SXSW-bound for the first time? Half the fun is getting a taste of local flavor alongside the interactive, film, and music festivities. Here are some Austin favorites that will make skipping that panel or show worthwhile.
This quirky attraction in South Austin was built by a man in his own backyard in 1989 and he’s been adding to it ever since. It’s made up of over 60 tons of "junk," like bicycle wheels, discarded road signs, and the "zen garden of TVs," piled up into artful structures that are really a sight to be seen. After all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Call in advance to make an appointment. 4422 Lareina Dr., 512-299-7413
Bats at Lady Bird Lake
Over a million bats call the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge home, and lucky for visitors and vampire hunters, March is the start of bat season. Get to the bridge at sundown, or watch from the water on a riverboat ride, and see a black cloud of bats fly out from under the bridge and into the night. Congress Avenue Bridge, 100 S. Congress Ave.
For a comprehensive guide to the history of Texas, check out the Bullock Texas State History Museum that opened in 2001, and features important artifacts spread throughout over 50 exhibits. Plus, the museum will host a special exhibit this year on Texas music legend, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the history behind music festivals including Woodstock, and what role Texas plays in electronic gaming. 1800 Congress Ave., 512-936-8746
Escape the city and catch magical views of Austin from afar with natural jewels hidden in and around Zilker Park. Take a dip in the iconic Barton Springs Pool, which is fed from underground springs so it’s always about 68 degrees (it's scheduled to reopen after cleaning on March 11); rent a kayak, canoe, or paddle board on Lady Bird Lake; check out the artwork—including the new Farrah Fawcett exhibit—at Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum, or hit the hike-and-bike trail and go for a run around the lake. 2201 Barton Springs Road, 512-472-4914
It seems that the line starts forming outside before the sun comes up, but the waiting is part of the experience, and people are happy to do it for some of America’s best smoked meats. They specialize in the holy trinity of barbecue: brisket, ribs, and sausage that are smoky, juicy, are charred to perfection. Plus, they get the stamp of approval from food god Anthony Bourdain. They're closed on Mondays and open from 11 am until they sell out—and they do sell out every day so get there early. 900 E. 11th St., 512-653-1187
Gourdough’s is a staple for good ole comfort food with a funky Austin twist. Imagine a place where you can eat a donut for every course, like the deep fried donut dough appetizer filled with fresh mozzarella, the epic burgers sandwiched between donut buns, and the slow roasted pulled pork with jalapeño potato salad piled on top of a piping hot donut. Throw your low-carb diet out the window and thank us later. 2700 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-912-9070; 209 W. Fifth St., 512-645-0255
Start your day the Austin way with a breakfast taco at this funky joint. You’ll find all the morning favorites, and at lunch and dinner, you can choose from shrimp, pork belly, mahi mahi, crispy duck, and barbacoa. Brave diners can also participate in their ukulele policy where you can bust out a song on their trusty ukulele and get compensated in tacos—one free taco for every song. 4905 Airport Blvd., 512-451-3326
This stylish watering hole boasts creative handcrafted cocktails, a cozy indoor space, and plenty of patio space. Plus, there's happy hour every day of the week and a Thai-Kun food truck parked out back to offer sustenance. 1816 E. Sixth St., 512-480-0781
Rainey Street has a buzzing bar scene on a road filled with Craftsman houses that are now bars with charming front yards, strings of light, and food trucks to satisfy those late night cravings. The Parlor Room is an Instagram hit with its printed walls, neon signs, live music, and games on the back patio. For a strong drink, check out the rustic Clive Bar with its sleek cocktail menu, dart boards, and a spacious back patio with live music on the weekends. There’s mystery around every corner with sensual mood lighting and a hidden mezcal pop-up bar in a small room in the back you won't want to miss. 88 Rainey St., 737-484-1553; 609 Davis St., 512-524-1623
Rub elbows with Texan royalty—and maybe one or two famous SXSW attendees—in this elegant cocktail lounge inside the historic (and haunted) Driskill Hotel. It’s a bit more upscale than its rowdy Sixth Street neighbors, but it isn’t lacking in Austin’s signature live music. Indulge in classy bar bites and you may even spot a ghost lurking around the corner. The Driskill Hotel, 604 Brazos St., 512-439-1234
Surround yourself with artsy vibes in this lively dive bar with live music on a guitar-shaped stage, dancing, pool tables, a peacock mosaic, and a backyard with fabric tents. Even better, pets are allowed so you might even be lucky enough to get a dance with the resident dog. 1808 E. 12th St., 512-236-1770