He drove to Austin to rent special gear for his recording session with Strangetowne. “I’ll need to return the equipment in a month,” he said.
“Maybe I can go with you and we can make it our annual get-out-of-town-for-Amber’s-birthday trip since it will be in March,” I told him. I immediately got excited about visiting the city again. After all, it had been 8 years since our previous visit.
This time, we booked a hotel in nearby Cedar Park (cheaper than downtown) and went on with our lives. Two days before our trip, I madly researched restaurants and breweries on-line. I searched “things to do in Austin” during the days we’d be visiting. My heart sunk. SXSW was happening that very weekend! For those of you who don’t know, South By Southwest is a HUGE tech-film-music festival/conference that lasts about 10 days every year. Here’s the deal with me being a baby about this: when we travel, we generally try to AVOID things like this unless we are intentionally planning on attending an event. Crowded tourist-traps are not my favorite. Disneyland in the summer? No thanks. ( In the middle of January? Yes, please.) Matt and I love a good festival when it has been planned. (Remember the recent post showing the ACL photos?) I love cities, I can even love crowds, but I have to be mentally prepared for it. Let’s just say I was freaking out that it was going to be insanely crowded everywhere. My freak-out was fear-based to begin with, and reality-based when we got there.
So…the traffic…was horrible. Traffic, of course, is part of any city’s recipe. Let’s describe it this way: You are familiar with after-concert traffic-yes? Take that traffic and concentrate it into a 10-block area of an already busy downtown Austin. For a week.
How do you avoid something like this? Book a hotel downtown. Start saving your money for next year NOW. I looked into Airbnb (there were rooms near downtown in crappy houses for $600!!!/night). It was not economically promising. It can obviously be worked around, but just plan ahead! Last time we were in Austin, we took our bikes. Austin is a BIKE-FRIENDLY CITY. We stayed at a cheap hotel on the outskirts of town. We drove into the city each morning, parked our van at the YMCA and rode our bikes to the festival at Zilker Park. BEST MOVE WE EVER MADE. As soon as we pedalled onto the road, a group of cyclists formed and we owned the road. It was awesome!
Of course, we made the best of it this time, too. Matt drove us around like a maniac, because I had made a list of places I wanted to check out, and none of them were near each other. He did it because it was my birthday; any other time and he would have driven downtown, parked for the day and said, “Let’s walk.”
There was tons of good food. We lucked out with free fish and pico at one food truck because they ran out of tortillas for their tacos. We tried cilantro lemonade at “Fat Cactus” (I gave it 3 stars out of 5), and falafels at another food truck. Mothers’ Vegetarian Cafe was recommended by a local friend, where we had a veggie burger, veggie Rueben and fantastic service! My only complaint is that many of the eateries that were recommended to us by locals were closed for private events during SXSW. However, some advantages we had were: MORE food streetside to purchase than normal; pedestrians were free to roam joyfully, as many city blocks were closed to drivers; and vendors of all kinds were scattered across town for leisurely shopping. (Matt scored an awesome pearl snap shirt to add to his collection for 15$)
The folks over at Shiner’s Saloon were super friendly and somehow we managed to avoid the crowds there. (Maybe because it was the 2nd story of a 3-story building???) They had a few good local beers for us to try.
One of my favorite spots was in the “SOCO” (South Congress) area, where we hung out for drinks at a place called “Snack Bar.” Local beer and Bloody Marys anyone?
There were tons of places to shop-one of our favs was called “Tesoro’s Trading Company.” I picked up bracelets made from recycled flip-flops there!
I loved the tea towel at “Gypsy Wagon” that read: I LOVE JESUS, but I drink a little. If you’re an ellen degeneres fan, you’ll get it! 😉 Click here to see the HILARIOUS CLIP of Ellen phone-interviewing the Austin local, Gladys.
I hit a really fantastic fabric store in the SOCO area too. (THAT gets its own post!) All in all, it was a great trip. Next time, we hope to check off some of those “must see/do” items on our list. If you have any suggestions to add to that list, I’d love to hear about them!