The Newtek Guide to Enjoying Austin at SXSW

Courtesy of Flickr user Todd BarnardIf I were to describe Austin, Texas in one word, it would probably be unique.  Or hip.  Or just plain cool.

A few years back, I had the good fortune of living in the “A-T-X” for some time.  And I have to say, it’s just an über-cool, laid back town.  Live music, great food, a culture that is very much Texan in its pride and culture, but nothing at all like the rest of Texas.

Austin calls itself the Live Music Capital of the World, and it has no problem backing that statement up.  Live music is everywhere.

The local motto is Keep Austin Weird.  And weird it definitely is, but in the best sense of the word.  This is a city that throws an annual festival for Eeyore’s Birthday.  You know, from Winnie-the-Pooh.

Michael Dell lives in Austin.  So does Willie Nelson.  Which makes sense.  This is a town defined just as much by its folksy roots as its tech boom.  And this is precisely why there’s no other place on the planet that could pull off something like South by Southwest—a bustling tech conference, a major film festival, and an indie music bash, all rolled up like a TexMex breakfast burrito.  It’s not schizophrenic, it’s just Austin.

So if you’re heading down to the heart of Texas this Friday for the Interactive conference, I’ve put together a list to some essential spots to check out while you’re in town.  Trust me, if you can sneak away from the SXSW madness for even a few hours, these will be well worth your time.

Music Venues

The SXSW Music fest doesn’t officially kick off until March 17th, but that doesn’t mean live music won’t be absolutely everywhere.  Here’s some venues you might want to check out:

>>The Elephant Room

If you love jazz, this basement club is an absolute must.  The great Wyton Marsalis himself called this spot one of the 10 best jazz venues in the country.

Located in downtown Austin, on Congress Avenue, the Elephant Room is within walking distance of the convention center.  And there’s live jazz every single night.

>>Stubbs BBQ

One of Austin’s best-known music venues is also a BBQ joint.  Welcome to Texas.

Just north of Austin’s famed Sixth Street, Stubbs is also within walking distance of the convention center. See their listing of live shows here.


Check out Stevie Ray Vaughan’s big brother, Jimmie Vaughan, this Friday and Saturday at one of my personal favorite Austin spots, Antones, located within walking distance of most downtown hotels, in the heart of Austin’s warehouse district.

>>Lucky Lounge

On Sunday, March 14th, you can check out some local favorites Nate Hubble, David Ramirez, and Paul Banks & the Carousels at the Lucky Lounge.

Just west of Congress Avenue, the Lucky Lounge is also located within walking distance in the warehouse district.


Here’s rule #1.  You can’t visit Austin without tasting some of the local flavors.  Here’s my absolute favorites:

>>The Salt Lick

Texas is known for its BBQ, and the Salt Lick, in Driftwood, Texas, might just be the best BBQ joint in the state.

A little out of taxi range, this spot is a must for anyone with a rental car.  And don’t forget to bring cash.  It’s cash-only and BYOB.  If you don’t have a rental, don’t sweat it, you can get a taste—minus the Hill Country ambiance—at the Austin airport.

Check out the Salt Lick on Man v. Food

>>The Jackalope

A bit closer to the convention center, the Jackalope bar, located in downtown, has the best burger in town.  Hands down.

>>Polvos Mexican Restaurant

You can’t visit Texas without eating some good, authentic Mexican food.  A short distance from Downtown, Polvos is worth the cab fare.

>>Juan in a Million

Uniquely TexMex, Juan in a Million serves up the biggest breakfast tacos in Texas.  See it for yourself on another segment on Man v. Food:

Tourist Attractions

Unlike its sister city, San Antonio, about 70 miles down I-35, Austin isn’t a big tourist destination in the traditional sense.  But there’s still a bunch of touristy spots you just might want to check out if this is your first trip to Austin.

>>The Congress Avenue Bats

Here’s a fun fact.  There are a lot of bats in downtown Austin.  Over a million of them.  It’s the largest urban bat colony in North America, in fact.  And every night, starting mid-March, they all dart out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge to forge for food.

This is a little creepy if you ask me, but something you have to see.

>>The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum

Texas might be the only State in the Union in which its inhabitants consider themselves citizens of their state first, and Americans second.  Call that what you want, but Texas is a proud state.

To experience the history of this great State first hand, you’ll want to check out the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.

>>Mount Bonnell

Texas is known for its big skys, and there’s no better place to experience this than at Mount Bonnell park.  Over looking Lake Austin and Texas hill country in the distance, Mount Bonnell’s summit is the highest point in Austin.  That might not mean much if you’re from, say, Colorado, but it provides a fantastic panoramic view, nonetheless.

>>The Texas State Capitol

This Texas icon is the largest state capitol building in the United States and is fifteen feet taller than the US Capitol in Washington, D.C.  This, of course, was done on purpose.

With free tours daily, this is a must see for any newbie in town.

Well, there you have it.  The Newtek Guide to Enjoying Austin at SXSW.  Be sure to follow the Newtek crew on Twitter during the Interactive conference at #NewtSXSW.

Will you be attending?  If so, let us know.

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