You’ve been poring over the SXSW schedule for days, mapping seminars, meet-ups and events. While the great team at SXSW has provided tons of festival details, you’re still not sure what to pack. Here are helpful suggestions for what you’ll need to experience SXSW like a local.
What to Pack: Layer, Layer, Layer
Winter never came to Austin. The local weather may classify as “summer” for many attendees, so instead of packing coats, think layers. While Austin may be setting record temperatures outside (we’re talking 80s and above), public buildings are often cooled to the low 70s. Plan to put on and remove outerwear throughout the day.
- A casual dress and covering can take a woman just about anywhere in Austin. Men, you’ll blend in nicely with jeans, a cool t-shirt, and ubiquitous cowboy boots. Want to see for yourself? Check out atxstreetstyle’s blog for photos of Austin fashion and be sure to read “How to Dress Like an Austin Local.”
- No cowboy boots? Allens Boots, an Austin fixture since 1977, and Heritage Boots are within blocks of each other on South Congress Avenue, about 1.4 miles from the Austin Convention Center. They sell new and used boots.
Walk It Off
Austin is a casual, active city. I’ve seen theater-goers in flip-flops and folks at fine restaurants in Birkenstocks. When packing footwear, put comfort before style. Long lines, traffic gridlock and nonexistent parking translate to a lot of time on your feet.
- With the right shoes and a little route planning, walking can become a refreshing part of every SXSW day.
- Use Austin’s premier pedestrian and bike trail to avoid traffic and see the city. The Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail circles Lady Bird Lake, marking the southern edge of Austin’s downtown grid. The I35 bridge (shown here) is downtown’s eastern edge.
- Smart SXSW attendees park outside the downtown grid and walk the crushed granite trail to the Convention Center (via Trinity Street) and other downtown sites. See the tan buildings in the right foreground? There are several small parking lots nearby, just off Nash Hernandez Sr. Road, located next to the hike and bike trail.
Something in the Air
The Live Music Capital of the World also tops the charts in allergens. That greenish-gold dust on everything? It’s pollen from the thousands of oak trees that make the Texas Hill Country spectacularly beautiful. In addition, grass pollens are beginning to register. Start antihistamines early and bring eye drops.
On a pleasanter note, wildflowers are blooming. Texas’ state flower, the bluebonnet, is blanketing roadsides. The grape Kool-Aid fragrance in the air is from the native Texas mountain laurel (be careful; brown seedpods and flowers are poisonous). Another sweet smell comes from the white flowers of Confederate jasmine. Though not native, the vines grow well here and are very popular, especially in Austin’s older neighborhoods.
- Get allergy help at People’s Pharmacy, a local resource since 1980. In addition to full pharmacy services, they also provide alternative medicine options and counseling. There’s even a small deli with organic, gluten-free and vegetarian take-out food.
- Remember: sun, heat, and antihistamines can lead to dehydration. Carry a refillable bottle, such as a locally-owned Thinksport. These steel bottles keep beverages hot or cold for hours (I once filled mine with hot tea in the morning before a trail race, and it was still warm when I sipped at my campsite that night). Find Thinksport online or at Austin’s Whole Earth Provision Co., which has been serving Texas since 1970.
Just Don’t Go There
Have I mentioned Austin’s traffic issues? Several roadways should be avoided whenever possible. Locals bypass MoPac (highway construction has closed lanes and tripled commute times), I35 during rush hours (that’s 7-9 a.m. and 3-7 p.m. on weekdays), and Lamar Blvd. between 15th Street and Lady Bird Lake in the evenings.
- If you have to have a car, Enterprise is SXSW’s preferred rent car vendor. They’re conveniently located at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and all over town. Use group code L65SXSW and 3-digit PIN SXS when reserving.
- Because Austin likes to keep its traffic weird, download the Waze app to skirt snarls.
- Check out Downtown Austin Alliance for area street closures (click on “Getting Around”).
- Twitter hashtag #ATXtraffic is a great resource for of-the-moment Austin traffic woes.
Skip Downtown Parking
Whenever possible, let someone else do the driving. I covered Austin’s public transit basics in “5 Ways to Ditch Your Car During SXSW” last year, and here are a few updates:
- Lyft is SXSW’s official ridesharing partner, and new users get $20 off their first ride with the code SXSW2016. (Code is redeemable in Austin only and must be redeemed by April 30, 2016 and used within 30 days after redeeming.)
- Austin has several licensed pedicab services. Don’t be shy; they’re a fun way to grab a ride. Rates vary, so discuss fares with the driver before setting off.
- B-cycle, Austin’s non-profit bike share program, has significantly expanded its rental stations since SXSW 2015. What’s cool is that volunteers who sign up for two SXSW shifts get a free Local365 Annual Membership (work one shift, and membership is half-price)!
- Check the MetroRail schedule carefully, as weekends differ from the weekday schedule. And realize that railcars will be packed, especially between Plaza Saltillo and the Convention Center.
- Combining multiple transportation methods makes getting downtown hassle-free. That’s why I like the designated parking and ditch-when-done freedom that car2go provides. Did you know that Austin is home to car2go’s North American headquarters?
- During SXSW, car2go has eliminated hunting for parking spaces with special Drop Zones, areas where members can leave and pick up rentals between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. (see map above).
- During Interactive, members can stop by 200 E. 6th St. for free coffee, breakfast tacos and KIND bars. To enter, just show you’re logged in to the car2go app.
The Things We Carry
A bag of some sort is a must, and lots of folks carry the cool SXSW bag distributed at badge pick-up. But it may not be big enough to hold everything you’ll need.
- Bring some method for taking notes, plus any applicable chargers.
- If, like me, you’re a book addict, purchases from the SXSW bookstore will be made.
- Allergy sufferers need tissues, eye drops and lozenges.
- Warm temperatures, walking and standing in line beg a drink and sunscreen.
- Hitting multiple events often means grabbing a quick bite between sessions, so carry snacks.
- Need sundries or nibbles? Austin owned and founded Royal Blue Grocery has five downtown locations, each stocked with slightly different inventory. Closest to the Convention Center is the 301 Brazos St. market, shown above. Royal Blue carries ingredients for home-cooked meals, as well as grab-and-go eats. There’s even a catering menu.
- Bring that reusable bag, because Austin does not permit disposable plastic grocery bags.
Take It Outside
Sure, you came for SXSW, but schedule some free outdoor time to experience Austin’s unique lifestyle. It is, after all, what the locals would do.
- Our famous bats are flying, the sunsets from Mt. Bonnell are spectacular and outdoor patios await a happy hour.
- Pay homage to Stevie Ray Vaughn and Willie Nelson by visiting their statues.
- Experience Texas’ farm bounty at the Sustainable Food Center’s Republic Square farmers’ market.
- If nothing else, stroll the boardwalk on the south side of Lady Bird Lake.
@leahruns100 wants to know:
What’s the best piece of advice you’d share about visiting Austin for SXSW?