Beyond SXSW: Music, Food, and Fun in Austin

by  Grace Beehler | Mar 22, 2012
Austin, Texas
Austin, Texas / Sean Pavone/iStock

In case you missed it, Austin just wrapped up the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film, and interactive festival. Hundreds of thousands of industry insiders and fans descended upon the city of about 800,000 residents for five nights and four days packed full of music showcases, parties, film screenings, panels, food, and fun. But Austin is more than just this festival. There are always going to be new places to discover great music, food, and enjoyment in this southern city.

Let’s start with the music: Austin became known as the “Live Music Capital of the World” because it has so many musicians and live music venues in the area. Throughout the year, musicians are hustling to get all their gear downtown to play to the thousands of listeners on street corners and in bars. Check out the Parish for up-and-coming bands, or head to Stubb’s for barbeque, beer, and music ranging from Yonder Mountain String Band to Evanescence. During SXSW, Mohawk played host to DJ acts like Skrillex, drawing a massive and young crowd, but during the rest of the year, this open-air venue hosts DJ acts as well as indie bands like The Hold Steady and Real Estate.

The Salt Lick / Flickr/wordridden

As for the food, everything is bigger and better in Texas. Not only are there very few restaurant chains (the slogan, “Keep Austin Weird” refers to the local, independently owned small businesses and the residents’ eclectic lifestyle), most of the food is grown locally. The barbeque – and there is lots of good barbeque – is an Austin staple. For some of the best, though, head out into the Hill Country (about a half-hour drive southwest of downtown Austin) to The Salt Lick, a beautiful rustic backyard country restaurant. The best option on the menu? A family-style feast for $20 a head that includes all-you-can eat beef brisket, sausage, pork ribs, potato salad, cole slaw, and baked beans. It’s also BYOB, so bring some brews to enjoy while you’re waiting.

For some of the best tacos in Austin, Torchy’s Tacos is the spot. Two-dollar breakfast tacos (the chorizo, egg, and cheese is phenomenal) can’t be beat, and slightly more expensive lunch tacos like the Brush Fire (jerk chicken, grilled jalapenos, mango, and sour cream) and the Fried Avocado (fried avocado, beans, cheese) are mouthwatering.

To nurse a hangover following a night (and day) spent partying, Trudy’s Four Star has $2.50 drinks, like a massive Bloody Mary, as well as incredible brunch specials, like the Smoked Brisket Hash and the Tacos Ricos.

Austin food trucks give New York City a run for its money. Some of the freshest, most satisfying food trucks can be found downtown; one of my favorites was Kebabalicious, serving a delicious falafel wrap that will stave off hunger ‘til the wee hours of the night.

The view from Mt. Bonnell / Flickr/alamosbasement

For a day out of the hustle and bustle of downtown Austin (Sixth Street is comparable to Mardi Gras on Thursdays during the unofficial UT college night), drive out of the city and take a dip in the Barton Creek Greenbelt. Lush vegetation and cool water make this the ideal place to relax during the spring and summer. In certain spots along the creek, you can hike, bike, and rock climb. Austin is also one of the country's most bike-able cities, with 155 miles of bike lanes and more than 170 miles of off-road, multi-use trails. And for the best view in town, hike up Mt. Bonnell to see Town Lake and the Austin skyline.

All in all, Austin is one of the south’s most inspiring and unique cities and there are plenty of reasons to stay long past the end of the SXWS festival.

See our Austin destination guide for more trip-planning information, then use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights to Austin.

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