What should I check out while I'm in Austin?
February 26, 2015 12:36 PM   Subscribe

I'll be in Austin in mid-March (for SXSW). What places, shops, and things should I check out?

Things I like: electronic music (with an emphasis on ambient, dub, techno, experimental stuff); art and design from the modernist era to the present; eating/cooking/exploring food (I'm pretty open-minded and adventurous, but I don't eat pork or beef, and I'm not really looking for a "fine dining" experience); video games; whisk(e)y and cocktails; cats; underground / counterculture art scenes; great independent businesses of all stripes; maker / hacker type stuff; gothy / Victorian / darkly antique things (not the "goth scene", but actual historical stuff that relates to the culture and aesthetics of death, and to the gloomier aspects of life).

My hotel is near the intersection of I-35 and Highway 290.

So where are the arcades, eateries, art galleries, curiosity shops, atmospheric old cemeteries, hackerspaces, cool hole-in-the-wall techno clubs, etc. that I should check out?
posted by escape from the potato planet to Travel & Transportation around Austin, TX (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
For cocktails there are a few good places, but get a reservation for Midnight Cowboy.
Reservations are required. They are on 6th street which is the middle of madness. They are in an old massage parlor. They have a small number of seats and they control flow by making every seat a reserved seat.
Worth it.
posted by Seamus at 12:45 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

If coffee falls under the heading of 'interest in food' I'd check out Flat Track Coffee. Their little shop shop is really well designed, and the coffee is certainly above average (dare I say, good).
posted by furnace.heart at 12:47 PM on February 26, 2015

The Texas State Cemetery is worth a visit; you'll find many interesting Texas notables there. Nearby is the French Legation, the oldest house in Austin. It's in all the guidebooks, but hardly anyone ever goes there, so you will probably be unimpeded in attempts to imagine what Texas was like when it was a republic.
posted by ubiquity at 12:48 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Texas State Lunatic Asylum Cemetery on North Loop
posted by mikecable at 12:55 PM on February 26, 2015

Something that's kinda cool that nobody ever does here is check out the Elisabet Ney Museum. It's in Hyde Park, so when you're done go eat at Mother's (vegetarian) or Julio's or Hyde Park Bar and Grill, then go get a drink and dessert at Dolce Vita. Next, make your way to "The Flag Store" and grab some beer or wine to drink back in your hotel room.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:00 PM on February 26, 2015

Food: Bouldin Creek or Magnolia for brunch, Wheatsville Co-op for popcorn tofu, and there are so many food trucks in town but you should definitely try Veracruz if you want breakfast tacos.

Record shopping: End of an Ear, hands down.

Weird/fun stuff: Museum of Natural & Artificial Ephemerata, Museum of the Weird, Toy Joy, Yard Dog Art.

For delicious cocktails, check out Whisler's -- it's a 15-minute walk from the aforementioned state cemetery.

Have a fantastic time, Austin is amazing!
posted by divined by radio at 1:07 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

My hotel is near the intersection of I-35 and Highway 290.

Are you going to have a car? You will need a car. Nothing is walkable in that part of town.
posted by donajo at 1:17 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I will not have a car. I'm hoping that I can do some of my getting-around via Uber, but I imagine that Uber (and all other transportation services) will be struggling to keep up with demand.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 1:18 PM on February 26, 2015

you might want to look into getting a car2go. you'll have more freedom and i imagine uber will be hella expensive during sxsw.

cesar chavez has a lot of independent shops and isn't completely totally gentrified, yet. between that and 7th on the east side would be a good area to walk around and explore. if you like shows, i'd check out showlistaustin.com for all the free stuff you can get into. i find those a lot more fun than the official stuff.

there's a graffiti wall on lamar near 15th that's cool to see if you like street art. it's not really "underground" anymore, and i think it's officially the Hope Gallery now, but it's still pretty unique.
posted by monologish at 1:37 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Uber will not only be struggling to keep up with demand, they will be hiking their prices up quite a bit. Just a heads up, there--I remember my boss complaining about it last year. At the very least, see if you can carpool with other people from the hotel. It's not like you'll be the only one in for SXSW.

I used to live right smack dab on the intersection you're talking about--actually, I think I might have lived in the apartment next to your hotel--and yeah, while I wouldn't say it's completely unwalkable per se, it's not exactly super easy to get to other parts of town. There's a Target in walking distance that should have you set for the super basic stuff, though.

Seconding just ambling around between Cesar Chavez and 7th Street. You can actually get down there by bus directly if you want, I think both the 37 and the 20 will take you there within walking distance of a bus stop. Or whatever stop actually is by your hotel. Do be prepared for buses to be kind of shitty and to come by once an hour, though. I recommend using Google Maps if you decide to take transit rather than using Uber or a Car2Go.

Feel free to MeMail me if you want, by the way!
posted by sciatrix at 2:03 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

....right, actual things to go see, I totally forgot! Catch a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse if you like movies; it's kind of expensive but I really like the novelty of seeing a movie and getting a hot meal or a snack that's more interesting than your usual movie fare. There's also some neat stuff down by Burnett and Anderson Lane re: shops; you might be interested in trying Tiny Pies, which is a tart shop that appears to be trying to do for pie what cupcakeries did for cake.

There is a hackerspace a little ways north of you, but I think they require a $60 monthly membership fee. Not sure on that, though. They might do tours.

I also suggest planning to eat a lot of food out of food trucks. There are just so damned many of them and they're all pretty interesting. There's a neat grilled cheese sandwich one that frequently parks out behind the aforementioned Target, and I know there's a food truck trailer park thing down somewhere nearish 6th Street.
posted by sciatrix at 2:11 PM on February 26, 2015

posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:53 PM on February 26, 2015

Check out 5th Dimension Books. It's a Mobile Scifi bookstore. They park near Quack's/Hyde Park bar & grill during the day.
posted by fnord at 3:42 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you like bass-heavy electronic music, try to catch a show at Barcelona on sixth street if you can. The sound in there is insane.
posted by Uncle Ira at 4:29 PM on February 26, 2015

FYI, SXSW does 'Southbites' which is basically a little food truck area right by the ACC which offers a great way to explore local, indie cuisine without trying to get transpo all over Austin. I also recommend Torchy's fried avocado tacos (you can--I have--walked to Torchy's from the ACC but it's a long haul).

In terms of Austin transportation, Cars2Go has an area right by the ACC but fair warning, those little cars go fast during SXSW. As does everything else. Anything in the downtown, Sixth St area will be accessible to you because they close a lot of downtown down to cars (although I was on the very street last year where that car hit and killed the pedestrians). The SXSW transportation page has realistic transportation options and street closure info.

In terms of the gloomier aspects of life, depending on how you feel about bats, you should visit the Bat Colony at the Congress Avenue Bridge. It's a popular tourist attraction so no idea how busy it is during Southby, but worth a visit anyway.

There will be a metric ton of electronic/dance/whatever shows during SXSW. Express interest and you will be showered with info about underground parties happening all over.

Also fair warning: a lot of the places you'd be interested in are likely to be closed during SXSW (or co-opted by annoying industry types for a film release party or whatever). Check schedules carefully!
posted by librarylis at 10:23 PM on February 26, 2015

The bats aren't there now. They summer in Austin from May to September.
posted by donajo at 5:37 AM on February 27, 2015

If you get tired of the Southby crazy, Blackstar is fairly close to you (as in, you could walk to the 350 bus and take it there in ten minutes) and was DESERTED the last two years during the crazy times downtown. Their avocado club is hands down the best vegetarian sandwich I've ever had. Also, for breakfast tacos that will not require navigating downtown from where you are: Mi Madre's on Manor have some of my favorite TexMex in Austin, El Chilito is muy trendy and the Torchy's at Mueller is the same as any other Torchy's (it's a chain), but the lines will be shorter.

For a break during the craziness downtown, I love Bookpeople. You also asked specifically for arcades and no one's mentioned Pinballz yet. Weird.
posted by theweasel at 7:19 AM on February 27, 2015

Also fair warning: a lot of the places you'd be interested in are likely to be closed during SXSW (or co-opted by annoying industry types for a film release party or whatever). Check schedules carefully!

Well...the aforementioned French Legation Museum is actually going to be the site of the French Tech Club and a restaurant pop up, some concerts, DJ sets, movies, etc. during SXSW. Pitchfork has also had day parties there during SXSW Music in the past. So not necessarily a place that is going to be deserted during SXSW.

Also many of the food trucks will be "off" their normal schedule and get booked for parties and events elsewhere. The official SXSW SouthBites food truck lot can also be very, very crowded with up to long lines for food, even at off peak times of the day. Especially since Micklethwait Craft Meats will be there this year (again).

FYI, Midnight Cowboy appears to be fully booked online already (or bought out for private events) March 13-18.

It's going to be crowded. Around 134,000 people attended at least one SXSW activity last year.
posted by kathryn at 9:22 PM on February 27, 2015

Seconding Black Star and the Graffiti Park.

Also kind of around you is Pinthouse Pizza. It's normally very busy in the evening, so maybe for lunch.

There's also a little shopping/coffee/food neighborhood on North Loop between Guadalupe and Airport that might be a good spot to get away from the craziness but still do something. Workhorse bar, Epoch Coffee, and a few book/record/vintage-y stores.

I live really close by. If you want any opinions on something you see/hear just ask.
posted by lownote at 10:39 AM on March 5, 2015

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