I don't care about racing! (Austinfilter)
August 17, 2015 9:47 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the unfortunate situation of having to attend a graduation ceremony in Austin, TX on October 24, right in the middle of Formula 1 weekend. I had originally planned to make this part of a longer vacation to see the city - any way I can still do this without going crazy?

Never been to Austin, don't travel much, so feel free to explain this to me like I am five. The graduation is 10 am - 12 pm in the Highland neighborhood on Saturday 10/24. I'm otherwise flexible on dates. The original plan (before I found out about the F1 race) was to fly in from San Francisco with my mom, stay downtown for about 5 days, and avoid renting a car (maybe using Zipcar for any longer excursions). My brother lives in North Austin and has a car, but we're not sure what his work schedule will be like yet and we want to be (mostly) self-sufficient travelers :)

Right now I'm thinking the best plan might be to fly in on Monday 10/19 (or Tuesday, whatever), get rooms at the Austin Motel during the week, and then maybe move to a different hotel for the night of Friday 10/23 (both to get a cheaper rate and to be closer to the ceremony) and fly out in the afternoon on 10/24. Looks like getting to the airport may be difficult as it's on the way to the Circuit of the Americas, but it's that or stay in town and pay exorbitant hotel rates, so meh. (The Austin Motel's Formula 1 rates actually aren't too outrageous - around $220/night - but they are already fully booked for Sat 10/24.)

As far as budget, I'm happy to pay the Austin Motel's normal rates ($135-150/night) to be downtown - would it be reasonable to hope for that rate or cheaper in the northern part of Austin for that Friday, 10/23?

I suppose my main questions are:

1. Considering that we have to be in town on 10/24, are there other dates we should be looking at? (I even considered skipping the ceremony and just visiting my brother a couple weeks before or after, but I'd like to be there if at all possible.)
2. Any general tips/experiences for Formula 1 weekend?
3. Where should we stay in North Austin on Friday night that's affordable and close to the Highland neighborhood?
4. What's the best way to get back to the airport from North Austin? (Asking my brother to drive us is an option - I'm just wondering if we can easily avoid it, because in addition to his graduation, poor kid, it's also his birthday. Happy birthday! Now drive us to the airport.)

posted by sunset in snow country to Travel & Transportation around Austin, TX (10 answers total)
The week before the Grand Prix will be busy, but the week after is likely to be a comparative ghost town. Consider that. I suspect you'l get pretty good hotel rates the week after, too. You say your dates are flexible but your focus seems to be the week before your event not after.

Not sure if that helps.
posted by Brockles at 10:11 AM on August 17, 2015

Best answer: I've visited Austin to attend an F1 race, and while downtown was a little cramped what with race-weekend events and stuff, it wasn't so crowded that it was difficult to get around or get into restaurants and whatever.

The Circuit is several miles south of town, and during race events on Saturday, race fans will be there, and not on the way to the airport. In any case, they've got the traffic into and out of the Circuit really well organized, and the impact away from the track seemed pretty minor to me.

Basically, you'll be fine.
posted by notyou at 10:14 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Austinite here - I too don't give a flying flip about F1 racing, but do have to say that the F1 fan fest that is held downtown during F1 weekend is pretty cool. I went last year for the first time and was very impressed at the talent that's booked and all the other activities that are going on. Did I mention that it's all FREE? There is something for everyone and for all ages. Fan fest dominates the majority of downtown, so I wouldn't plan on trying to drive around DT for the duration of the weekend. Luckily, you can park a few blocks away and walk in, or use the Austin B-Cycle bikes.

That said, I imagine hotels will be charging a premium that weekend. You might be able to find a cheaper rate up north, but it's generally my understanding that F1 is popular and hotels all over town will be booking up rather quickly. You mentioned that you were thinking about staying in the Highland area of town. That's not the best part of town and it's certainly not walkable and there aren't things to do or any good restaurants. You might want to look at possibly staying at the Domain or Arboretum area since your brother lives up north. As far as getting to/from the airport goes, your best option would be to take an Uber, cab or just have your brother pick you up. Austin has no real public transportation, so don't count on that getting you around.

If you need anything else, feel free to message me.
posted by ATX Peanut at 10:25 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Rather than Zipcar, look into Car2Go. You need to be qualified in advance (so start now-ish), but they've got cars everywhere in central-ish Austin, and you can drop them anywhere in their "home" area. You can catch a shuttle from the airport to the nearby The Spot offsite parking facility, where they have a Car2Go depot; a drive in from there will cost maybe $6. Cabs would be considerably more, and for your return to the airport, considerably less reliable.

Habitat Suites is fairly close to the Highland neighborhood. There's also a Holiday Inn and Travelodge near. And I'm sure there are 100 AirBnB places. Austin may have actually reached a glut of short-term rental places, so you might have decent luck with that.
posted by adamrice at 10:27 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Having been to a couple races there I think you'll be fine. The worst backups are at the venue itself, getting into the parking lots. COTA does a good job of having auxiliary events to keep people "on campus" for the whole day. The afternoon of 10/24 should have the qualifying session.

In previous years they've had a bunch of F1-related stuff going on downtown with some street closures. The W generally has a party, and according to this they're doing it again this year.

Hotels downtown and at the airport will charge a premium, but further away and especially to the north the prices drop. We've also noticed that they jack the prices up and then on Wed/Thursday the prices fall pretty dramatically when they notice nobody wants to pay 10x rates. For example last year the Courtyard at the airport dropped to their regular price for the weekend by Wednesday.
posted by Runes at 10:34 AM on August 17, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for all the info so far! To clarify, my main concern right now is cost, and I'm focusing on the week before mainly as a way to pay for 1 night of premium hotel rates (Friday) instead of 3 (all weekend).
posted by sunset in snow country at 12:45 PM on August 17, 2015

A couple of notes on hotels:

The Austin Motel is ok, and there's some stuff to do in the South Congress/South First/South Lamar area, but it's not quite as walkable as downtown proper.

If you want to stay near Highland, I suggest choosing something to the west of that area (Hyde Park to Crestview), and nothing to the east/northeast of 183.
posted by bradf at 3:35 PM on August 17, 2015

One thing to bear in mind about Austin is that it's pretty spread out and that there are pockets of interest in different areas, that probably won't see a huge increase in busyness due to F1. Downtown has some things, but it's not necessarily the major hub of activity it is in other cities. Unless you want to experience the skeezy, douchetastic wantonness of Sixth Street, of course.

Saying that Austin doesn't really have public transit is kind of overstating it. We have it, even if it's lackluster. It's serviceable if slow, but depending on what is constituting "North Austin" for you, buses may not be worth it. If you're going to be north of 183, it'll be a slog to get most of the more desirable places. The MetroRail may be worth looking into as an easier way to get downtown without having to deal with the considerable hassle of parking and traffic. It's handy for people who live north. The downside is that it tends to get busy during events, and doesn't run Sundays.

All that said, a car will definitely make your life easier.

A cab trip from North Austin to the airport is going to be pricy, I imagine, but maybe one of those Super Shuttle things might be a cheaper option? If you have a rental car, take 183 to get back to the airport.

Late October is a good time to visit Austin. The weather will just be starting to cool off to bearable levels (hopefully).
posted by picea at 7:49 AM on August 18, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for all the tips (especially car2go, I will definitely look into that) and reassurances! I adjusted my expectations a bit and was able to find a fairly reasonable hotel package downtown for Fri - Wed. Now I can stop stressing about this crap and start dreaming about all the BBQ I'm going to eat. Thanks again.
posted by sunset in snow country at 9:19 AM on August 19, 2015

BBQ, did you say?

A Relevant AskMe.
posted by notyou at 9:35 AM on August 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

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