the cost of the bike, it’s less than $20 a day to be able to control where and when you get somewhere. That’s, like, the cost of six Shiner Bocks!
East Side Kings Various Locations
Telling an Austinite to go to East Side Kings is like telling a Chicagoan to try deep dish or a Californian to eat an avocado. You’ll get a resounding, “Duh.” The reason ESK is so ubiquitous is because the chef, Paul Qui, won Top Chef Season 9, but still serves some of his most delicious dishes from a food truck. Fortunately, each spot is littered around the area, so you can check online to see which one is closest to you.
Free Tattoos with Sailor Jerry
What’s more rock ‘n’ roll than Austin? Tattoos, clearly. This no-hassle, guest-list free Sailor Jerry showcase not only doesn’t require badges, but it is also chock-full of some pretty hip bands. (Natural Child and No Bunny, for example.) But if you get there early (noon to 7 p.m.), you can get some classic Sailor Jerry ink by some of Austin’s most well-needled denizens. Hey, what happens in Austin stays on your arm.