Austin-dweller Melissa Massello of the blog Shoestring shares insider tips on navigating through this year’s SXSW.
Every year, when March nears and the SXSW festival is almost here, I get butterflies — “FOMO,” or fear of missing out, is real. With all the films, music, food, startup launches, fashion, celebrities, and serendipity that is SXSW, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, but after six years of going to the festival — this year will be the first time I attend as a resident Austinite — I can definitely say that wherever you are is where you’re supposed to be. Austin is a spectacular city, full of super people and some of the most talented creative types in the country, so no matter which neighborhood your Airbnb is located in, you’re going to have a fab time.
To help you navigate SXSW by foot, “Bendy Bus,” or Austin B-cycle, I pulled together some of my all-time favorites in the six neighborhoods closest to the SXSW action. If you need unique recommendations while you’re here, hit me up on Twitter or check out my Austin Rookie map on Pinterest — and welcome to Texas, y’all!
THE EAST SIDE (top right)
Austin’s hottest neighborhood is literally blowing up with construction and new developments, from hipster patio bars, to food trucks, and even urban farms. All the brands throwing events take over the East Side, too. If you’re there, don’t miss a trip to Charm School Vintage, and if you consider yourself a foodie, try Hillside Farmacy or, if you can get a reservation, snag a table at QUI, the eponymous resto of Top Chef Paul Qui. After eating, sip craft cocktails at Whisler’s nad dance by the DJ at The Volstead or Hotel Vegas. Grab late night eats from the food trucks on East 6th (Dumpling Happiness is a winner). Daytime pub crawls down Rainey Street are a can’t-miss, as you’ll find Austin’s most creative bars in a row of residential houses. Hit Lucille’s for ladder golf, put-put, and bag toss in the Texas sunshine on their back patio.
2ND STREET DISTRICT (middle left)
Downtown Austin’s indie business district is home to more than 50 mostly locally-owned shops and cafes. Here are just a few ideas of what to do: Catch up with friends and people watch over margaritas on the patio at La Condesa, brave the line for barbecue at Lambert’s, stock up on local spa products from milk + honey, add to your your festival style at Langford Market, or do some celeb-spotting at Jo’s Coffee, the preferred pick-me-up station of Austin’s movers and shakers. Head two blocks to West 4th for outfit photos with the Joan Jett mural, or girlie Prohibition-style cocktails at vintage speakeasy Peche. Phew, long day.
SOUTH CONGRESS (middle right)
Just over the bridge from downtown on the other side of Town Lake is The Strip on SoCo, your best bet for a day of thrifting, vintage shopping, people watching, live music, Keeping Austin Weird, and the city’s unofficial pastime: rescuing puppies. The burger with homemade gluten-free buns at Hopdoddy is worth the long line, brunch at kitschy Snack Bar in the Austin Motel is sublime, sushi at Lucky Robot is a trip back in time to the Tokyo of the ’90s, and pizza at Home Slice is delish, especially late night. Shop for your date at Stag, and for thrift and vintage scores (like secondhand cowboy boots!) try St. Vincent de Paul, Feathers, Uncommon Objects, and New Bohemia. The best local souvenirs are at Parts & Labour and Tesoros. Grab a coffee and a photo in front of the infamous “i love you so much” mural at Jo’s, then walk up to Austin Pets Alive for some free snuggles. Live music at The Continental Club is a top pick — if the main venue is sold out try upstairs in the gallery for two-steppin’ or swing dancing with acoustic sets from regular local acts.
ZILKER/SOUTH LAMAR (bottom right)
Take a break from the chaos and regroup in downtown Austin’s outdoor mecca, my own stomping ground! Rent a shared cruiser bike from Austin B-cycle and take a ride around the lake on the Hike and Bike trail, stopping for photos with the Stevie Ray Vaughn statue at Auditorium Shores or the panoramic skyline at Lou Neff Point. If it’s hot, rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards from the Rowing Dock or go for a dip and a picnic at Barton Springs Pool. Butler Park has free live music all week long during SXSW, where locals fly kites and run with their rescue dogs. Take a short ride up South Lamar for the best designer consignment shopping in Austin at MOSS, or a really long ride uphill to legendary honky tonk The Broken Spoke (better if you have a rental car, or take the bus). Foodies will go ga-ga for sushi at Uchi, tapas at Barlata, paleo food truck nosh at Picnik, gourmet ice creams at lick, snout-to-tail dining and craft beer at Barley Swine, or wine and cheese at Henri. Every Sunday, the Bluebonnet Flea & Farmer’s Market is the place to be for antiques and organic, local food.
SOUTH FIRST (bottom left)
A straight shot uphill from Austin City Hall, South First is booming with some of the best restaurants and shopping in Austin all within a few miles. For a great meal with a group, go for communal dining at Sway Thai, voted Austin’s best new restaurant for 2013, or if you can’t get a reservation hit the Trailer Park Food Court next door for cart nosh and foosball. Right up the street is the famous Austin mural at Roadhouse Relics, and just past that is Bouldin Creek Cafe, a gluten-free vegan restaurant so good you might bump into local celebs Elijah Wood or Robert Plant, who live on the block. Just a little farther and there’s vintage shopping for the guys at New BROhemia, and for the gals, they can head to Amelia’s Retro-Vogue & Relics. Don’t miss houseware favorites from local Etsy shops across the street at Nannie Inez, or head back towards downtown to get your DIY fix at Stitch House Lab or CRAFT.
LOWER BURNET / THE DRAG (top left)
Just north of the University of Texas campus is where you’ll find all the best thrift shopping in Austin. Take the Bendy Bus or drive and stop on your way up North Lamar for free live music all week during SXSW at Waterloo Records, a tour of the original Whole Foods flagship store, or a photo detour at the Baylor Street Graffiti Wall. Look out for the country’s largest/best Buffalo Exchange (according to employees) on Guadalupe, the enormous Goodwill on North Lamar (with auctions every Saturday), Top Drawer, Next to New, Frock On, and Thrifty Chicks Vintage. For refueling, a stop at Torchy’s Tacos is a must — best queso in Austin!
About Melissa Massello
Melissa Massello is a journalist and startup junkie-turned-professional blogger, chasing that “Champagne life on a DIY budget” over at Shoestring since 2007. One half of the original Swapaholics, she lives for sustainable style & sharing closets with her friends, preferably over home-cooked meals & cocktails. She’ll challenge anyone to a boardwalk round of Skee-ball, and is currently on the adventure of her lifetime in Austin, TX with her husband and rescue whippet, Pixie.