Going to SXSW? 17 Places Not to Miss While You’re in Austin!
Photo by: Visualist Images
This year several location independent folks are getting together in Austin, Texas for South by Southwest. I’m sure it’s going to be a great time for getting to know each other as well as enjoying the event. For me, though, it’s an incredibly frustrating experience as we are currently living in Oaxaca, Mexico. Even though I am an Austinite of nearly 20 years now, I can’t get back home to meet everyone. I had originally offered for some people to stay in our home but now that’s not a possibility either since we have 6 renters who are helping offset our nomad-ing.
Nevertheless, I really want to be able to share with you what my family loves about Austin. Here is a list of our 17 favorite places to hang out, swim, dance, and eat. If you have any time between your SXSWing, I encourage you to take advantage of all that Austin offers!
Have any more suggestions? Please tell us below in the comments!
Barton Springs –
the jewel of central Austin, Barton Springs is a “must experience”. This is a natural spring that has been transformed into an enormous pool surrounded by trees. Revered by the local native American tribes long ago, the allure of Barton Springs has been long recognized. It is also home to the Barton Springs salamander, an endangered species and impetus behind the Save Our Springs protection effort. You will find it in Zilker Park. Bring your suit and about $3.00 to enter. Barton Springs
Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail –
while in Zilker Park, ask any local where to access the Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail. Flanking both sides of Town Lake, the trail is a favorite of many Austinites for walking, running and biking. Much of the trail is shaded and you will enjoy lovely views of the Austin skyline and lake wildlife. I recommend beginning at Zilker Park, crossing the Lake at Lamar via the pedestrian bridge and then continuing back down the other side to cross again under Mopac (Route 1) and return to Zilker Park. That’s about 3 miles. If you’d like to do a longer loop continue past Lamar to Congress Ave. or if you’re on a bike, go further. You will see mile markers along the way. Town Lake Trail
Capitol Building and Annex –
Texans pride themselves that their capitol building is taller than the U.S. capitol in D.C. This “sunset red” granite bohemoth is worth taking a look inside. You can stand in the center of the main building and gaze up to the top but what I find really interesting is to visit the Annex. When the Texas government outgrew it’s massive capitol there was a dilemma as to what to do. No one wanted to obstruct the view of the original building so they decided to build down. The Annex is completely underground, beneath the capitol gardens and yet enjoys natural light from above. And, don’t worry, the Texas star was not forgotten when decorating the Annex! The Texas Capitol
Mt. Bonnell –
to get a real sense of the layout and natural beauty of the city of Austin there is no better way than to climb Mt. Bonnell. You can find it by following Mopac (Route 1) north to 35th St. exit. At 35th continue west until the road ends at Mt. Bonnell Rd. Go north on Mt. Bonnell until you reach the top and see cars parked along a hillside. Park and take the stairs to the top. The views are magnificent. You will see the lakes, the skyline and U.T. all in one fell swoop. You will also see some of the homes of the most wealthy in Austin lining Lake Austin.
Scenic Drive –
if you like looking at homes of the rich and famous, get out your map and find Scenic Drive. Running along Lake Austin between Mt. Bonnell and Lake Austin Blvd. you can take a drive and admire some magnificent homes complete with boat houses larger than my own home and drive up garages on the water for boats.
Whole Foods –
Austin is the home of Whole Foods and their flagship store and headquarters is a site to behold. At Lamar between 5th and 6th you can wander what seem to be miles and miles of organic, natural and gourmet food choices and eat at one of their numerous kiosks devoted to specialties such as raw foods, sushi, or Texas BBQ. Whole Foods Lamar
South Congress –
if you’re attending SXSW you will likely go to South Congress for music at some point but take the opportunity to also stroll the eclectic stores along this road. When taking my father who was a world traveler for 20 years he said he had never seen a store equal to Uncommon Objects for rare things outside of Istanbul. Don’t miss Yard Dog (gallery of inspired art) and Lucy in Disguise (Austin’s costume mecca). Whether you need a costume or not – go in! You have to look at it! South Congress Neighborhood
Sixth St. –
again, as an attendee at SXSW you’ll probably be living on 6th St. but it has to be mentioned. Sixth St. is the hub of Austin’s nightlife and music. You can’t miss that. 6th St.
The Broken Spoke
– So, you’ve been doing Austin for a few days, hearing music, and you think you’re pretty much a Texan now. Well, I hate to tell you, but you’re “all hat and no cattle” still. However, you could get a whole lot further towards being a Texan by heading down South Lamar to the Broken Spoke to see what real Texans listen and dance to. The Broken Spoke is an authentic Texas dance hall. Venture passed the restaurant in front to find the museum of their history and the dance floor. Learn to 2 Step and have a great time! The Broken Spoke
Krause Springs –
Ok, now for those of you with access to transportation who’d like to see what’s outside of Austin, Krause Springs out 71W passed Spicewood TX, is my family’s favorite place to spend a day. Take your swimsuit and a picnic lunch and go enjoy the beautiful, privately owned fresh water spring complete with natural grotto and waterfall. You’ll think you went to paradise! This is about a 30 minute drive west of town. There is a modest entry fee and also camping facilities if you’re a camper. Krause Springs
– Texas was a first home to many German immigrants which has resulted in a scattering of German towns throughout the state. About 2 hours west of Austin you will find Fredericksburg, a fine example of one of these German towns. Eat at a German restaurant, browse it’s many stores along it’s main road or sample beers at the Fredericksburg Brewery. This is a great day trip to pair either with Enchanted Rock or the wine tour. Fredericksburg
Enchanted Rock –
About 20 minutes past Fredericksburg you will find Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. Enchanted Rock is a monolith of granite. Hike to the top and get a 360 degree view of Texas hill country, or ask someone in the know and enter one of the unmarked caves. Hike the base, go rock climbing, or if you’re a camper, spend the night and enjoy the rock by sunset. Be sure to go as early as possible because the park is closed when it reaches it’s quota for the day. Enchanted Rock
Wine Tour –
Do you love wine? Believe it or not, Texas is quickly developing as a wine producer. You can spend the day tasting wine at the vineyards found between Austin and Fredericksburg along 290W. Take a guided tour by bus (just google Fredericksburg Wine tours) or print out this map and find the way yourselves (just be sure to designate a driver!) Map of Hill Country Vineyards
Now for eating. Located just east of South Congress on Oltorf, Curra’s is a great local place for Mexican. I recommend the Cohinita Pibil and their hot chocolate. The quality is great and the prices are moderate/low. It’s also a little less known by the tourist world and so feels more authentic. Map to Curra’s
“guero’s” translates to “gringo’s” but this South Congress restaurant is an Austin favorite. Come in and enjoy the eclectic Austin atmosphere, great food and convenience to your SXSW activities. Guero’s was a stop for Bill Clinton on his Austin visit (you can see the photo in the back room). You can also enjoy live music in their outdoor garden. Guero’s
– Need a fast bite to eat? Are you close to Zilker Park? P. Terry’s on South Lamar at Barton Springs is a local healthy fast food alternative. Burgers are made with organic beef. French fries are fried in a healthy way (if that’s possible) and the lemonade and shakes are to die for! This is a drive through but you can eat at picnic tables on the side as well. P. Terry’s
Salt Lick –
No experience of Austin is complete without a trip out to the Salt Lick Barbeque. You’ll need a car to get you out to Driftwood Texas (take Route 1 south to 290 w. Just passed Oak Hill take a left on 1826. Continue for 12 miles – about 30 minutes from downtown Austin). The Salt Lick is a quintessential Texas Barbeque restaurant. The barbeques are so huge you’ll watch workers swabbing the meat with mops. This is in a dry county so bring your own beers. I was somewhat embarrassed my first time to go into a restaurant carrying a cooler until I saw the people around me wheeling in their own kegs! This isn’t a great place for vegetarians unless you can be happy with cole slaw, white bread and potato salad. Be ready to be stuffed! The Salt Lick (by the way, in recent times the Salt Lick has opened other locations in town. Don’t bother with them – either go for the original or don’t go at all).