Sure, SXSW is a great place to visit. A city all unto its own, the conference teems and moves with a hunger for adventure and an extreme distaste for anything other than the schedule – the relentless scramble from amazing event to amazing session to more amazing event. But, if your SXSW provides a light day or even a few hours, it is a shame not to visit the landmarks of the Austin area, many within a short bike ride or relatively inexpensive car ride (Lyft, Uber and various cab companies are happy to oblige) away.
Make time for Franklin Barbecue.
Yes, there are comparable places. Yes, there will be a line the size of the largest SXSW draw of 2016. Yes, you’ll need to get up obscenely early to ensure that you are at a point in the line that guarantees there’s brisket that remains for you. NO. YOU WILL NEVER REGRET IT. Wake up early (for SXSW, we’d say the earlier the better, and if you’re not in line by 7:45am, your chances are relatively slim), grab a cooler full of beverages, download the Favor app to your smart phone, pack a few chairs and head into the most tailgate-like, fun-filled and friendly line you’ll encounter during SXSW and perhaps in your life. You’ll eat some 3-4 hours after you arrive, but Favoring Easy Tiger keeps the munchies away and the wait has never been anything but worth it. [Editor’s note: Do not be distracted by the Tipsy Texan sandwich. Stick to your moist-brisket ordering guns.]
Climb a Little
Austin has two cherished vantage points that accurately display the richness of the area that have drawn settlements and pioneers since 9200 BC (wiki it!). Mount Bonnell, located west of Mopac (Loop 1), has been a well-established lookout spot for visitors from all points on the compass. The stairs that facilitate your climb to the top are near inexhaustible, but the view of the big Texas sky, the natural body of water that feed the region and the homes and villas that line the west Austin vista are the perfect spot for Instagram posts to incite envy in your social media network. Here, then, is where civilization and the vast horizons of Texas collide.
For a little more adventurous foray to find a grand horizon, journey a little further west on 2222 and make a left at Loop 360. When the “Red Bridge” appears in front of you, pull off to the right side of the road (years of parking has created a makeshift parking lot), get out of the car and climb to the top of the cliff that Pennybacker Bridge – its actual name – and its construction carved through to make north-south travel easy in Austin. Once at the top, the view that looks over the water, the Austin Country Club golf course and back to the glimmering city that Austin can be, the view, height and majesty of it all might genuinely steal your breath.
Take a Dip
Whether it is fall or winter, summer or spring, 5:30am or 9:30pm, Austin hides within it an accessible oasis, of sorts. Barton Springs Pool, a spring-fed pool that spans far greater area than an Olympic natatorium, sits just west of Mopac, a mere walk away from Downtown. With water that is 67 degrees, no matter what the weather, the brisk swim is just what one needs to recharge and refresh, after the days of walking, sweating, rushing and revelry. Clear water, spacious hillsides to soak in the sun and a great vantage allow you to look across the river at the chaos in motion or turn to the trees and the sky to forget that all of your chaos – SXSW, work, responsibilities – have any dominion at all.
Become a Child Again
For the old school enthusiast, who can’t look at the infinite computer screens and video boards of SXSW Interactive, Austin offers one of the most enjoyable BYOB destinations in the state, if not the nation. Pinballz Arcade is a celebration of the arcades of the early 1980s, when Oculus Rift wasn’t even a thought and $10 was all you needed (if you were good enough) for hours of unfettered entertainment. Now that we’re grown and the younger generation is addicted to their Playstations or Minecraft channels (it’s a thing), Pinballz has graciously given the grown-ups a place to be a kid again. Visit their palace of pinball machines and classic arcades, bring your SXSW crew, and enjoy time together, beating up on one another as you sip Shiners (BYOB, remember) and reminisce about simpler times and the nostalgia for the memories that shaped you [like that time you asked Janie to join you for “couples skate” after dominating at Pac-Man].