When the SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival hits, Austin becomes almost an entirely different city. It's important to know how to get around, and what to see and do during festival time. Here we give you our inside picks on where to stay, play and eat during SXSW.
Where to stay
It's no surprise with a festival this huge – the complete festival draws more than 80,000 official badge-holders and over 400,000 who attend festival events – that finding a place to stay isn't easy. In fact, most hotels sell out and many accommodations have been fully booked during festival dates for months.
If you're coming from out of town but don't have a place to stay yet, what do you do?
Confirmed SXSW registrants can book accommodations through the online SXSW Registration and Housing system. Some of the coolest digs around town, where a lot of SXSW happenings take place and there are often celebrity spottings, include sister hotels Saint Cecilia and Hotel San Jose, and the newly-opened Hotel Van Zandt.
Be quick because these places are filling up fast if they aren't sold out already. Other options are to expand farther outside the central district to north and west Austin; or to try independent rentals through Airbnb.com, Craigslist and word of mouth.
Where to play
Some of the most fun areas to hang out around town remain so during SXSW. Rainey Street and South Congress (SoCo) are both very walkable streets with plenty of restaurants, bars and food trailers to choose from. SoCo also has tons of shops, from vintage and art to upscale boutiques, and artisan pop-up booths.
If you want to get outside of the mass of humanity that is Central Austin during the festival, head up to the Domain for a huge multi-use complex with tons of shopping, entertainment and eating options. There are also some SXSW events that happen up there, especially at the hip and music-centric Aloft Hotel or Lone Star Court.
Where to eat
Austin is a complete foodie mecca, and there are plenty of upscale restaurants getting lots of buzz – check our list of the 10Best dining spots in the city. But one of the most fun ways to immerse yourself in the culture of Austin is to try some of the thousands of food trucks here, from basic to gourmet.
Food trucks are also great places to hit up for late night snacking, as many of them are open late hours. There are several food trailer parks around town, where numerous trucks are located in one space. Try the Bouldin Creek Food Court (1st & Gibson), South Austin Trailer Park and Eatery (1st & Elizabeth), Rainey Street and Aztec Food Trailer Park (E. Cesar Chavez). The website FoodTrailersAustin.com offers a complete list with great search options.
Any of the seven Kerbey Lane locations are also perennial favorites with Austinites, especially for breakfast. Their huge, plate-sized pancakes are always in demand, and the restaurant makes more than 600 of them every single morning – even outselling coffee!
Kerbey Lane is definitely not just for breakfast, though. In fact, it's also one of the more popular spots for late night, post-party noshing. They just unveiled their newest seasonal menu for spring, featuring such items as a crab & mac benny (eggs benedict with crab mac 'n cheese bites) and a banana bread French toast platter. Also, all wine and beer is only $3 – all day, every day. Now that's worth going for.
How to get around
Needless to say, the traffic that is bad on any day in Austin compounds a hundred-fold during massive events like SXSW. Walk everywhere you can, or take advantage of the B-Cycle stations all around town where you can rent a bicycle.
When a car is necessary, try to use Car2Go, taxis or services like Uber and Lyft. Parking is a nightmare, and you'll be thankful you aren't trying to drive and park a personal car.
A cool new traffic app worth mentioning is Metropia Austin, with a feature called DUO that lets users casually carpool. Even better, you get points while using Metropia, and you can redeem these rewards for things like free tacos from Taco Deli, rentals from Rocket Electric and Starbucks gift cards.